In 1964, promising Chicago Cubs infielder Ken Hubbs was killed in a plane crash. Almost sixty years earlier, another promising infielder’s career was cut short by death. Like Hubbs, Joe Cassidy of the Washington Nationals came out of nowhere to win a major league job. Like Hubbs’, Cassidy’s future abruptly ended after two major league seasons.
The Potato Famine of the mid 1840s led to a massive immigration from Ireland to North America. Francis Cassady and his family remained in Ireland longer than many, but in 1851 or 1852 with his wife, two children and his sister, he immigrated to the United States. Most likely arriving at the Port of Philadelphia, they settled in nearby Delaware County. In 1860, Francis was a farm laborer living near the village of Concord, Pennsylvania, and the father of five.
His oldest son Patrick stayed in the county, moving to the city of Chester. Marrying in 1866, Patrick and his wife Catherine had eight children, seven of whom lived to adulthood. He worked as a railroad Section Boss. On February 8, 1883 (The 1900 census places the year of birth as 1884) their youngest child and fifth son was born. He was named Joseph. By 1900, the Cassadys were living at 1215 Central Avenue in a working class neighborhood. (Note: Census records of 1860 and 1900 indicate that the family spelled their name “Cassady.” During Joe’s career, however, his name was consistently spelled “Cassidy”; since he was known as “Cassidy,” that spelling will be used in this article.)
Joe was still in school in 1900, and was developing an interest in sports. During the winter, he was an outstanding bowler, joining the Century Bowling Club. He also spent time hunting and fishing. He played for several football teams during the first years of the twentieth century, but baseball was where he truly excelled. In 1901, he joined the Highland Baseball Club, a local amateur team. According to the Washington Post, the Highland team “played on Saturdays in an open field.” Cassidy played shortstop for the team. Highland must have been stronger than most amateur teams. Cassidy’s teammates include future major league players Bris Lord and Ernest “Rube” Vinson.
Cassidy was clearly one of the stars of the Highland team, and he was signed by John Mahoney, manager of Chester’s semipro team late in the 1902 season. He excelled offensively and defensively for Chester and soon received the opportunity to turn professional. He also found time for college, attending Villanova from 1901 to 1903.
In 1903, the number of minor leagues was still relatively small, especially in small and medium sized cities. Independent, all-professional teams were particularly numerous in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Soon many of these teams would join in two minor leagues, the “Outlaw” (operating outside of the National agreement) Tri-State League, and further west, the Ohio-Pennsylvania League. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, would eventually join the Tri-State League, but it was still independent when Joe Cassidy joined the team. Harrisburg manager Jesse Frysinger saw him play for Chester, and thought the young infielder could hold his own against more experienced competition.
Harrisburg had one of the outstanding independent teams in the country during the 1903 season. One source listed their record at 96-35, playing against what the Washington Post called “the very best independent teams in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, which are hotbeds of good baseball.” Included were a shutout victory over the Philadelphia Athletics and a 6-3 win over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Connie Mack was impressed with Cassidy, saying he was “the most promising infielder in the country.” Mack tried and thought he succeeded in acquiring Cassidy for his team, but in early September, the Washington Post announced Senator manager Tom Loftus had signed Cassidy. The Post initially speculated on where he’d play, guessing he’d replace Barry McCormick at second base. As spring training approached, it looked more as if Cassidy, fellow rookie James “Champ” Osteen and incumbent Charles Moran would contend for the shortstop position.
Other than teams leaving town, 1904 would be the low point in Washington American League history. The team was owned and run by the league. Ban Johnson‘s stewardship would only make things worse, with the Senators a virtual farm team for the rest of the league. As bad as things were, the situation would prove beneficial to Joe Cassidy. On teams with more established rosters he might well have been sent to the minor leagues under an optional agreement, but conditions in Washington meant an extended opportunity.
Cassidy reported to spring training, such as it was, on March 21, 1904. The Senators trained at home. The Post and Washington players were immediately impressed with his work. “The boys were much interested in the new shortfielder, and what they saw of his actions yesterday pleased them very much. He is quick, gathers in the ball neatly, and gets it away to the baseman like a shot and accurately, too. In throwing to the bases Cassidy backed the receiver and was all around the infield making himself useful.” Physically Cassidy was a small man. The Post was likely exaggerating or mistaken when they said he was just 5′ 2″ tall, but more accurately they described him as “not a heavy-weight.”
The exhibition schedule consisted of two games. Both were wins over a Georgetown team that included future major leaguers Red Morgan and Hub Hart. From there it was all downhill. Moran, a Washington native and Georgetown graduate won the shortstop job. Cassidy was retained on the roster as a utility player. Early speculation was that Cassidy would get an opportunity in the outfield, but he was on the bench for the Senators’ first two games, both losses.
On April 18, defending World Champion Boston raised the American League and World Champion Pennants. Also that afternoon, Bill Coughlin of the Senators was called home by the serious illness of his wife. Cassidy received the opportunity to play at third base that day. The Post said of his debut at Boston, “He accepted five chances without an error, and four of them were of the sort that turn base hits into outs at first. At the bat he was not so fortunate, although he hit the ball every time, which meant sprinting for the local [Boston] outfield.” The next afternoon, the Senators dropped a doubleheader to Boston, and Joe was their only bright spot. The Post said, “He was the hero of both games, his clever fielding making him strong with the crowd. In the afternoon game Cassidy got in a smashing three-base hit, and if he can keep up the fielding he has shown here there is no doubt as to his ability to remain in fast company.”
The Senators dropped their first thirteen games in 1904, but Cassidy continued to play well. He tripled over the head of New York centerfielder John Anderson on April 23. Two days later he stole his first base, Kid Elberfeld “dropping the ball as [Cassidy] went into him feet foremost.” Not all was positive for the Washington rookie. He was criticized for poor communication with the pitcher, and a few days later after moving to right field, he dropped an easy fly ball allowing two New York runs. The Post noted, “Cassidy is an emergency ‘filler’ in the outfield because there is no one else to work there.” When Washington finally won a game on May 5, Cassidy played an important role. Tied with New York 2-2 in the fifth, Cassidy beat out an infield single and scored on a pair of wild pitches. In the eighth, “[Pitcher Ambrose] Puttman was just what the doctor ordered for Cassidy, as he met a fast one squarely, sending it over [Centerfielder Dave] Fultz‘s head for three quarters of the route, sending in Moran and [Jack] Thoney.”
When New York recalled Thoney from Washington, it meant another position change for the Washington rookie. This time Joe was stationed in center field. In just his second start in center, he made a spectacular play to rob Jesse Burkett of an extra base hit. According to the Post, “Cassidy made an acrobatic catch of Burkett’s fly after running into left field and as the ball hit his hands, the clever boy overbalanced and lit on his shoulders, making a beautiful somersault with the ball tucked in his glove.” Later in the same series, he again robbed Burkett of extra bases. “In deep [center] field there is a pile of clay, and in the seventh, Burkett slammed a long one down that way. Cassidy backed up on the pile and nailed the ball, falling after he had it secure.” The Post said, “Cassidy is rapidly becoming accustomed to climbing over the mounds and ducking the ditches in center field. [He] looks the part of a ballplayer, and handles himself like one.”
The rookie was already forcing mistakes by more experienced opponents. One of these was against Chicago’s Billy Sullivan. The Post said, “Cassidy’s daring in the sixth gave him a stolen base when he pulled a throw from Sullivan to catch him off second. A fly from McCormick sent him home with the run that counted victory.” Sometimes he was more lucky than good in that aspect of his game. Against Detroit, “Cassidy was backing away from one of Donovan’s shoots when the ball hit his bat and dropped half way to third. Donovan picked it up and chucked it through the bleacher gate, giving Cassidy the right to romp around.” Later in the season he scored from second on a wild pitch.
Cassidy was one of the few Senators showing major league ability. The team lowered ticket prices to draw more fans. By the beginning of June the Senators were buried in last place with a 6-29 record. Joe was still a man without a position. Though impressive in center, he played all three outfield positions and third base in a three-week period. He finally appeared in his first game at shortstop in early June, replacing an injured Moran. Soon it was back to third when Coughlin got hurt and then back to center. Center may have been his best position other than shortstop. The Post said, “Cassidy plays center with confidence, and the spectators always feel he will squeeze all that comes his way.”
Offensively, he had eight hits in one five-game period, highlighted by a game when he doubled in a pair of runs to beat Detroit. In that same game, he started a pair of double plays. Even when he made an error, it was often an error of aggressiveness. In that same series against Detroit, the Washington Post described one of those plays. “[Charlie] Carr was turning second when [Patsy Donovan] got the ball, and as he tore to third and dropped to slide, Cassidy busied himself with throwing dirt in the eyes of the Detroiter. While thus engaged the ball arrived, and the substitute Senator watched it roll to the stand while Carr trotted in.”
Indeed, it was that hustle that made him popular both in the press and with the fans. One account said “Little Cassidy has added much to the club. He is a hustler of the Coughlin type, and has been a valuable asset in the several positions he has been called upon to play. His batting has been as good as any, and much better than many. Cassidy is a star for the Washingtons and he gets brighter each day.” Other managers were noticing his play as well. Connie Mack called him “a grand ballplayer.” Clark Griffith of New York said, “No youngster in the American League gives more promise than Cassidy, and I have seen them all.”
Griffith made the comment the day Cassidy enjoyed his strongest offensive day of the season against the league’s best pitcher. On the afternoon of July 1, Jack Chesbro won his thirteenth straight game, 8-3 over the hapless Senators. In the first inning, Cassidy connected with a fastball, knocking it over John Anderson’s head for an inside-the-park home run. In the seventh, he singled and stole second. In the ninth, Cassidy singled starting a two run rally.
July 4, 1904, was Independence Day in more ways than one for Joe Cassidy. Moran missed the second game of that day’s doubleheader with Boston due to illness. Cassidy played short that day and Moran never regained his job, soon being traded to the Browns. Cassidy seemed at home playing his natural position. The Post was quickly impressed with his play at shortstop. “Since Cassidy has been permanently fixed at shortstop, this clever youngster has developed into one of the finest players of the year. His work is not spasmodic, but consistent. He covers a large territory, and never hesitates to try for anything he believes he can take. With all the many difficult chances he went after, he passed through the week without a mark against his fielding record. At the bat he has been one of the most useful men on the team. His timely drives aided the club in scoring runs, and while he has his dull days at the bat, he averages well as a hitter. He covers second base on throws as well as any shortstop, and never gets himself tangled in the base slider’s feet. In turning double plays he is fast and accurate.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer was also impressed: “The fans would do well to watch the work of that youngster Cassidy who is playing for Washington. In the last two games he has been batting finely [sic], while his batting has been the feature of the game. He is the man that Armour thought of signing last fall, but whom he passed up until the ‘Kid” had more experience.”
The shift to his natural position seemed to help Cassidy’s hitting. He hit .389 during his first few weeks at short. In one game against the Browns he was 4-4 against Willie Sudhoff with a run scored and two driven in. He tripled in three straight games against the White Sox. On July 18, he hit an Ed Walsh pitch behind the scoreboard. The next day the Post reported on another triple off Walsh. “Cassidy dropped a line fly into short center, which [Fielder] Jones tried hard to get, but the ball passed safely by him. Cassidy would have made a home run had he not stumbled turning first base.” The next afternoon’s triple was against Frank Smith.
Despite the heroics at the plate, the Senators were outscored 25-2 in the three losses, dropping their record to 14-60. One imaginative Chicago newspaperman dreamed up ceremonies for Washington’s upcoming visit to Chicago. “10 a.m.- Grand parade to the annex in the following order: Cordon of police, citizens in automobiles, kids carrying the bat bags, Comiskey in a tally-ho, players in barouches, newspaper reporters on horseback. Washington ball team some distance in the rear on foot. 3:30 to 5:15 p.m.-Fifth consecutive massacre of the Washington team.”
Things got worse before they got better. Ban Johnson “traded” Al Orth to New York and “sold” Coughlin and catcher Lew Drill to Detroit. Those moves left Cassidy, Jake Stahl and pitcher Case Patten as arguably the Senators’ only real major league caliber players.
As might be expected from a rookie, Cassidy soon slumped. In one doubleheader he stole a base in each game, but made a poor base running play after a double. His hitting was also weak. He was soon dropped from third to seventh in the batting order. Though still noted for his outstanding range, and an ability to grab balls hit into the outfield, inconsistency was also noted in discussions of Cassidy’s defense. During a series at Detroit he made two errors in one game. Two days later Joe’s errant throw dislocated the little finger on Stahl’s right hand, knocking him out of the lineup for three weeks. Cassidy made 11 errors on the western trip, and batted just .158 in the seventeen games. The Post gave a reason for his slump. “For a time [he] seemed able to do his share at the bat, but the pitchers have all found his weakness at the bat–hitting at curve balls, particularly outshoots. Joe is endeavoring to master this element in the game, and may overcome it in time, but he seldom makes a hit unless he gets a ball that does not shave the outside of the plate.”
The return home seemed to bolster Cassidy’s confidence, at least defensively. After a 5-0 loss to the Tigers, the Post said Cassidy’s defense was the only bright spot. “After telling of Cassidy’s wonderful shortstopping there is little left worth relating. This young and ambitious Senator had seven assists, four of which seemed almost impossible of execution, and the way he cleaned them up startled the 1,500 fans present. In the fourth inning he retired the side on three of the most brilliant pickups and throws any spectator has ever seen. The first was a drive off [Charles] Hickman‘s bat too swift for [third baseman Hunter] Hill to get, but Cassidy got in behind Hill and smothered it, and before he could steady himself and see where he was to throw, cut loose with the ball and just beat the Detroit first baseman. Manager [Bobby] Lowe followed with a grounder which Cassidy nailed back of second base and got his man at the first station. The next one, [Monte] Beville, sent a hopper past Townsend, and this too Cassidy scooped up after passing second base and chucked the runner out. Those three plays were worth going to see, but they were not all. Later on he had another hard one from Hickman’s bat, and in the eighth rushed over against the pavilion fence and got a foul that Hill could not get under.”
A couple of weeks later, a cartoon in the Boston Globe compared a Cassidy’s defensive play to their own standout, Hobe Ferris. The Washington Post had previously compared him to Boston’s other middle infielder, Fred Parent. When the teams shifted to Washington, the logic of comparing Cassidy to both Boston infielders became apparent. The Globe described the play. “Chick Stahl started the fourth session with his sixth clean hit [of the day’s doubleheader] to left center for two bases, only to be doubled up when Collins made a line drive over second into Cassidy’s glove. Cassidy simply had to advance a step to complete the double-up, unassisted.” Joe also tripled off the center field fence in the game.
While Boston and New York were in a tight race, the only “race” Washington was involved in was an imaginary one with Rochester of the Eastern League. Rochester “won” the dubious distinction with a 28-105 record and a .211 winning percentage. The Senators lost more games (113) but also won more (38). Still, their .252 winning percentage was worse than all but three twentieth century major league teams.
Joe Cassidy was busier than most Washington players. A September note said he’d played 21 games in which he’d accepted five or more chances while playing errorless ball. He twice accepted ten chances without error. Probably the most enjoyable September afternoon for Joe was the 22nd. The Senators played at Harrisburg that afternoon, and fans appreciative of his play there the previous season presented him with a diamond pin.
A strong month of September raised Cassidy’s average to .241, as he appeared in 152 of the Senators’ 157 games. Offensively his nineteen triples tied him with Buck Freeman and Chick Stahl of Boston for the league lead. Other teams were interested in acquiring Cassidy, but Ban Johnson decided after the sale of Coughlin and Drill to the Tigers that future transactions would have to benefit the Senators. Connie Mack was especially interested in the Senator rookie, reportedly offering Monte Cross, Jim Mullin and Ollie Pickering for Cassidy. The offer was quickly declined.
Johnson kept his word to Washington fans. In 1905 an effort was made to field a competitive team. Stahl was appointed manager, and the team left Washington for spring training in Charlottesville, Virginia. After a newspaper contest, a new nickname was selected. Though still popularly called the Senators, the Washington nickname was officially the Nationals. In fact, it would be the official nickname for the Washington team until they moved to Minnesota.
A strong second season in the major leagues was predicted for Cassidy. Sam Crane selected Cassidy as one of eight shortstops he believed to be the equal of nineteenth century stars George Wright and Jack Glasscock. Veteran Deacon McGuire referred to him as a “great shortstop.” The Washington Post said, “Joe Cassidy has a cinch on shortstop, and judging from the great progress he made in his first year in the league, he should be the equal of any one during the season of 1905.”
The Nationals played intrasquad games and a few contests with the University of Virginia while in Charlottesville. After returning home, they played Georgetown and semipro teams, but most importantly scheduled contests with Boston and Brooklyn of the National League.
Joe Cassidy’s performance in the Nationals’ opener was in many ways indicative of his season: brilliant plays offset by costly mistakes. In the sixth inning, John Anderson’s ground ball was stopped by Cassidy, who made a poor throw to second, allowing a run to score.
The Nationals lost that day 4-2 and also dropped their next two contests. For the next three weeks, they were the biggest story in baseball. They won six of seven from Boston, and beat Philadelphia five times, moving into first place. In one of the home wins over Boston, the Washington Post described his strong defense. “Joe Cassidy started the fine fielding exhibition by grabbing Burkett’s chance close to second and shooting it to first. Ferris rapped a hopper over second base, but Cassidy batted it with his hands to [Jim Mullin] on second, and got [Candy] LaChance out. It was a beautiful play.”
When the teams were in Boston a few days later, he tripled off Cy Young and scored the winning run. The Boston Post commented on Cassidy. “No young player in either league gives more promise of soon becoming one of the stars of the baseball world than youthful Joe Cassidy, whom Boston fandom saw at shortstop the last four days for Washington. He is a slightly built chap, but covers an immense lot of ground and hits the ball hard. His three-bagger in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s game, after two were out, gave Washington the game, for a second later he scored the winning run on Mullen’s [sic] single.”
In Philadelphia, Charles Dryden colorfully described a game saving double play: “With two runs in and the bases filled, Cassidy made a corking catch off Hartsel that put a plug in our prospects. Again in the ninth the locals came back at Cyclone Tom Hughes, the hero of Goose Island, and again Cassidy foiled us. With one out, two on the paths, and one needed to tie, Ralphy Orland’s [Socks Seybold] hit to Mr. Nill, subbing at second for Mullin, and the lightning-geared Cassidy froze us stiff in a double play. It is unnecessary to state that Mr. Cassidy eats no meat. He believes in the Kittredge vegetable diet.”
Not all of Cassidy’s strong plays were in wins. In early May, Eddie Plank defeated the Nationals 2-1, but Cassidy was responsible for the lone Washington run. The Post said, “Cassidy knocked the hooped legs from under Lave Cross with a grass-burner. Lave stopped it, and one of his fingers was knocked out of joint. However, he picked up the ball and shot it toward first, and, although [Harry] Davis fell down going to the base, he could not have gone high enough in the air for the disjointed throw. Cassidy pulled up at Murphy’s corner [second base]. Nill hit a sharp single to right, and Coach [Frank] Shaugnessy stopped Joe at third or he would have been an easy mark at the plate. Nill worked the double steal gag. Powers laced the ball to Murphy, and Cassidy was away from third like a flash. Murphy returned to Powers, but a mighty clever slide by the Chester boy put him over the plate with the toe of a shoe scraping the block. Silk [O’Loughlin] was right onto the play and held his right hand as if he were going to slap some one on the wrist. That was the sign that Joe beat them to it.”
Later in the series, a who’s who of Washington attended the game. The crowd included President Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter Alice, the Attorney General and two Supreme Court Justices. The Post said, “Chester Joe Cassidy electrified the throng with the greatest play of the year, and one that will be hard to eclipse. In the ninth inning that terrible slugger, Harry Davis, smashed the ball about two feet to the right of second base. The great shortstopper dashed after it. He got there with the ball and knocked it down. Turning as if on a pivot, he made a complete circle and the ball bounded so he could get it, and without even the loss of a second he whipped the sphere to first and beat Davis by a flash.” The play saved a win and put the Nationals back into first with a 12-9 record. The Post said the play was still the talk of the town the next day.
Washington started the season’s first trip west in first place, prompting widespread press comment on the improbable streak. While the rest of the country was commenting on the play of the team, Washington sportswriter Clarence Cullen was describing the Nationals’ trip to Cleveland, and an attempt by Cassidy, Hunter Hill, Tom Hughes and Case Patten to provide some musical entertainment. “These four otherwise personable and amiable traveling mates had barely clambered into their Pullman seats before they were simultaneously seized with a passionate and irresistible impulse and determination to forthwith organize themselves into a vocal quartet. The impromptu quartet nailed seats facing each other squarely in the middle of the car, placed their heads close together in that vacant-lot blending position, and, thus set, the vocal infamy began. Barber-shop chords with rifts in them that you could drive a goat cart through flooded the car with a hideous discordance that soon had Arbitrator Silk O’Loughlin, who accompanied the outfit, weeping like a child. Tom Hughes was there with the pom-pom deep stuff, Hill tossed in the silvery tenor business, Cassidy assaulted the middle register with amount of viciousness surprising to see in one so young, while Patten just trailed, with occasional posies of the thorax that caused strong men to shudder from head to foot.” The concert concluded when Manager Stahl and other members of the team forcibly separated the “entertainers.”
Washington lost two out of three in Cleveland to drop out of the lead. Cassidy was ejected for the first time in his major league career in the opener. Cullen said “Cassidy complained with no extra querulousness [sic] of the bad deal he was getting as to balls and strikes when at the bat, and McCarthy chased him with an imperiousness that would have been gravely censurable had it not been comic.” A later note in the Post said Cassidy “hadn’t changed his opinion of McCarthy.” Presumably, he still felt the umpire needed the services of an optometrist.
A highlight for both the Nationals and Cassidy on that trip was the second game of a May 19 doubleheader at Detroit. Tiger catcher Tom Doran was helpless against Washington baserunners, allowing ten steals, three by Cassidy.
Afternoons like that soon became few and far between for both the Nationals and their young shortstop. Cassidy’s average dropped below .200 and remained there much of the season. Even a change of bats did little good. Despite or likely because of his range, errors also began to increase. A particularly glaring error, at least according to the Washington Post, occurred against the White Sox. “The spine-chilling sin of omission in which the sometimes scintillating shortstop flagged his unique opportunity to stake the crowd to some extra innings was a juggle that would make the street jugglers of Singapore look like Handy-Andys. [Danny] Green ripped a grounder right smack at Cassidy. Cassidy fell on it, rolled over on it, played jacks with it, examined the ball’s seams, let it slip out of one mitt and caught it with another on the drop, and seemed to be laboring under the delusion that it was a Bartlett pear, for he looked to be on the point of taking a bite out of it. All of this time the stodgy [Frank] Smith was just ambling home from second with all the serene leisureliness of a small boy who has been sent to the corner grocery to get a loaf of bread in a hurry, and Smith’s home trot is what annexed the game as the event proved.” Generally the Post felt the errors were because “He is such an earnest player that he feels it incumbent upon himself to make up for the deficiencies of the other players. Several times he has lost short flies to left field which he knew Huelsman could not get, but which a fast fielder would have nabbed easily.” At midseason he was batting .188 with 39 errors.
Even with the criticism, there were compliments. Former National League President Nick Young stated “he wouldn’t trade Cassidy for any ballplayer.” Tim Murnane wrote “Joe Cassidy is a great ground coverer–one of the best I ever saw–and he has a great stride going after sharp-hit balls around the infield. He appears to have a longer reach than most infielders, and gathers in blows and throws that seem almost impossible to a spectator.” Not all comment was positive. A midseason note in the Boston Globe said, “Cassidy has lost much of the dash he displayed last fall and early this season. The young phenoms are likely to explode when the cards break poorly.”
Washington had no plans of trading their young shortstop, but Connie Mack still wanted him for the Athletics. In 1905, Mack was using a shortstop even younger than Cassidy, and wanted a more experienced player. The events of a game at Philadelphia also demonstrated Cassidy’s popularity in Philadelphia. Charles Dryden reported, “The first time up the shortstopper [sic] was presented with a watch and one immense bundle of red roses. Joe was visibly affected, but did not lose his noddle. [sic] While the assembled athletes and arbitrators stood with bared and bald heads viewing the tokens of esteem, Mr. Cassidy wormed out of the crowd at the plate and faced the stand. A number of fanatics fainted, thinking he was about to make a speech. Instead, this recherché athlete hung one hand at his side with the cap in it, placed the other on his stomach, and made an elaborate bow at the wire screen.” Though exaggerated for effect, the proximity of Cassidy’s hometown of Chester to Philadelphia would have attracted additional fans to Athletic home games in addition to filling an obvious weakness in Mack’s infield.
During the second half of the season, Cassidy’s hitting began to improve. Maybe it was the new bat, but more likely he was beginning to slowly adapt to hitting the curve ball. By early August, he had 28 hits in a 24-game span. If a newspaper drawing is accurate, Cassidy was using an upright closed stance, choking up a couple of inches on his bat. In at least one game, he experimented by batting left. He was also trying to help the Nationals in other ways. The Post reported, “Cassidy was outside the coaches’ box in the seventh doing some ‘Dummy’ Taylor stunts at [Frank] Smith when ‘Silk’ saw him and chased him within bounds.”
Joe Cassidy played every inning of Washington’s first 97 games of the 1905 season. On the afternoon of August 15, he suffered an injury that appeared minor but may have been a contributing factor to his death seven months later. In a game at Cleveland, Elmer Flick spiked Cassidy on the ankle during the fourth inning. Joe stayed in at first, but had to leave in the sixth. He returned the next day, but missed three games at Detroit the next week.
During the same series he was spiked by Flick, Cassidy hit his only home run of the season. The Post reported, “The Nationals lost no time in making life a burden for Otto Hess and causing that ferocious soldier boy to wish he were back in the jungles of Luzon fighting Moros, mosquitoes, and malaria. The second ball he delivered to Cassidy, the latter hoisted over the fence in left center for a homer, the longest drive in that direction this season.”
Cassidy’s defense became more consistent as his final major league season wound down. In one doubleheader at St. Louis he handled fourteen chances without an error, eleven of them in the opener. He made two outstanding plays in a 15-inning tie at Chicago on August 30. In the final inning, he stopped a ball and threw Gus Dundon out at the plate. In the sixth, he made an even better play on Fielder Jones. Though perhaps exaggerated by Washington catcher Kittredge and writer Dryden, Jones “was having a little chat with Joe Cassidy while Mr. Isbell was rubbing dirt on his hands at the plate. ‘Hully gee,’ yelled Cassidy, pointing to the scoreboard, which is to the right and well back of second base. ‘Look what the Athletics are doing to Cleveland. It’s a shame.’ Jones turned to look at the statistics on the board, and Cassidy signaled [Mike] Heydon behind the bat. Before the bunkoed [sic] Jones could turn his block the foxy Joe had the ball and Fielder was twenty feet from the bag. With a low muttered snort of rage and despair, the unhappy Jones hiked out for third, taking a chance on a wild throw. But Joe put the ball through, and they flagged the manager two box-car lengths. That play was of vital importance, for Isbell followed with a clean single that would have won the game. Great noodle on that Cassidy.” One of the few reporters to see teams in both leagues was Sid Mercer of the New York Globe. Mercer felt the defense of Cassidy and Kid Elberfeld “would set the National League fans crazy.”
Joe Cassidy played his final major league games on October 7, 1905. He went 3-8 with a double and a triple on the afternoon, accepting ten chances without an error. Those games were the conclusion of a strong second half. Joe raised his average to .215, and finished fourth among starting shortstops with a .934 fielding percentage. He tied with Fred Parent of Boston for most errors by a shortstop at 66, but that was likely a function of their fielding range as they were generally considered the league’s best in the field.
Cassidy stayed in Washington after the close of the 1905 season. He returned to school in pursuit of a business degree, finding time to attend “most of the local football games” and make an occasional visit to a local horse racing track. A report was circulated that he’d been reported missing by his parents in late November, but it appeared to be a case of Joe’s not writing letters home. A late December rumor circulated that he was to be included as a player to be named later in the trade that brought Lave Cross from Philadelphia. Cassidy reportedly wanted to play for a winner, and Connie Mack was quoted that “one of the best shortstops in the country would play for him.” The Nationals denied the rumor.
In January of 1906, a brief note stated Cassidy had surgery at Washington’s Garfield Hospital for the spike wound suffered the previous August. He recuperated at his home in Chester. In mid-February he fell ill with malaria, though some reports said it was typhoid.
Early in March Cassidy sent a letter to manager Stahl telling of the illness and informing the manager he’d miss the beginning of spring training. Initially no great concern was noted, but after Stahl visited Chester on March 8, he said Cassidy would miss the start of the 1906 season. Stahl’s initial plan was to send Cassidy to Hot Springs Virginia, to recuperate. Cassidy’s doctors believed that was unwise, and the young infielder remained at his home.
On March 15, it was announced Cassidy would miss the entire season with typhoid. Three days later, his physician, Dr. L. Haines Crothers, after consulting three other doctors diagnosed the illness as “one which follows an attack of malarial fever. The blood becomes clotted, and if it reaches the brain, which it usually does, it means instant death.” Crothers also believed Cassidy would never play again even if he recovered from his critical illness. At the time Cassidy’s temperature was 102 degrees, and he was unconscious. Over the next few days he regained consciousness, and his fever reduced to 99 degrees. Dr. Crothers believed the improvement was only temporary, but his report on March 21 said Cassidy was in better condition than he’d been in two weeks.
Two days later, he suffered the expected relapse. The March 24 bulletin reported he “passed a miserable night, with no signs of immediate improvement.” The Washington Post of March 26 reported Cassidy’s death at the age of 23. “Cassidy was notified by his physician Saturday that he could not recover, and he turned to his mother, who has nursed him all through his illness, and said: ‘I am ready when God calls me.’” After receiving the last rites of the Catholic Church, Cassidy died with his entire family present.
Manager Stahl said of his shortstop: “Cassidy was one of the finest, cleanest, and best fellows I ever knew. This same tribute can be paid him by all his fellow-players. He never had a bad habit, and hence I never had to worry about him. Cassidy’s whole heart and soul were centered in the ambition to be a member of the team that would one day put Washington at the top of the league. It is too bad that he could not realize it.”
The Nationals returned from spring training in Charlottesville, and Kittredge returned from his spring job coaching a college team in Raleigh, North Carolina. Washington players sent a floral arrangement described by the Post as a “floral pillow about five feet long, made of roses and carnations, with two gilded baseball bats crossed in the center and a baseball laid in above the center of the pillow.” The Nationals, Athletics and several of the Chester area clubs and organizations Cassidy belonged to also sent flowers. Teammates Stahl, Kittredge, Hickman, Charlie Jones, “Rabbit” Nill, Joe Stanley and Cy Falkenberg attended the funeral on March 28 in the Immaculate Heart Church. Stahl, Hickman, Jones and Nill were among the pallbearers. An estimated 4,000 persons visited the Cassidy home in the days before the funeral to pay their respects. Joe Cassidy was buried in the Immaculate Heart Church Cemetery.
Washington Post, 1903-05
Boston Globe, 1904-05
Boston Post, 1905
Chicago Tribune, 1904-05
Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1904-05
New York Times, 1904-05
New York Globe, 1905
United States Census: Pennsylvania 1860, 1900
SABR’s Online Encyclopedia
In 1964, promising Chicago Cubs infielder Ken Hubbs was killed in a plane crash. Almost sixty years earlier, another promising infielder’s career was cut short by death. Like Hubbs, Joe Cassidy of the Washington Nationals came out of nowhere to win a major league job. Like Hubbs’, Cassidy’s future abruptly ended after two major league seasons.