In the world of 1880s baseball, where Baldwin made an often tumultuous career, newspaper writers occasionally referred to him as “Clarence G.” in jest, but no one ever really though of him by any name other than Kid Baldwin. “Kid” was a nickname given in the nineteenth century to scrappy, feisty little athletes, and Kid Baldwin certainly fit that description. A kid he remained, too, in the sense that he carried a certain immaturity with him throughout his brief life of thirty-two years. But Baldwin deserved his nickname in the first place because he really was a kid when he broke on the professional baseball scene.
Just 19 years old when he broke in with Kansas City’s Union Association club, by age 21 he was a regular catcher for Cincinnati in the American Association. His entire major league career had come to an end by the time he turned 26, an age at which when most players are only maturing. This is a key to recognizing what a remarkable talent he was. Our statistical apparatus does not serve strong defensive catchers very well. It would be easy to look at Baldwin’s career in a baseball encyclopedia and dismiss him as mediocre: seven years in the major leagues from 1884 to 1890, fewer than 500 games played, a batting average of .221 with few bases on balls, and only seven career home runs. But the young age at which he made his mark as a major leaguer hints at the outstanding career he was on his way to, that is until drink and the devil did him in, ultimately claiming his life in 1897.
Clarence Geoghan Baldwin was born in Newport, Kentucky, on the south bank of the Ohio River across from the city of Cincinnati, on November 1, 1864, the seventh of at least eight children of Robert and Harriet Baldwin. A few years after the birth of young Clarence, the family was living in St. Louis, a move from one river town to another probably prompted by the Robert Baldwin’s profession as a steamboat pilot. (Census records, 1880; Sporting Life, Dec. 1, 1886, p. 3 col. 2, and Dec. 8, 1886, p. 3 col. 2)
The young Baldwin began to play baseball after his family moved to St. Louis, where he attracted attention catching for a crack local club called the Stars. St. Louis journalist Al Spink would later remember picking up Baldwin, “a spare built lad of sixteen” and “a fast but wild pitcher named Oberbeck” on a North St. Louis lot one Sunday to fill in when a visiting team of semiprofessionals called the Eckfords came in from Chicago without a battery. “These players proved a find for the Eckfords, who were that day voted the best team that Chicago sent down here; those rendering the verdict being ignorant of the fact that the best two players on the Eckford team were the St. Louis boys, Baldwin and Oberbeck.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 19, 1887; Alfred Spink, The National Game, 2000 reprint of 1911 book, pp. 47-48)
A year or two later Baldwin entered the professional ranks playing for the Springfield, Illinois team of the Northwestern League, one of the first minor league circuits. With Springfield he used his strong throwing arm, always his greatest asset as a ball player, as a pitcher. His stay in Springfield was so short that his statistics for the club were not listed in the Northwestern League’s official records and not much is known of his first foray into professional ball. The Sporting News years later told a story of the cocky young Kid opening what he expected to be a note from a female admirer, only to find that it actually contained his release. Another, more hostile source said in 1884 that Baldwin had proven himself “a fair player in the Springfield Club” but that “with his mouth he came very near breaking up the nine. Then he was bounced.” (The Sporting News, March 16, 1886, p. 2 col. 1; Quincy Herald quoted in Sporting Life, Aug. 6, 1885, p. 3 col. 5)
After his release from Springfield, Baldwin joined Quincy, which was a lackluster team on its way to a distant last-place finish in the Northwestern League. He soon took his revenge by pitching his new team to a victory over Springfield. At Quincy, however, he returned to the position that was to become his own, playing 53 of his 73 games as a catcher. He batted .237, a more than respectable figure for a catcher in a league in which only one team average was over .254. Baldwin finished third at his position in fielding averages and began to show a formidable natural talent at receiving and throwing, making him one of the brighter lights on a team that finished last in the league both in batting and fielding. (Spalding Guide, 1884, pp. 61-66)
Quincy reserved Baldwin for the 1884 season, but a new element had now appeared on the baseball scene. The outlaw Union Association was challenging the established National League and American Association, refusing to accept the validity the reserve rule in those leagues. The heart of the new organization was St. Louis, where Henry Lucas, president of the St. Louis Union club as well as the entire Union Association, was building his Maroons into the new league’s powerhouse. In February 1884, Baldwin was reported on one page of the Sporting Life as having signed his Quincy contract, while a note on another page said that he had written Lucas denying he had signed with any club but the Maroons’ reserve team, that he would get his release from Quincy as soon as possible and that if he liked, he would play for St. Louis in 1884. He was intended for the reserve team Lucas was organizing to play in his ballpark while the Maroons were on the road and serve as a kind of farm club for the big team.
Quincy was nevertheless confident of holding him and refused Baldwin’s offer to pay for his own release. In March the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported that he was in Quincy and “some say he is enamored of a young lady there and cannot be driven from that city,” but Baldwin himself was still writing that he would report for duty with St. Louis. He was said to have offered Quincy $500 for his release, in that day an extraordinary sum to pay for the purchase of a minor league player. Already the Kid was showing the special flair he would always demonstrate for spending money. It is hard to see how he intended to pay Quincy the money, for in April he wrote Lucas that, having failed to get his release from Quincy, he would now be able to repay a $200 salary advance from the Maroons only when he began drawing his Quincy pay. At the end of July it would still be said that the debt to Lucas had not yet been repaid. (Sporting Life, Feb. 20, March 5 and 26, April 9, and Aug. 6, 1884; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, quoted in Sporting Life, March 12, 1884)
As Quincy started the Northwestern League season strong, running near the top of the league standings, Baldwin’s talents blossomed. Through the first three months of the season he caught nearly every game and when he didn’t catch he was in the lineup at third base or the outfield, even pitching a few games in relief. The entire Northwestern League was in trouble, however. In a year when competition from the Union Association drove player salaries upward, the Northwestern’s officials had invited trouble by expanding from eight to twelve clubs, with some of the new entries from particularly small cities. In late July, teams began to collapse and there were rumors that Quincy was one of the teams that would not survive. On July 25 Baldwin made his last appearance in a Quincy lineup. He had signed a contract to join Kansas City’s Union Association team on August 1, but on Sunday, July 27 he caught for Kansas City in its loss to the Maroons at St. Louis. The angry Quincy Herald described what happened next:
Then there is Kid Baldwin. He returned yesterday morning and denied running away, stating he had permission, which was untrue. He showed up a roll of money with a $100 note on the outside, and said he would have money when the club would be begging. Yesterday morning he was arrested for debt, and later a summons was served on him for a claim which he had not paid. In the afternoon, it is said, he spent his time in a disreputable house. The Kid is a ‘bad egg.’ Now that he is gone the Quincys may have a show of winning. (Quincy Herald quoted in Sporting Life, Aug. 6, 1885, p. 3 col. 5)
A bad egg indeed; his luggage was reportedly held in Quincy against an unpaid board bill. Yet there are reasons to believe Baldwin may have had legitimate reasons to feel disgruntled with his treatment by a financially challenged organization that collapsed within two weeks. So the Kid’s boast that he would have money when the Quincy club had none was at least partly true, but he always had a hard time holding on to his money. While his team was on an eastern road trip in September, Baldwin found himself unable to cash a check from Kansas City for the substantial sum of $250 – perhaps $5,000 in modern money. A stranger kindly offered to get it cashed if Baldwin would just endorse it and hand it over to him. Baldwin naively complied, gave it to the fellow and, of course, never saw him again. (New York Clipper, Sept. 20, 1884; Sporting Life, Sept. 24, 1884)
More controversy followed about the same time when Kansas City manager Ted Sullivan accused Billy Barnie, the manager of Baltimore’s American Association club, with having made a large but unsuccessful offer to Baldwin to jump again and finish the season with the Orioles. Denials by Barnie and rebuttals by Sullivan, Baldwin, and Bob Black, who had followed the Kid to Kansas City after Quincy folded, filled the news columns for a little while, but Baldwin’s refusal to jump to Baltimore was accounted a “virtuous action” due only to the insufficiency of the Kansas City offer. “It wasn’t principle, as the ‘Kid’ has been at contract-breaking before.” (Sporting Life, Sept. 10, 17, and 24, 1884; New York Clipper, Sept. 20, 1884)
Over the course of the 1884 season, the Union Association had endured severe losses in fighting the established leagues. Teams had come and gone during the season and the ability of the league to carry on another year was very doubtful. Having been blacklisted for jumping the Quincy club, Baldwin appeared in November at a meeting of the Arbitration Committee that oversaw the organized leagues’ National Agreement to ask the committee for reinstatement. The Committee took this application as an opportunity to declare, “This committee will never consent to the reinstatement of any player who has deserted, or may hereafter desert, any club identified with the National Agreement.” Baldwin signed with Milwaukee, another Union Association club, and then headed south to New Orleans, a popular place for northern players to wait out the cold weather and make some money playing against local players and each other. Among the northerners in the Crescent City were several players from the Cincinnati Reds and what they saw of Baldwin’s play behind the bat left them impressed and regretful that he would be unable to play with a National Agreement club – preferably their own.
O.P. Caylor, the journalist and club secretary who fulfilled the role of a modern general manager for the Reds, later gave outfielder Charlie Jones the largest share of the credit for pressing him to find a way to sign Baldwin. Caylor must have found the idea a little awkward, for he was secretary of the Arbitration Committee that had used Baldwin’s petition for reinstatement as a showpiece for their refusal to have mercy on any Union Association members. Worse still, in his capacity as baseball editor of the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, Caylor had announced, “Repentance was too late. Baldwin, [Dupee] Shaw and the rest are beginning to realize how Devlin, Hall, Craver and Nichols felt,” thus comparing Baldwin and his fellow Union jumpers to four players famous for having been detected throwing games for Louisville in 1877. (Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, Nov. 23, 1884)
The situation changed in the spring, after the Union Association had given up the ghost and its western survivors Milwaukee and Kansas City reorganized as the Western League, a minor league under National Agreement. Since Baldwin remained on the National Agreement blacklist, Milwaukee’s change of base meant he would not be able to play even for that team. However, Caylor learned that the former Quincy stockholders would be willing to help get him off the blacklist if they got money they claimed Baldwin owed his old club. Cincinnati gave them this money, counting it as an advance against Baldwin’s 1885 salary. Their story was that Quincy’s manager had worked Baldwin to the point of rebellion, then hit him with a fine of $200, probably about twenty percent of his salary, without getting the club directors’ approval. “At the time Kid Baldwin left the club was heavily in debt to him and upon the edge of bankruptcy.”
All this looks a little peculiar. If the Quincy club had died in debt to Baldwin, why did the directors demand money they said Baldwin owed them before they would support his reinstatement? The Quincy people were probably playing a double game, claiming the fine money as their rightful due before they would tell the Arbitration Committee it had been an unjustifiable and unauthorized exaction. What had really happened between Baldwin and the club is now impossible to determine. (Sporting Life, Feb. 11, 1885)
As secretary of the Arbitration Committee, Caylor was ideally placed to use the Quincy petition for his purposes. As he later related, the situation became more complicated when he realized the Chicago club also wanted Baldwin. To keep the young catcher safe from temptation, Charlie Jones suggested he take Baldwin on a trip to a remote location where even the Chicago club’s exceptionally aggressive agents would not find him. Jones wired Baldwin at his home in St. Louis, suggesting they go on a hunting trip but not saying where, and sending along a railroad ticket paid for by the Cincinnati club. Jones got on a train at Cincinnati, intending to meet Baldwin at North Vernon, in southern Indiana. On the way, Jones took a nap, and when the porter failed to wake him he wound up going all the way to Louisville, then had to return on a later train to North Vernon, where he found Baldwin standing forlorn, hungry, and penniless on the station platform.
After this unpromising beginning, the two went on an uneventful but presumably enjoyable trip to the neighborhood of Danville, Virginia. Meanwhile, Caylor was attending a meeting of the Arbitration Committee in Philadelphia. The moment the Committee had passed Baldwin’s reinstatement, Caylor slipped out of the meeting to instruct Jones by telegraph to sign Baldwin immediately to a Cincinnati contract. National League president Nick Young also left the meeting room, to telegraph Chicago’s club president Al Spalding, as Caylor suspected, but long before Chicago’s agents could locate Baldwin he was signed by Cincinnati. (The entire story of Baldwin’s reinstatement and signing with Cincinnati is given by Caylor in the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, June 5, 1887)
So Baldwin and the Reds were the winners, Chicago was an also-ran, but the real loser was Milwaukee, which still held a contract with Baldwin but could not enforce it effectively because Baldwin had signed before the team brought itself under the protection of the National Agreement. They might have guessed what was coming when Baldwin made his first try for reinstatement a month after signing his Milwaukee contract in October, 1884. To add financial loss to injury, Milwaukee then had difficulties getting the always improvident Baldwin to repay a $300 salary advance given him when he signed his contract. In late April it was reported that he had returned the money, but almost a month later another source said the club had not yet gotten it back. Milwaukee’s Sporting Life correspondent, furious over the way his team had been weakened behind the bat by “the treacherous conduct of ‘Kid’ Baldwin,” wrote:
‘Kid’ Baldwin, who signed with the local club last October, and who begged and cried, because he had a mother to support, to secure $300 advance, which the management on account of his tears advanced him, has failed to return the same. His perfidious conduct ought to have made him keep his promises. Breaking his contracts is not his only forte. It appears Manager Loftus wired Caylor that if the money was not sent on at once he would make trouble for the ‘Kid.’ He will have him arrested and brought to Milwaukee for obtaining money under false pretenses. (Sporting Life, March 25, April 22 and 29, and May 20, 1885)
In the 1880s a player who got his name in the papers for contract holdouts, trade rumors, or other controversies was called “much advertised.” It is difficult to imagine how a twenty-year-old catcher barely started on his major league career could have been better advertised than Kid Baldwin. In the space of a year he had jumped contracts with the St. Louis Maroons, Quincy, and Milwaukee. He had been blacklisted, used as an example to publicize the Arbitration Committee’s refusal to reinstate Union Association jumpers, then reinstated after maneuvering by powerful men in the baseball world. Along the way he had been the object of various club managements’ attentions as they tried to reclaim advance money for contracts he was not going to fulfill, had been the focus of Ted Sullivan’s claims that Baltimore was trying to incite him to jump yet another contract, and had gotten his name in the papers still another time through his naïve willingness to give his money away to a rank stranger.
He had established an image of himself in the public’s mind as an irresponsible and exceptionally “fresh” young man, in the parlance of his day, meaning that he was brash, incapable of resisting impulse when the opportunity to make more money came to him, yet unable to hold on to the pay after he drew it. The alcoholism that would increasingly dominate his life as time went by had not yet become a serious problem, or at least the public did not know about it. (For Baldwin’s way with money, see Sporting Life, March 16, 1887, p. 2 col. 2)
For all his flaws, the Kid had more positive qualities, as yet less evident to those who knew him only through the newspapers. Baldwin could be impulsive and self-centered when under pressure, but for the most part he was an open and uncomplicated soul; you knew where you stood with Kid Baldwin, and if you weren’t certain he would gladly tell you. A man couldn’t live his life the way Baldwin did without making some enemies, but most people tended to think of him as someone with a big heart whose greatest enemy was himself. What was improvidence to some seemed like generosity to others. And the Kid had a tough, assertive way about him that quickly impressed knowledgeable baseball men many years his senior.
Beyond that, however, he was known for the kind of virtues that covered many sins in the 1880s. as they still do today. Whatever else they thought of him, no one ever doubted this small, agile man with an exceptional throwing arm could play baseball. So the Cincinnati Enquirer, a paper bitterly hostile to Caylor and his ball club and by extension to Caylor’s protégé Baldwin, criticized the young player as “tricky and deceitful” but conceded that he was “a splendid backstop, a true and accurate thrower [who] may be ranked as one of the coming catchers of the country” and again called him “one of the best catchers in the country. His backstop work last season was good at all times, and his throwing to bases swift and accurate.” (Cincinnati Enquirer, March 1 and April 4, 1885)
Baldwin’s freshness got him noticed very soon after he arrived in Cincinnati. A characteristic story told by an unnamed Louisville player was that Charlie Snyder, Baldwin’s fellow catcher and Cincinnati’s team captain, required players to be out of bed by 8:00 AM when the team was on the road. This was something Baldwin hated, and the young catcher came back at the team captain. The words he used no doubt were fancied up for newspaper readers, but the attitude is pure Baldwin: “Say, Snyder, you’re jealous of me. I’m catching too good ball for you; how you wish I wasn’t on the nine; never mind, old vet, I’ll have your scalp ere the season is over; I’ll make you pack your grip and get back to Cincinnati before the leaves begin to fall.” (Sporting Life June 23, 1886, p. 5 col. 3)
This was in Baldwin’s second season with Cincinnati, but his brash nature did not wait nearly that long to assert itself. Only a couple of weeks into the 1885 season Baldwin drew a start, working with the Reds’ veteran pitching ace Will White in a 6-0 loss to St. Louis. When White suggested a playing point to his young batterymate, Baldwin snapped in reply, “You attend to your business and pitch the ball – I’ll get it.” Caylor was scandalized by such insolence displayed by a rookie toward one of the team’s most experienced and established veterans. But Charlie Snyder was not offended by the way Baldwin asserted himself, and he apparently felt he was in no great need of coaching, for Snyder decided that when he was not playing Baldwin would be his deputy as captain. (Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, April 30, 1885; St. Louis Critic, quoted in Sporting Life, April 9, 1884; Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, April 30, 1885)
Baldwin exercised his new authority only rarely, for he struggled to find playing time on the Reds, a team that throughout the 1880s had remarkable luck finding good catchers. Indeed, one indication of just how much talent the young catcher had is that Caylor would take such pains procuring his reinstatement and signing a player to fortify a position at which his team was already more than strong enough. For a while in June the team had five good receivers, any two of whom would have made a more than respectable catching corps for a major league team. In order to see a little more game action, the two youngest catchers, Baldwin and Jimmy Peoples, each tried his hand as an occasional relief pitcher. Baldwin was put to work practicing with Tony Mullane, one of the American Association’s best players, who had been suspended for a year over irregularities in his signing with the Reds the previous fall. The Kid still hungered for game action. By late May the Enquirer wrote, “Kid Baldwin says the chances of some one of the Cincinnatis dropping dead or breaking a leg are very slim, indeed, and that while he is resting he will buy a plug hat and join Tony Mullane in catching foul balls and doing the dude act in the grand stand. He says there is no use to practice when he does not have the opportunity to play.” (Sporting Life, March 11, 1885; Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, April 13, 1885; Cincinnati Enquirer, May 24, 1885)
By fall Baldwin was beginning to play more frequently, and in the postseason he caught Mullane several times in the pitcher’s first appearances in Cincinnati’s red stockings. With the addition of Mullane it was generally predicted that the next season would see Cincinnati present a stiff challenge to St. Louis, which had run away with the 1885 American Association pennant. As Mullane’s batterymate, the 1885 benchwarmer Baldwin was expected to be an important part of the team, sharing most of the catching duties with Jim Keenan while the veteran Snyder concentrated on leading the team as its captain.
In the main, Baldwin’s playing in 1886 lived up to the hopes held out for him but the year turned out to be a terrible disappointment, even a traumatic experience for his team. Mullane was slow getting started after his year’s layoff and Larry McKeon, Cincinnati’s other chief pitcher, damaged a shoulder in the preseason, effectively ending his career. When the club lost three regulars in quick succession early in the year, the season rapidly turned sour. Caylor had assumed the title of manager, a change that marked no real difference in his responsibilities but by a stroke of ill-fortune greatly increased his visibility just as the team headed for its only second division finish in the 1880s. An on-again, off-again feud between Caylor and the Cincinnati Enquirer, which had seemed to be settled for good early in the year, turned red hot as the team fell in the standings. In June the Enquirer published accusations that Mullane had been throwing games, a charge that collapsed when the newspaper could provide no evidence except implausible affidavits from men of doubtful honesty. Nevertheless the Enquirer continued to conduct a campaign of abuse against Caylor and the club, criticizing nearly every aspect of the team’s play as it fell into sixth place. The treatment of Caylor himself was even more brutal, as the paper mocked not only his competence but even his manhood, with cartoons satirizing him as “Miss Management,” a ridiculous and ugly figure wearing a dress.
Not the least thorn in his side was Kid Baldwin. Caylor treated the Kid at first as something of a pet because the manager-journalist took particular pride in his discovery, but relations between the two gradually began to fray because of Baldwin’s penchant for drinking and the high life generally. Already during the off season Caylor had begun scolding Baldwin for misbehavior in the pages of the Commercial Gazette while cautiously commending his promises to reform, saying that “if he sticks to this resolution he will have a score of friends in this city where he has not one of late.” But once the season started, Baldwin’s good intentions went by the wayside. An unnamed player bitterly critical of Caylor – probably Baldwin’s friend center fielder John Corkhill – complained that Baldwin was playing fine ball but had been fined so often he had not yet drawn an entire paycheck. A particular grievance seems to have been a large fine Baldwin drew for late hours while the team was in New York. The anonymous player put the blame on Caylor for failing to watch the team closely enough and exposing Baldwin to temptation in the big city. (Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, Nov. 22 and Dec. 27, 1885; Sporting Life, Dec. 30, 1885, p. 3 col. 2; Cincinnati Enquirer, June 10, 1885; for the New York fine, see The Sporting News, June 21, 1885, p. 2 col. 1)
As the season went on, Baldwin became an informer for the Enquirer, a fact of which Caylor was well aware. Caylor’s always quick temper was tried by the team’s problems and the constant newspaper attacks, and the stress showed in his treatment of Baldwin. At times he praised the Kid’s play, but more often he used the Commercial Gazette columns to subject the young catcher to public lectures about his failings, a humiliation that must reflect scenes played out in private between the two. When he was particularly irritated, Caylor treated Baldwin in ways that were hardly fair. On June 13 at Louisville, for example, Baldwin was pressed into service at third base due to an injury to Hick Carpenter. When his two errors in three chances cost Cincinnati the game, the next day’s Commercial Gazette headlined its game account, “Inexcusable Throws by Baldwin the Cause of the Defeat,” which was harsh treatment for a player who had been filling in at an unaccustomed position. Even when Caylor had good to say of Baldwin, his frustration with his behavior peeked through. After a 2-1 win over the powerhouse St. Louis Browns that he described as the most exciting professional game he had ever seen, Caylor wrote that Baldwin had caught brilliantly but couldn’t resist adding the knock “as he can do every day in the week when he devotes himself to his own profession.” (Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, June 14 and 26, 1886. For Caylor’s knowledge of Baldwin’s informing, see Commercial Gazette, Sept. 25, 1887; Baldwin was probably the source for an expose in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug. 31, 1886, about the release of Fred Lewis after a clubhouse fight.)
As the 1886 season wound down to its dreary conclusion, a sea change occurred in Cincinnati baseball. Former president Aaron Stern returned to the club, while Caylor left the team and departed Cincinnati for New York. This change was a godsend for Baldwin, breaking the vicious cycle of recrimination and resentment into which his relations with the club had sunk. Caylor does not seem to have understood how counterproductive this was, as a public quarrel that broke out between the two of them late in the season of 1887 would demonstrate. By the time the Reds went on a September swing through the eastern half of the Association circuit, Caylor had taken over as manager of the Metropolitans, the American Associations’s New York representative. During the series in New York, Baldwin took every opportunity to taunt his former manager publicly. When the team returned home first baseman and raconteur John Reilly described the “usual exchange of courtesies” for the Commercial Gazette, saying that when Caylor called out instructions to his players from the wire-enclosed press box, Baldwin had shouted, “Close the door of that cage quick or he will get out.” Caylor, who still published a weekly column in the Commercial Gazette, bitterly attacked Baldwin as “a foul-mouthed blackguard.” His lack of insight into the reasons for Baldwin’s anger shows in Caylor’s complaint that the catcher had taken “advantage of every occasion offered to tender some public insult to me, without any motive for it whatever unless it was to repay me for my kindness to him in the past.” (Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, Sept. 14 and 25, 1887)
Stern’s earlier tenure as club president had ended just before Caylor signed Baldwin, so the Kid’s relations with Stern had not been soured by the misbehavior that strained his ties with Caylor. Stern seems to have decided to take the catcher under his wing and guide him in a more positive way. In December, reportedly on his own initiative, Baldwin took a pledge not to drink until the end of the following season and Stern then declared his intention would give him an extra $100 if he carried through on his promise. The policy of paying Baldwin and other players extra for keeping sobriety pledges eventually turned out to be a problem. By the fall of 1888 John Reilly, a man of steady habits and outspoken opinions, was telling the Commercial Gazette that it now paid a ball player to drink to excess, for “then the management will pay him a big bonus to keep sober.” Other players seem to have had similar objections, but Stern might have pointed out that it mattered little on the bottom line whether Baldwin signed a contract for, say, $1,400 with a provision to fine him for drinking, or a $1,300 contract with a bonus for staying sober. Paying Baldwin on the latter plan would allow Stern to engage the troubled but talented young catcher in a positive way, breaking the poisonous cycle of recrimination and resentment and taking a more imaginative approach than Caylor’s method of dealing with Baldwin by fines and nagging. (Cincinnati Enquirer, Dec. 5, 1886; Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, Oct. 3, 1888)
The Reds now planned to place more reliance on their brash catcher than they ever had before. The veteran Snyder was sold to Cleveland’s new club and Jack Boyle, another promising young receiver, was packaged with cash in order to acquire outfielder Hugh Nicol from St. Louis in the first trade ever made between two major league teams. Only Keenan was left to share the catching with Baldwin, of whom the Commercial Gazette said that his play was at times brilliant, especially his throwing, but he lacked headwork and was apt “to ‘fly the track’ in an effort to make a beautiful play for the sake of applause.” (Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, Feb. 18, 1887)
In 1887 he began to overcome his limitations, however. He still had a taste for the high life, or perhaps more aptly the low life. Ren Mulford, a veteran Cincinnati newspaperman replacing Caylor as the Cincinnati correspondent for the Sporting Life, described how the Kid had to pay a $27 fine after being among more than one hundred arrestees caught up in a raid on a big cock fight.
“This is what I call tough luck,” muttered the senior member of the firm of ‘me and Tony,’ when captive. “Saturday night I fell through a roof trying to get away from a prize fight, and here look at me.”
“How do you spell your name?” asked the judge when the Kid’s case was called.
“G-e-g-h-a-n,” stammered our catcher.
“Isn’t there an ‘O’ in it?”
“No sir” was the reply.
“Ah,” murmured His Honor.
“That’s the way my father always spelled it,” declared the Kid.
Clarence Geoghan Baldwin, as it was indeed spelled, had not been hurrying away from the boxing match out of horror at a bloody pastime; rather, prize fighting was just as illegal as cock fighting. (Sporting Life, Feb. 16, 1887, p. 4 col. 3)
Nevertheless, early in the ensuing baseball season the Post-Dispatch in his native St. Louis observed that Baldwin had “simmered down to an alarming extent and is not half as ‘fresh’ as he used to be.” After catching nineteen of his first twenty-one games at the start of the season he went on to post a remarkable streak of consecutive games caught after Keenan suffered an injury. His feat was all the more welcome to the Reds’ management because it overshadowed a similar streak recorded by former Red Jack Boyle. In St. Louis, Boyle was the second catcher, rather than third as he had been in Cincinnati. Since the regular was Doc Bushong, generally considered the best catcher in the American Association, his chances for playing did not look much better after the trade but Bushong went out with an injury, leaving the Browns with no other backup than Boyle. As his string of consecutive games mounted, Boyle began to attract national attention for his fine play and durability and the Cincinnati management was blamed for letting a valuable talent go, although the club’s defenders pointed out that Boyle would never have gotten the chance to play in Cincinnati and Hugh Nicol had given the club needed “life and ginger.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr. 21, 1887; Cincinnati Enquirer, Apr. 4, 1887; Cincinnati Times-Star, July 21, 1887)
In early August Boyle’s record had passed thirty games, a remarkable figure by the standards of the day, when Keenan suffered a leg injury. Baldwin began his own consecutive game streak in a game at St. Louis on August 3. Boyle’s run ended when sore hands forced him to retire in his forty-fourth game on August 20; while Baldwin’s continued to run. By early September Keenan was ready to play again but only filled in at first base as Baldwin had set his sights on breaking Boyle’s record and then going on to fifty. On September 21 he tied Boyle’s record, appropriately enough in a game against St. Louis, and he broke it the next day in a win over the Browns. On October 3, just before the season ended, one local newspaper announced he had reached fifty, although other sources put the number at forty-nine. (For Baldwin’s streak, see Cincinnati newspapers generally, Aug. 4 through Oct. 4, 1887; For the end of Boyle’s streak, see New York Clipper, Sept. 3, 1887)
In St. Louis there was some quibbling over the fact that Baldwin had been relieved by Keenan in the middle of one game. But even the St. Louis Republican conceded Baldwin’s feat “has been remarkable,” considering that he had been facing a much wilder and more difficult staff of pitchers than Boyle. Today a backstop who worked so many games in a row could congratulate himself on a considerable feat of stamina; in 1887 it was a remarkable feat indeed. Even three years later, while Chief Zimmer was on the way to a 111-game catching streak, a reporter remarked that “Baldwin’s feat still stands forth as wonderful when we consider that Baldwin then wore the ordinary catcher’s glove, which has since been improved until it has assumed the size of a pillow, renders injury impossible and makes almost child’s play of mere catching.” (St. Louis Republican, quoted by Cincinnati Times-Star, Sept. 23, 1887; clippings from unidentified newspapers in Hall of Fame file, Oct. 12, 1887 and Aug. 9, 1890; For Zimmer’s streak, see The Sporting News, Sept. 13, 1890, p. 1 col. 1)
Over the course of the entire 1887 season, Baldwin caught ninety-six championship games, more than any other catcher in the major leagues, and about sixteen more exhibitions. His defensive statistics were very good by contemporary standards, and he maintained fairly respectable batting statistics in spite of the strain of doing so much catching. He easily led American Association catchers with 165 assists.
His conduct was not irreproachable; besides the public taunting of Caylor late in the season, he had gone on an earlier payday spree with a hired horse and buggy, which eventually showed up at 4:00 AM without the Kid. Baldwin himself appeared the following day and made two crucial errors in an 11-10 loss to Brooklyn. Whether or not this cost him his sobriety bonus, he clearly must have stayed sober and under control for most of the season, or he never could have played as much or as well as he did. At season’s end the Cincinnati Enquirer remarked, “He has indulged very little in intoxicants, and for the most part of the season has led a quiet, sober life.” The Cincinnati Times-Star added, “Clarence has much to learn, in some things, but he is doing his best and will eventually come out all right.” (Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, May 18, 1887; Cincinnati Enquirer, Oct. 23, 1887; Cincinnati Times-Star, Oct. 24, 1887)
Kid Baldwin was showing signs of outgrowing the excesses of his youth, but the next few years would be a disappointment. In February 1888 he flew off the track again when he assaulted an umpire while playing winter ball in New Orleans. Once the regular season began he started drinking and keeping late hours and his play failed to match that of the previous year. Fines were reported and in early September he was left home during a road trip. While teams in the 1880s routinely left a few benchwarmers at home to cut traveling expenses, this had never happened to Baldwin, and by mid September the Enquirer was speculating he might be gone from the team in 1889. (The Sporting News, March 10, 1888; New York Clipper, March 17, 1888, p. 12 col. 3; Cincinnati Enquirer, June 5, Sept. 2 and 16, and Nov. 14, 1888)
Not yet willing to part with his wayward prodigy, Cincinnati owner Stern gave him a contract that contained better pay than Baldwin had expected but required him to live at the same hotel as manager Gus Schmelz. Two-thirds of the spendthrift catcher’s money was held out each pay day, with the agreement that he would get it back at season’s end with six percent interest. Baldwin arrived in Cincinnati in March 1889 promising to take care of himself and “try the temperance plank one season at least.” But his play was again disappointing, and he found himself in the middle of controversy when the Reds were said to have considered selling him to Brooklyn. According to one later account Stern had turned down an offer by the Bridegrooms of $2,000, a fairly substantial sales price for the day; another said that Cincinnati offered Baldwin to Brooklyn but was turned down. (Cincinnati Enquirer, Nov. 4, 1888, March 16, 1889, and July 29, 1890; Cincinnati Times-Star, June 1, 1889 and Feb. 13, 1890)
On a number of occasions Baldwin had been reportedly about to marry. He finally tied the knot in November 1889, when he married Mary Killiger of Quincy, Illinois. By some accounts, at least, marriage helped tame the irrepressible Kid, but by this time the Cincinnati management had begun to run out of patience with him. Schmelz had been replaced by Tom Loftus for the 1890 season, the team’s first year in the National League. In what may have been an effort by the club to help keep an eye on Baldwin, the new manager moved into a house in Cincinnati’s West End with the Kid as a neighbor. Baldwin failed to hit in the early going, but the Reds’ other catchers batted even worse. However, his catching was strong and his arm, as always, was a particular strong point, as he proved on the Reds first eastern trip when he threw out the great Billy Hamilton on a steal attempt. (Baldwin’s marriage is recorded in the Illinois marriage database: http:://cyberdriveillinois.colm/cgi-bin/archives/marriages. The Sporting News, July 3, 1897, p. 4 col. 4, quoting the Quincy Herald, gives the bride’s maiden name as “Gilliger.” For earlier approaches to marriage, see the National Police Gazette July 17, 1886, p. 14).
The next time the team went east, it is recorded that Kid Baldwin scored an even rarer coup. One night the Reds were awakened in their rooms at the U.S. Hotel in Boston by the sounds of a German band playing in the hotel’s courtyard. The players began to amuse themselves by dropping water on the musicians, and Baldwin scored a bull’s-eye when he dropped a glass so that it dropped squarely into the mouth of a horn. On the field, however, things were not going as well. He caught only one game during the entire trip. While the team was still in Cincinnati there had been the usual rumors of drinking and late-night carousing, this time with the heavyweight boxer Peter Jackson. Caylor, now a New York newspaperman and still Baldwin’s bitter enemy, happily reported, “Baldwin’s hands were so sore that he had to sit up all last Sunday night with a glass wrapped around them.” (Cincinnati Times-Star, June 5, July 1, 15, and 22, and Aug. 29, 1890; The Sporting News, July 5 and 19, 1890)
Baldwin still played rarely when the team returned home. With the club in the midst of a trade war with the Players’ League and losing money, carrying three catchers began to look like a luxury the team could not afford. On July 28 Baldwin was given an unconditional release. At the end of his great 1887 season, Baldwin had been listed with such stars as Bid McPhee, Tony Mullane, and Pop Corkhill, a handful of Cincinnati players whose contracts could be sold for $5,000 or more, a large sum by the standards of the time. In 1889 he had still commanded a purchase offer of several thousand dollars from Brooklyn; by 1890 the Reds’ management was willing to let him go for free. As for Baldwin, he had become unpopular with Cincinnati fans and was eager to make a new start elsewhere. Notwithstanding earlier reports to the contrary, the local press now insisted he had been behaving himself and could still help a ball club. A generous letter from Stern was released, in which he told Baldwin, “We have decided to give you your unconditional release. We have had opportunities to dispose of your services, but we wish you to have the benefit of anything that can be realized for same …We were well satisfied with your work this season, and more than pleased with the manner [in which] you have conducted yourself.” Loftus said he regarded Baldwin as “one of the greatest catchers in the country, but I think it is best for him to get away from Cincinnati. The trouble here is that they do not give him credit for the good care he has taken of himself this summer, and if he happened to make an error they attribute it to bad hours. He has a wonderfully strong arm and is a quick thrower. He can catch any kind of a pitcher and a speedy man…is his especial favorite.” (Cincinnati Enquirer, Commercial Gazette, and Times-Star, July 29, 1890; The Sporting News, Aug. 9, 1890. The assessment of Baldwin’s value after the 1887 season comes from a lawsuit over the value of the Cincinnati club, New York Times, Nov. 18, 1887, p. 1)
The rumors of dissipation may have been untrue or at least exaggerated, but a story Loftus later told Ren Mulford of the Times-Star illustrates the struggle the effort to abstain from drink imposed on Baldwin. “The ‘Kid’ was the funniest ball player I ever saw,” observed Loftus. “One night on the trip I noticed that he was fidgeting about a good deal and I imagined that he was thirsty.” Loftus walked out of the room but entered the hotel bar room, where he found Baldwin coming in the back door just as the manager walked in the front. Baldwin rubbed his elbows and asked innocently, “Do you see any of the gang here, Tom?” Still, Loftus said, no player could get in shape faster than Baldwin. “One night he was complaining how badly he felt and I said to him for a kid: ‘I’ll give you just one day to get into condition, for if you don’t, it’s a case of go.’ Well, sir, half an hour later the expression of misery had cleared away and he affirmed, ‘Tom, I never felt better in my life. I believe I could beat the record to-morrow.’” (Cincinnati Times-Star, Aug. 29, 1890)
After his release, Baldwin remained in Cincinnati waiting to see what offers would come in. Later, when the damage was done, he would say he had signed with the Athletics, Philadelphia’s representative in the American Association, because that club offered him $400 a month, $50 more than he had been getting in Cincinnati and just $100 more for the remainder of the season than an offer from Brooklyn – a small difference even as the dollar was valued in 1887. With the Athletics’ catching corps in trouble due to injuries manager Billy Sharsig came to terms with Baldwin on August 3, and he traveled up to Columbus to join his new team. (Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, Aug. 4, 1890)
Baldwin started well for the Athletics, singling and tripling in his debut on August 6. His play soon deteriorated, however, while that of the Athletics, early leaders in the Association pennant race, fell apart, too. The Kid himself later admitted that he was drinking heavily. On August 14 in his home town of St. Louis, the Athletics took an early five-run lead but were holding on to a 5-4 lead with the bases loaded in the eighth inning when John Munyan slapped a grounder to the shortstop who threw to Baldwin for the force out. Baldwin sent the ball to first baseman Jack O’Brien, who made the putout on Munyan, then relayed the ball home again. But the Kid, thinking Munyan’s out had ended the inning, was now walking toward the players’ bench. The ball sailed across home plate, turning a rally-killing triple play into a mental error that allowed the tying and winning runs to score. A little bit of that kind of thing went a long way. By September Francis Richter of the Philadelphia-based Sporting Life, was saying, “Kid Baldwin’s indifferent work for the Athletics makes one wonder why the Cincinnati Club carried him so many years.” (Philadelphia Public Ledger, Aug. 15, 1890; Sporting Life, Sept. 20, 1890, p. 3 col. 4)
Baldwin’s troubles with the Philadelphia club came as little surprise to some observers, at least in Cincinnati, where Sharsig was considered “one of the best fellows in the world socially” but a manager whose easy nature and naivete had made the Athletics the hardest drinking and worst disciplined team in the American Association. In 1889 Sharsig had been quoted as saying he considered beer the best drink for traveling ball players. Such an opinion was not as strange as it now sounds in an age of rampant pollution, when visitors unused to the local mix of microbes often had a particularly hard time stomaching the water in a strange city. Still, Sharsig’s enthusiasm on the subject went overboard: it was enough for him if the players would show up sober at game time. “The beer in Cincinnati is first-class,” he observed. “A man who is in the habit of drinking a glass or two a day in any other city is pretty sure to drink ten or fifteen in that great pork-packing center. I tell my men to drink just as little as possible before games, and do their filling up in the evenings.” Mulford observed that the beer in St. Louis must suit the Athletics pretty well, too, since they had emptied two kegs behind the clubhouse on July 4 the previous year, and wanted more. Sharsig’s easy-going attitude had made the Athletics a haven for notorious hard cases such as Denny Lyons and Curt Welch, dangerous company for someone like Baldwin. This was why Mulford had commented forebodingly when Baldwin signed with the Athletics, “the boy will need all the moral courage there is in him to keep in line there.” (Cincinnati Times-Star, March 12, 1889; Cincinnati Enquirer, May 10, 1891. For the Athletics’ drinking habits, see Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug. 26, 1888)
Baldwin himself would later admit to having slipped from the paths of sobriety after he left Cincinnati, but that was not his only problem with the Athletics. When the his former Reds team reached Philadelphia on its last eastern tour of the 1890 National League season, they found their old teammate a hard man to track down, notwithstanding the fact that the Kid, always the spendthrift, owed many of them money. Mulford wrote that Baldwin must not be receiving the generous salary of $400 per month that had been reported in the papers, or at least “Clarence G. evidently does not get it in cash,” because he had avoided former Cincinnati teammates whom he owed money. In fact, it was true that neither Baldwin nor any of the other players were receiving their salaries in cash or in any other form. When payday came around at the beginning of September with no money forthcoming, it was revealed that the Athletics, once one of the strongest clubs in the American Association, had been falling behind in their salary payments since July. Attempts at reorganization proved futile. On the evening of September 16 the men stood outside on Chestnut Street while the club’s stockholders met in an office. At last the players were called in and told they could either stay with the club and take their chances on getting paid or accept their releases. Most of them, said they would leave, leaving only a few holdovers, Baldwin among them, who signed new one-month contracts to finish out the season. (Cincinnati Times-Star, Sept. 8, 1890. Information on the decline of the Athletics comes primarily from the Cincinnati papers, The Sporting News, Sporting Life, and the Philadelphia Public Bulletin, early Sept. 1890)
For one last time in his big league career the Kid’s big mouth got him in trouble. A few days after the Chestnut Street meeting Billy Sharsig was to take the Athletics on a long western trip, supplementing his remaining players with new men picked up from disbanded minor league teams. Just before the train pulled out of the station, Sharsig handed Baldwin his unconditional release. He had learned that Baldwin had been telling people he intended to revenge himself for the Athletics’ broken promises and missed paydays by staying with the team until it reached his home town of St. Louis and then jumping the team. Instead, he now found himself hundreds of miles from home, without money to get back. A furious Baldwin denounced the Athletics’ action to Philadelphia reporters and then, with the help of contributions from players of the Columbus and Baltimore teams he was able to rejoin his wife in Quincy. By September 26 a Sporting News correspondent in that city found him disgusted, lamenting that his signing with the Athletics rather than the pennant-bound Brooklyn club for the sake of an offer richer by a hundred dollars had would up leaving him out $700 in salary lost by the Athletics’ default. (Philadelphia Press, quoted by Cincinnati Enquirer, Sept. 24, 1890; Sporting Life, Sept. 20, 1890, p. 3 col. 4; Cincinnati Enquirer, Sept. 24, 1890; The Sporting News, Sept. 27, 1890, p. 1 col. 2)
By the time winter began to wane in 1891, Baldwin had benefited from some time thinking about the experience and was willing to take some of the blame upon himself. Early in 1891 he had signed with St. Paul in the newly organized Western Association. The Players’ League had folded, leaving eight fewer major league teams and tougher competition for roster spots in the big leagues. In early March Baldwin wrote from Quincy to Harry Weldon of the Cincinnati Enquirer, saying he was done drinking for good. “His reputation was not much enhanced by his last month’s sojourn with the Quaker City lushers,” said Weldon. “Kid writes that he realizes that he is down to hardpan: that it is now a case of get in and do or die. He will play in the Western Association the coming season, and he promises that before the season is over that [sic] his good work will cause major League managers to chase him around for his terms. Here is hoping that he will succeed. Kid was always his own worst enemy.”
He joined St. Paul in the spring, but endured a rough season along with the rest of the Western Association, which was caught in the middle of a trade war between the National League and American Association. In June the St. Paul team was transferred to Duluth, and by late August Duluth, too, was on its last legs and Baldwin moved farther west to Spokane. (Cincinnati Enquirer, Jan. 9 and March 8, 1891; New York Times and Washington Post, March 24, 1891; Washington Post, Aug. 21, 1891)
The off season after the 1891 season marked a remarkable departure for Baldwin, who made an unsuccessful try at sheep raising in the state of Washington. Early in the new year Baldwin wrote Chris Von der Ahe, the mercurial owner of the St. Louis Browns, to tell him that he had given up the sheep-herding and wanted a berth as a catcher and would like to play in his old home town. He told Von der Ahe he had stopped drinking and would put up better ball than he ever had in Cincinnati. “To show you that I am in earnest,” he told Von der Ahe, “I will come to St. Louis for a very reasonable salary and if you think I am as good as I represent you can raise my pay.” Apparently Von der Ahe showed no interest, for Baldwin was soon sending salary terms to Secretary Jimmy Williams of the newly organized Western League. The Sporting News observed that with the major leagues having settled their war and merged into a single twelve-club circuit, the competition for players had become a buyer’s market, so that Baldwin was willing to play in the Western League for $1,000. “This is an indication of the times. Had there been no settlement of the base ball war Baldwin would be holding out for at least $2,000.” But when Williams came back with a more modest counteroffer, Baldwin, brash as ever, telegraphed Williams collect to tell him, “I have signed with Portland. I am not out for cigar money this year.” (Hall of Fame file clippings of unidentified newspaper, dated by handwritten note Feb. 13 and March 26, 1892; The Sporting News, Feb. 27, 1892, p. 3 col. 2)
Baldwin played well in the Pacific Northwest League until that circuit collapsed in mid August. The Los Angeles club, picking through the wreckage for a battery to aid its pennant race, telegraphed offers to Baldwin and pitcher Pete McNabb as well as two stars of the Seattle team. The Seattle players priced themselves out of the market, according to the Los Angeles Times, leaving Baldwin and McNabb in what was for the Kid a most unaccustomed position, that of individuals who “took a sensible view of the situation” and signed at reasonable terms. Having already caught more than seventy championship games for Portland through August 21, he joined Los Angeles in September but still caught 67 during the latter stages of the long California League season and nine more in the playoffs. Including the playoffs and exhibitions, he caught about 152 games, a workload that would be heavy even for a catcher using today’s protective equipment. Staying that busy indicated that Baldwin had kept sober and maintained good hours; and in fact, he seems to have stopped drinking in January 1891 according to his own claim. And as always when he behaved himself, he played well, too. (Hall of Fame clipping file, unidentified paper, Feb. 13, 1892; Los Angeles Times, Aug. 24, 1892. The number of games caught was what Baldwin claimed for himself, The Sporting News, Feb. 21, 1893, p. 4 col. 2. In the HOF clipping he is quoted as writing he had not taken a drink “since the 9th of last January.” Since this letter was written before mid February 1892 [see the following note]; Baldwin might mean January 9, 1892, but that would not be a very meaningful claim, so he probably meant January of 1891).
Life in the minor leagues was unstable, as for the fourth year in a row he found himself with a financially troubled team and league. Baldwin signed with the New Orleans Pelicans in 1893, a team that ran at about .500 for much of the season, then started losing and fell to tenth place in a bloated twelve-team Southern League. Troubled by injuries and dissension, the Pelicans were losing money and unable to sign a reliable second catcher to share the workload with Baldwin. As so often before, he had to shoulder a heavy workload and in July his play began to fall off. In a dispatch written at the end of July, the New Orleans correspondent of The Sporting News wrote that Baldwin was “doing all the catching and doing it in great shape, but had the new catcher reported it was very probable that the kid would have lost a big slice of his salary as well as being laid off without pay. As it is Baldwin may yet lose some of his hard earned pay and then you will see how hard the kid can look.” (The Sporting News, Jan. 7, 1893, p.1 col. 3; July 22, 1893, p. 1 col. 4; and July 29, 1893, p. 7 col. 3)
This somewhat confusing report may mean that Baldwin had started drinking again. When the New Orleans club and the Southern League collapsed soon thereafter, Baldwin was not among the players picked up by National League clubs. In April he had been quoted as saying that he regretted his past conduct and wanted to go back up to the big time. Perhaps it was a fall from the water wagon; perhaps, major league scouts thought that as his twenty-ninth birthday approached, years of hard work at the most grueling fielding position were beginning to show. He caught 72 games, another impressive total in a season that ended in early August, but his offensive production was modest: a .232 batting average with few walks and extra base hits in a league that did not rank with the best in the minors. After playing a few games in New Orleans for a share of the gate with other players set loose by the Pelicans’ collapse, Baldwin sat out the rest of the 1893 season. (The Sporting News, April 15, Aug. 5, and Sept. 2, 1893)
His stock began to fall farther. After spending most of the ensuing off-season without a contract he finally signed with Harrisburg of the Pennsylvania State League, a Class B circuit that was not granted the protection of the National Agreement until April 1894. The Harrisburg roster shows how he was dropping down the ladder, as his teammates included Charlie Hamburg, who had played the outfield for a season in the American Association, and no other recognizable names. Baldwin split the catching with one Fat Bill Smink. When spring came Baldwin received good notices for his catching during preseason exhibitions but then was benched due to eye problems. Late in May his play began to fall off and the Harrisburg club, losing and financially troubled, due to rainouts, quickly released him. (The Sporting Life, May 6, 1894, p. 4 col. 3, and June 16, 1894; New York Times, Apr. 28, 1894; Washington Post, June 10, 1894; Brooklyn Eagle, June 18, 1894)
Since his great year in 1887 Kid Baldwin had endured ups and downs, but the general trajectory of his playing career had been falling, even as he seems to have been showing signs of maturing as a man. Now, having failed to make the grade in the weakest league he had ever played in, Baldwin’s career was practically at an end, and the arc of his personal life plummeted with it. For the next year he seems to have remained in Pennsylvania, probably alone and without a playing berth, quite possibly drinking heavily, and he began to have more problems with his eyesight – perhaps the reason his play had fallen off in the first place. Even before this time he may already have become estranged from his wife. The couple sometimes wintered in her hometown of Quincy; during the summer, she seems often to have joined him for a while in the town he was playing and then returned to Quincy. So she had spent the first part of the preseason of 1893 in New Orleans, but in late March it was announced that she was leaving because of “sickness in the ‘Kid’s’ family.” In the summer of 1897 she would say she had not seen her husband in four years; if this is accurate, her brief sojourn in New Orleans may have been the last time they were together. After his release by Harrisburg, even his own family in St. Louis lost touch with him, so that the following March it was reported that his father had died and they wanted to get in touch with him but did not know how. (The Sporting News, March 25, 1893, p. 2 col. 2, and July 3, 1897, p. 4 col. 4; Washington Post, March 24, 1895)
Baldwin surfaced in 1895, but only because he had other problems. He was still in Harrisburg and his problems with his eyesight were now so severe that he was threatened with blindness. Members of the Philadelphia Phillies had raised money to send him to a hospital in New York and then to Philadelphia, where he underwent an operation. At the beginning of July he was reportedly recovered from surgery and on his way to join his family in St. Louis. (Brooklyn Eagle and Washington Post, May 8, 1895; Cincinnati Enquirer and Washington Post, July 1, 1897)
His eyesight had been saved, but the damage had been such that Baldwin could not hope to resume his playing career, and when this happened something else in him seemed to have broken as well. His drinking and other private demons took a firm hold of him and he left St. Louis and went on the road, living most of the time as a homeless man. It becomes difficult to follow him in the newspapers; only occasionally during the last few years of his life can we see his head popping up above the waters of misfortune, gasping desperately for air.
In December 1895 the Washington Post observed, “It is seldom that you hear of whisky bringing a player absolutely to the gutter, as in the case of Kid Baldwin, once the noted catcher of the Cincinnati team, who was found maudlin in a 10-cent lodging house in Cincinnati.” During that off season he was given a lift by Tom Loftus, the manager who had had released him from Cincinnati but had always been a booster of his. Loftus was now in Columbus, Ohio, organizing a new franchise in the Western League, the strongest minor league in the country, and it was reported that he had signed Baldwin as a groundskeeper for his new team. But the job fell through for some reason, or perhaps more probably Baldwin could not keep sober enough to retain it. By late May, within a few weeks of the date he had been reported about to leave for Columbus, he turned up back in Cincinnati, and worse, he appeared as a “dirt-begrimed, woolen-shirted bundle of rags on the yellow bench in the Police Court …threatened with a Workhouse sentence for vagrancy,” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Old friends and former admirers began to think of ways to help him; there was talk of a benefit game, but the fear was that he would just drink up the money. (Washington Post, Dec. 2, 1895; Jan. 26 and May 28, 1896; Cincinnati Enquirer, April 13, 1896; Cincinnati Times-Star, May 26, 1896. The quotation is from Cincinnati Enquirer, June 2, 1896).
Lew Wachenheim, who ran a saloon on Sixth Street in downtown Cincinnati, took on the task of straightening him out. He told Baldwin to get himself sober, stay that way for a while, and he would give him a job running his “whiskey house.” By June 1 Baldwin turned up at a Reds game, looking dapper and prosperous in a new suit. Again in mid July he showed up to watch the Reds eke out a 5-4 win over visiting Brooklyn. “I have settled down to business, and I hardly have time to turn around,” he told a reporter. “My employer, Mr. Wachenheim, insisted on me taking a little rest, and I concluded that the ball park was just about what I want.” The Enquirer observed: “‘Kid’ has straightened out wonderfully, and he now looks like a prosperous merchant.” (Cincinnati Times-Star, June 2 and 6, 1896; Cincinnati Enquirer, June 2 and July 15, 1896).
Success has a thousand fathers; failure is an orphan. Cincinnati newspapers had stoutly refuted suggestions that “you might as well try to cure a dog of sucking eggs by locking him up in a henhouse” as to put an alcoholic in charge of a saloon. But when the experiment failed, and it is evident that it did, nothing seems to have been said about it. All we know about the end of his experience with Wachenheim is that a year later the Cincinnati Enquirer would say that “for a while Baldwin did well, but he soon fell into his old habits … For the past year he has done nothing but drink up all the money the friends of his better days gave him in nickels and dimes.” In February 1897, Baldwin was reportedly beaten by a night watchman while trying to steal a ride in the railroad yards near Quincy. Early summer found him again in Cincinnati, but now down and out, lower than he had ever been. (Cincinnati Enquirer, June 2 and June 10, 1896, July 1, 1897; Brooklyn Eagle, Feb. 4, 1897)
One day in 1897 Mary (Mamie) Baldwin appeared before a judge in Quincy, Illinois, to request a divorce on grounds of desertion. She told the judge that she had seen nothing of her husband for four years. In Cincinnati, not many people can have noticed this event. The attention of baseball fans was turned to a proposed benefit game for the Reds’ veteran second base star Bid McPhee, Baldwin’s former teammate. McPhee was still playing regularly, now in his fifteenth season with the Reds, though clearly in the declining years of his career and laid up at the moment with an injury. Still, thanks as much to his sober and steady habits as to his talents, he remained a brilliant fielder at second base and a productive offensive player, a man respected and admired beyond any Cincinnati players of the day. Several years still remained before the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune would pronounce an elegy on McPhee’s career: “Other players come and go but Mac remains. There is, however, a good reason for this. When McPhee stepped into fast company in 1882, unlike most youngsters, he recognized the necessity of good habits. The club has never required a private detective to watch his movements. He knows, and knew when he first entered the profession, that intemperance will drive any man out of baseball in a short while. Another thing that has been in McPhee’s favor is his even temperament.” (The Sporting News, July 3, 1897, p. 4 col. 4, quoting the Quincy Herald, discusses the divorce suit; Cincinnati Commercial-Tribune, Aug. 6, 1899)
Here and there a Cincinnati fan may have paused to consider the contrast between McPhee and Baldwin, a man of at least as much physical talent as McPhee, but not blessed with the same steady demeanor and gift of sobriety. While every day’s sports pages carried praise of McPhee, Baldwin had been taken to the City Hospital about the beginning of June, 1897. Loftus and Wachenheim were not heard of now, and Baldwin told authorities his best friend was George Witte, a Sixth Street grocer who befriended him when he needed money or a place to sleep. He was described as a physical wreck and was not expected to recover. At the beginning of June, the Enquirer reported that in recent days he had been unable to sleep, until finally his mind gave way and he became violent. (Washington Post, June 3, 1897; Cincinnati Enquirer, July 1, 1897)
On July 3, 1897 Clarence Baldwin appeared in Probate Court to be examined by a judge with a view to sending him to a mental hospital. An Enquirer reporter observed that Baldwin could hardly have been recognized by those who remembered him from his prime, and to underline the point The Sporting News published a grim set of before and after drawings of Baldwin as a jaunty, handsome young man with a lush mustache and a Reds uniform in the late 1880s and as he looked now, a battered and bedraggled little man with a full beard and chalky complexion. His conversation was so rambling and incoherent that it was difficult to make sense of what he was saying, though he was understood to be very upset about his wife’s divorce suit. At last he roused himself to a one final resolution to shake the grip of his habit. “He said that if he was allowed to go he would stop drinking, but when told he would be sent where he would have to cease that he said he would be willing to go any place where he could be cured.” (Cincinnati Enquirer, July 4, 1897; The Sporting News, July 10, 1897, p. 4 col. 3)
That place was Longview Insane Asylum, a hospital a few miles north of Cincinnati’s ball park. There, only a week after his commitment, 32-year-old Clarence Baldwin breathed his last breath on the night of Saturday, July 10, 1897. Word of his death was passed to his friend George Witte, who notified Mary Baldwin in Quincy. (Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati Commercial-Tribune, July 12, 1897)
Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, 1884-1890
Cincinnati Enquirer, 1885-1897
Cincinnati Times-Star, 1887-1896
National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Baldwin player file
New York Clipper, 1884-1888
Sporting Life, 1884-1890
The Sporting News, 1886-1897