It was long believed that on June 19, 1846, the first baseball game was played on the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, though this has come into question in more recent years.1 However, back in 1946 the belief persisted, and to commemorate the centennial, the state of New Jersey placed a marker at the location. In attendance that day was an 82-year-old player, the oldest there. His name was Jocko Fields.2
Though largely forgotten today, Jocko Fields played for some of the earliest professional teams in major-league baseball. He played alongside future Hall of Famer Pud Galvin and made a name for himself as a clown of the diamond.3 Fields had a penchant for smoking throughout the game4 and showing up tipsy.5 Yet he is best remembered for his above-average offensive production in the 1889 and 1890 seasons, when he hit .311 and .282.
John Joseph “Jocko” Fields was born in Cork, Ireland on October 20, 1864. Details about his pre-baseball life are hard to come by. As with many players from baseball’s earliest era, records are scanty and no living person(s) can corroborate or fill in details. There are no surviving records of his early years on the Emerald Isle. Nor are there many details about his youth once he reached the United States. There is an 1870 census record that lists a Charles Fields (31) along with his wife Margaret (30) and three children; John (5), Johanna (3), and Mary (age unlisted) living in Ward 2 of Jersey City in Hudson County, New Jersey.6 All five are listed as being born in Ireland, with Charles’ occupation listed as “pedler” (sic) and Margaret’s as “keeping house.” John’s year of birth on the census is listed as “abt 1865,”7 but this is just estimation. Though it cannot be stated with 100% certainty that this is Jocko, the evidence does lean in favor of this being the correct person. There is even a Charles Fields who died in 1887 buried in Holy Name Cemetery,8 not far from Jocko’s final resting place.
What can be said for certain is that Jocko Fields enters the historical record in the year 1885. He got his start in professional baseball with the Jersey City Skeeters, a minor-league team, at the age of 20. Looking the part of a late 19th-century ball player, Fields oscillated between being clean-shaven and sporting a long moustache, a style that was favored among young men of that era. He stood 5-feet-10, weighed 160 pounds, batted right, and threw right. He split his time between center field and catching, a foreshadowing of his career to come. While no contemporary commentary can be located about day-to-day time on the team, he is mentioned in an article published in 1926 about Mike Mattimore that listed the two as getting their start on the Jersey City team.9 Fields batted .232 in 26 games for Jersey City that season.
The year 1886 saw Jocko playing for three different New York minor-league teams: the Long Island A’s, Buffalo Bisons, and Utica Pent Ups.10 Again, we find a lack of contemporary newspaper articles detailing his day-to-day appearances with these teams, apart from Fields being mentioned in a newspaper article calling him a “battery of note on the second,” though the exact meaning of this phrase is lost to time.11. However, his stats indicate a respectable showing across the three teams: 56 runs scored and a combined .312 batting average. This was Jocko’s last year in the minors before reaching the top level.
In 1887, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys moved from the American Association to the National League, “when they acquired the franchise surrendered by Kansas City.”12 That same year, Fields joined the roster alongside Pud Galvin, Ed Morris, Pop Smith, Fred Carroll, and others. All told, he played 43 games that season for the Alleghenys, batting .268 and splitting his defensive time between catching and outfield. That year also featured Fields in six different poses for Old Judge Cigarette cards.13
In 1888, Fields started making the sports pages. The earliest mention of him comes on May 17, 1888, when in the sixth inning “Jocko opened the inning with a single to center field.”14 Later in December, he made the papers again as his salary for the following season was listed at $1,500.15 In that same year, Jocko married Mary Fitzsimmons. The couple never had any children.16
In 1889, Fields saw action in 75 games for Pittsburgh and posted his major-league career-best numbers for batting average (.311), on-base percentage (.376), and slugging average (.443). But trouble was on the horizon for the National League. Players were no longer satisfied with the control held over them by the club owners. Fields was no exception. On November 6 at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City, players from around the league met to work out a contract. Fields is listed in attendance along with Mike Kelly, Buck Ewing, Dan Brouthers, and a host of others.17 The end result of this meeting was the public unveiling of the Players League that would take to the diamond in 1890. An article published on December 20, 1889 states that “Jocko Fields has definitively cast his lot with the new league and will play in this city.”18
The Pittsburgh Burghers were the Smoky City’s Players League team, managed by Ned Hanlon, and playing out of the third incarnation of Exposition Park. Fields – along with players such as Galvin, Morris, Jake Beckley, and others – competed against the NL’s Pittsburgh Innocents for the hearts and minds of local fans. Early in the year, the papers reported that Fields was “in fine condition.”19 At the beginning of the season, he got off to a good start, though he did make some blunders. On May 2, he tried stealing second and was tagged out.20 What made this noteworthy was that “two more runs after his were required to tie the score so that without good hits his base steallug (sic) was useless.”21 He redeemed himself on June 5 when he hit two home runs off Frank Dwyer in Chicago.22 Fields finished the season with solid offensive numbers: a .282 batting average, with 48 extra-base hits, 103 runs scored, 88 RBIs, and 25 stolen bases for a sixth-place (60-68-3, .469) club.
By the close of the season it was clear that the Players League would not continue. In December of the same year, with talks underway about reinstating players who had jumped to the rebel league, Jocko approached J. Palmer O’Neil, club president of the renamed Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League. After Fields inquired about the following season, O’Neil asked if he was ready to sign and what he wanted. Fields said that Hanlon offered him $3,000 for the 1891 season but that he wanted $3,800. O’Neil said, “I will give you $1,200” and walked away.23 Fields was shocked.
For the first three months of 1891, it wasn’t clear whether Fields would sign on to play for the Pirates.24 However, by March 26, he was heading down to Florida for spring training with the club.25 The 1891 season wasn’t shaping up to be Jocko’s year. By May, there was talk of cutting him.26 O’Neil rethought that when he learned the Giants were interested.27 But Fields’ time with the Pirates was running out. On July 13, he was released from the team.28 The exact reason(s) are murky, but one source stated that he was “cut in July after hurting his hand in a wrestling match with pitcher Mark Baldwin, or so he claimed, but an informant told Hanlon the injury had actually occurred when Fields attended a dog fight and ‘got too close to one of the combatants.’”29 The press was not sympathetic to Fields after he was released. One paper asked why he wasn’t released long ago, stating that he “was continually bringing the club into disrepute through his low associates.”30
In August, Fields resurfaced in the Western Association, playing for the Omaha (Nebraska) Lambs.31 But by mid-September the WA campaign was completed.32 Fields finished the year playing back in the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Drinking has always been one of the vices that ruins a sports career. Jocko Fields, unfortunately, was one of those who couldn’t abstain or control himself. In 1892 he was signed by the New York Giants and an ongoing stay in the majors looked hopeful. In April, a Pittsburgh newspaper stated that Fields had “forgotten even the smell of the hard stuff, and manager [Pat] Powers is the boy to keep him straight.”33 By all accounts, things looked to be on the upswing. Through the end of April, Fields led the league in batting, having batted .421 while playing in his six of his team’s first 12 games.34 However, he failed to maintain that pace. On June 11, 1892, Fields played his last game in the majors. He finished up the season with a .273 batting average in 21 games played. He posted a .272 career average in the majors in 344 games from 1887 through 1892.
Fields was signed by the Eastern League’s Buffalo Bisons in late June, but by late July was already being let go.35 Though the sources are silent as to what role, if any, alcohol played in this stage of his career, one may conjecture that he fell off the wagon. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Fields was with Somerville West End in the Central New Jersey League during the 1892 season. While information about the season is limited, what is known is that Jocko caught during the final game against Plainfield, who would end up taking the CNJL Pennant.
The following year, Fields found himself in the Southern Association catching for the Macon (Georgia) Center City/Hornets.36 He had a successful year with the Hornets. Fans embraced him as one of their own and even defended him in print when the papers had less than flattering things to say about his playing ability.37 He also played with the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Senators in the Pennsylvania State League for four games.
In 1894, Fields signed with the Charleston (South Carolina) Seagulls, another club in the Southern Association.38 His ability to delight the crowd was documented in an article about how he made the grandstands laugh with his singing before the start of a game.39 In another article from June, Fields was called the most comical of catchers.40 The “clown of the diamond”41 was thriving on his new team and earned praise as one of the two best catchers in the Southern Association.42 During his time with Charleston he batted .351. In late June, Fields signed with the Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Brewers of the Western League.43 He left in late August.44
In an article published in Baseball Digest in 1952, the author A.T. Harvin states that Fields had one of the more unusual contracts in baseball history.45 When he was signed by the Evansville (Indiana) Blackbirds in 1895, his contract gave him two dollars per diem to be spent only on beer and not hard liquor. The article stated that Fields was “never at his best unless he was at least tolerably well ‘tea’d up.’”46 It added that he had another distinction as the only player to that date to be allowed to smoke on the bench.47 Fields was known to be a heavy smoker and would leave the bench between innings to indulge his habit. To stop him from being absent, manager Claude McFarland allowed him to light up when he wanted. Jocko’s time on the Blackbirds was short, but while he was there, he lit up the crowd with laughter though his comedic antics.48
In 1896, Fields returned to the Southern Association, this time playing for the Atlanta (Georgia) Crackers. An article in 1896 called him the “cigarette smoking catcher” and stated that “he was never known to miss a ball when he could see it through a cloud of cigarette smoke.”49 Through June of that year, the papers reported that he played well and entertained the fans.50 By July he was playing on the Norfolk (Virginia) Braves in the Virginia League.51 He finished out the season but was unsure of what he was going to do the following year.52 However, that was the end of his professional baseball career.
After retiring from baseball, Fields worked for Railway Express until 1933, though his exact position with the company is unknown.53 Another source stated that in addition to working for Railway Express, he was a “county employee,”54 though it doesn’t state what county. He also made appearances in various parades,55 at a premiere of the now lost silent film, Play Ball!,56 at a lunch with kids at the Dodgers School,57 and finally at the 100th anniversary of baseball when the historic marker was placed in Hoboken in 1946.58 That would be Jocko’s last public appearance.
On October 14, 1950, John Joseph “Jocko” Fields passed away at his home at 340 Fairmount Ave in Jersey City.59 He outlived his wife and was mourned by nieces and nephews.60 His final resting place is an unmarked grave at Holy Name Cemetery in Jersey City.61
Last revised: September 13, 2021 (zp)
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Terry Bohn.
In addition to the sources shown in the notes, the author used Baseball-Reference.com and the following.
Baseball Hall of Fame Library, player file for Jocko Fields.
Gonsowski, Joe, Masson, Richard, and Miller, Jay. The Photographic Baseball Cards of Goodwin & Company 1886-1890 (Self-published, 2008).
Koszarek, Ed. The Players League: History, Clubs, Ballplayers and Statistics. (Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2006).
Nemec, David. Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 1: The Ball Players Who Built the Game. (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2011).
US Census Bureau, 1870 US Census
1 “Baseball Celebs at Bayonne Point,” (Hackensack) Record, June 19, 1946: 18.
2 “It’s an Old, Old Game,” (New York) News, June 20, 1946: 122.
3 “Eleven Games Won Out of Twelve Played,” (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, June 04, 1894: 6.
4 A.H., Tarvin, “Club Saw to It He Hit with His Foot in the Bucket,” Baseball Digest, January 1952: pages 65-66
5 Tarvin, 65.
6 US Census Bureau, 1870 US Census.
7 US Census Bureau, 1870 US Census.
9 John H .Gruber, “Mike Mattimore Baseball Pioneer Pitched and Held Down First Base Also Playing Cleverly in Outfield,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, November 28, 1926: 29.
10 “Buffalo Wins Again,” Buffalo Times, July 20, 1886: 5.
11 “Rochester and Syracuse, Two Pioneers of the Wheel, Entering Loop in 1885,” (Rochester) Democrat and Chronical, April 15, 1927: 40.
12 Harry Keck, “A History of the Bucs, Dating Back to the Good Old Days,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, September 22, 1938: 30.
13 Joe Gonsowski, Richard Masson, and Jay Miller. The Photographic Baseball Cards of Goodwin & Company 1886-1890 (Self-published, 2008), 230.
14 “It was Even Up,” (New York) Evening World, May 17, 1888: 1.
15 “Sporting Notes,” Buffalo Courier, December 21, 1888: 2.
16 Baseball Hall of Fame Library, player file for Jocko Fields.
17 “Working on a Contract,” Boston Globe, November 7, 1889: 5.
18 “Fields for the Players,” Pittsburg Dispatch, December 20, 1889: 6.
19 “Sporting Notes,” Pittsburg Dispatch, February 28, 1890: 6.
20 “Baseball Notes,” Pittsburg Dispatch, May 3, 1890: 6.
21 “Baseball Notes,” above.
22 Ernest J. Lanigan, “The Day in Baseball: June 5,” Buffalo Times, June 5, 1911: 6.
23 “Barnie and Wagner,” Pittsburg Dispatch, December 2, 1890: 6
24 “Among the Ball-Tossers,” Topeka (Kansas) State Journal, January 31, 1891: 7; “Manager Hanlon Goes East and Signs Albert Mani and Jocko Fields for Local Club,” Pittsburg Dispatch, February 22, 1891: 6; and.
“Sporting Notes,” Pittsburg Dispatch, March 17, 1891: 6.
25 “The Old Man Signs,” Pittsburg Dispatch, March 26, 1891: 6.
26 “Baseball Notes,” Pittsburg Dispatch, May 19, 1891: 6.
27 “Baseball Notes,” above.
28 “General Sporting Notes,” Pittsburg Dispatch, July 14, 1891: 6.
29 David Nemec, Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 1: The Ball Players Who Built the Game. (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2011), 537.
30 “The National Game,” Pittsburg Press, July 14, 1891: 5.
31 “Baseball Matters,” (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, August 02, 1891: 7, and “Will Win Today,” Omaha (Nebraska) Bee, August 12, 1891: 2.
32 “Western Cracks,” (Racine) Journal Times, September 05, 1891: 5.
33 “Baseball Talk,” Brooklyn Citizen, April 04, 1892: 3.
34 “Base-Ball Averages,” (Chicago) Inter Ocean, May 08, 1892: 22.
35 “Shuffled Out,” Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express, July 21, 1892: 8.
36 “Whoopee! What A Game!” Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, May 11, 1893: 5.
37 “An Off Day Once in A While,” Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, July 25, 1893: 6, and “Corner Talk,” Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, July 25, 1893: 4.
38 “Around the Bases,” (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, May 20, 1894: 9.
39 “With Solemn Funeral Rites,” Memphis (Tennessee) Commercial, May 24, 1894: 3.
40 “Baseball,” (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, June 02, 1894: 6.
41 “Eleven Games Won Out of Twelve Played,” (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, June 04, 1894: 6.
42 “A Great Deal,” Atlanta Constitution, June 26, 1894: 5.
43 “Western League Matters,” Indianapolis Journal, June 29, 1894: 3
44 “Baseball,” Fall River (Massachusetts) Herald, August 27, 1894: 7.
45 A.H. Tarvin, “Club Saw to It He Hit with His Foot in the Bucket,” Baseball Digest, January 1952: pages 65-66.
46 Tarvin: pages 65-66.
47 Tarvin: pages 65-66.
48 “New Orleans Gets a Dose of Defeat,” (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, July 28, 1895: 9.
49 “Sporting Miscellany,” Detroit Free Press, April 03, 1896: 6.
50 “Sporting Notes,” Pittsburg Daily Post, April 23, 1896: 6; “Some Pick-Ups,” Chattanooga (Tennessee) Daily Times, May 03, 1896: 7; and “Won in The First,” (New Orleans) Times-Democrat, June 20, 1896: 8.
51 “It Was All Over,” Norfolk Virginian, July 19, 1896: 6.
52 “The Baseball Muddle,” Norfolk Virginian, September 24, 1896: 3.
53 Nemec, 537.
54 Ed Koszarek, The Players League: History, Clubs, Ballplayers and Statistics. (Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2006), 127.
55 “Notes of the Game,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 15, 1925: 13. and McCullough, Bill. “Here’s Field Day Lineup,” (Brooklyn) Times Union, May 12, 1933: 13.
56 “Casino Today,” La Crosse (Wisconsin) Tribune, October 19, 1925: 10.
57 “School Begins at Sullivan PL,” (Brooklyn) Times Union, August 24, 1936: 11.
58 “Baseball Celebs at Bayonne Point,” (Hackensack) Record, June 19, 1946: 18.
59 Baseball Hall of Fame Library, player file for Jocko Fields, and “Jacko Fields Dies; Was Ex-Major Leaguer,” Scranton (Pennsylvania) Tribune, October 15, 1950: 49.
60 Baseball Hall of Fame Library, player file for Jocko Fields.