This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Catcher Jack Warner worked ten years in the National League and five years in the American League, ranging from 1895 to 1908. He caught more than 1,000 games, hitting a solid .249, with a .303 on-base percentage. One of the most noted moments of his career came when he assaulted his own manager under the stands after a game and had the manager swear out a warrant for his arrest.
Warner started his pro career in 1894, catching for the Wilkes-Barre Coal Barons in the Eastern League. He caught in 97 games, batting .305 – and stole 17 bases, a little unusual for a catcher. He was a left-handed batter but threw right-handed, stood 5-feet-11, and weighed in at 165 pounds.
A native of New York City, he was born John Joseph Warner on August 15, 1872, and was raised in Brooklyn. His first baseball was semipro ball in 1889 and 1890 for the Allerton club in New York. In 1891 Warner played with the Dorchesters and in 1892 for Westfield in the New Jersey League. In 1893 he played weekdays for the Staten Island Crickets and on Sundays for the Patersons.1
When Warner started with Wilkes-Barre, there was a bit of a problem at first in that Binghamton asserted a prior claim to him in mid-April, but nothing came of it. He was seen as a comer even before the season began, and did not disappoint. He was considered good defensively, with a good arm. Before the end of the year, Warner was signed to play for the Boston Beaneaters in 1895.
He was preceded by some good publicity, even having a sketch presented in the Boston Globe under a subhead “Those Who Have Seen Him Play Think Warner is a Great Find.”2 But Boston gave up on Warner too early. He played in just three games, with one hit in seven at-bats, and was released on May 18. There were hints that he might not have gotten along with manager Frank Selee; when Selee was asked about rumors that Warner was about to sign with Pittsburg, he said, “Warner is a good catcher” – and the Sporting Life correspondent added, “There’s diplomacy, tact, discretion, consideration, judgment and method for you.”3 In the same issue, a report from Wilkes-Barre said, “Some people don’t know a ball player when they see one.”
By July Warner was with the Louisville Colonels, and “developed into the best catcher that the oldest crank can remember Louisville having.”4 In fact, he was so good that the Colonels did something rather unusual – they voluntarily increased his salary after about a month of work.5 One of his more noteworthy games was a 16-inning 2-2 tie played between Louisville and the Beaneaters on July 11. He was 2-for-6 in that game, with a double in the second inning that he unfortunately tried to stretch to a triple.
Warner hit .267 for the season, and was rated highly by all, though after his first 33 games in 1896, he was hitting just .227 and was unconditionally released, part of a major shakeup in early July. His hometown New York Giants picked him up, as a makeshift, and he wound up playing with the Giants for eight seasons. Why was he released seemingly so precipitously? “It is said that Warner’s trouble was a quarrel with a certain clique in the Louisville Club, known as the Galt House trio. They declared was on ‘Jack,’ and it was three against one. The club sacrificed the one in preference to the three.”6 He played in only 19 games for the Giants in 1896 but he hit .259.
The 1897 season saw Warner play in 111 games, a career high, and hit .273 with career highs in homers (two) and with 51 RBIs. More than one newspaper article attributed his success to hard work.
That offseason Warner worked in a government position for New York City, but by December of 1897 he had quit to run a billiard and pool room on Washington Avenue near 176th Street.
He caught in 110 games in 1898, batting .257, with 42 RBIs. Because of foul tips, a broken finger, and a near-broken nose in 1899, he played in only 88 games; he hit .266. Warner suffered worse in 1900. Called a “martyr to excruciating pain,” he shattered his arm while chasing a foul ball and crashing into the visitors’ bench in the July 31 game against Chicago. He was so badly injured that his career hung in the balance for some time. “The splintered bones were actually wired together. … His case was one that attracted the attention of M.D.’s of the East. Had he not been a ball player amputation would have been urged.”7 In the end, Warner appeared in only 34 games and batted .250.
The surgeons had done a good job, however, and Warner was back in 1901, playing in 87 games and hitting .241, more or less picking up where he’d left off.
In December 1901 Warner jumped to the American League, signing a two-year contract with the Boston Americans as a backup to catcher Lou Criger for the 1902 and 1903 seasons.
Right after the end of the 1902 season, and after strenuously denying he would do so, Warner jumped his Boston contract to return to New York. He was “said to be tired of Boston” and wanting to return to New York.8 Perhaps part of the readiness to accept Warner opting out of his contract was the serious illness both his wife and child suffered during the season. “Catcher Jack Warner’s wife and child are reported as lying at the point of death,” reported Sporting Life in its May 31 edition.
Back in New York again, Warner had an excellent season for John McGraw’s second-place Giants in 1903, batting a career-best .284 while playing in 89 games. He would have played in more but for a broken finger in mid-August. When it was all over, however, he joined Iron Man Joe McGinnity in asserting he would not play again for owner John T. Brush because of a series of broken promises. Warner said at least three other players were ready to quit, and said every single player on the team had a grievance of one sort or another. “The treatment which I received from President Brush was nothing short of disgraceful,” he said. “I will not play another season with the New York team unless they give me the money I ask.”9
The Giants finished in first place in 1904, that notably being the year after the first World’s Series and a year in which the Giants declined to play the American League champion, Boston. Warner had a rough year, hitting only .199 (the worst of his career, excepting the seven at-bats he’d had with the Beaneaters) while sharing almost mathematically equal time with catcher Frank Bowerman. He was still strong defensively, and his .973 fielding percentage was tops among National League catchers.
On December 20, 1904, Warner’s contract was sold outright to the St. Louis Cardinals for a reported $3,000.10 John McGraw wanted better hitting out of his catchers, and Warner himself wasn’t averse to the move.11 He did, however, send the Giants a bill for $500 extra compensation from 1904 for the extra work he had done coaching young pitchers.12
Things were a little fractious in 1905. On May 1 Warner got into a fight with Pittsburg’s Otis Clymer and both were thrown out of the game, and in early July he was fined $100 for failing to connect with the team on the road. There were serious problems between him and St. Louis manager Jimmy Burke, with Warner refusing to play and Burke saying that Warner either needed to make peace with the club or leave the game.13 Three weeks later, on August 1, his contract was sold to the Detroit Tigers for a reported $1,500.
For the Cardinals before he stopped playing, Warner had hit .255 in 41 games. For the Tigers he appeared in 36 games and batted only .202. He began the 1906 season with Detroit and resumed hitting in the .240s (his final career average was .249), but there was dissension on the Detroit club, too. Outfielder Matty McIntyre was suspended by manager Bill Armour for “indifferent work” and there was word that Warner and pitchers Ed Killian and George Mullin might be sold.14 That happened in Warner’s case; on August 13 he was sold to the Washington Senators.
Warner and Armour had their differences, and after Washington played a doubleheader in Detroit on September 22, the two encountered each other under the grandstand, and Warner – emerging from the darkness – “cut loose and landed two lefts on Armour’s face.”15 They both “received considerable damage” and Armour swore out a warrant for Warner’s arrest. Warner was angry that Armour had “branded him falsely as a disturber.”16 Armour felt that Warner’s “machinations” had led to the failure of the Tigers and his firing as manager effective at the end of the season.17 Sporting Life reported that Warner had suffered from a “lame arm” almost the entire time he’d been with Detroit.18
Warner was apparently tipped off that a warrant had been issued, so he “hurriedly boarded a train for Chicago” and watched the game on the 23rd between the New York Highlanders and the Chicago White Stockings, then traveled on to St. Louis to rejoin the Senators. American League President Ban Johnson declined to take action on the grounds that the attack had not occurred on the ballfield. Newspaper accounts noted that Warner had been with four different clubs in just the last two years.19
Warner hit only .204 for Washington in 32 games in 1906, but playing for Joe Cantillon in 1907 he hit .256 in 72 games. More than one article noted how highly Cantillon prized Warner’s work helping tutor young pitchers. He finished his big-league career with Washington in 1908, hitting .241 in 51 games. He suffered a bad knee injury in August that prevented him playing in a number of games.
Warner played three more years in Organized Baseball, but first he tried his hand at becoming a magnate. It didn’t last long. He took his savings and bought a controlling interest in the Galveston ballclub of the Texas League, but by May 20 it was all over. “Everything went wrong, and Warner soon found himself without a dollar. He managed to secure a steamship ticket to [New York] … sad but ready to start all over again.”20 He asked that the word be put out he was in as good condition than ever and looking for work. Despite what appears to have been a number of run-ins he had with one club or another, he was nonetheless considered “an exceedingly popular player.”21
Warner played for Milwaukee in the Class A American Association in 1909 (23 games, batting .194), in Class B in 1910 (Troy, in the New York State League, 41 games, batting .179), and in Class C in 1911 (Erie, Ohio-Pennsylvania League, 84 games, batting .248).
Somehow Warner wasn’t entirely without money after the Galveston episode, as on January 25, 1910, he entered into a deal to purchase the controlling interest in the Binghamton team of the New York State League.22 That deal didn’t last long, either. By June 8 he had sold back his interest and was “ex-manager Warner” – apparently having fired, traded, or offered for trade or sale an unusually large number of players.23 He signed with Troy and ended up playing against the team he’d intended to own. Keeping busy, right after the season with Troy, Warner managed “the Manhattan team” which played on Sundays at Fifth Avenue and 136th Street.
Warner managed in Kingston and Poughkeepsie in 1912. He’d originally signed to manage Reading in the proposed United States League, but the league never got off the ground.
His Sporting News obituary said that Warner later managed some semipro teams, coached the Fordham team, and umpired briefly in the International League, and that after he’d retired from baseball he drove a taxicab in New York City.
Warner died in Queens, New York, on December 21, 1943, and is buried at St. Mary Star of the Sea Cemetery in Lawrence, New York.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Warner’s player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Boston Globe, December 15, 1901.
2 Boston Globe, March 6, 1895.
3 Sporting Life, June 1, 1895.
4 Sporting Life, July 27, 1895.
5 Sporting Life, August 7, 1895.
6 Sporting Life, August 15, 1896. In its July 17, 1897, issue, the publication said that his signing with the Giants was “as a makeshift,” and that Boston’s Frank Selee regretted letting him go.
7 Sporting Life, September 29, 1900.
8 Sporting Life, November 22, 1902. The same story said he would probably have been granted his release if he’d simply asked. The October 5 Boston Globe had already anticipated the result.
9 Sporting Life, November 7, 1903.
10 Sporting Life, January 7, 1905.
11 Chicago Tribune, December 21, 1904.
12 New York Times, March 3, 1905.
13 Washington Post, July 10 and 15, 1905.
14 Washington Post, June 26, 1906.
15 Washington Post, September 23, 1906.
16 Los Angeles Times, September 25, 1906.
17 Washington Post, September 23, 1906.
18 Sporting Life, September 29, 1906.
19 Sporting Life, October 6, 1906. A lengthy account of the confrontation appeared in the October 13 issue of Sporting Life.
20 Sporting Life, May 29, 1900.
21 Sporting Life, June 12, 1909.
22 Sporting Life, February 19, 1909.
23 Sporting Life, June 18, 1910.