This article was written by Charles F. Faber
You would not be expected to play major-league baseball if you were five-feet-six and 155 pounds. Nor would you be expected to play on the left side of the infield if you threw left-handed. You most certainly would not be expected to spend nearly 20 years in a jail if you had never been charged with a crime. Yet Jimmy “Little Mac” Macullar did all of these things – and much more.
James F. Macullar was born in Boston on January 16, 1855. Very little is known about his childhood. He probably was orphaned at an early age. No census returns can be found where he was living with his parents. Data on his parents are sparse and contradictory. He may have been of Scottish or English descent. Two family histories posted on the Internet shed little light. One states that his father’s name was James F. Macullar, but gives no additional information about him and has nothing about his mother.1 The other posting provides no information on either parent.2
In 1877 Macullar broke into professional baseball at the age of 22 with Auburn of the League Alliance. At five-feet-six and 155 pounds, he soon earned the nickname “Little Mac”. Batting right-handed and throwing left-handed made him a real anomaly. Many natural right-handers learn to bat left-handed for the obvious advantages of standing in the part of the batter’s box closest to first base and more frequently having favorable matchups against right-handed pitchers. For a natural lefty to bat from the starboard side is rare. Also rare are left-handed shortstops. Little Mac holds the career record for the most games played by a left-handed-throwing shortstop in major-league history (325). He also played 123 major-league games in the outfield, five at second base, one at third, and made two appearances as a pitcher.
After one season with Auburn, Macullar joined the Syracuse Stars of the International Association. Although baseball-reference.com does not show any pitching record for Macullar in 1878, baseball historian W. Lloyd Johnson wrote that Macullar was a backup hurler to Harry McCormick that season and was responsible for at least one decision – a loss to the London, Ontario, Tecumsehs.3
Mac remained with the Stars when they advanced to the National League. He made his major-league debut on May 5, 1879, at the age of 24. He managed the Stars without much success during part of the season, winning only five games, while losing 21. He was one of the youngest major-league managers in the history of baseball. In his rookie season he hit only .211 and showed little power at the plate, not enough to stay in the majors. His contract was not renewed, either as manager or player. He was out of professional baseball during all of the 1880 and 1881 seasons.
Little Mac had an exciting adventure during the winter of 1879-80. He and his Syracuse teammate Hick Carpenter secured passports and went to Cuba to play in the Cuban League. Baseball was rather new to the island, having been introduced by American sailors in 1866, but had been banned from 1868 to 1874 by the Spanish rulers as an “Anti-Spanish game with insurrectionist tendencies, opposed to the language and favored the lack of affection to Spain.”4 The ban on baseball was lifted in 1877, and the first formal, organized baseball game in Cuba was played on December 27. The Cuban League was established a year later.
In the league’s second season, which ran from November 11, 1879, to March 7, 1889, there were four clubs, which played on Sundays and holidays. The Colon club signed Macullar and Carpenter, who played under assumed names, George McCullar and Urban Carpenter. Mac pitched and Carpenter was his catcher. The Cubans were badly overmatched. In a game against Havana, Macullar struck out 21 batters and hit the league’s first home run. The other clubs protested the use of Americans, leading Colon to withdraw from the league, and the two players returned to the United States.
In 1881 Macullar married Hattie Lincoln Thayer. They had six children – three sons (Charles, Frank, and James) and three daughters (Harriet, Mae, and Edith.) Hattie died in 1893 at the age of 38. After several years as a widower, Mac married Lillie Florence Riley, who bore a son James Frank, in 1902, and a daughter Florence, in 1905.
In 1882 Little Mac was back in the majors, having signed with the Cincinnati Red Stockings (Reds) of the new American Association, called the Beer and Whiskey League. He hit only .234, but showed some power, clouting six triples. Macullar played an excellent center field, ranking near the top of the league in fielding percentage, putouts, and double plays by an outfielder.
Little Mac appears to be wearing the wrong uniform shirt in the club’s 1882 photo. (Numbers on the backs of uniforms were not introduced until much later. In order to help spectators identify players, the Association decided to dress each man differently in 1882, depending on the position he played.) Macullar was the club’s regular center fielder, playing that position in 79 of the team’s 80 games. But in the team photo he is depicted in a solid, dark-colored shirt designed for a substitute, not the red-and-black striped shirt designated for center field. The striped shirt was worn by Phil “Grandmother” Powers, a backup catcher, who played only two games in center field in 1882.5
The Reds cruised through the season, easily winning the pennant in the new loop’s first year. Meanwhile, the powerful Chicago White Stockings, led by Hall of Famers Cap Anson and King Kelly, had won their third straight National League pennant.
After the season, the champions of the two leagues agreed to meet in two exhibition games. Although sometimes referred to as the first World Series, these games were not for the world championship. They were exhibition games, not championship contents. Nevertheless, the Cincinnatians took them seriously. Both teams started most of their regulars in the first game, on October 6, 1882. Will White, Cincinnati’s star pitcher, was in fine form. The game was scoreless until the sixth inning, when the Reds pushed across four runs to take the lead, 4-0. White shut down the National League champions in the seventh and eighth frames.
Trouble brewed in the ninth. Abner Dalrymple led off the Chicago half with a hit. George Gore popped out, but Ned Williamson followed with a double, putting runners on second and third with only one out. Cap Anson, the Chicago manager and the league’s greatest hitter, strode to the plate. He hit a shot to center field that was caught by Jimmy Macullar. Dalrymple tried to hustle home after the catch, but Little Mac made a brilliant throw to the plate to cut him down for the final out of the game. Red Stocking fans were ecstatic. Only an exhibition game, perhaps, but it felt like more. The Cincinnatis had defeated the champions of the league that had kicked them out two years before.6
The fact that Cincinnati lost the second game of the exhibition series did not diminish their joy over the outcome of the first contest.
In 1883 Macullar hit a woeful .167 in only 14 games, as he was replaced in center field by the flamboyant, muscular slugger, Charley Jones. Jones, known for his swagger and his waxed handlebar mustache, had been blacklisted by the National League in late 1881 and all of 1882 for refusing to play for the Boston Red Stockings until the club paid in full the amount they owed him. Cincinnati wanted to sign Jones in 1882, but backed off, giving in to pleas by William Hulbert, president of the National League, to preserve the blacklist for a year. However, as a result of the Tripartite Agreement among the National League, the American Association, and the Northwestern League, signed on February 17, 1883, the three circuits agreed to respect each others contracts and honor the reserve clause. In addition, the National League allowed Cincinnati to sign Jones, thus effectively ending Macullar’s tenure in the Queen City.7
When the Reds released Little Mac, he signed with the Baltimore Orioles and was their regular shortstop for three years. His hitting still hovered around the Mendoza Line, but he won plaudits for his fielding. In 1885 he led the league in putouts by a shortstop. He played his last major-league game for the Orioles on October 14, 1886, at the age of 31. However, he wasn’t through with the game. He was the first-string shortstop for Topeka in the Western League in 1887, played for and managed the Des Moines Prohibitionists in the Western Association in 1888 and 1889. The Des Moines club moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, during the 1890 season, and Macullar managed the club there for the rest of the season, then retired from professional baseball.
After retiring, Maculler returned to Baltimore and spent the rest of his life in the Maryland metropolis. The 1900 census reported that he was a widower living with his daughters Mae and Edith and his mother-in-law Mary Thayer. His occupation was listed as dealer in dry goods. In 1910 he was a deputy warden at the city jail, living in Baltimore with his second wife, Lillie, daughters Edith and Florence, and son James Frank. In 1920 he was still employed at the Baltimore city jail, now as a guard. He, Lillie, James Frank, and Florence comprised the household.
James F. Macullar died April 8, 1924, in Baltimore at the age of 69. He was buried in the Baltimore City Cemetery. In its brief obituary the New York Times stated that Macullar was credited with having been the first left-handed pitcher to throw a curve,8 a claim that has not been substantiated elsewhere.
For their assistance, the author wishes to express appreciation to two descendants of Jimmy Macullar – Lynne Riley-Coleman and Brenda Carman Lybbert.
In addition to those cited in the notes, the following source was helpful:
1 “Brenda Family History,” ancestry.com.
2 “Koverchick Family Tree,” ancestry.com.
7 Edward Achorn, The Summer of Beer and Whiskey (New York: Public Affairs, 2013), 48.
8 New York Times, April 10, 1924.