This article was written by Mark Armour
Walter Edward Parrott, known to all as “Jiggs,” starred for several years for amateur and professional teams in his native Portland, Oregon, before becoming the first native of his state to play in the major leagues. A solid performer at the plate and at third base, his career and life were cut short when he was felled by pulmonary tuberculosis at the early age of 26.
Jiggs Parrott was born in East Portland on July 14, 1871, the son of Thomas H. Parrott and the former Eliza Ann Rhodes. Thomas had emigrated in 1857 from England to Yamhill County, Oregon, where he married Ann in 1861. They soon moved to East Portland, and had eight children-one daughter and seven sons, several of whom played organized baseball. Thomas was trained as a shoemaker in England, but eventually opened a music store in Portland. Adept at several instruments, especially the violin and piano, Thomas composed his own music and organized the East Portland Brass Band. All of the Parrott children were educated as musicians, and several of them followed their father into the music profession.
Growing up in a baseball-mad family and city, Jiggs Parrott played organized ball on the sandlots and in the public school system from a young age. By 1888, Jiggs was the third baseman for the Willamettes, the top amateur team in town, playing with his older brothers Dode and Tom.
In 1890 Portland fielded a team in the inaugural season of the Pacific Northwest League, a professional circuit that included clubs from Tacoma, Seattle and Spokane. Jiggs was the regular third baseman and hit .268, second best on his team. (Brother Tom was the team’s best pitcher.) In 1891, Jiggs helped lead his team to the league championship. A healthy 5′-10″ and 155 pounds, Jiggs had a reputation as a superior defensive player.
For the 1892 season, Parrott joined the Minneapolis team of the Western League. The local correspondent for The Sporting News was suitably impressed: “Parrott has the build of a successful third baseman. He is tall and spare in flesh. He has been in a gymnasium all winter.” His gym work paid off, as he hit .323 in 38 games and played a stellar third base. The Sporting News reported that he “fully merits all the words of commendation bestowed on him by the baseball writers on the coast,” and later called him “the best third baseman in the league when every thing is considered.” In mid-season the league folded, but Parrott signed on with the Chicago Colts of the National League. He was just twenty-one.
Manager Cap Anson immediately handed him the starting third base job, shifting incumbent Bill Dahlen to shortstop. He also hit second in the lineup, after center fielder Jimmy Ryan, and in front of Dahlen and Anson. The writers were not as impressed. After his very first game, in which he struck out twice and made two errors, the Chicago correspondent for The Sporting News wrote that “Parrott’s actions are the least taking to the eye,” but admitted that “it is unfair to judge him on his work in one game.” Although he began to field his position well, he was overmatched by big-league pitching, hitting just .201.
The following April, in discussing the upcoming 1893 season, The Sporting News said that Parrott “is somewhat of an erratic player. There are times when he plays good ball, but just when good steady play is necessary, he is very liable to get a case of ‘rattles.’” Eventually, his defense began to attract better reviews. In June, the same writer said his “work at third base is little less than brilliant.” An article in the same paper said “he is a clever fielder, a good batter and base runner, and promises to attain high rank as a professional player.” Sporting Life, after his death, wrote: “although the critics roasted him unmercifully, Anson took a liking to the well-behaved young man.”
In mid-1893 Jiggs was joined on the Colts by his brother, Tom, the only other native Oregonian to play in the major leagues in the nineteenth century. Demoted to the seventh spot in the batting order, Jiggs improved his hitting, raising his batting average to .245, but changes to the pitching mound and distance (to the modern 60′-6″) caused the league batting average to rise from .241 to .280.
In 1894, he shifted to second base to make room for Charlie Irwin, and hit .248 in a league that hit .309. The Sporting News regularly blasted Parrott’s play, at bat and in the field, and chastised Anson for continuing to play him: “It is true that [Anson] holds Parrot in high esteem and insists that ‘Jiggs’ is a great infielder, hence a suffering public may confidently expect to witness still further attempts of ‘Jiggs’ to hold down the second base bag.” He made 49 errors in 123 games at second base, but his fielding percentage and total chances per game were higher than the league average for his position (as they had been at third base the previous two seasons).
In 1895 the Colts bought Ace Stewart from Sioux City and made him their second baseman, relegating Parrott to a utility role. Anson defended the retention of Parrott: “I realize that ‘Jiggs’ is not popular with the Chicago crowds, so we will play him in games abroad only.” This did not appease The Sporting News writer, who responded: “The local scribes and fans thought we had buried the lanky ‘Jigglets,’ so far as Chicago was concerned, but he bobs up serenely.” In the event, he played just three games before drawing his release, thus ending his major league career at age twenty-three.
He soon caught on with Rockford of the Western Association, and hit .351 in 26 games as their third baseman. In 1896, he played for Grand Rapids and Columbus of the Western League, hitting a combined .306 in 89 games.
When he showed up to play for Columbus again in the spring of 1897, it was noted that his physical condition had deteriorated. He was given a trial, but soon released. He managed to catch on with Dubuque of the Western Association, playing just 15 games before returning to his hometown of Portland.
In the fall of 1897 he went to Phoenix in hopes of regaining his health. He died there on April 14, 1898, of what was called “oedema of the lungs” or “consumption,” but which is now more commonly known as tuberculosis. The Arizona Gazette noted: “The deceased came to Phoenix with his bicycle and athletic costumes, but was never able to use them. He is described as being a fine young man, and his early death is to be regretted.” The (Portland) Oregonian concurred about Parrott’s character: “He did not dissipate, and kept himself free from every vice. His work was always conscientious and thorough.”
His funeral was thus described in the Oregonian: “the largest private funeral that has occurred on the East Side [of Portland] for many years. Mr. Parrott was not a member of any fraternal organization, and hence the great gathering of friends from all portions of Portland and from the country, was a tribute to his memory and worth as a young man.” Appropriately, a large band of local musicians accompanied a large crowd and the casket from his parents’ home to Lone Fir Cemetery, where his body was laid to rest. His parents and all seven siblings survived him.
In preparing this article, I made use of Thomas H. Parrott’s family tree found on Ancestry.com. I also used stories on Parrott’s death and funeral in the Oregonian, April 23-25, 1898; his obituary from Sporting Life, April 30, 1898; (Father) Thomas H. Parrott’s obituary in the Oregonian, March 28, 1899; the Reach Guide, 1892-1898, the Spalding Guide, 1892-1898, and several articles from The Sporting News, 1892-1895.