In 1886, John “Jocko” Flynn was 22 years old and the toast of Chicago, a formidable starting pitcher on a pennant-winning team. In 1887 he was 23 years old and forgotten with a sore arm and a troubling taste for liquor. In 1907 Flynn was dead at 42. Who was this man?
John A. Flynn was born on June 30, 1864, the fifth of eight children of Irish immigrants John and Margaret Flynn.i The family lived in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a company-controlled mill town thriving on the burgeoning textile industry. Lawrence, often credited as the country’s first “planned” city, had gained notoriety in 1860 after the Pemberton mill collapsed, killing 145 workers. It was later the site of the “Bread and Roses” strike of 1912, in which textile factory workers successfully fought for higher wages and better working conditions.
Little is known of Flynn’s early life. His first success on the diamond came July 4, 1883, in what the Lawrence Daily American called “in every respect the best game of ball ever played in the city.” Flynn, just 19 years old, went 1-for-3 at the plate in a 5-2 victory for the “Washingtons”; the newspaper did not report the players’ positions on the field.ii
In 1884 the Lawrence team gained entry to the new Eastern New England League under the managerial leadership of Frank Selee, who eventually gained induction into the Hall of Fame for his work managing the Boston Beaneaters and Chicago Cubs. Flynn served primarily as a pitcher but also played left field, center field, and second base. In the second half of the season, he hit .300 with a.386 slugging average in 168 at-bats and led the team with 55 runs scored in 34 games.iii
After the season Flynn traveled to Farmington, New Hampshire, to play several games. He was accompanied – not for the last time – by George Henry Moolic, a fellow native of Lawrence and also the son of Irish immigrants, who was in effect Flynn’s lifelong personal catcher, half of what the local newspaper called the “pony battery.”iv In a 1931 letter, Connie Mack, who played against Flynn and Moolic in 1885, called them “a much better battery” than himself and pitcher Frank Gilmore, known then as “the shadow battery.”v
Flynn (and Moolic) began 1885 with the Meriden, Connecticut, entry in the Southern New England League, where his teammates included Tom Daly, soon to embark on a long major-league career with the Brooklyn Superbas. In 284 innings pitched, Flynn went 20-11 and allowed just 23 earned runs on 208 hits, striking out 194 and walking just 39. His spectacular season was interrupted in mid-September, though, when the Southern New England League disbanded. Flynn and Moolic took the opportunity to return home to Lawrence, where the team was in a tight pennant race in the Eastern New England League.
Lawrence and Brockton ended the season tied atop the league standings at 48-31. Flynn provided a much-needed boost to Lawrence down the stretch, tossing two four-hitters in three days when his team needed to win three in a row to match Brockton. After a volley of accusations about thrown games, biased officiating, and league conspiracies from both sides – including a claim, swiftly disproved, that Flynn was already under contract to New York of the National League – the league president ordered them to play a best-of-three championship series during the second week of October. Flynn struck out nine and tripled in a Game One victory, then pitched again five days later in a rain-delayed Game Two and allowed only five hits, winning again and securing the pennant for Lawrence.vi
More disputes followed, including a new claim that Moolic and Flynn were still under contract with disbanded Meriden, but the season was over and the duo was moving on to bigger things, signing with the National League’s Chicago White Stockings in mid-November.vii
In 1885 Chicago had run roughshod over the rest of the National League, winning 87 games and losing just 25. Only New York had presented a real threat, finishing two games back. The White Stockings roster was stocked with legends: George Gore, King Kelly, Fred Pfeffer, and the Captain, Adrian Constantine Anson. The team returned intact in 1886, but was looking for Flynn to take some pressure off 24-year-old ace John Clarkson, who had logged 623 innings pitched the year before.
Flynn was a small man, even for his day – 5-feet-6 and 143 pounds. The spring-training reports in his rookie season, however, were promising. The Chicago Tribune reported that he and Moolic “work beautifully together, and barring a little nervousness that was pardonable under the circumstances, played like old-timers.” Flynn in particular, the writer continued, “as a pitcher has great speed and a puzzling delivery. He covers his position, too, in a style worth looking at. He bats as though he knows how, and runs bases like a veteran.”viii
Several days later, shortstop Ed Williamson gave a similar report: “Flynn seems to have curves, drops, in and out shoots, and slow balls down to a point where he can handle them just about as he wants to. He has good speed, too, and covers his position as well as any pitcher we ever had.”ix The newspaper further reported that Flynn and Moolic were “popular with all the boys,” a quality that would lead to problems later in the year.x
Flynn’s Chicago debut came on May 1 against the Kansas City Cowboys. He gave up eight runs on eight hits, but Chicago put up 17 tallies for the win. Flynn contributed on offense with two runs scored; contemporary box scores did not always include strikeout totals, but catcher Moolic was credited with seven putouts.
In his first month with Chicago, Flynn won four of five starts, including an eight-strikeout performance against Washington on May 29. According to the Chicago Inter-Ocean, “Flynn has put himself in the top rank of pitchers and is very liable to stay there. His work is clever enough to be classed with (Jim) McCormick’s and (Tim) Keefe’s.”xi He cemented that reputation on June 4, topping future Hall of Famer Hoss Radbourn in a matchup with Boston. When he was not on the mound, Flynn played center field, where his arm drew rave reviews.xii He also hit well, including a home run on May 19. “Clarkson, Flynn and (Frank “Silver”) Flint are the weak hitters of the club, yet they have made more than half of all the home runs scored by the nine,” the Chicago Herald mentioned on June 6.xiii
On June 20 Flynn’s record stood at 6-2. Of his 36 runs allowed, only 11 were earned, and by giving up only 51 hits he led the league’s pitchers in opponents’ batting average, at .189.xiv “His good work, with his always modest demeanor, has grounded him firmly in the esteem of base ball admirers,” the Inter-Ocean wrote. “He is a coming pitcher.”xv Flynn continued his hot pitching through most of the summer, striking out nine Washington batters on August 4 and topping Radbourn’s Boston club again on August 24.
As the season wore on, however, Flynn appeared to be losing steam. He won on September 29, allowing six hits to Washington, but completed only six innings. After the game the Chicago Herald described him as “defective in his position” and “tedious.”xvi A month earlier, the same paper had written: “Young Flynn has done great work for Chicago in the box this year, but his arm has been out of shape all season. When he’s in fine fettle he will surprise his best friends.”xvii Flynn’s last start came on October 4 when he gave up nine hits and seven runs in a loss to New York; the Herald called it “very poor work.”xviii
Flynn finished the season 23-6 with a 2.24 ERA in 257 innings pitched. He gave up 207 hits, struck out 146 and walked 63. The White Stockings took the National League pennant for the second straight year, winning 90 games to edge the Detroit Wolverines, but lost a seven-game series with the American Association champion St. Louis Browns. On October 13 it was announced that Chicago had reserved Flynn (but not Moolic) for the following season.xix
It seems clear that Flynn was suffering from the twin curses of booze and a bad arm, especially at the tail end of the season. The latter explains why he dropped out of the lineup on October 5, a full 18 days before the final game against St. Louis. The Chicago Tribune noted the following spring that he had a lame arm in autumn 1886.xx
Flynn’s alcoholism is more difficult to pin down. Clearly it was part of the game in the 1880s, and perhaps nowhere more than in Chicago. The Chicago Herald published an anonymous accusatory letter on July 11, 1886: “When the Chicago base ballists get demoralized by drink, why don’t your reporters say so? It is right the public should be warned. Fifteen thousand people have expended their cash within the past week, only to witness games played by men too full of Detroit liquor to play ball.” The newspaper responded by pointing out that Chicago won the following four games: “If the boys play that way under the influence of Detroit whiskey, in justice to the thousands of patrons of the game here, President Spalding ought to lay in enough of that particular brand to last through the season.”xxi
In truth, Spalding’s attitude was considerably less glib. On July 22 the owner and president of the White Stockings fined seven Chicago players, including Flynn, for “breaking the rules relating to temperate habits while off duty.”xxii The Herald reported that the National League employed Pinkerton agents in every league city, and that the fines were intended as warnings:
“Within the past month the champions have frequently played a careless, indifferent game that would have disgraced an amateur nine, and it was currently rumored that several of the boys were cracking their temperance pledges. … They have been a little gay this year, believing perhaps that, drunk or not, they could beat any club in the world, but they will find that, unless they again settle down to work, they will forfeit all claim to the respect and confidence of admirers of the game, as well as the championship pennant.”xxiii
The warning apparently did not stick. When Chicago lost 12-0 on October 19 in the second game of its series with St. Louis, the Inter-Ocean minced no words in its headline: “Beer Beats Them.”xxiv Chicago had only two singles the whole game and committed ten errors in the field. “There’s no excuse to offer in extenuation of the severe defeat, the reasons for which are well known by President Spalding and Captain Anson,” the newspaper editorialized. “But what can do they do to enforce discipline in this series, since the players are not under the league rules and must govern themselves?”xxv
As for Flynn himself, some circumstantial evidence attests to a drinking problem – one considered detrimental even in a heavy-drinking era. As early as 1884 the Lawrence Daily American had written that the home team’s loss had been “brought about by the errors of the Lawrence team, many of whom have not yet learned that business takes the precedence of pleasure.”xxvi Flynn went 0-for-5 at the plate in that game and committed three errors.
In his 1900 memoir, A Ball Player’s Career, Anson praised Flynn for his “wonderful drop ball, good command of the sphere and great speed,” but attributed his downfall to bad habits:
“[Flynn’s] arm gave out while he was with us, however, and besides that he got into fast company and, attempting to keep up the clip with his so-called friends, found the pace much too rapid for him and fell by the wayside. John was a good fellow, and with good habits, and had his arm held out, he might have made his mark in the profession, but the good habits he lacked and the arm was not strong enough to bear the strain, so he dropped out of the business, and what has become of him I know not, though I think he is in Boston.”xxvii
Flynn also had a professional interest in liquor. Beginning in 1885, he and Moolic ran a saloon on Common Street in Lawrence, a business that both men persisted in long after their brief playing careers were over. The 1901 Lawrence city directory shows a liquor store operating under the names of John A. and William J. (John’s older brother) Flynn and another one, operated by Moolic, just down the street.xxviii Flynn’s great-nephew said that according to family history, “after baseball, Jocko bought or opened a pub or tavern in Lawrence and became his own best customer and, indeed, drank himself to death.”xxix
Between the Spalding fines, the newspapers’ thinly veiled disparagement, and his later career choices, it seems plain that Flynn’s brilliant career flamed out at least in part due to his intemperance.
Drinking aside, Flynn spent most of the 1887 season as a nominal member of the Chicago club. Spring training dispatches to the Chicago Tribune showed him taking his turn in intrasquad scrimmages.xxx But when the team arrived back in Chicago after a season-opening series in St. Louis, Anson revealed that the young pitcher was still not healed. “They are all in good condition and playing good ball except Flynn,” he told the Tribune. “Flynn has not shown me that his arm is any better than it was last fall when he quit, and I’m afraid he won’t get along very well.”xxxi
The captain was correct. Flynn got his first action of the year in right field against Philadelphia on May 23. The first ball hit to him split his finger open and caused him to leave the game without having appeared with the plate. He was charged with an error, and it was his last time on a major-league field.xxxii In June Spalding gave him a leave of absence to rest his arm while Cincinnati and the International League’s Toronto team made overtures. Flynn, for his part, said he hoped to remain in Chicago.xxxiii Two months later, the Tribune sports page wrote that “Flynn expects to do some pitching for the Chicagos in the East,” but that never came to fruition.xxxiv
Instead, Flynn signed with the Western Association Omaha Omahogs.xxxv The Omaha Daily Bee bragged that he was “one of those rare exceptions where a good pitcher is also a strong and reliable batter.”xxxvi Flynn was reunited there with his old Lawrence manager Frank Selee, who spent two years in Nebraska before taking over the reins in Boston. In fact, it seems Selee personally recruited his former charge to the Midwest.xxxvii “Little Flynn” promised the fans to “do the pitching of his life” for the Omahogs, and apparently had high hopes for resurrecting his career.xxxviii
Flynn’s first appearance for Omaha came in an exhibition against St. Paul on April 16, and he was in fine form. He got the win, allowing just two runs, six hits, and a walk, and went 3-for-4 with a double himself.xxxix Two days later he seems to have secured a peculiar side job, winning the contract to supply “colored programmes” during races at the Omaha fairgrounds.xl
He made his first start of the regular season on May 2, again versus St. Paul, and again got the victory, allowing two runs on five hits.xli “If Flynn ever lost the cunning of his right arm, he certainly has found it again,” crowed the Daily Bee. “And then what a head he has on him.”xlii
Unfortunately for Flynn and his Omaha followers, the praise was premature. He made just one more start in 1888, allowing 10 runs on 13 hits on May 25 against St. Louis.xliii All his other appearances for the Omahogs came in right field, but he performed no better at the plate than on the mound, collecting only eight hits in 62 at-bats.
In fact, Flynn appeared on the field just twice more in 1888, both times as an umpire, and on both occasions with the implicit debauchery that apparently followed him everywhere. The first time, July 26, he umpired an Omaha game against a team from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Like the White Stockings of 1886, the Omahogs stood accused in the press of putting pleasure before business:
“The game was not worthy of the name of base ball, the Omahas indulging in a lot of horseplay that was neither amusing nor interesting. They did not try to bat, run the bases or anything else. When they did make a hit, they did nothing more than walk around the lines. … After the game the boys had supper at Hotel Manawa then went across the lake, and spent the evening disporting in the limpid waters. They returned to Omaha on the 12:10 dummy, more fatigued and worn out than they would have been had they played two regular championship games.”xliv
The second time, August 20, Flynn umpire a charity game between familiars of his, the “Saloonists” and “Mixologists.” The Daily Bee noted soberly that Flynn “umpired and of course gave satisfaction to the saloon proprietors, inasmuch as he made them a present of seven runs in the ninth inning after they had received a beautiful coat of kalsomine (whitewash).”xlv
In fact, Flynn was a free agent by then. He and a few other players had been released some time prior to August 17, and the newspaper reported “a general feeling among the patrons of the game that the Omahas have been decidedly strengthened by the recent changes made.”xlvi
Flynn stuck around the Midwest until the fall, moonlighting on at least two occasions for city-league teams in Beatrice, Nebraska, and Omaha before returning to Boston on October 9.xlvii The Omaha newspaper reported in September that he would be joining his old Chicago teammates on their winter world tour, but that did not come to pass.xlviii There is also no record of his serving as an Eastern League umpire, as the newspaper wrote he would.xlix
Some sources, including the usually impeccable www.baseball-reference.com, have Flynn also playing for Stockton in the California State League in 1888, and those box scores do indeed list a Flynn pitching and playing left field – also for at least one game in October 1887.l But there are no further details as to which Flynn it is, as opposed to the Omaha newspaper accounts that make frequent reference to the Nebraska Flynn’s National League pedigree. Further, John Flynn never played left field in Chicago or Lawrence, so it is not clear why he would have in Stockton. And lastly, media reports from the 1890 season show a Dan Flynn pitching for Stockton.li It is most likely that it was this Dan Flynn, and not John Flynn, who pitched in California in 1887 and 1888.
John Flynn’s last partial season came in 1889, when he signed with the Halifax (Nova Scotia) Socials as a player-coach.lii Author Colin Howell, in his history of Canadian Maritimes baseball, quotes a contemporary source in stating that Flynn was hired “at a salary exceeding that of any professional player in this country.”liii The Socials went 11-10 in a short season; Flynn hit .324 and won nine of his 14 starts.liv
By the end of the 1889 season, Flynn was only 25 years old, and just three years removed from his star turn in Chicago, but he never pitched again. He returned to Lawrence and, in 1892, married 16-year-old Elizabeth Toomey, also a Lawrence native.lv They had four children: Joseph, born in 1892; Catherine, in 1895; Agnes, in 1897; and Genevieve, in 1900.lvi City directories show him working mostly as a hotel clerk from 1894 to 1898 before going into the liquor business with his brother William in 1901. That again brought him into alignment with George Moolic, who had run a saloon in town since at least 1892. Flynn apparently had less luck selling liquor than his batterymate, as he was back as a hotel clerk in 1905 and 1906, then working for the city water department in 1907.
Some sources claim that Flynn and Moolic were brothers-in-law, and indeed their close affiliation during and after their baseball careers suggest a strong bond of some sort. But it does not seem that either married a relation of the other. City records show that Moolic married a woman named Julia Gilbert in 1900, and Flynn as mentioned above married Elizabeth Toomey. Moolic’s sister Elizabeth married a Michael Flynn in 1908, but that was after John Flynn was dead, and it is not clear whether Michael and John were related.
More circumstantial proof lies in the records of the St. Mary and Immaculate Conception cemeteries. John Flynn, his wife, and two daughters are all buried in Immaculate Conception, but there are several Moolic family tombstones in the same area. George Moolic himself is buried across the street at St. Mary.lvii
How John Flynn got to the cemetery is part of a sad story. He fell ill with “the grip” in late December 1907, and that quickly developed into pneumonia. He died at home on New Year’s Eve at the age of 42.lviii His passing went unknown to his wife, Elizabeth, who was herself deadly ill after “under(going) a severe operation … some time ago.” Elizabeth Flynn survived her husband by only a few hours, dying at 5:50 a.m. on January 1. “The home at 27 Lowell Street is shrouded in the mantle of grief and the cup of sorrow for four little children is indeed bitter,” the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune proclaimed.lix
Newspapers in Lawrence and Chicago eulogized the former pitcher. The Chicago Inter-Ocean recalled him as “a small man, but one of the most effective of the twirlers of the old championship team. … He has not been heard of in the West for at least 10 years.”lx The hometown paper had a fuller remembrance:
“ ‘Jacky’ Flynn, as he was affectionately known in the baseball world, was born in Lawrence in 1864. He was a wholesouled, generous fellow, and had a host of friends and admirers. As a baseball player he was best known and his successful career on the diamond is a matter of knowledge to every lover of the sport in Lawrence. … (During his career), batteries used to work together much more than now, almost every pitcher having his favorite catcher. … George Moolic was Flynn’s partner from way back in the sand lots, and when this fast pair broke into professional company with the old Lawrence team in 1884 … they were rated as the most promising pair in this section of the country. … (Flynn) was rated as a fast, heady pitcher and used to serve up a drop curve that was in a class by itself. He was also a heavy batter, something rare for a pitcher, and easily cleared the .300 average during his stay in the game.”lxi
i1880 United States Census. Modern authors typically call John A. Flynn “Jocko,” but that nickname makes no appearance in contemporary accounts. He is variously called John, Jack, and Jackie, but never Jocko. It is unclear where that name came from.
ii Lawrence Daily American, July 5, 1883.
iii Lawrence Daily American, October 8, 1884. The table of statistics, provided by official scorer J.S. Bonney, “covers the period of time from the re-organization of the club July 23, to the close of the season, October 4.” This disruption in the season is unexplained, but it may explain why www.baseball-reference.com lists Lawrence in the Massachusetts State Association in 1884 as well as the Eastern New England League.
iv Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, December 31, 1907.
v Lawrence Daily Eagle, January 17, 1931.
vi A full accounting of the 1885 Eastern New England League pennant race by the same author (“The Fightingest Pennant Race: Brockton versus Lawrence in the Eastern New England League, 1885”) was published in the Fall 2010 issue of SABR’s Baseball Research Journal.
vii Chicago Tribune, November 28, 1885. The article notes that Moolic was signed on November 27 and says he was “recommended by Flynn, the new pitcher.” The signing of Flynn himself does not appear in the Chicago or Boston newspapers.
viii Chicago Tribune, April 2, 1886.
ix Chicago Tribune, April 10, 1886.
x Chicago Tribune, April 20, 1886.
xi Chicago Inter-Ocean, May 23, 1886.
xii Chicago Inter-Ocean, May 13, 1886.
xiii Chicago Herald, June 6, 1886.
xiv Chicago Herald, June 20, 1886.
xv Chicago Inter-Ocean, June 20, 1886.
xvi Chicago Herald, September 30, 1886.
xvii Chicago Herald, August 29, 1886.
xviii Chicago Herald, October 5, 1886.
xix Chicago Herald, October 13, 1886.
xx Chicago Tribune, April 14, 1887.
xxi Chicago Herald, July 11, 1886.
xxii Chicago Inter-Ocean, July 23, 1886.
xxiii Chicago Herald, July 22, 1886.
xxiv Chicago Inter-Ocean, October 20, 1886.
xxvi Lawrence Daily American, October 1, 1884.
xxvii Cap Anson, “A Ball Player’s Career,” accessed online at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19652/19652-h/19652-h.htm.
xxix E-mail from Barry Flynn, October 3, 2008.
xxx Chicago Tribune, March 20, 24-25, 1887.
xxxi Chicago Tribune, April 16, 1887.
xxxii Chicago Tribune, May 24, 1887. The March 8, 1888, edition of the Omaha Bee asserts that he suffered “a bad fracture of the bone of the right thumb by a batted ball.”
xxxiii Chicago Tribune, June 28, 1887.
xxxiv Chicago Tribune, August 21, 1887.
xxxv Omaha Daily Bee, January 1, 1888.
xxxvi Omaha Daily Bee, January 15, 1888.
xxxvii Omaha Daily Bee, March 8, 1888.
xxxviii Omaha Daily Bee, February 6, 1888. Selee put this promise into perspective with a disclaimer that still rings true today: “(The pitchers), of course, all claim to be in first-class condition, never better in their lives, you know the old chestnut” (Omaha Daily Bee, March 25, 1888).
xxxix Omaha Daily Bee, April 17, 1888.
xl Omaha Daily Bee, April 19, 1888.
xli Omaha Daily Bee, May 3, 1888.
xlii Omaha Daily Bee, May 4, 1888.
xliii Omaha Daily Bee, May 25, 1888.
xliv Omaha Daily Bee, July 27, 1888.
xlv Omaha Daily Bee, August 21, 1888.
xlvi Omaha Daily Bee, August 17, 1888.
xlvii Omaha Daily Bee, October 7-8, 10, 1888. Moolic joined him in town in October and caught Flynn on October 7, hitting a triple in the victory for the John J. Hardin city league team.
xlviii Omaha Daily Bee, September 14, 1888.
xlix Omaha Daily Bee, April 21, 1889.
l Sacramento Daily Record-Union, October 3, 1887.
li The Morning Call, May 4, 1890.
lii Colin D. Howell, Northern Sandlots. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995), 62. The May 5, 1889, edition of the Boston Globe also reports Flynn signing with Halifax but said he was to be a pitcher-catcher, reporting to the team on May 20.
liii Ibid. In an e-mail dated May 2, 2012, Howell said the salary information came from the Halifax Carnival Echo, a special newspaper edition in the summer of 1889 promoting an annual carnival, available at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, microfiche 9-10.
liv Ibid. Howell’s source for the statistics, he said, is the September 14, 1889, edition of the Acadian Recorder.
lv 1900 United States Census.
lvi Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, January 1, 1908.
lvii Strangely, though cemetery records clearly indicate where both Flynn and Moolic are buried, this writer could not locate either man’s tombstone during a 2008 visit. If other researchers care to take up the search, Flynn is supposed to lie in section I-96 of Immaculate Conception, and Moolic in section C-372 of St. Mary.
lviii Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, December 31, 1907. The official death certificate states he died of pneumonia after a sickness of four days.
lix Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, January 1, 1908. According to Barry Flynn, John’s great-nephew, two of the orphaned children, Agnes and Catherine, went to live with John Flynn’s brother Jeremiah and the other two, Joseph and Genevieve, went with another family in Connecticut. Agnes and Catherine did not have children and Barry Flynn did not know whether the other two did. John Flynn’s brother Jeremiah was also the father of Arthur Flynn, an amateur boxer well known in New England in the 1920s.
lx Chicago Inter-Ocean, January 1, 1908. An obituary published the same day in the Chicago Tribune had the additional information that Flynn’s former Chicago teammates Fred Pfeffer and Jimmy Ryan had not heard from him for at least ten years.
lxi Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, December 31, 1907. The obituary also holds that Flynn pitched for teams in Kansas City and St. John, New Brunswick, after leaving Chicago, but there is no record of that anywhere else.