In October 1876, outfielder-first baseman John Glenn was perched atop the baseball world, a lineup regular for the Chicago White Stockings, champions of the inaugural season of the National League. A dozen years later, he lay semi-conscious on his deathbed in upstate New York, the object of nationwide opprobrium.
Universal disdain of Glenn was reflected in newspaper headlines that shouted: “A Depraved Wretch Shot,”1 “A Fiend Fatally Wounded,”2 “Got His Just Desert,”3 and “A Brute’s Fate.”4 And not without cause, as Glenn had capped a near-decade of post-baseball drunkenness and assaultive conduct with a hideous crime: the abduction and rape of a nine-year-old schoolgirl. The mortal injury, a gunshot to Glenn’s head, had been fired unintentionally by a local policeman trying to protect his prisoner from an infuriated lynch mob. An account of the rise and fall of this now long-forgotten 19th-century baseball miscreant follows.
Like other obscure early players, fundamental biographical data about our subject have been lost to time. Among other things, his birthday, middle name, extent of schooling, and off-season occupation are unknown. All that can be said with some degree of assurance is that John W. Glenn was born on an undetermined January 1850 date in Rochester, New York. He was the youngest of four surviving children born to paper mill worker John Glenn (1812-1850) and his wife, the former Margaret Allen (1816-1885), both native New Yorkers.5 Only months after the infant’s birth, his father died at age 38. His mother’s subsequent remarriage provided young John with some temporary stability and a half-sister (Susan Cross, born 1854). But the 1865 New York State Census indicates that Glenn was out of the house and living on his own by age 15.
Glenn, who batted and threw right-handed, began his baseball career as a teenager playing for two summers with a local amateur club, the Rochester Alerts.6 In 1870, by then 20, Glenn took his first stab at what would become a career-long sideline: umpiring. He did so in a contest between two pro clubs, the Rochester Hop-Bitters and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Later that year, he entered the professional playing ranks himself, joining the independent National Club of Washington, DC. Thereafter, he saw action with a local rival, the Olympic Club, and re-signed with the Olympics for the ensuing season.7
In 1871, the Olympics entered the newly-formed National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NA), the game’s first major league. By then a sturdily built 5-foot-8½, 169-pounder with dark hair and a neatly trimmed moustache, John Glenn had already acquired something of a reputation as a first-rate ballplayer. Before the 1871 season began, a Cincinnati newspaper observed that “Glenn is a young player, and last season was the first of his experience as a member of a professional nine. … His batting record for the past season is very good, and in this respect, he ranks equal to any player in the District of Columbia, our own former Red Stockings excepted.”8
Missing the first week’s action due to illness, Glenn made his NA debut on May 13, 1871, playing an error-free right field for Washington and going 2-for-3 at the plate (with three runs scored) against right-hander Al Pratt in a 12-8 triumph over Forest City (Cleveland). Soon thereafter, the Washington Capital was informing hometown fans that the Olympics’ Glenn was “a fine fielder and excellent at the bat.”9 Despite a dislocated thumb suffered in a late-May game against Boston, Glenn continued to produce for the Olympics. By season’s end, he had made 26 appearances for Washington, which finished in the middle of the NA-pack (15-15). He posted good numbers at the bat (.308 batting average, with 21 RBIs) and respectable ones in the field for a bare-handed outfielder (six errors in 43 chances yielded an .860 fielding percentage) and was re-signed by the club for the next season.10
The year 1872 proved a trying one for John Glenn and everyone else connected to professional baseball in the nation’s capital. Glenn could not get started with the bat, going 6-for-39 in the Olympics’ first nine games, only two of which ended in victory. The club fared no better at the gate, and folded in late May. Glenn subsequently caught on with Washington’s other NA club, the hapless Nationals. He went 2-for-4 in his lone game for his winless (0-11) new club before the Nationals, too, abandoned play. In ten NA games total, Glenn batted poorly (.186 BA) and fielded worse (.791 FA) for the season. Despite that, he was among those recruited by his former Olympics mentor Nick Young (the future National League president) for a newly constituted NA entry for the 1873 season, the Washington Blue Legs.
Playing first base exclusively and alternating between leadoff and cleanup in the Washington batting order, Glenn posted a pedestrian .263 batting average in 39 games for the Blue Legs, a non-competitive seventh-place outfit (8-31, .205). A personal highlight, however, was “a clean home run” that he smashed during a 9-2 victory over Philadelphia on August 8. It was the only round-tripper hit by Glenn in a seven-season major league career. Another noteworthy event was Glenn’s participation in a Blue Legs post-season exhibition game against a picked nine of local Black stars, won by Washington, 13-10.11
Given Glenn’s deplorable, often criminal, conduct during the 1880s, the esteem in which he was held during his major league days presents a striking contrast. Considered honest, reliable, and conscientious, Glenn was respected by the Washington sports press and frequently engaged by local amateur clubs to serve as umpire during days off. Although it was publicized by mid-August that Glenn was signed to play for Chicago in 1874,12 the Washington club nonetheless sponsored a late-season exhibition game to benefit him and fellow scheduled Blue Legs departee Pop Snyder.13
Glenn turned in a solid year for his new club, batting .283 with 32 RBIs, and posting a .912 fielding average splitting time between right field and first base in 55 games for the fifth-place (28-31, .475) Chicago White Stockings. Although his stats were not overly eye-catching, contemporary Chicago newspapers were impressed. “Glenn in right field has made a fine record and with the willow has proved very effective,” pronounced the Chicago Inter Ocean in mid-May.14 Readers of the Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, were informed that “Glenn distinguished himself with some fine catches in the field and also handled the willow with telling effect” during a late-June loss to Boston.15 It came as no surprise, therefore, when he was one of the five 1874 club members brought back by Chicago for the following season.16
In 1875, Glenn and his ball club headed in the wrong direction. He hit .244 with little power (only eight extra-base hits in 69 games), while the White Stockings sank to a sixth-place (30-37, .448) finish in the NA standings. Yet those who saw Glenn in person must have observed qualities that his stats do not convey. A seemingly unremarkable .898 fielding average in the outfield, for example, was belied by contemporaneous press commentary. “Glenn in left field is in every game and is showing to great advantage,” asserted the Chicago Inter Ocean. “There is scarcely his equal in baseball ranks, and his work in two or three recent games has probably never been equaled.”17 Club brass evidently had a similar view, replacing veteran Dick Higham as team captain with the 25-year-old Glenn in late June.18 An out-of-town journal expressed misgivings about the switch. “Glenn is an excellent and exemplary player,” declared the Missouri Republican, “but he is hardly qualified to captain a professional nine – much less when it is inharmonious.”19 Yet confidence in Glenn stayed constant in the Windy City.
In mid-August, the club granted Glenn a brief leave of absence so that he could retrieve his wife (about whom virtually nothing has been uncovered) from Rochester and make their permanent home in Chicago.20 Thereafter, he remained one of three holdovers from the 1875 roster when dynamic Chicago club boss William A. Hulbert transformed the franchise – and professional baseball as well – in 1876.
This profile is not the place for commentary on the dissolution of the National Association and the arrival on scene of the National League. Nor does it analyze the personnel maneuvers that transformed an NA also-ran into the NL’s powerhouse ball club. Suffice it to say that those new to White Stockings livery included three future Hall of Famers (Al Spalding, Cap Anson, and Deacon White) and two pioneer-era standouts (Ross Barnes and Cal McVey), and that their arrival in Chicago changed the baseball landscape. Significant for our purposes is that club brass saw no need to displace John Glenn in the Chicago lineup, a matter signifying the high regard in which he was held by his contemporaries. As noted by a St. Louis newspaper, Glenn was “a most excellent player. … He is faithful, reliable, and efficient.”21
Glenn’s performance in 1876 validated his retention. He played in all 66 Chicago games and batted a solid .304, with a career-high .333 on-base percentage. He was also his usual steadfast self on defense, primarily in right field but occasionally at first base, as well. With Spalding the circuit’s premier pitcher and a crushing .337 team batting average, the White Stockings went a scintillating 52-14 (.788) and cruised to the National League’s first pennant. Thereafter, team members repaired to Minnesota for a celebratory hunting trip during which “Anson, McVey, and Glenn, the Nimrods of the club” supplied most of the dining room fare.22 Upon their return home, club management revealed the roster for the 1877 White Stockings, complete with John Glenn, by then a veteran.23
The new season, however, was not a success, primarily because Spalding withdrew from pitching duties. Replacement George Bradley posted a losing record of 18-23, and the White Stockings tumbled to a fifth-place finish (26-33, .441). John Glenn was a prominent underperformer during the campaign, his batting average skidding to .228 (lowest in the starting nine), with a mere seven extra-base hits in 50 games played. As he had two years earlier, club boss Hulbert thereupon set about remaking the White Stockings roster.
Released during Chicago’s post-season housecleaning, John Glenn’s time as a major leaguer had come to its end. In seven combined NA-NL seasons, he had posted a decent .267 batting average, but with little power (only 52 extra-base hits), while scoring 235 runs and driving in 157 in 315 games played. And he had probably been a better fielder, by the bare-handed standards of his time, than his career .908 FA suggests today. In all, Glenn had been a competent major league player on the diamond and, by all available accounts, a sober, respectable citizen off it – all of which makes the ensuing disintegration of his life unexpected and (on the surface) inexplicable. But a weakness for alcohol may well have been its root cause.24
In any event, Glenn signed for the 1878 season with a team in his former hometown, Rochester of the International Association.25 Scant information on that circuit survives, apart from its dissolution at year’s end. Glenn then completed his time in Organized Baseball with an 1879 turn for the Washington Nationals of an otherwise New England-based minor league circuit that had assumed the name of the defunct National Association. But Glenn apparently had little left, posting a meager .204 batting average in 13 games. Thereafter, the name John Glenn shifted from box scores to police blotters.
The rap sheet of this once-model ballplayer and citizen makes depressing reading. It begins with an arrest for theft of a money box lifted from a Rochester streetcar in early February 1880. But Glenn managed to beat that charge in court.26 He spent the ensuing summer out of trouble, and even umpired a few minor league games in Rochester and a week’s worth of National League contests in Buffalo. But in December, Glenn was back in the dock, charged with assault and battery on one Joseph Attridge.27 He was found guilty this time, but got off with a $50 fine “paid by his wife” and the “pledge in police court never to drink another drop of liquor during his life.”28
Only days later, Glenn was in court again, and this time facing a far graver charge: the sexual assault of a woman named Jane Morrison. But during his arraignment, the victim declared that the accused “is not the man. I have never seen him before in my life.” When “other witnesses all declared that Glenn is not the man” as well, Magistrate Truesdale promptly dismissed the complaint. Glenn had protested his innocence all along, maintaining that “his arrest had been a put up job by somebody,”29 and the charge against him may well have been unfounded. But 15 months thereafter, “the ancient ballplayer John Glenn” was in trouble once more, and “sent to the county penitentiary for ninety days for being drunk and assaulting his wife.”30 The following year, he drew a one-year jail term for burglary.31
Upon his release from confinement in October 1884, Glenn – by then apparently unattached – relocated to Sandy Hill (now Hudson Falls), New York, a bustling village located on the Hudson River about 45 miles north of Albany. Older brother Tom Glenn and family resided in the vicinity, and John was soon engaged by a semipro ball club based in nearby Fort Edward.32 But the change in scenery was not accompanied by improvement in Glenn’s behavior. In December 1886, he was arrested for public intoxication, only to be discharged a day later upon payment of court costs.33 Publicly inebriated once again in September 1887, Glenn was put off a streetcar by conductor Andrew Blake. Indignant, Glenn then “drew a revolver and fired a shot at Blake without effect.”34 Dame fortune, however, remained at his side. The unscathed Blake declined to press assault charges, and Justice Rogers let Glenn off with a $7 fine for being drunk and disorderly.35 But the next time that John Glenn engaged in violent anti-social conduct, events would play out differently and cost him his life.
During a mid-afternoon school recess on November 8, 1888, nine-year-old Helen Sherrill left her classroom to visit the girls’ outhouse. Somewhere along the way, she encountered John Glenn, who subjected her to “a villainous assault and forcefully abused her.”36 Classmates observing the molestation raced to inform their teacher, and soon the police were in foot pursuit of Glenn. The suspect was apprehended by Sandy Hill Patrolman E.P. Morrison, who was soon thereafter confronted by an infuriated mob bent on relieving Morrison of his prisoner and lynching him. Morrison brandished his service revolver hoping to keep Glenn safe, but his arm was jostled as the mob surged around him. The weapon discharged; its shot struck Glenn in the neck right below the jaw. The gravely wounded Glenn immediately collapsed onto the ground. He was then carried to a nearby residence and medical help was summoned. But the bullet had passed upward through facial cavities and lodged in Glenn’s brain, rendering his condition hopeless. He lingered in and out of consciousness before dying “in great agony” on the morning of November 10.37 John W. Glenn was 38 at the time of his demise.38
Within hours of Glenn’s passing, a coroner’s inquest into the cause of his death was initiated.39 No fewer than 24 witnesses testified regarding events that they had observed,40 but the outcome of the proceedings was predictable. After only ten minutes’ deliberation, the coroner’s jury determined the death of John Glenn had been accidentally caused and that no criminal charges needed to be pursued.41 By that time, private funeral services officiated by an Adventist minister had already been conducted at Tom Glenn’s home, and the deceased laid to rest in an undisclosed location. In addition to his brother, survivors included Glenn sisters Harriet Livingston and Elizabeth Callahan, half-sister Susan Collins, and presumably, the estranged Mrs. John W. Glenn.
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
Sources for the biographical info imparted above include the John Glenn file maintained at the Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York; the Glenn profile by early baseball scholar David Nemec in Major League Player Profiles, 1871-1900, Vol. 1, Nemec, ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011); census and city directory data and Glenn family posts accessed via Ancestry.com, and certain of the newspaper articles cited in the endnotes. Unless otherwise specified, stats have been taken from Baseball-Reference.
1 (Portland) Oregonian, November 9, 1888: 3.
2 Unionville (Nevada) Silver Slate, November 9, 1888: 2
3 Albuquerque (New Mexico) Morning Democrat, November 9, 1888: 1.
4 Philadelphia Inquirer, November 13, 1888: 7.
5 At the time of John’s birth, his older siblings were brother Thomas (born 1839), and sisters Harriet (1840), and Elizabeth (1843). Preceding our subject’s arrival were the deaths of James (1840-1841), George (1844-1845), and Sarah Glenn (1848-1848).
6 Per “The Base Ball Season” New York World, March 27, 1871: 8.
7 Same as above.
8 “Base Ball – The Olympics,” Cincinnati Gazette, March 2, 1871: 4, the exceptions referred to being Washington teammates Asa Brainard, Andy Leonard, Doug Allison, Charlie Sweasy, and Fred Waterman, all members of the undefeated Cincinnati Reds of 1869.
9 Washington (DC) Capital, May 21, 1871: 6.
10 “Out-Door Sports,” Philadelphia Sunday Dispatch, January 14, 1872: 2.
11 Per “Base Ball: White vs. Black,” Washington National Republican, October 22, 1873: 4. The article also noted that a picked black nine was selected because the NA Washington nine had “beaten the rival colored organizations of the city by large scores” earlier in the year.
12 See e.g., “Gossip,” Philadelphia Sunday Dispatch, August 17, 1873: 3.
13 After several postponements, the Glenn-Snyder benefit game was played on October 5, 1873. See “Base Ball,” Washington National Republican, October 1, 1873: 4.
14 “Base Ball,” Chicago Inter Ocean, May 10, 1874.
15 “Base Ball,” Chicago Tribune, June 27, 1874.
16 Per “Sporting News,” St. Albans (Vermont) Advertiser, January 8, 1875: 5.
17 “Base Ball,” Chicago Inter Ocean, June 23, 1875: 2.
18 Per “Sporting News: Base-Ball,” Chicago Tribune, June 29, 1875: 5.
19 “Notes,” (St. Louis) Missouri Republican, July 1, 1875: 4.
20 Per “The White Stockings,” Chicago Tribune, August 16, 1875: 3. A 1961 letter by a Rochester librarian contained in the Glenn file at the GRC identifies his wife as the Eliza Glenn listed in the 1906 Rochester city directory. In the writer’s view, however, this Eliza Glenn is more likely John Glenn’s widowed sister-in-law. Or his older widowed sister Eliza Glenn Callahan who had reverted to using her maiden name. A more promising candidate for the role of John Glenn’s wife is a “Mrs. Jennie R. Glenn” listed in the 1880 US Census as a Rochester resident and living at or near the city address where John formerly resided. But in the end, the true identity of John Glenn’s spouse remains undetermined.
21 Chicago Tribune, March 5, 1876: 12, quoting the Missouri Republican.
22 Per “Good-Bye,” Chicago Tribune, October 22, 1876: 7.
23 See “Engagement of Players,” Chicago Tribune, November 19, 1876: 7.
24 In its final word on the Glenn case, Sporting Life maintained that Glenn “was addicted to drink.” See “Glenn’s Record,” Sporting Life, November 28, 1888: 6.
25 As reported in “Notes,” Buffalo Commercial, April 1, 1878: 3.
26 See “The Street Car Robbery,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, February 5, 1880: 4.
27 Per “Assault and Battery,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, December 22, 1880: 4.
28 “Police Pickings,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, December 25, 1880: 6.
29 See “John Glenn Honorably Discharged,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, December 28, 1880: 4. See also, “Notes,” Boston Globe, December 27, 1880: 1, and “Telegraphic Jottings,” New Haven Morning Journal and Courier, December 28, 1880: 4. But then as now, sexual assault victims sometimes choose not to pursue prosecution of their assailants, doing whatever is necessary to torpedo the proceedings.
30 Per “Policemen’s Chorus,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, March 5, 1882: 4.
31 As reflected in “Statement of Commitment to Monroe County Penitentiary, November/December 1883,” accessed via Ancestry.com.
32 In July 1885, however, he quit the club “in disgust because his promised pay was not forthcoming,” per the Albany Argus, July 21, 1885: 6.
33 Per “Local Twinklings,” Glens Falls (New York) Star, December 23, 1886: 4 and December 24, 1886: 4.
34 See “Shot at Horse Car Conductor,” Glens Falls Star, September 9, 1887: 4.
35 See “A Light Fine for Cowboy Tactics,” Glens Falls Star, September 10, 1887: 4.
36 The phraseology employed in “Swift Retribution,” Erie (Pennsylvania) Times, November 9, 1888: 1. Other papers more straightforwardly accused Glenn of “raping a little girl.” See e.g., the (Portland) Oregonian, Salt Lake Herald, and (Unionville, Nevada) Silver Slate, November 9, 1888.
37 Per “Telegraphic Dispatches,” Boston Herald, November 11, 1888: 6. The remainder of the above account has been synthesized from reportage published nationwide, with the most thorough treatment of events appearing in the Glens Falls Star, November 8-9, 1888.
38 In its reprise of the incident, Sporting Life asserted that Glenn “had been in state prison in the West for assaulting a woman, and about two years ago he assaulted his own niece.” See “In Deep Disgrace,” Sporting Life, November 14, 1888: 1. No evidence of either alleged assault was uncovered by the writer.
39 With John Glenn dead and therefore beyond being charged, the inquest focused primarily on the circumstances that attended his mortal wounding, not the assault upon young Helen Sherrill. The object of the proceedings was to determine whether Glenn’s death was the result of criminal conduct by Patrolman Morrison or by some identifiable member of the mob, and, if so, whether criminal prosecution should be instituted.
40 Extensive coverage of the inquest testimony was published in the Glens Falls Star, November 11-15, 1888.
41 See “Edict of the Jury,” Glens Falls Star, November 15, 1888: 4, and “In Lawful Custody,” Troy (New York) Times, November 22, 1888: 8.