Jim Mutrie managed in the major leagues for nine seasons, two seasons in the American Association (1883-1884, New York Metropolitans) and seven seasons in the National League (1885-1891, New York Giants). As a big-league manager Mutrie achieved a .611 winning percentage, the second highest career percentage among major-league managers, trailing only Hall of Fame inductee Joe McCarthy in this category. Mutrie was the first manager to win pennants in two separate major leagues, once in the AA (1884) and twice in the NL (1888 and 1889). His 1884 Metropolitans played in the first postseason interleague championship series (the earliest version of what would later become the modern World Series); he was the first major-league manager to win back-to-back “world series” with his Giants in 1888 and 1889.
Mutrie’s true legacy cannot be measured by statistics and championships, however, no matter how impressive those numbers and victories. Mutrie’s lasting contribution is nothing less than the establishment of major-league baseball in New York City, which has prospered for more than a century-and-a-quarter after his arrival on the New York baseball scene. Like most people in the public eye, Mutrie had his detractors and his admirers, his critics and his champions. He also had his strengths and his weaknesses. The historical record, however, leaves little doubt that he was central to the creation, development, and, at one point, the survival of big-league baseball in the great metropolis of New York City. It is impressive that he accomplished this end within a highly charged environment fueled by baseball traditionalists, sportswriters of all persuasions, labor rebellion, and fierce competition. That a young “out-of-towner” achieved what he did, at a time and place notorious for its unbridled greed and systemic corruption, makes the Mutrie story truly remarkable.
James Mutrie was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in 1851. His father, also named James, was born in Scotland in 1818. His mother Sarah Ann Stagg was born in New Jersey in 1828. Mutrie was the third of six children in the Mutrie family. The U.S. Census of 1860 records young James as nine years old and attending school, while in 1870 it shows him to be 19 and working along with his brother Richard as a store clerk in his father’s business, which sold paper boxes, picture frames, and stereoscopes. In 1905, sportswriter William Rankin wrote a newspaper profile of Mutrie based on interviews with the then former manager. Rankin reported that Mutrie attended school until he was 16 years old and then went to nearby Boston to work in a bookshop for two years before returning home where, as Mutrie describes it, he went into partnership with his father and ran the business on his own.
Rankin’s profile notes that Mutrie, by age 16, was an adequate cricket player, but had not played baseball until that age. This account is somewhat at odds with a 1930 interview Mutrie gave to young Staten Island Advance sportswriter Jack Daly Jr. In Daly’s account, Mutrie claims to have played baseball on the Boston Common to entertain Union soldiers who were encamped there. This account would indicate that he played baseball before age 16. Mutrie also claimed in the Advance interview that while catching a game on the Common so many soldiers had accumulated as spectators that he had to catch the entire game up behind the batter due to the crowded conditions, and that it was he who introduced the practice of playing the catcher position in this manner. Later, during his career as a baseball manager, Mutrie received the nicknamed “Truthful James” (and another variation “Truthful Jeems”). This nickname was intended to imply that Mutrie was not always accurate when relating a story.
By Mutrie’s own account, he was invited to join a local Chelsea baseball club when its team members observed him playing cricket. In 1872, the club became known as the Dreadnaughts and played other amateur teams throughout the Boston area. He claims that he became the team’s captain and won a gold medal for being selected as the team’s best player. In any case, in 1875, Mutrie made his debut as a professional player with the Androscoggin Base Ball Club of Lewiston, Maine. He reported being paid $18 per week. However, he never got beyond the first week of the playing season, suffering a season- ending injury to his collarbone when he was hit by a foul tip while catching. Maybe he did play up close behind the batter after all.
In 1876 Mutrie returned to the diamond as a shortstop with a new team that had formed in Fall River, Massachusetts. One of his teammates was future major leaguer Sam Crane who was team captain. When Crane left the team before season’s end, Mutrie was appointed captain. In 1877, Mutrie returned to Fall River as player-manager, holding down the shortstop position and occasionally pitching. The team finished in second place in the loosely organized New England Association.
Mutrie began the 1878 season as a shortstop with the Hartford, Connecticut, club of the International Association. But after three games, he ended up with the New Bedford, Massachusetts team where he played 101 games at shortstop while with an occasional turn at pitcher. He batted a dismal .186 under manager Frank Bancroft, a future major- league manager.
In February 1879, Mutrie attended the winter organizing meeting of the National Association as a representative of the New Bedford team. By season’s start, however, he had joined the Worcester, Massachusetts, club as a player, which opened its season against New Bedford on April 11. He remained with Worcester about seven weeks. Not playing particularly well at shortstop, pitcher, or in the outfield, he was released on June 8 and joined the Brockton team of the Eastern Massachusetts Base Ball Association. The move to Brockton signaled the end of Mutrie’s career as a regular starting player.
On June 20 Mutrie was offered and accepted the manager’s position for Brockton, though, he would appear as a substitute player with some frequency. On June 27 he started his managerial duties and promptly lost his first game the following day by a score of 9 to 2. However, his managerial debut was not an indicator of his eventual success in 1879. By September Brockton was challenging for the league championship, which came down to a final deciding game played on September 30 in Brockton against the General Worth Club of Stoneham. While Rankin’s 1905 article reported that the Brockton club captured the championship in 1879, the reality is not so clear. Contemporary newspaper accounts reported that the September 30 game was called on account of darkness, with the General Worths at bat, in the bottom of the ninth. After a series of disputes between the two clubs, and Brockton failing to show for a rescheduled October 6 game, it is unclear whether a league champion was ever crowned.
The following year, 1880, was one of two pivotal years in Mutrie’s baseball life (the other was 1890). The year started with optimism, descended into confusion and failure, and ended with triumph and overwhelming success. In February, sportswriters in Brooklyn and as far away as Chicago announced that Mutrie would manage a Jersey City, New Jersey, team  and reported that Mutrie served on the scheduling committee for the National Association. The young 28-year-old manager was looking beyond New England and above the playing level of the Eastern Massachusetts Base Ball Association.
Things became confusing in March when Mutrie was invited back to manage Brockton, which he reportedly accepted. Then, just two days later he appeared in Brooklyn, New York, with Brooklyn’s William Cammeyer, to scout players. Reports circulated that Mutrie would use Brooklyn’s refurbished Union Grounds, controlled by Cammeyer, for his Jersey City team if he, could not reach an agreement with the proprietors of the Jersey City ball grounds. By late April it appeared that Jersey City had fallen through as Mutrie took over as Brockton’s manager and tenth (substitute) player. At season’s start on May 1, Mutrie was in the Brockton lineup in right field as player-manager in a 16 to 2 blowout victory..
On May 9 the Washington Post announced that the National Association would soon expand with the “Jersey Citys” joining as soon as their grounds were ready, but, in the meantime, the team would play in Brockton, Massachusetts. Four days later, Brockton took on the Troy team of the National League and was trashed 10 to 5. On that same day, the Brooklyn Eagle reported that the undefeated “Jersey City” team would continue to play in Brockton until “Centennial” grounds in Jersey City were ready.
A week later on May 16, the Washington Post announced that the “Jersey Citys” had been officially admitted to the National Association, but would continue to play in Brockton. To further add to the confusion, a new Brooklyn team would be playing its opening game on its new home grounds at Steven’s Institute in Hoboken, New Jersey, against the visiting “Jersey City/Brockton Club,” a game that Mutrie’s dual-city team won 7 to 3. The Hoboken location, however, proved to be inadequate for the 1,000 spectators who arrived for the game.
By mid June, newspapers were listing four teams as members of the National Association: Albany, Baltimore, Washington and Rochester. Jersey City was not listed. Meanwhile, Mutrie was attempting to hold on in Brockton, playing every team he could schedule. On June 19, as his prospects for a playing field in Jersey City faded, he was found in Springfield, Massachusetts, desperately seeking to represent that city in the National Association.
Two days later, on June 21, Mutrie arrived in New Haven, Connecticut, managing and playing centerfield for Brockton, in a 7 to 5 win over Yale University. Arlie Latham was in the Brockton lineup at shortstop for that game. Decades later, Latham would relate to New York Daily News sportswriter Jimmy Powers that it was at the conclusion of that game in New Haven against Yale when Mutrie left the team for about two weeks, and headed for New York City to attempt to organize a team there.
During the interview, Latham claimed that Mutrie made that trip on an old fashioned big-wheel bicycle. Although at first this may seem improbable, there is clear evidence that Mutrie was an accomplished, long distance, pedestrian racer at this time in his life, which makes the bicycle story more believable. Only the year before, his true competitive nature was evident when he completed and won a 50-mile race. Furthermore, even near the end of his long life, Mutrie was known to walk considerable distances. In any case, on July 4, 1880, the Washington Post provided an official announcement: “The Jersey City or Brockton nine which has been running under the management of Mutrie has disbanded.”
According to Rankin’s 1905 article, Mutrie arrived in New York in the summer of 1880 and immediately took a job in a box factory. He did, however, make time for baseball. In August, he participated in a game on a picked-nine against the Washington club when its National Association rival from Rochester failed to appear. The game was scheduled at the Brighton Beach Race Course in Brooklyn, under wretched field conditions. The picked-nine won the game 6 to 3.
Sometime, shortly thereafter, on an unspecified date in the summer of 1880, the defining moment of Mutrie’s baseball future occurred. As the story was reported a number of times several decades later, Mutrie was watching an amateur game when one of the team’s pitchers, John B. Day, who was being batted hard, took himself out of the game and sat next to the 29-year-old Mutrie. Day was slightly older. As the story goes, Mutrie convinced Day that he, Mutrie, could bring together a winning team if Day was interested in investing. Another version of this story implies that this meeting was not so accidental. Henry Chadwick, writing in the Brooklyn Eagle, publicly chastised Mutrie, claiming that Mutrie was, in fact, introduced to John Day by members of the New York baseball press. Many years later Mutrie would retell the story affirming that Rankin introduced him to Day.
Day was not a baseball man, but he loved the game. He was a successful businessman, a wholesale tobacconist, who had established his business on Maiden Lane in lower Manhattan near the financial district, and had some business and political contacts. As Mutrie and Day began to collaborate on what was to become one of baseball’s greatest success stories, they discovered a location in Manhattan for their planned team to play. Depending on which later-told version of the story you choose, either Mutrie or Day realized, or were told, that there was a suitable piece of land at Fifth Avenue and 110th Street. Just north of Central Park, this property ran uptown to 112th Street and west to Sixth Avenue. Large enough for two fields with a grandstand and bleachers, this parcel was owned by James Gordon Bennett, son of the founder of the New York Herald newspaper. The location had been in use by the younger Bennett and his wealthy circle of friends, to play polo. Thus, the location was known as the Polo Grounds.
Through Day’s business and political connections, he was able to convince Bennett to lease him the land. As the grounds were being prepared for baseball, Mutrie was busy pulling together a team to play in the great metropolis, which he and Day appropriately named the Metropolitans. On September 12, the Brooklyn Eagle announced the team’s existence and the names of its players. On September 16, the Metropolitans (a.k.a the Mets) played a hastily scheduled game against the Unions of Brooklyn on the latter’s grounds, which the Mets won 15 to 3. A few days later, on September 20, the Metropolitans lost 6 to 3 against a newly organized Jersey City club in a game played on the Elysian Fields in Hoboken. However, the Mets were not to be deterred, and reeled off three consecutive victories against the Jersey City team 5 to 1, 8 to 0, and 10 to 4.
On September 29, the Polo Grounds were finally ready for baseball. The Metropolitans and the Nationals of Washington played the first professional baseball game in New York City proper (i.e., Manhattan, since Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island all consisted of unaffiliated cities and towns then). Typical of the era, the visiting club arrived late. The Metropolitans elected to bat in the top of the inning. After five innings of play the Mets led by a score of 4 to 2. In the top of the sixth inning, the Mets scored four more runs with darkness approaching. In the bottom of the sixth, the Nationals were able to push one more run across the plate before Umpire Daily called the game because of darkness, with one out and the score Mets 8, Nationals 3. However, because six full innings were unable to be completed, the official final score reverted back to the 4 to 2 Metropolitan lead that existed at the end of the fifth inning.
By the close of the Metropolitans short first season at the end of October, the team accomplished an impressive 16-7-1 record in 24 games. Mutrie even allowed Day to pitch a complete game, a 15 to 6 victory over Manhattan College. Mutrie had finally achieved what he had dreamed of doing when he set out for New York; with the financial resources and connections of Day, he had established a professional baseball team in the nation’s largest and wealthiest city. Although the Metropolitans were an independent team playing on leased land, they were a successful team both on the field and at the box office.
For 1881, Mutrie and Day wasted no time. In addition to maintaining a membership in the League Alliance, the team was one of the seven teams in the Eastern Championship Association” and handily won its championship. Within an ambitious schedule of 151 games (then the most games played by any professional team in a single season), the Metropolitans played NL opponents 60 times. Although these games resulted in 42 loses, the Mets, as they were more frequently being referred to, were successful 18 times against baseball’s top level of play.
In 1882, the Mets exceeded the previous year’s record of games played and victories achieved by completing 162 games and winning 29 of 74 against NL opponents in a season that lasted from March 31 through October 28. Mutrie’s club defeated every college team they played and won every contest, except one, against the teams of the newly formed major-league American Association. In summary, from 1880 through 1882, during the Metropolitan’s pre-major-league period, the club compiled a record of 201 wins, 136 losses, and 7 ties against all challengers.
Prior to the 1882 season, the Metropolitans passed on an offer to join the AA. Although the NL viewed the new AA as an outlaw league, why Mutrie and Day really declined the offer to join the AA is speculative. There was a report, however, of a meeting between NL President William Hulbert and Mutrie, along with Mets Secretary W. Appleton, in November of 1881. It is likely that the New York club’s management feared the loss of NL competition, those games being particularly big draws to the Polo Grounds and, therefore, big paydays for both the home team Mets and the visiting clubs. Regardless of their reasons for declining the AA, and not becoming a NL club, the Mets had endeared themselves to New York City’s baseball enthusiasts as the city’s hometown team. By the conclusion of the 1882 season, their popularity, combined with a growing degree of cooperation between the NL and AA, would change their thinking for the future.
The 1882 season had barely ended when, in November, Mutrie and Day announced that the Metropolitans had joined the AA for the 1883 season. Within weeks they were being invited by the NL to place the Metropolitans into the senior circuit. The two baseball men did something extraordinarily bold; they entered a second team into the NL, absorbing most of the players from the defunct NL team in Troy. Mutrie remained the manager of the Metropolitans, finishing his first season as skipper of a major league team in 1883 with a respectable fourth place finish in the AA and a .563 winning percentage. This was far better than the sixth place finish of the Mets sister club in the NL, which achieved only a .479 winning pace under the management of John Clapp.
Mutrie again took on the leadership of the Mets for the 1884 season. This time he really outshined his New York League counterpart’s fourth place finish when he captured the AA pennant with a .701 winning percentage. By at least one later account, Mutrie instigated the first “world series” by challenging his once former manager Frank Bancroft, who had skippered Providence to the NL pennant, to a three-game, postseason, interleague championship series and a $1000 bet. Although, Mutrie allegedly backed out of the bet, the teams agreed to play each other for the total gate receipts. However, in his well researched book Before the World Series: Pride, Profits and Baseball’s First Championships, Larry G. Bowman explains that the challenge was initiated by Bancroft who suggested that each team put up $1,000 and that the players of the team that won the best-of-three-games series split the $2,000 prize. Bowman adds that Mutrie rejected Bancroft’s proposal but accepted a revised proposal from the Providence manager to share in the games receipts and expenses, with all games being played in New York City. Hence, Mutrie managed the Metropolitans of New York in what most baseball historians consider the first “world series.” The Mets lost all three games to Providence pitching great Hoss Radbourn.
It was also in 1884 that Mutrie received his nickname “Truthful James,” which was also converted at various times to “Truthful Jeems.” No one less than “The Father of Baseball,” pioneer baseball scribe Henry Chadwick, bestowed the sobriquet on Mutrie. Although exactly what instigated Chadwick to initially tag Mutrie “Truthful James” is unclear, the writer relentlessly applied the nickname in negative contexts for several years. In subsequent uses, the writer would usually be clear that he was referring to Mutrie’s habit of being somewhat less than truthful.
Chadwick hadn’t invented the term “Truthful James.” The term was popularized by the American writer and poet Bret Harte after the 1870 publication of his poem “Plain Language by Truthful James,” which was also commonly titled “The Heathen Chinee.” The nickname had come into wide use by journalists during the 1870s to describe someone who was basically less than honest, usually politicians and other public figures, whose first name was James. “Truthful James,” in fact, was based on a real person, Jim Gillis, a holdover of the California gold rush. Gillis was first encountered and befriended by Mark Twain and later by Harte. This colorful character would entertain his guests with tall tales in the best American folk tradition.
Mutrie, however, was not without allies in the press. What began in May of 1884 by Chadwick, writing for the Brooklyn Eagle, as short little “Truthful James” barbs, were often responded to by other newspapers, particularly the National Police Gazette, defending Mutrie and accusing Chadwick of being jealous of Mutrie’s popularity and success. However, by late 1885, Chadwick unleashed a particularly harsh piece stating that Day was really the person responsible for the success of the Metropolitans and that Mutrie was nothing more than Day’s clerk. After heaping additional praise on Day, Chadwick concluded in the most hostile of terms: “A manager to be successful, must be a man who can command the respect of the men who are in his charge, by his temperate habits, his high regard for the truth and his ability to manage a team on the field. It is the misfortune of Mr. Day that he has not had such a model manager in his employ.”
Certainly, in early 1885, Mutrie handed Henry Chadwick perhaps the writer’s most substantial “Truthful James” ammunition. As manager of the AA champion Metropolitans, it was not a huge surprise that Mutrie would be named manager of Day’s other team, the more popular NL franchise then commonly referred to as “Gothams” and less commonly as “Maroons.” However, in early March of 1885, Mutrie dutifully represented the Mets at the AA’s annual pre-season meeting. At that gathering, a resolution was passed by the delegates affirming the AA’s commitment to honor the “national agreement.” This agreement included a set of rules which were established by the AA and NL to honor the member teams’ contracts with their respective players, including a provision that no team of either league could approach the player of another AA or NL team until that player had been released by his team for at least ten days.
By March 26, however, Jim Mutrie was in a very much different position as he boarded the steamship Trinidad; he was now the manager of Day’s other team, the NL Gothams. Traveling to Bermuda with “Truthful James” were two Metropolitan players, the team’s pitching star Tim Keefe and one of the team’s top sluggers Thomas “Dude” Esterbrook. The trip was a ploy that would allow Keefe and Esterbrook to be released from the Metropolitans and resigned by the Gothams after ten days had elapsed, but while they remained out of reach of any other club. On Sunday, April 12, Mutrie, with Keefe and Esterbrook, steamed back into New York harbor, all members of the New York NL club. As a result, the incident nearly destroyed the “national agreement” among baseball’s professional leagues. In addition, the AA banned Mutrie from any further association with its organization. The fuss was all for naught, however, as he and both players were now all New York National Leaguers.
The very next day following the return of Mutrie and the two players from Bermuda, the New York NL team continued its pre-season play (which had been going on quite successfully since the beginning of March without Mutrie) with a game in Jersey City against that city’s new entry in the minor-league Eastern Association. Much to everyone’s surprise, the Jersey City team, with its rookie pitcher, held the New York NL club hitless into the fifth inning. Finally, the big-league club managed four unearned runs and came from behind to record a 4 to 1 victory.
The report of this game in one New York newspaper is of particular relevance to a significant piece of baseball history and to part of the Mutrie legend. The game report, which appeared the following day, April 14, in The World, is what gave the New York NL club its permanent nickname “Giants.” Although The World‘s coverage of the game lacks a byline, there is some evidence that the report was written by P. J. Donahue. This game report gives no indication that Mutrie did or said anything to establish the team’s new name. In fact, there has yet to be found any 19th-century account of Mutrie doing or saying anything that resulted in the name “Giants,” despite there being scores of 20th-century accounts claiming that he named the team. More than 30 years later, Mutrie would claim that he had coined the nickname in 1888 by referring to his players as “giants” at an exciting moment during a game. Mutrie may well have used the name “Giants” before or after 1888, but regardless, the team’s nickname had been immediately popularized and in common use within weeks of the April 14, 1885 story in The World.
All the ink that Mutrie generated in the sporting press was only outmatched by the speculation of New York sportswriters that their city would most certainly win the NL pennant for 1885. It all seemed to go hand-in-hand. Mutrie, the manager of the 1884 AA champions, leading what appeared to be the most powerful team ever assembled, having the added benefit of Keefe and Esterbrook, seemed certain to win it all. But, the “baseball gods” had other plans, and the Giants, who did indeed play well, finished in second place behind Chicago. At the conclusion of the 1885 season, Day became a one-team owner, selling the Metropolitans, which had finished in a dismal seventh place in the AA.
Chadwick, from his desk at The Brooklyn Eagle, re-commenced his “Truthful James” attacks, which continued right into December. In March of 1886, he accused Mutrie of fermenting hard feelings between the Mets and the Brooklyn club, both of the AA. In May, he bashed Mutrie again for encouraging a group of Giants fans to carry brooms to Philadelphia to celebrate a hopeful sweep by the Giants. When the Giants lost the final game, Chadwick delighted in the New York loss. By November, the New York Evening Telegram got into the “Truthful James” act when it reminded its readers of Mutrie’s “Heathen Chinee” trick, referencing the previous year’s signing of Keefe and Esterbrook. Even the national sports weekly, The Sporting News, was referring to Mutrie as “Truthful Jeems.”
As the Brooklyn Eagle, probably Henry Chadwick, reluctantly applied the New York team’s new “Giants” nickname, stating, “as the journalistic boys in New York’ call the New York team,” the 1886 New York NL club was expected to be just what its nickname implied. With Monte Ward, Roger Connor, Dude Esterbrook, Jim O’Rourke, and Buck Ewing in the lineup, and Mickey Welsh and Tim Keefe in the pitcher’s box, they seemed easy favorites to overcome their two-game deficit to Chicago the previous year. However, for a second year, Mutrie was denied a NL title. Furthermore, his team slipped to third place and a not-so-respectable 12 ½ games behind Chicago again. The Giants winning percentage of .630, although nothing to be ashamed of, was a far cry from the team’s .759 pace in 1885.
For Mutrie, his winning season fell far short of the high expectations of New York’s loyal cranks. Not winning the pennant, however, did not dissuade a group of Mutrie followers from organizing a “Jim Mutrie Association.” Although this group’s exact activities and the organization’s longevity remain sketchy, the official stated purpose of the Association, headquartered at 2019 Third Avenue in Manhattan, was “the advancement of its members’ social, physical and intellectual well being.” What role Mutrie played in the Association, which bore his name, was not made clear.
Less noticeable during 1886 was the rapidly growing Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players, the players organization that had formed the preceding October. Although it would be three more full seasons before the consequences of the Brotherhood’s actions would rock major-league baseball, Mutrie was sitting on a powder keg. Among Mutrie’s Giants were the individual players who comprised the leadership of this movement: Ward, Keefe, and Ewing.
Mutrie did more than just “wait until next year.” In addition to continuing to promise Giants fans great things for the coming season, which he did frequently through any newspaper reporter willing to write about it, he worked hard to secure two quality players, outfielders George Gore and “Silent Mike” Tiernan, who would end their first seasons as Giants with .290 and .287 batting averages, respectively. In addition, shortstop Ward led the league in stolen bases with 111 under the old rules, and Connor took top honors with 17 homers, while Tiernan blasted another 10.
Yet, despite what had seemed like a strengthening of the team, Mutrie’s Giants slipped another notch in the final standings to fourth place, 10 ½ games behind pennant- winning Detroit, Feeling the pressure, Mutrie was immediately in motion seeking more new talent for the following season. By December, Mutrie was boldly predicting a pennant for New York. All the while Chadwick reminded his readers that Mutrie’s nickname was “Truthful James.”
In 1888, Mutrie delivered to New York City’s fans what they had been waiting for, an NL pennant, the city’s first. It was Mutrie’s second major-league championship, however, his earlier 1884 victory in the AA, was in the minds of most fans then and now a cut below his accomplishment in the NL. Mutrie’s 1888 team was not just victorious, it outpaced the league, finishing nine games ahead of chief rival, the second-place Chicago club. Mutrie had secured his second opportunity to win a postseason championship. This time his opponent was the formable St. Louis Browns who had successfully captured a fourth consecutive AA pennant. The Browns were 1-1-1 in the postseason play, tying Chicago in 1885, beating them in 1886, and losing to Detroit in 1887.
The Giants and St. Louis decided on a 10-game series, four games in New York, one in Brooklyn, one in Philadelphia, and the final four in St. Louis. All ten games were played in earnest, even the last two won by St. Louis at home and played after the Giants had achieved the necessary six victories to become “World Champion.” In addition, despite poor weather in New York for the early games and a commanding lead by New York as the series progressed, both teams managed a neat profit. St. Louis owner Chris Von der Ahe even hosted a victory celebration for the victorious Giants while Mutrie, clad in black formal wear and bowler hat, posed proudly with his “World Champions” in the official team photo.
As soon as the eighth and deciding game of the 1888 “World Series” was completed, several of the Giants players immediately headed west to join Albert Spalding’s baseball exhibition tour of California, Hawaii, and Australia. One of those players was Giants shortstop John Montgomery Ward who was also president of the Brotherhood. Eventually, Spalding’s tour circumnavigated the globe and didn’t return to New York, and finally Chicago, until March of 1889. While Ward was away, major league baseball, both the NL and AA, was hard at work planning and implementing a salary structure, which essentially capped every player’s earnings. By the time Ward had returned to the United States, his objections and appeals to the NL were too late. Many players had already signed, and Ward’s arguments fell on the deaf ears of baseball’s owners and league officials.
For Mutrie and Day, 1889 must have seemed like the beginning of the end of their baseball world. In addition to having the core of the Brotherhood leadership on their team, Tammany Hall, the all-powerful Democratic Party’s political machine in New York City, was finally delivering on its long drawn out threat to have 111th Street completed, right through the center of the Polo Grounds. Despite court challenges and attempts at political maneuvering by Day, the Giants cause was lost. With just weeks until Opening Day, Mutrie and Day scrambled for a suitable alternative for a playing field. Mutrie personally supervised the disassembly of the wooden grandstand and fencing at the old Polo Grounds, carefully saving the lumber for future use, while Day managed to secure the use of a field at 155th Street near the Harlem River. Although a relatively distant uptown location, the new field was reasonably accessible by the new elevated railway, which stopped within a short walking distance from the new venue. However, it took a number of weeks to get the field into condition and to assemble the grandstand, bleachers and fencing. In a last ditch effort to make the League’s Opening Day deadline, Mutrie and Day temporarily leased the St. George Grounds on Staten Island, where the new owners of the Metropolitans had staged the team’s games in 1886 and 1887.
In terms of attendance, the Giants at St. George in 1889 didn’t do much better than the Metropolitans did. In addition to the same resistance by Manhattan fans to taking a ferryboat ride, the field was in terrible condition and had the additional impediment of being utilized for outdoor productions of a large stage spectacle. This theatrical use required that some of the scenery and staging had to remain on the field during games (a ball hit into the scenery was a hit). Although these poor playing conditions and lack of a large fan following to Staten Island was just a temporary, five-week, predicament for the Giants, the move to Staten Island was a permanent move for Mutrie and his wife Kate (the former Catherine Havey, whom he married in 1881) and their only child, daughter Grace. Since Staten Island offered a clean and airy respite from the over congestion of Manhattan and the rapidly growing city of Brooklyn, the area must have seemed attractive to Kate Mutrie who was raising a six-year-old daughter.
Mutrie’s Giants played 23 home games in all on Staten Island in 1889, and played one game, the season opener, in Jersey City. Finally, on July 8, the Giants played their first game at the new 155th Street Manhattan location, their “New Polo Grounds,” as the venue was referred to. The new location proved an instant success, despite the fact that the grandstand lacked a roof for the first games played there. Over 10,000 fans turned out to see their Giants defeat the Pittsburgh club at the new field’s debut. Mutrie, by now a New York baseball fixture in his tall black hat and dress coat, stood at the main entrance as thousands of “cranks” filed past him to pay their admissions. Many others who had to be turned away for lack of room in the stands, or on the field, stood on the edge of a nearby high abutment, located just west of the field, called “Dead Head Hill” (later to be known as Coogan’s Bluff) to watch the distant action on the field below. For decades New York baseball fans that were unable to get a Polo Grounds ticket, or couldn’t afford one, used Coogan’s Bluff as a vantage point to view games from afar.
The 1889 season proved to be one of the most exciting in major league baseball history. The AA team in Brooklyn fought a long and bitter rivalry with the four-time AA champion St. Louis team, as Brooklyn prevailed in the final games of the season. In the NL, Mutrie’s Giants overtook first-place Boston in mid-September, and secured the pennant on the final day of the season with a victory over Cleveland while Boston lost to Pittsburgh.
Mutrie and Day met with their Brooklyn counterparts Bill McGunnigle and Charlie Byrne to decide on the championship series format. Two of their decisions would later become institutionalized in modern World Series play. First, all games would only be played in the cities of the two pennant winners. Second, no further games would be played once one team won a majority of the scheduled games.
Attendance at the series was spectacular for the first two games, one at the Polo Grounds and the other at Washington Park in Brooklyn. However, the experience was frustrating for Giants fans due to the overt delaying tactics of the Brooklyn team to secure victories by having the games called because of darkness while they were ahead. It wasn’t until Mutrie and Day threatened to boycott the rest of the series that a complete nine-inning game was played. In addition, cold weather and arguments with the umpires also negatively affected fan turnout after game two. Mutrie, however, finished the series appearing every bit the baseball maven. After starting star pitcher Tim Keefe in the first game, a game Keefe won, Mutrie decided to “go with his instincts” and used Ed Crane and Hank O’Day almost exclusively for the rest of series. Keefe made a brief relief appearance in game seven. Mutrie’s hunch paid off and he won the “World Championship,” the first major-league manager to do so in consecutive seasons.
Despite the drop off in attendance after the second game, the series grossed over $20,000. After expenses, the teams divided $12,164 evenly, with each Giants player receiving $380 and each Brooklyn player pocketing $389. The New York players voted not to allow Mutrie a share in the victory proceeds. Their rationale was that the team’s owners had already realized a good profit. However, this was also a foreshadowing of the trouble that was about to come.
Fortunately, the real celebrations for New York’s success in 1889 had taken place when the team won the NL pennant. The festivities of a second consecutive “World Championship” were practically non-existent because everyone in baseball knew what was about to happen. It was an open secret that by the next year there would be a new league controlled by players in a completely new business relationship with new “owners.” For Mutrie and Day, 1889 would be the high-water-mark of their baseball careers.
Rumors became reality just six days after the 1889 “World Series” concluded. The Players League was officially formed. Because the leadership of the rebellion was made up of players from the Giants, Mutrie’s back-to-back world champions deserted en masse. Ward, Richardson, Connor, Ewing, O’Rourke, Slattery, Whitney, Gore, Keefe, Titcomb, Crane, and others all departed. As Day and his fellow NL owners and officials initiated legal actions and threats of legal actions against the new league’s teams, Mutrie began to work in earnest to put his New York NL team on the field for the 1890 season. Mutrie desperately began the process of scavenging for players. The only position player to remain on the roster was outfielder Tiernan, the only pitcher was Welch, and the only substitute was back-up catcher Pat Murphy.
The retention of Welch was paramount to Mutrie during that cold dark winter of 1890. Finally, on January 13, “Smiling Mickey,” as Welch was affectionately referred to, signed a lucrative and unheard of three-year contract with his old team. Some of the pressure on Mutrie had been relieved and, as it was later reported, he went to celebrate at one of his favorite hangouts, Nick Engles’ saloon on 23rd Street in Manhattan. Much later that evening as he approached his home on foot in Staten Island he was set-upon by three robbers who succeeded in removing his watch-chain and $29 from his vest pocket. As a result of his celebrating, he not only was left vulnerable to the robbers, but he subsequently became quite disorderly. Mutrie’s behavior in the wake of the crime prompted complaints by awakened neighbors, which in turn lead to the summoning of the law, and a night in custody for “Truthful Jeems.”
As the start of the season drew closer, Mutrie managed to secure aging veteran players Sam Crane and Dude Esterbrook, and a number of new kids, quickly dubbed “Mutrie’s Amateurs” by Ewing who was now manager of the New York PL team. Not all of Mutrie’s picks were clunkers. From the newly collapsed Indianapolis club he secured shortstop Jack Glasscock, catcher Dick Buckley, second baseman Charlie Bassett, and a young pitcher entering his second year in the majors, Amos Rusie. Rusie, “The Hoosier Thunderbolt” played the rest of his Hall of Fame career with the Giants.
Most of “Mutrie’s Amateurs” would have very short playing careers; for some 1890 was their only major league season. Two pitchers, Bob Murphy and Jack Sharrott, came right out of amateur ball in Staten Island, Mutrie’s new home. Murphy pitched for only one season. Sharrott, on the other hand, showed some promise, but his career was cut short after four years, due to an arm injury.
On the first Wednesday in March 1890, Mutrie and his new charges headed for Charleston, South Carolina and spring training. For many of the young players it was more like baseball camp as Jim attempted to turn them into professionals within four weeks. Meanwhile, Day continued the legal battles in New York, which included an unsuccessful effort to keep the New York PL team from nicknaming itself “Giants.” Adding to the Giants woes was the fact that New York, PL player-manager Ewing remained one of the most popular of all New York players. Then, in addition, to all of these headaches, the PL club built its new stadium nearly touching the “New Polo Grounds,” the location that Mutrie and Day had developed only the previous season.
Within a few days of his return from spring training, Mutrie, always the promoter, was challenging the New York PL team to head on head pre-season competition. He even challenged his next-door rivals to an exhibition game to benefit charity, in an attempt to circumvent the prohibition that the NL had placed on its member teams from playing any games with PL opponents. The New York NL-PL game never materialized, but it made great pre-season press, especially for Mutrie’s Giants who were perceived as far weaker without their star players.
As the 1890 season opened, it rapidly became apparent to most observers that the PL team, which had cleverly scheduled almost all of its home games to conflict with the rival NL club next door, was truly the fan favorite. On June 14, the national weekly, Sporting Life, reported on a pathetic scene starring Mutrie. The dejected manager was described as pacing in front of the main entrance to the Polo Grounds as thousands of New York fans streamed past him, barely giving a glance in his direction as they headed for the PL club’s “Brotherhood Field” just a few yards away.
Throughout the 1890 season, all three major leagues (NL, AA, and PL) boasted inflated attendance figures and continue to generate and deny rumors of collapse, player acquisitions and desertions, and league mergers. When the whistle finally blew in October, Mutrie’s Giants finished a not unexpected sixth place in the eight-team circuit; the New York PL team finished third in its eight-team circuit. The season was finally over and everyone was either broke or near broke. Before a month had elapsed from the end of the 1890 season, the NL and AA had successfully bought out or consolidated each of the PL teams, thereby re-establishing the two major leagues with eight teams in the NL and nine in a less stable AA. Amnesty was granted for nearly all of the rebel players and most returned to their pre-1890 clubs.
For Mutrie and Day, the 1890 season had everlasting implications, not just for the two men’s baseball careers but, also for the rest of their lives. The most immediate of these implications was Day’s loss of the controlling shares of the New York Giants. During the “players’ rebellion,” he had to borrow heavily to keep his franchise afloat. Much of the borrowing was from other team owners, including Chicago NL club owner Albert J. Spalding, who also owned the most lucrative sports equipment company in the world. For Mutrie, the immediate effect was the creation by the team’s new controlling directors of a new title, “field manager,” which was filled by former Giants captain, and New York PL player-manager Ewing. Although team captains made most, if not all, of the on-field strategy decisions during this era, they were subservient to managers. Although Mutrie remained the “manager,” Ewing’s new title must have been somewhat troubling to him.
By December, despite the power shift in the club’s ownership and Ewing’s new title, Mutrie put on his traditional optimistic and confident face for the press. By the first weeks of 1891, he was about his normal business of securing players and floating his ideas to the sportswriters, including thoughts of installing lights at the Polo Grounds and offering night sports other than baseball. It all seemed like the typical start to another year of baseball. However, there was some foreshadowing of things to come for Jim Mutrie. The Boston Globe reported on a story that first appeared in the New York Evening World, that Spalding, who now owned not only the Chicago club but also a share of the Giants, was pushing for Mutrie’s dismissal but that Day was strongly opposed. The same news item offered an explanation into Day and Mutrie’s financial relationship regarding the New York NL franchise. The Globe reported that Day drew an annual salary of $5,000 and that no annual written contract existed for Mutrie’s services as the club’s manager. The newspaper’s story continued, “but [Mutrie] has gone year to year as manger, and has drawn money whenever he wanted it. The Globe went on to add platitudes such as: “He has been regarded as a baseball fixture in the metropolis … he re-established base ball in this city, and few harsh or unkind words are ever spoken of James Mutrie … Base ball in New York without Mutrie would indeed be similar to Hamlet’ with the chief character omitted.”
As regular season play commenced, the Giants got off to a mixed start. In late April the team dropped four in a row to Boston, one of their two great rivals, the other being Chicago. However, by June 9 they had reeled off ten consecutive wins heading into a series with Chicago. As was customary, the impending Chicago-New York face-off was made all the more exciting by the usual volleys of newspaper quotes between Mutrie and Chicago’s Cap Anson. Perhaps, as a result of the economic strains placed on the teams during the league wars the previous season, the Chicago-New York rivalry in 1891 seemed extremely intense. By season’s end, in head-to-head competition, the Giants dominated Chicago with 13 wins against only five loses. However, Boston was able to easily handle the Giants, winning 15 and losing only five games. In the meantime, Chicago dominated Boston 13 wins to seven losses. This gave rise to Chicago’s utter frustration when the team finished second to Boston, which was made possible by the Giants losing five straight to Boston in the final days of September.
Within weeks of the season’s conclusion, the Giants and Mutrie were being openly accused of hippodroming, with the Chicago Tribune leading the charge. The pressure from the accusations was so strong that it caused the NL to delay officially declaring Boston the league champion, which it eventually did. Although the NL held “hearings” at which Day successfully defended his team’s late-season player moves, the Chicago Tribune took great delight in announcing on November 7 the release of Mutrie as manager of the New York Giants.
There is much room for discussion about Mutrie’s release from the Giants and the subsequent end of his professional baseball career. First, throughout 1891, even before the season’s start, rumors of Mutrie’s impending dismissal were circulating, mostly out of Chicago, where Spalding sat atop the baseball world. In addition, there were reports that some of the Giants players, Keefe and Ewing particularly, were at odds with Mutrie. Both were leaders in the “players’ rebellion” and Ewing was a great favorite among New York fans. One can reasonably speculate that Ewing’s designation as “field manager” probably did put additional strain on the relationship between him and Mutrie.
Ewing did, indeed, sit-out much of the season, which not only helped fuel Chicago’s hippodroming accusations then, but leads to speculation, even today. The reasons that “Truthful Jeems” failed to play Ewing more frequently during the 1891 season may never be known, however, some light can be shed on the subject. Adding to the 1891 circumstances is a story told a number of years later by former Giants player Sam Crane. Crane, who later became a sportswriter, reported that Ewing’s 1891 woes, and the end of his playing career, were the result of a throwing arm injury he sustained in a pre-season exhibition game. At first glance, Crane’s story would seem to shed a more positive light on Mutrie, at least, pertaining to the hippodrome allegations by the Chicago team. However, as Crane tells it, Ewing’s arm injury was the result of Mutrie forcing him unexpectedly into a game on a cold damp day, over his protests that he hadn’t had a chance to warm up his throwing arm. This, of course, now raises the question of whether Mutrie’s demand on Ewing was a poor managerial decision or something more sinister, perhaps punishment for his role in the “players’ rebellion” or, maybe, Mutrie’s attempt to establish the team’s pecking order when it came to the split of authority between manager and field manager.
Behind the Chicago Tribune’s November 1891 announcement of Mutrie’s release from the Giants was an even bleaker story adding to both Mutrie’s and Day’s woes. At the conclusion of the playing season, the Tribune had reported that Day was broke. The story, which ultimately proved to be accurate, went on to report that during the 1891 season Day was forced to sell even more shares in his team. By season’s end, the Giants Board of Directors, who were all stockholders, virtually owned the team. This was the group that ultimately fired Mutrie and named Pat Powers as the team’s new manager for 1892.
In considering Mutrie’s release from the Giants organization, two additional aspects of his behavior should not be overlooked. The first involves his managerial activities as they pertained to the great Chicago-New York rivalry. There is no doubt that the Mutrie-Anson verbal battles in the press fueled fan interest in both cities, but sometimes there was substance to the issues behind the words. One such occasion was a late 1891 dispute over scheduling a make-up game, which Mutrie refused to play. This would not have escaped Spalding’s notice; the NL justified its very creation on two primary issues the need to eliminate gambling from baseball, and the need for teams to complete schedules.
The other aspect of Mutrie’s behavior requiring consideration was his less than strong position on temperance for both himself and for his players. Mutrie had openly expressed his liberal views on managing his players off the field. He had expressed his ideas that being too strict on players imbibing only forced players to drink more heavily behind the manager’s back. Therefore, he practiced and advocated a drink-along-with-your-players approach to off-field management, rationalizing that the players will in turn drink less. However, there were growing reports creeping into the sporting press that Mutrie was, in fact, not always as in control as he purported to be, his intemperance first being referred to by Chadwick during the scribe’s “Truthful James” forays back in 1884. As other stories became more frequent, particularly during the high-pressure 1890 “players’ rebellion,” Mutrie’s character came under increasing scrutiny. Spalding, through editorials written by Chadwick in the annual Spalding Guide, voiced his lack of sympathy for the personal habits of those who tarnished the game, frequently citing alcohol as the chief culprit. No amount of Day’s support could offset the mounting tide against Mutrie.
As 1891 came to a close, it was rumored that Mutrie would be named the manager of a new AA team in New York City. Jim worked feverishly to promulgate the rumors and even publicly offered his assistance in securing a field, players, and financial backing. The likelihood of Mutrie’s involvement in the AA seemed almost “humorous” as the Chicago Tribune pointed out. After all, this was the same manager who was banished from the AA for life due to his 1885 exploits, jumping from the AA Metropolitans to manage the New York NL club and duplicitously signing Keefe and Esterbrook in the process. It was a moot point. The NL again did what it did best. It produced a deal which resulted in the NL expanding to 12 teams by absorbing the four most successful AA franchises, then, it bought up the rights to the remaining clubs and liquidated them. This effectively closed the major-league door for Mutrie; the NL was now the only major league in existence.
Mutrie’s last chance to remain attached to professional baseball in New York City was dashed when the NL, specifically the Giants new ownership, blocked a bid by the minor- league Eastern League to place a franchise in New York City. Mutrie had succeeded in affiliating himself with the Eastern League and was reported to be part of the scheme. So, in mid-January 1892, Mutrie, twelve years after arriving in New York and nine years after having established major league baseball in the nation’s largest and wealthiest city, was on the outside looking in. However, he wasn’t yet out of professional baseball. The Elmira, New York, club in the Eastern League hired Mutrie to be its manager.
Perhaps it was the team’s pre-season exhibition success coupled with the glowing newspaper accounts of its progress that made the news of the appointment of a new team manager, Jim Knowles, seem almost surreal. Just a quiet one-sentence statement, four lines down under the “Ball Notes” column: “Knowles, the new manager, will come to Elmira on the Erie train No. 5 tonight.” That is how the Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press reported Jim Mutrie’s release in its Tuesday, April 26 issue. It was as if all of Elmira already knew the story so well that reporting the details was deemed unnecessary. The town’s other newspaper, the Elmira Daily Advertiser, handled the story on its front page, separate from its baseball coverage, with this headline: “MANAGER MUTRIE RELEASED” The article read: “Yesterday the directors of the Elmira baseball club held a meeting and released James Mutrie who has been manager of the team since its organization. Mr. Mutrie understood every principle of the ball game besides being a keen judge of the qualities of a ball player. He was all genial, a pleasant associate and his companionship was always tasteful and often sought. It was this that undoubtedly led to Mr. Mutrie’s downfall and his friends and one and all regret that he had not the will power to overcome the forces that worked against him. The new manager is James Knowles who captained the Buffalo team last year. Mr. Knowles will arrive in the city today. He comes recommended as a capable businessman of temperate habits. He will also play third base a position for which he is well fitted.”
The word “temperate” seems to be the operative word related to Mutrie’s firing. The Sporting News of April 30, in its one-paragraph coverage of the story of Mutrie’s release, included a brief explanation, “‘Jeems’ could not withhold from indulging too freely.” Sporting Life, on that same day, headlined a column on page four, “Mutrie Done For; The once Famous Manager Released by Elmira.” The paragraph that followed made only vague reference to the actual circumstances. The Chicago Tribune, the newspaper that loved to hate its New York NL rival and the rival’s once prominent manager, reported under its Base Ball Notes: “The Elmira club has released Jim Mutrie for drunkenness. There is no sentiment for a lucky man or a has been’ in the minor leagues.” The paper’s terseness seemed to border on delight.
Mutrie remained for a while in Elmira, but he would never hold a position in professional baseball again. From the moment that Mutrie’s professional baseball career ended in Elmira, he seems to have disappeared from the nation’s major newspapers except for passing references. There is some evidence that he may have attempted to establish himself in the hotel business in Elmira with either a brother or a nephew. It is not clear if Mutrie’s wife Kate ever joined her husband in Elmira with their only child Grace. Daly’s 1930 profile of the Mutries reported that the couple had been permanent Staten Island residents from 1889. Mutrie is listed in the 1895 Staten Island city directory as residing at 47 York Avenue in the New Brighton community, which would remain his neighborhood for the rest of his life. In April of 1894 the New York Times noted in its “Baseball Brevities” column, without further explanation, that “Jim Mutrie was seriously ill in Corning, New York” [a city not far from Elmira]. The report went on to say Mutrie had made a quarter of a million dollars for the stockholders of the New York team but “today is comparatively a poor man.”
Not until 1896 was Mutrie again mentioned prominently in the press. The New York Clipper ran a feature article profiling four of baseball’s great managers, Mutrie being included as one of the four (the others were Harry Wright, Cap Anson, and Charles Comiskey). It is interesting that the unknown writer (although the writing was very much in the style of Rankin), in addition to mentioning Mutrie’s managerial cleverness, his showmanship, and his great ability to judge baseball talent, also quoted Mutrie directly in relation to the former manager’s outlook toward drinking. “I lay no restrictions whatever on the drinking, the outgoing or the incoming of the members of my team,” the article quoted Mutrie. “If I were to attempt to control them in the matter of drink I should be forced to the necessity of dogging them eternally and forcing them up back alleys into speakeasies. My men will come into a saloon while I am there, step up to the bar, take a drink, and act as if I was in no way connected to them. I find the plan an admirable one, as I have yet to reprimand a man for either drinking to excess or remaining out at night beyond reasonable hours.” Unfortunately for Mutrie, the powers-to-be didn’t find his style of management at all admirable.
If the Clipper’s article on Mutrie accomplished anything it again placed his name and baseball legacy before the public and the professional baseball establishment. Although, no managerial positions were forthcoming, within four months of the piece’s publication a benefit was organized for Mutrie by many of baseball’s most prominent personalities and followers. The gala affair was scheduled for the evening of Sunday, April 11, 1897, at the New York Academy of Music. The whole affair, which would not be the last benefit for Mutrie, was professional baseball’s way of providing a charitable send-off for one of its own, but a send-off none-the-less. And, despite “Truthful Jeems’” attempt at the old baseball dodge of presenting himself as younger than his actual years (he began claiming 1855 as his year of birth), no one in professional baseball was biting.
In June of 1904, Mutrie seems to have attempted a modest bootstrap attempt to re-involve himself in baseball. A very brief newspaper report announced that Mutrie was organizing and managing what was described as a Staten Island semi-professional team that would be known as “The Richmonds.” Little, if anything more is known about the team and it was apparently short lived. This aborted baseball venture was, however, the least of Mutrie’s troubles.
Grace Mutrie, who had been sick for a number of months, died on December 13, 1904. Only 21 years old, she died of a weak heart complicated by exhaustion. There was a sincere but futile attempt by some local Staten Island community leaders to organize a benefit for the Mutries to assist with their young daughter’s illness, but she passed away several weeks before the scheduled event. Some members of the benefit committee, however, went directly to the NL headquarters in Manhattan and made an appeal to assist the Mutries. The League made a direct donation of $100 and several individual owners and officials made pledges. One who promised a donation was sportswriter Sam Crane, Jim’s former minor league teammate who later played for Mutrie in New York. Not much is known about Grace Mutrie. The occupation on her death certificate was given as “stenographer.” She may have been named Grace after Jim’s youngest sister of the same name. The death report also stated that she was born in Massachusetts as were her mother and father, but that she was a lifelong resident of New York, which would indicate that she was brought to New York City as an infant, probably in 1883, when her father and Day were establishing two major league teams in the city. Grace was buried in a small family plot bought by her parents at Moravian Cemetery in the New Dorp section of Staten Island.
In 1905, as part of an attempt to give New York’s baseball fans a historical perspective of the national pastime, sportswriter William Rankin wrote a series of articles in the New York Press. He began the series with a glowing article on the career of Mutrie. The piece closely resembled the 1896 New York Clipper item but went into greater detail about Mutrie’s early career and reiterated the 1896 managerial comparisons to Anson, Wright, and Comiskey. Rankin’s treatment of Mutrie’s smiling, enthusiastic personality coupled with his great managerial knowledge and past successes at handling players seemed to be another attempt to reintroduce the veteran as still a viable candidate to manage a big-league team. Unfortunately, no managerial offers were made for the 54-year-old former skipper.
For nearly two decades as the baseball landscape changed in New York, Mutrie sank into obscurity, receiving only rare mention, usually in historical context. The Giants under John McGraw, a New York American League franchise, the Highlanders, who would later become known as the Yankees, and that other team in Brooklyn, then referred to as Trolley Dodgers, and later as Robins, were all the rage among New York City’s growing number of baseball fans. Mutrie and his wife lived a meager existence, moving at least twice to different rented apartments in small houses within the same New Brighton neighborhood that had been their home since 1889.
Some later newspaper accounts reported that Mutrie had survived these years by selling newspapers, then collecting and reselling them near the St. George ferry terminal on the Staten Island side of the Manhattan-Staten Island ferry. There was also later mention of Mutrie working as a ticket taker on occasion at the Polo Grounds, along with some of his former New York Giant players, Welsh and Rusie. However, these accounts are unclear as to the actual time frames of the Polo Grounds employment, which may not have occurred until the early 1920s, if at all.
On Sunday, September 18, 1921, the headline on the sports page of the New York Evening Telegram blared out the news for all to read: “Jim Mutrie, Father of Baseball, Is Living in Poverty.” The plight of “Old Jim Mutrie” was made public. This story was most likely a deliberate attempt by New York’s sporting press to embarrass New York City’s baseball establishment into recognizing one of its forgotten pioneers. The Telegram’s coverage of Mutrie’s situation was timed perfectly. New York’s baseball magnates were about to cash in on the first all-New-York World Series in the 20th-century, the NL Giants vs. the AL Yankees, with all the games to be played at the Polo Grounds, then the home field for both teams.
The Telegram’s story written by James K. McGuiness told of Mutrie’s frugal lifestyle. It described his poor humble neighborhood and the ramshackle house that he and his wife lived in at 11 Pauw Street in New Brighton. The article also described Mutrie’s early baseball challenges as a young player-manager in New England and how he ultimately came to New York City with a dream of establishing a professional team, a dream that he fulfilled. Accompanying the article were two photographs of Mutrie. One picture was taken at the height of his career in 1889, the second year of his consecutive “world championships” when he was 38 years old. The other was a contemporary image, a full-length pose of a man fully advanced to his 70 years.
Besides describing Mutrie’s great successes, McGuiness, apparently having interviewed Mutrie, chronicled the old manager’s downfall which he, and probably Mutrie, attributed to the “players’ rebellion” of 1890. The article reported that Mutrie declined three offers from the PL to jump to their organization, preferring instead to remain loyal to the NL. The point of the article was made clear, that it was that same NL which so heartlessly cut him loose just one season after he had rejected the offers of the PL. The article made no mention of the Elmira club’s decision to release Jim in 1892, or of anything else that may have inferred any of the old-timer’s earlier shortcomings. The bottom line of the piece was that baseball, the NL (specifically the Giants), had abandoned “Old Jim” and that now baseball should do the right thing by Mutrie.
Within days of the Evening Telegram’s story, forces on Staten Island led largely by the Staten Island Advance’s sports editor John Drebinger, began laying plans for a full-scale benefit for the old baseball man. The gala event was scheduled for Tuesday evening, October 25, at the Palace Theater located in the Port Richmond community in Staten Island. In addition to ticket sales, the fundraising efforts were centered on the gathering of baseball memorabilia for an auction that would be held during the gala. Babe Ruth and U.S. President Warren Harding signed baseballs that were put on display in the window of the Advance’s offices during the weeks leading up to the gala. Mutrie would also sign baseballs at the event. The day following the gala, the Advance claimed that the benefit was a huge success. It reported that the auction highlight was a bid of $50 for the President Harding signed baseball. The story concluded that Mutrie and his wife were driven home in an automobile “a very happy couple.”
The 1921 World Series was the first of three consecutive world championships that matched the Giants and the Yankees. As New York City was enjoying its third intra-city post-season championship, there was plenty of focus on New York baseball and its major-league history, a history that Mutrie was very much a part of. Of course, along with Mutrie’s role as a major-league pioneer in the city, came Day’s part. Unfortunately, Day’s situation was as bad as, if not worse than, Mutrie’s, since Day and his wife were also in dire financial straits. Furthermore, Day’s wife was seriously ill. With both Mutrie and Day reduced to such humble existences while New York baseball was experiencing such fabulous success, the need for a public relations coup was clearly felt, particularly by the Giants organization.
The idea landed upon was a pre-World Series benefit game for Mutrie and Day at the Polo Grounds, with the proceeds of the game used to establish life-long pensions for both baseball pioneers (in Mutrie’s case, to supplement the $25 weekly pension the Giants granted him after the 1921 season ). The game was held on October 3, 1923, and pitted the Giants against the International League champion Baltimore Orioles, with Babe Ruth playing left field for the Giants. The New York NL champions beat the Orioles by a score of 9 to 3. Ruth hit a home run in the fifth inning and then left the game. Since the turnout of “a few thousand” spectators was disappointing, the Giants and Yankees and various team owners and individuals donated additional monies to make the pensions viable. Mutrie received his pension for 15 years until the end of his life. Day, who was too ill to attend, didn’t live to spend much of his pension. He died on January 25, 1925.
The year 1925 also marked the 50th Anniversary of the organizing of the National League, which the League commemorated with a gathering at the same New York hotel where the circuit’s first meeting was held. As part of the celebration, many of baseball’s old-timers were invited to attend, including Mutrie. One can only imagine the conflicting emotions he must have experienced that day, going from the grandeur of the League’s celebration, and then returning to his humble surroundings on Staten Island.
Two years later, in 1927, Maclean Kennedy wrote a series of articles in The Sporting News under the banner, “Greatest Teams of History.” In the November 27 issue he featured the “New York Giants; 1885 to 1889.” He retold the story of the team’s origins, which he describes as being built with “John B. Day’s money and Truthful James’ Mutrie’s brains and energy.” Then in 1930, Jack Daly’s biographical piece on Mutrie appeared in Mutrie’s local newspaper, the Staten Island Advance. It was not lost on young Daly that Mutrie’s great accomplishments in baseball were in glaring contrast to his current lifestyle. However, he did note that Kate and Jim Mutrie had each other’s love and companionship as they grew old together.
On the day after opening day of the 1935 baseball season, the New York Herald reported a story under the headline, “Jim Mutrie Out At Eighth St. on Way to Stadium.” The story went on to tell how Mutrie had set out from Staten Island on the 12:30 ferry, which docked at the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan at 1:00 p.m., when he started walking uptown on foot for Yankee Stadium where he was an invited guest for Opening Day. The newspaper’s report ed that Mutrie had not been off Staten Island for nearly three years due to his advancing age. This was his first attempt to attend a major-league game in all that time. In addition, he had been ill most of the winter and was somewhat drained of his strength.
Of course, walking from the southern tip of Manhattan to Yankee Stadium would be a challenge for a person of any age, even someone in good physical condition, never mind a declining 84-year-old man. Perhaps Mutrie didn’t have the subway fare or, perhaps he just forgot that his days as a young pedestrian racer were long past. In any event, the old man’s legs gave out and he got no further north than 8th Street. He was recognized, photographed, and interviewed, but it was not exactly made clear how he got home.
Mutrie and his wife lived quietly through the worst years of the Great Depression in their first floor, three-room apartment in the tiny rundown two-family house at 11 Pauw Street in the New Brighton community of Staten Island. Just around the corner at 221 York Avenue, Camillo and Angela DiClerico struggled to realize the American Dream with their 12 children, a dream made even more difficult when Angela was left a widow in 1933. Today, one of those 12 children, Yolanda Granito, born in 1918 and still blessed with a sharp mind, can recall the quiet couple that lived at 11 Pauw Street. Granito recalls that the Mutries were both tall. Although Mutrie was somewhat hunched at the neck and shoulders, she remembers him as distinguished in appearance with a full head of gray hair and a large gray mustache. Granito recalls that Mutrie would sit on his front stoop smoking a pipe. She often ran errands for the Mutries, mostly to a nearby Ralston store. She remembers that one of her brothers, now deceased, was always talking to Mutrie about baseball.
Another neighborhood kid, Carmine DeRenzo, a little younger than Granito was interested in baseball to the extent that he played professionally in the minor leagues (1943-1947). DeRenzo, too, ran errands for the Mutries. He can remember being in the parlor of the small house, where Mutrie had a collection of baseball trophies. DeRenzo can recall Mutrie explaining what the trophies represented, but he can no longer recollect Mutrie’s explanations. As for the fate of the trophies, no one knows; perhaps they survive somewhere, but scrap metal for World War II would not be an outrageous assumption, as Mutrie’s widow died just weeks after America’s entry into the conflict.
Mutrie, however, still had one more baseball game in him. On August 13, 1936, Mutrie made his final appearance at the Polo Grounds, and as far as is known, his final trip to a major-league game. The occasion was an Old-Timers Day with a special theme, the 60th anniversary season of the NL. At least two of Mutrie’s former players were present, Mickey Welch the former Giant, and Arlie Latham, who played for Jim with the minor- league Brockton team, and who went on to a considerable major league career as a player and coach. Mutrie was “trundled in an ancient victoria” to home plate where he was greeted by Giants manager Bill Terry. According to the New York Times account of the event, Mutrie and Terry “exchanged pleasantries while they compared playing methods of the past and present, and Mutrie insisted there was little fundamental change.” One particularly poignant newspaper photograph showed Terry in his contemporary Giants uniform shaking hands with Mutrie, who wore a dark three-piece suit, with white shirt and dark tie while he held a straw hat and walking stick. It all seemed like a perfect baseball ending to a baseball life. What the photos did not reveal was just how feeble Mutrie had become and how hot it was that day. At the time of Mutrie’s passing, a year and a half later, Hugh Bradley of the New York Post recalled that day at the Polo Grounds in a column: “Finally, someone realized that the manager of New York’s first pennant should not be kept forever in the sun … someone finally found Mr. Mutrie a chair in a cool space beneath the stands.”
There was no real-time mention of Mutrie in the press for the next eighteen months. When his name did appear, it was contained in articles related to baseball of days gone by or, in the obituaries reporting the passing of old-time players who had either played for or against Mutrie’s New York teams. Then on Tuesday, January 25, 1938, newspapers across the nation announced Mutrie’s death. One kind writer referred to him as “Smiling Jeems”, a play on the less well-intended “Truthful Jeems.” Regardless, his passing was news everywhere.
Mutrie died on Monday, January 24, 1938, at the New York Free Cancer Hospital located on Welfare Island in New York City. His wife Kate, then 81 years old, was at his bedside when he passed. At least one newspaper reported that he died with a smile on his face, that he was sick for a few years and had entered Staten Island Hospital (which was then, only a short walk from his New Brighton home) and that a number of months before he died he was transferred to the City’s charitable cancer hospital, where he remained until his death which was reported to have been the result of throat cancer.
The evening following his death, Mutrie’s funeral service was held at the Schaffer Funeral Home located on Bay Street in the Stapleton community in Staten Island. Approximately 60 persons were in attendance, many were women who were friends of Kate Mutrie. A number of local Staten Island baseball players and coaches, and two of Mutrie’s former major league players, Mickey Welsh and Thomas Forester, were also on hand. The latter played second base for Jim on his old Metropolitan team.
The next day, after a stop by the Mutrie’s humble home at 11 Pauw Street, Mutrie’s body was taken to the Moravian Cemetery in the New Dorp section of Staten Island where he was laid to rest in a grave next to his late daughter Grace. The New York Giants organization, which had not been represented at the funeral home the preceding evening, were now represented at his interment by at least three people, led by the team’s secretary, Eddie Brannick. The Giants and Yankees had also sent floral arrangements.
Sixteen-year-old Carmine DeRenzo stood on Pauw Street across from the Mutrie home with his older friend Max DiClerico, the baseball fan brother of Yolanda Granito. DeRenzo was hoping for a glimpse of some of his baseball heroes on that day. He wasn’t disappointed. According to DeRenzo, a limousine pulled up to the front of 11 Pauw Street and out stepped Carl Hubble, Mel Ott and Hal Schumacher along with another, shorter man whom neither boy recognized [probably Brannick]. The four went briefly into the Mutrie home and emerged with Kate Mutrie. Then all left for the cemetery.
On December 27, 1941, Kate Mutrie died in an old-age care facility in Staten Island where she had spent the final few months of her 86 years of life. She was buried on January 2, 1942, next to her late husband and daughter.
In his nine major league seasons, Jim Mutrie was more than merely successful. His second highest major league career winning percentage, his three pennants, and consecutive world championships are prominent. However, his lasting legacy was the establishment of major-league baseball in New York City. He had a vision and he labored without rest to make that vision come to fruition. Against overwhelming odds, pitted against powerful forces, and despite his shortcomings, he made major league baseball stick in New York City. Over the years, Mutrie was repeatedly described as a superb organizer, a good judge of talent, and as having complete knowledge of the game. Most of all, however, in the best traditions of the game, Mutrie was a tireless promoter, a great showman, and a true champion of our national pastime.
Last revised: February 22, 2022
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