This article was written by Dick Thompson
In 1887, his finest season, James Alaric Cudworth hit .398 for the New England League championship Lowell club. Alongside Cudworth in the Lowell outfield that year was a youngster named Hugh Duffy. Cudworth helped teach the young Duffy the finer points of the game. In 1894, Duffy hit .440 for the Boston Red Stockings, the highest single-season batting mark ever attained in the major leagues (except for 1887, when walks counted as hits). Duffy was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945. Cudworth played part of a single major league season, in 1884.
Jim Cudworth was born in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, on August 22, 1858. He spent much of his youth in Providence, Rhode Island. His first known baseball affiliation was with the Narragansetts of Providence, an amateur or semi-pro team from 1879 to 1882.
In 1883 and early 1884, Cudworth playing professionally for Bay City, Michigan in the Northwestern League. It was in Michigan that Cudworth first formed a friendship with Billy McGunnigle of Brockton, Massachusetts. McGunnigle would later manage five different major league clubs, winning pennants with Brooklyn in 1889 and 1890.
In July of 1884, Cudworth signed with the Kansas City team of the Union Association. His stay with Kansas City from late July through mid-September that year proved his only major league experience. He hit just .147 in 32 games.
In 1885 and 1886, Cudworth played for McGunnigle’s Brockton team in the New England League. He was rapidly gaining a reputation as an outstanding defensive outfielder. In discussing the 1885 Brockton team, McGunnigle’s obituary gave special praise to Cudworth. “The best known member, outside of McGunnigle himself was the brilliant James A. Cudworth, who never had a superior as judge of fly balls hit right in the glare of the sun.”
After his great 1887 season for Lowell-and an 1888 season in which he stole 53 bases and the Lowell Sun said he was “so fast that he covered the whole outfield on his own”–Cudworth went on to play professionally in Worcester, Massachusetts (1889-1890); New Haven, Connecticut (1890-1891); and Providence (1891). After a broken leg and most of a season umpiring in the Eastern League, he finished with nine games in Manchester, New Hampshire (1892); seventeen games in Lowell (1893); two in Haverhill, Massachusetts (1895); and a final game in Worcester (1898) before hanging up his spikes.
Cudworth initially settled as a businessman in Lowell following his baseball career. He retired to Lakeville, Massachusetts, in the 1920’s. An article published in the Worcester Spy in 1930 stated: “Cuddy is now in perfect health, enjoys life immensely, lives in a two-room cabin, busies himself with his daily tasks and with fishing and few would recognize in the gray bearded old gentleman fisherman, the fiery, dashing player who patrolled the outer gardens at the old Grove St. grounds in a Worcester New England League uniform.
“It wasn’t Cuddy’s ability to bat that gained him wide fame, but rather his fighting qualities. A game was never lost to Cuddy until the last man was out as he fought hard for every victory. He could run, could field and had an arm that sent the ball to the destination with he speed of a rifle bullet. He was exceptionally accurate and was known to throw out men at first base from center field.”
In a 1980 letter to Brockton baseball historian Bob Kane, Cudworth’s grandson wrote, “As he grew older, my mother and father tried many times to get him to live with us in Lowell, but he loved the fishing and the quiet of Middleboro.” (Lakeville, which up to the mid-nineteenth century had been part of adjacent Middleboro, was still often referred to by the name of the larger town.)
Jim Cudworth died at St. Luke’s hospital, Middleboro, in December 1943. He is buried next to his father in the Clark cemetery on Bedford Street in Lakeville. It is clear for all to see what was important to Cudworth’s life. Engraved on his tombstone are two crossed bats, four baseballs and his epitaph: “Lowell—1887—New England League.”
Sources include notes in the files of baseball researcher Tom Shea, research in the Middleboro Gazette and Middleboro and Lakeville vital records; and correspondence with SABR’s Bob Kane, Harold Dellinger, Bob Richardson, and Ray Nemec.