Jack (John Besson) Taylor, “Brewery Jack,” was a star pitcher in the National League during the last decade of the nineteenth century. Taylor made his major league debut, appearing in one game in 1891 with the New York Giants, pitching for Jim Mutrie‘s team on September 16th. He pitched his final game on September 12, 1899, for the Cincinnati Reds. Jack’s career record was 120 wins and 117 losses. In addition to his single game for the Giants in 1891, and his final season for the Reds in 1899, Jack also pitched in six seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies beginning late in 1892 and continuing through 1897. He then was traded to the St. Louis club (National League Browns) for 1898, and pitched through the full season before being traded to Cincinnati.
There are two things to clarify before discussing “Brewery Jack” Taylor. The first is to distinguish him from John W. Taylor, also known as Jack Taylor, who was also called “The Brakeman.” Both pitched in the National League during the 1898 and 1899 seasons, and both appeared with the St. Louis club—”Brewery Jack” in 1898 and “The Brakeman,” 1904-06. Both actually faced each other in 1899 when “Brewery Jack” started for Cincinnati and “The Brakeman” started for Chicago. “The Brakeman” won, and it would be 100 years before two pitchers with the same first and last names would oppose each other as starting pitchers—Bobby Jones of the Rockies v. Bobby Jones of the Mets, 1999. Both Taylors were also the subjects of character criticism—”Brewery Jack,” as his name implies, for heavy drinking and “The Brakeman” for allegedly “throwing games.” The two, on occasion, are confused for each other, including photograph misidentification. (For the remainder of this biography, Jack Taylor will be used to identify John Besson Taylor, “Brewery Jack.”)
The second thing to bear in mind about Jack Taylor is that his long reported place of birth, West New Brighton (Staten Island), New York, was incorrect. Despite contemporary newspaper accounts of his death reporting that he was from Staten Island and the fact that his “place of birth” was recorded on his death certificate as Staten Island, he was, in fact, born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in an area known then as Sandy Hill, near the current village of Stockton in Worcester County. Both the 1875 New York State census and the 1880 U. S. census for Staten Island show Jack being born in Maryland, while Worcester County court records reveal the purchase of a home by his father, John P. Taylor, in the Sandy Hill area of the Eastern Shore of Maryland in 1871 and the probating of John P.’s estate in 1874.
Jack Taylor’s father, an oysterman, and his mother Phebe Ann DePew, a homemaker, were from families with roots that dated back to the 18th century in Staten Island. Jack was the youngest of John P. and Phebe Ann’s five children. George, their oldest son, was born in 1861, followed by a sister Marietta and two brothers, Walter and Matthew, all born in New York. The family appears in the 1870 U.S. census, with Matthew born that same year. The family was living in a farmhouse in the New Springville community, in Northfield Township of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York. Although oystering was a major activity in Staten Island during the nineteenth century and was listed as the occupation of John P.’s father, other Taylor relatives, and many neighbors, John P. was identified in the 1870 census as a farmer.
Shortly after the Civil War, the completion of a railroad line linking the Eastern Shore of Maryland with points north, including New Jersey and subsequently New York City, created a virtual boom in the oyster industry in the Chesapeake Bay area. In 1871, John P. Taylor and a neighbor, Ainsley Bedell, purchased a property with a house and an oyster bed in the Sandy Hill area. Later, stories told by Jack Taylor’s oldest brother George to George’s grandson Walter J. Taylor reported that, the sloop being used by John P. and his partner Ainsley Bedell was burned by “Confederates” (implying southern oystermen). This type of activity was not at all uncommon in the “gold rush” conditions in the Chesapeake at that time. According to George Taylor’s stories, his grandfather John P. Taylor died of a heart attack in Maryland. Worcester County court records indicate that his death occurred in the spring of 1874.
According to the 1875 New York State census, (conducted in June) Phebe Ann Taylor had returned to the home of her late husband’s parents in the New Springville area of Staten Island with her five children, including 2 year-old son John, who was born in Maryland. According to Jack Taylor’s death certificate, his date of birth is May 23, 1873, when the Taylor is known to have been oystering in Maryland.
It was during this time, with the newly fatherless family back on Staten Island, that Jack’s sister Marietta developed a romantic interest in a considerably older neighbor, William Crane. Crane was a descendent of Staten Islander Colonel Ichabod Crane, a Revolutionary War veteran and friend of author Washington Irving. Irving, of course, left the name of his friend, Ichabod Crane for all posterity by using it for his schoolmaster in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Marietta married William Crane, who died a few years later. She subsequently married a then-popular military marching bandleader named Augustus Hall.
By 1880, Jack’s paternal grandparents, with whom his family had been living, passed on and his mother relocated to the West New Brighton neighborhood residing at 179 Broadway with Jack, age seven. Living in an adjoining household was her oldest son George and his new wife. The whereabouts of the other Taylor brothers, Walter and Matthew, during this period are unknown.
Growing up in the West New Brighton section of Staten Island, Jack could not help but play baseball. The son of a widowed working mother (Phebe Ann now worked in the huge dye works located across the street from her home), his boyhood neighbors included four other boys, all born within several years of Jack and of each other: Jack Sharrott, George Sharrott, Tuck Turner, and Jack Cronin. All would eventually play in the National League.
From Jack Taylor’s boyhood home it was only a three-mile walk, east, to the Manhattan- bound ferry terminal located in St. George. By the time Jack was 13 years old in 1886, Staten Island was the home of the major league New York Metropolitans of the American Association. The Mets were owned at this time by Staten Island railroad magnet Erastus Wiman, who located his team in a spectacular ballpark called the St. George Grounds, which was adjacent to the ferry terminal. This site is now the home of the new stadium occupied by the Staten Island Yankees of the NY-Penn League.
The nineteenth-century Mets played there for two seasons, before Wiman sold the team. Only a few years later, major league baseball returned to Staten Island, albeit briefly, when the New York Giants started the 1889 season, using the St. George Grounds as their home field. (In July, the Giants moved to their “new” Polo Grounds at 155th Street in upper Manhattan, having been forced from the original site at 110th Street and 5th Avenue.) One important development may have taken place for Jack Taylor and his ball-playing friends, because when the Giants came to Staten Island in 1889, so did their manager Jim Mutrie. But, unlike the Giants, Mutrie remained as a permanent resident. (Mutrie’s presence in the New Brighton community, which was adjacent to West New Brighton, may have given Jack Taylor and his future major league friends access to the “World Champions’” manager or, he to them.)
Jack has been identified as playing with at least three amateur Staten Island teams from 1889 through 1891. The first, the Chase Base Ball Club, organized by one H. H. Chase, proprietor of the Point Tavern located in West New Brighton, was one of the best among Staten Island amateur teams and featured not only Jack but future New York Giants and Phillies’ pitcher/outfielder Jack Sharrott. Taylor also played (sometimes shortstop) on another West New Brighton team, the Pilgrims. However, the team that gave him the greatest exposure to the big leagues was the Staten Island Corinthians who, in 1890, won 22 consecutive games. Jack’s future Phillies and St. Louis teammate, Tuck Turner, also played on this team.
In April of 1891, Jack Taylor reported to the Lebanon, Pennsylvania, team of the Eastern Championship Association for his first professional assignment. Prior to the season’s opening, the Lebanon team played several pre-season games, including one against the National League Phillies and their legendary manager, Harry Wright. The Phillies won the game handily, but Jack got to pitch three innings in relief, giving up only one hit. Taylor’s performance must have made an impression on Harry Wright, because in just a little more than a year, Jack would be playing for the highly regarded old manager.
On April 28, 1891, Jack Taylor pitched his first official minor league baseball game, defeating Troy, NY, by a whopping score of 15-1. Taylor continued with Lebanon throughout May and into June. The Lebanon newspaper reported not only his pitching exploits but also provided accounts of his fine fielding and hitting. In mid-June, Lebanon replaced its team manager, and in late June, Taylor was traded to the Troy team of the same league without explanation in the local press. A one-line entry in Reach’s Official Base Ball Guide for the 1891 season reports Taylor’s playing statistics for the combined season: 22 games, 88 at bats, 10 runs scored, 11 hits, a .125 batting average, and three stolen bases. Amazingly, they did not report his pitching numbers.
On September 16, 1891, Jack Taylor was back in New York City in a New York Giants uniform. The six-foot, one-inch, 195 pound, right-hander, stood on the mound at the Polo Grounds for his major league debut. It was the second game of a double header against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Giants were in the midst of a late-season slide. The team would later be accused, to no avail, by the Chicago team, of intentionally orchestrating the losses to allow Boston to take the pennant. The Giants had lost the opener that day and Jack Taylor, just 18 years old, was the youngest player on the field by four years. He pitched a great game allowing only four hits, four bases-on-balls, and one earned run, while striking out three, in a 2-0 loss. The only earned run he allowed was a home run to a future Hall of Famer, Jake Beckley. Three days later Jack was again pitching for the Staten Island Corthinians, defeating the Manhattan Athletic Club by a score of 6-2, while allowing only two hits.
Taylor was not placed on the Giants’ reserve list for the 1892 season, and Giants manager Jim Mutrie was released in November 1891 by the team’s new owners. Jack did make it to spring training with the Giants but was released before the start of the 1892 season. Taylor then landed with the Albany Club of the Eastern League. He finished the season ranked 9th in winning percentage (.551) among all Eastern League pitchers. By that September, Jack Taylor was the property of the Phillies and was pitching under their great manager Harry Wright.
In 1892, Taylor appeared in only three games for the Phillies, starting all three and completing two. He had one win, no losses, and a 6-6 tie against Brooklyn on October 6 while allowing only four earned runs. By that time, only four of the 270 major league career games he would appear in were behind him, and he would face a new challenge, for the next season—the new distance from the pitching rubber to home plate.
Most baseball historians consider 1893 the demarcation line between early baseball and the modern game. This was the year that the modern pitching distance of 60 feet-6 inches was established. It was also the first full season of Jack Taylor’s major league pitching career. He would pitch 266 of his 270 major league games (2045 of 2079 innings) at the modern distance. Therefore, he may be legitimately considered a pitcher of the modern era. Taylor appeared in 25 games in 1893, starting 16 and completing 14. He finished the year with a 10-9 slate and recorded one save while allowing 189 hits in 170 innings, striking out 41 and allowing 77 bases on balls. His ERA was a respectable 4.24 considering the combination of being a rookie and the new pitching distance.
For the next four seasons, from 1894 through 1897, Jack Taylor was the Phillies’ ace. He won twenty or more games those first three years: 23-13, 26-14, and 20-21. In 1897 he had a losing record of 16-20 but was still the Phillies’ top pitcher.
However, Jack’s drinking filled his career with uncertainty. Taylor’s much-loved manager, Harry Wright, was released from the team after the 1893 season and died a few years later. Arthur Irwin, a decent replacement for Wright, managed the team to a respectable fourth-place finish in the twelve-team National League in 1894 and a better third-place finish in 1895 (the closest Taylor would come to pitching on a pennant winning team). The following year, 1896, must be considered one of the worst in Phillies’ history as far as trades go. The Quaker City team traded one of their three great Hall of Fame outfielders, “Sliding Billy” Hamilton (the other two were Ed Delahanty and Sam Thompson), for player/manager Billy Nash. Nash was a disaster as a manager as the team slid to eighth-place. Nash played out his career with the Phillies, but never managed again.
In 1897, the Phillies hired another new manager, George Stallings. He would eventually reach some degree of fame as the pilot of the 1914 “Miracle Braves,” but in 1897 he was a raw rookie manager who relied on browbeating and belittling his players, resulting in demoralization and eventually rebellion. Jack Taylor and George Stallings were not made for each other. The big fun-loving pitcher, who responded well to the likes of Harry Wright, had no use for a snarling disciplinarian. He failed to reach the 20-win mark that he had achieved in the preceding three years, finishing the season with a 16-20 record. He was frequently cited for imbibing and was openly resentful. Headlines were made at the big meeting of the National League in Philadelphia in November that year when Jack Taylor figured as the key player in a big multi-player trade involving the Phillies and Chris von der Ahe‘s St. Louis Browns.
So, in 1898, Jack Taylor found himself a member of what was then the worst team in baseball. He rejoined his boyhood friend Tuck Turner, who had been traded earlier. The St. Louis Browns finished last in the National League in 1898, and Jack Taylor led not just his team but the entire league in loses (29) and hits allowed (465). However, he also led his team in wins (15) and led the league in games (50), games started (47), complete games (42), innings pitched (397⅓) and, posted his then best ERA (3.90). Jack desperately wanted to be traded from St. Louis and got his wish.
Cincinnati baseball fans had high hopes when they received the news that Jack Taylor would be pitching for the Reds in 1899. Unfortunately, Taylor got off to a slow start. A newspaper report early in the following year noted that Jack had begun drinking during the Reds’ 1899 spring training in Georgia, but the real crisis came in late May. First, there was suspicion that Jack had been drinking the night before a horrific mound performance in Cincinnati against the Orioles. An investigation conducted by Reds manager and future Hall of Fame catcher Buck Ewing cleared Jack of the charges, but what followed on the next road trip was beyond glossing over.
The Reds came into New York for a series against the Giants, starting with a double-header at the Polo Grounds on Decoration (Memorial) Day. Jack pitched the opening game before a large holiday crowd, and lost a close decision on a much-disputed call by the umpire. At the conclusion of the game, Taylor asked Ewing if he could go to Staten Island to visit his mother. Ewing granted the big pitcher permission to go. The following day Taylor asked to remain another day at his mother’s home but then disappeared for the next two days.
Finally, Taylor caught up with his team in Boston, where they were just starting a series with the Beaneaters. Jack’s story was that he had chartered a fishing boat out of Coney Island and the vessel had become becalmed and he could not return to shore. The Reds’ manager was furious and told Taylor that he had enough time to swim to shore. Later, it was revealed in the press that Taylor’s fishing buddies on this voyage included the famous Brooklyn Bridge jumper Steve Brodie and Patsy Haley, a popular bantamweight prizefighter. Ewing suspended the big pitcher indefinitely. Reds owner John Brush, a strong advocate of temperance and one who had each of his players sign a contract containing a “temperance clause,” backed his manager to the hilt and directed Taylor to report for daily workouts at Washington Park in Brooklyn.
The Reds’ management was determined to set an example through Jack Taylor, and despite the written pleas of Taylor’s wife Kate (nee Catherine Fink), owner Brush refused to reinstate Jack for five weeks. In addition, the strict magnate invoked the temperance clause in Taylor’s contract, fining him $700 in addition to the $500 loss of salary for what became a five-week suspension. This resulted in a nearly fifty-percent earnings’ reduction for Taylor, based on his 1899 contract of $2500.
Taylor was finally reinstated on July 11th. For a while, his pitching was reminiscent of his glory days as the ace of the Phillies, but he started to fade a bit near the end of the season. He won his last game, against Cleveland, before a huge Labor Day crowd. He lost on September 8th against St. Louis, his last complete game. Two days later he got his only opportunity to officiate a major league game, replacing an absent umpire in Washington, D.C. Newspaper reports said he did a good job behind the plate, and received no complaints. This was somewhat ironic, as Taylor was known to often argue with umpires during much of his career.
On September 12, 1899, he took to the mound to pitch what would be his last major league game. He had a rough outing against the Washington Nationals. By the fourth inning he had given up four runs (three earned) on five hits. Then, suddenly, he was struck by a sever pain in his right side. He was unable to lift his pitching arm and could not maintain a grip on the ball. He was sent back to the hotel, and a doctor was called. The next day, he was sent back to Cincinnati and remained there until he returned to his Staten Island home at the end of the season. Coincidentally, it would be another West New Brighton boy, Jack Cronin, who would replace Taylor on the Cincinnati roster.
Jack Taylor was seen at the National League’s winter meeting in New York City that December and appeared in good health. He was actively lobbying for a trade to the Giants or to Brooklyn. Then, on January 20, 1900, Jack’s mother died of pneumonia. In the days immediately following her death, Jack Taylor was reported “feeling unwell.” On February 7, 1900, less than three weeks after his mother’s passing, Taylor died at Smith Infirmary, New Brighton, Staten Island, following an operation. His official cause of death was acute nephritis (kidney failure), commonly referred to as Bright’s disease, in Taylor’s case possibly the result of binge drinking or long-untreated kidney disease.
On February 10, Jack Taylor was buried beside his mother in an unmarked grave (Phebe Ann’s grave was also unmarked) in Fairview Cemetery off Victory Boulevard, just west of Manor Road, in the Castleton Corners section of Staten Island. The plot belonged to William Smith, who was buried there several years later. Smith’s wife and other Smith family members were interred in this plot over subsequent years. Smith was the owner of the dye works where Phebe Ann Taylor had worked. Jack Taylor left a widow and no children.
In 2002, “Brewery Jack” Taylor was inducted into the Staten Island Sports Hall of Fame. The following year, the Board of Directors of Fairview Cemetery placed a granite monument on Jack Taylor’s grave. The stone depicts a baseball and features some of Taylor’s career highlights. The Board of Fairview also had Phebe Ann’s name and her birth and death dates inscribed on the Smith family monument, which stands next to her son’s grave. “Brewery Jack” Taylor was three-and-one-half months shy of his 27th birthday at the time of his death.
What’s in a nickname?
At the time of Jack’s death, the Cincinnati Times-Star newspaper referred to Jack Taylor in his obituary as “Bowery Jack” instead of “Brewery Jack.” At first, I assumed that the writer was attempting sarcasm: as if “Brewery” was not demeaning enough, he substituted “Bowery.” I made this assumption because New York City’s Bowery, during most of the twentieth century, certainly since the 1930s, was a “skid row” of flophouses and drunks sleeping in doorways. Then, I stumbled on a Washington Post game report from 1893. The reporter writes glowingly of Jack Taylor’s pitching performance against the reporter’s home team, the Nationals, “Maul [the Washington pitcher] had his opponent Jack Taylor, the Bowery Boy, and to the work of this youngster can the defeat of the Senators be traced.” (Senators were sometimes substituted for Nationals). In Jack’s time, New York City’s Bowery was an entertaining place of vaudeville theaters, saloons and other cheap entertainment of the daring variety. It was a place of “sporting men” and local toughs that had a certain “New Yorkese” way of speaking. In reading a brief newspaper interview that Jack gave during his major league career, his “New Yorkese” almost leaps from the page. If other players and the press called Jack Taylor “Bowery Jack” early in his career, it would have been an easy corruption to “Brewery Jack” as his drinking became more prevalent.
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John Besson Taylor
May 23, 1873 at Sandy Hill, MD (USA)
February 7, 1900 at Staten Island, NY (USA)
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