Martin Duke (

Martin Duke

This article was written by Paul Proia

“Martin Duke, the well-known pitcher, died in this city on Saturday, Dec. 31, of pneumonia. He had not played ball for several seasons and earned a precarious livelihood by working around a local saloon. He was a strong pitcher in his time and held engagements in the National League, Eastern League and Western League. In late years his work was limited entirely to the latter organization. He possessed great ability as a pitcher, but never lasted long with any club, as he was a hard man to control, and was given to dissipation, which ultimately led to enforced retirement from the profession and untimely death, his illness being brought on by needless exposure.” Sporting Life, January 7, 1899.


Martin Duke ( Sporting Life article written at the time of Martin Duke’s death succinctly notes the theme of his life – that Duke had talent but not the discipline to become a star on baseball’s biggest stage. The details of Duke’s short but noteworthy path from life to death are recited below.

The precise date of Martin F. Duke’s arrival is not readily available – though it is generally believed to be in 1867, based on an 1870 US Census record.1 Certainly, the event provided a distinct memory to Patrick and Mary (Henney) Duke when the fifth of their six children arrived. Patrick was a teamster who, like his wife, left Ireland in the years before the American Civil War and made his way to the United States. Their first son was born in Rhode Island, but the other five children were born in Ohio. The family spent many years in Zanesville, Ohio, the city of Duke’s birth, both in terms of his real life and his baseball life.2

Indeed, Duke was a member of the Zanesville entry of the Ohio State League – after a year pitching for the local semiprofessional club, Duke signed with Zanesville as a professional in 18873 and was selected to pitch the opening game against Columbus.4 His second year with Zanesville, which had become a member of the Tri-State League, contains an intriguing mix of good and bad events – like the day he was firing a perfect game into the fourth inning when he was struck in the hand by a line drive and dislocated his thumb.5 In early July, Duke fanned 15 Toledo batters and developed a reputation that reached major league clubs.6

The Detroit Wolverines were the first major league team to acquire the rights to Duke’s services, soon after the end of the 1888 season.7 Detroit apparently promised Duke $2,000 for the 1889 season, a substantial increase over the estimated $800-$900 per season he earned with Zanesville. However, before a contract was signed, the Wolverines – National League and world champions in 1887 – disbanded. The Cleveland franchise bought many of Detroit’s assets, including the rights to Martin Duke, which cost Cleveland about $700. The Detroit assets were grouped into classes, and Duke’s category was deemed to be worth a salary of $1,500. Though still a significant raise, Duke understandably complained about the $500 pay cut. However, after a brief delay, he was convinced to sign the contract and head to spring training. 8

What kind of pitcher did Cleveland sign? Duke wasn’t very big. The righthanded thrower stood 5-feet-5 and weighed no more than 135 pounds until later in his career.9 A wire story once noted, “His pitching arm is so strong and shapely and so well equipped with powerful muscles that it would win admiration from a blacksmith.”10 Duke Farrell said his most effective pitch worked like a modern slider. “Martin Duke’s most effective curve was a downshoot. It wasn’t, literally speaking, a downshoot, but rather on the Jimmy McJames brand of shoot, a sort of slant that whistled up to the plate on a bee-line and broke suddenly, taking a downward and outward course; that is outward for a right-handed batsman.”11

In addition, Duke was especially adept at catching baserunners napping. Former Toledo manager Bob Wood compared Duke with James “Pud” Galvin. “I see a great deal is being said about Galvin’s cuteness in watching or holding runners to the bag. It is not generally known that he will have a worthy competitor for honors in that respect this season; but such is the fact, and young Martin Duck, of the Cleveland club, will be his contestant. His actions in the box will be equally as puzzling as those of the genteel James, while I am of the opinion that his actions are somewhat quicker.”12

Duke’s biggest problem, however, was his control. There would be many games where he might strike out eight batters, walk six, and throw four wild pitches.13 This likely contributed to his failure to make Cleveland’s final roster after spring training, leading the club to sell his rights to Minneapolis of the Western Association for the 1889 season.14

Maybe you didn’t catch the spelling in the quote above, or maybe you thought it was a typo. The other change in Martin’s baseball life was his name. For some unknown and undocumented reason, Martin Duke was known as Martin Duck in Zanesville. Not in census records, mind you, but in the box scores, and in reports of his moves through Detroit and Cleveland. However, by the time he got to Minneapolis, he had become Martin Duke.

“The Kansas City Times is responsible for the following story about the crack Minneapolis pitcher, Martin Duke: “The real name of the Millers’ best pitcher is not Duke, but Duck, and how he came to change his name forms an interesting story. About two years ago Martin was pitching in a game up in Michigan, and in the ninth his club led the opposing team by one run. Two of the latter had reached the two corners nearest the plate when a man up in the grandstand began imitating the ‘quack’ of a duck. Martin didn’t show at first that he was annoyed by it, but as the ‘quack, quack, quack,’ continued his face became lobster-colored. He shouted to his taunter that he would fix him after the game, but the field gave the pitcher the horse laugh and went on with his ‘quack, quack, quack.’ Duke was crazier than the wild man from Borneo, and at least he lost his head and threw the ball with all his might at his tormentor. It didn’t hit the mark, but two runs came in and Martin’s side lost the game. After that, he dropped the name of Duck entirely.” — “Still in Doubt,” The Pittsburgh Press, September 28, 1890: 6.

Duke’s season started cold but warmed up with the weather. He once lost to St. Paul, 18-7, when he gave up 14 runs in the first inning, an inning in which he also hit four batters.15 Facing the same team in August, he threw a dominating one-hitter to beat St. Paul.16 Then, in the last game of the 1889 season, Duke was in his finest form. St. Paul went home without a single hit. The St. Paul Globe noted, “Though he made one or two outbursts of temper, and once disturbed the Sabbath serenity with a fierce oath, he was less wild than usual, hit nobody and gave but three bases on balls.”17 One runner, John Carroll, reached on a two-out walk. Duke had the runner picked off at first but his throw to John Ryn was dropped. A wild pitch and an error later, the only Apostles run scored.

It was a fine season – he went 24-16 in 47 appearances, striking out 347 batters in 355 innings. To counter his high strikeout totals, Duke also walked 210 batters, hit 42 others, and fired 65 wild pitches. Still just 22 years old, Duke earned further notice from any number of major league teams in the National League, American Association, and the new Players League that formed for the 1890 season. He was chased by Chicago’s NL and PL entries,18 nearly signed with Philadelphia in the PL (he turned down $3,500, of which $1,000 would have been paid up front)19 but decided that the Players League wasn’t guaranteed to finish a full season. He used these offers as leverage to get a better contract with Minneapolis in 1890.20

Duke’s 1890 season was even more remarkable than his 1889 season. His ERA, just 1.72 in 1889, fell to 0.80 in 1890. He fanned 308 batters, but was “frightfully wild,” walking 155 men, beaning 17, and throwing 73 wild pitches.21 Still, Duke singlehandedly kept Minneapolis in the pennant race – a contest between Minneapolis and the Kansas City Blues came down to a series in Kansas City in late September. The Blues, leading by a half-game in the standings, swept Minneapolis, beating Duke twice. In the first game, Kansas City worked on Duke’s nerves directly – first by relating the story of Duke’s first baseball name being “Duck” to the Kansas City Times, and then by encouraging fans to get under his skin. The Minneapolis Tribune reported “Five hundred fish horns and a dozen duck calls were scattered through the audience, and while the Millers were in the field, an unearthly din was kept. The duck calls were meant to rattle Martin Duke, and in the fourth inning a live duck was thrown down on the diamond…”22

For the third straight offseason, Duke was heavily courted by major league teams23 – and now it was going to his head. Again, despite the opportunities, Duke wound up staying in Minneapolis, but his attitude towards others changed. Articles in various papers mocked his decision to purchase property in Minneapolis,24 referred to his “long head – straight up,” and teased that Duke had become quite the ladies’ man. Rumors mentioned his taking on a fiancée and that “many a poor girl has committed suicide after once seeing Martin.”25

On top of that, Duke was gaining a reputation for late night carousing and drinking. The wildness of his pitching got worse – as did his attitude toward management. He was fined on at least three occasions by Minneapolis manager William H. Harrington.26 The Minneapolis Tribune announced the inevitable resolution – Duke’s release – on August 9, 1891:

“Martin Duke’s career is also at an end. Hach and Harrington stood his tantrums and whims as long as they were able. But his action on Thursday (August 6) was the last straw in the back of the managerial camel. He was expected to go in and pitch but refused point blank. That did settle it. He was fined $100 and expelled. Duke had the making of a star twirler but he was his own worst enemy. He made the mistake of believing that he was indispensable and that all his bad breaks and bits of folly, no matter how often committed, would be condoned. His work thus far this season has not been up to the standard. He would pitch about one good game in five. Dissipation, late hours, and a childish temper has ruined him. There is too much young blood coming into the baseball ranks to allow reckless players and disorganizers to have much play. Duke will find that out before many months roll by. In after life he will find but few jobs at $350 per month floating around loose and he will look back with regret at the opportunities he had missed.”

“The Base Ball World,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 9, 1891: 5.

Yet it didn’t take long for Duke to find work. In fact, he failed ‘up’ – jumping at a contract offer to join Washington of the major league American Association at the end of August. However, Duke was ill-prepared for the task. In his first outing against Baltimore on August 24, as the Baltimore Sun reported, “he was so nervous that he gave ten bases on balls, made four wild pitches, and kept Catcher (Deacon) McGuire busier than anybody on the diamond. Duke seemed to use very little curve, and depended mostly on speed. Somehow or another he was not effective at any time. Besides his battery errors he had an error charged upon against him by dropping an easy thrown ball.” The final was 13-0, with the game ending because of darkness after six innings.27

He next lost to Milwaukee on August 31, 5-1, completing all nine innings and limiting his walk count to just four. Entering in relief on September 3, he faced Louisville and gave up four runs in six innings. However, he got his lone major league hit – a double off Scott Stratton.28 His last outing of 1891 was a 16-7 loss to Columbus – he gave up 11 runs in the second inning and left that game early.29

Duke totaled 23 innings in his four appearances (three starts). In those innings, he walked 19, gave up 36 hits, and threw 11 wild pitches. All three decisions were losses.

And yet, he received offers to pitch from Brooklyn30 and Chicago in the National League for 1892, eventually signing with Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings.31 Writers in Minneapolis noted in 1891 that Duke might benefit from someone like Anson keeping him in check.32 Except that Duke failed to pitch well that spring and Anson let him go. Duke wasn’t thrilled – he expected that by signing a contract, Chicago was obligated to keep him for the season.33 Instead, Anson went with four other pitchers he trusted, and Duke was required to find another league that might want his services.34

To be certain, Duke was his own worst enemy – he was losing control of his personal life, he couldn’t control his temper during games, and he couldn’t control the baseball.

It was this situation that greeted Duke when he signed to pitch for Binghamton in the Eastern League for 1892. Three months was all it took and he was released (a Buffalo paper said Duke’s arm was wrong at the time of signing).35 Duke made two starts for Rochester – a fair outing in which he earned a win36, and a horrific 16-5 loss, giving up 24 hits and five walks.37 The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle noted his release by adding, “He shouldn’t have been signed.”38

With the Eastern League no longer interested, Duke ran to New Orleans in the Southern Association.39 He pitched fairly well to finish 1892 (he won 13 of 16 decisions), but he failed to make a mark with three franchises (New Orleans, Birmingham, and Savannah) in the 1893 and 1894 seasons. At the end, the Savannah Morning News reported, “The trouble was the same as on Wednesday, when he was taken out in the Nashville game. He seems to be unable to control the ball. The teams do not hit him very hard, but he gave too many men bases on balls and by hitting men with pitched balls.”40

Tail between his legs, Duke returned to Minneapolis, where he pitched amateur and professional ball for parts of the 1894 and 1895 seasons and worked as a porter in a downtown saloon. In 1895, he injured his arm in a semipro game.41 With that, Duke was no longer a baseball player. He appeared in old-timers’ games42 and tried to get his arm and body back in playing shape, but the remainder of his life would be spent working in Minneapolis saloons.43

That remainder, however, didn’t last long. He fell ill in the winter of 1898; pneumonia took him on December 31, 1898, in Minneapolis. He was just 31 years old.44 Duke was buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio, next to his father who had died the previous year. Martin Duke left behind a mother and five siblings.



The author would like to thank Rory Costello and Rick Zucker, who reviewed this essay, as well as SABR’s fact-checking team.



In addition to the sources show in the Notes, the author used:

1870, 1880 US Census

1895 Minnesota Census

Minneapolis Birth Records



1 1870 US Census Records, also Duke’s profile.

2 The family history, including Mary Duke’s maiden name, can be determined using the 1870 and 1880 US Census records and a birth record for the youngest son, Henry.

3 “Notes,” Zanesville Times Recorder, May 2, 1887: 4.

4 “The Season Opened,” Zanesville Times Recorder, May 3, 1887: 1.

5 “The Visitors’ Dish,” Zanesville Times Recorder, July 17, 1888: 1.

6 “Something About Strikeouts,” Zanesville Times Recorder, August 11, 1888: 1.

7 “Contracts and Releases,” Chicago Inter Ocean, November 1, 1888: 2.

8 “Gossip of the Ball Field,” The New York Sun, February 10, 1889: 10.

9 “Martin Duke as a Pitcher,” Buffalo Enquirer, January 10, 1899: 4.

10 “Pitcher Martin Duke,” Vanity Fair (Lincoln, NE), May 14, 1892: 8.

11 “Martin Duke as a Pitcher,” Buffalo Enquirer, January 10, 1899: 4.

12 “Rival to Galvin,” St. Paul Globe, February 10, 1889: 7.

13 “Beaten By One,” Lincoln Journal Star, July 31, 1891: 1.

14 “Cleveland Parts With Its Duck,” Detroit Free Press, April 24, 1889: 3.

15 “Wow, This is Awful,” St. Paul Globe, July 5, 1889: 1

16 “Western Association,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 27, 1889: 2.

17 “Batted the Air,” St. Paul Globe, September 30, 1889: 5.

18 “Notes and Gossip,” The Sporting Life, February 19, 1890: 4.

19 “This is all Sport,” Minneapolis Tribune, March 9, 1890: 17.

20 “After Duke and Foster,” Minneapolis Tribune, October 4, 1889: 2.

21 “The Official Averages,” Kansas City Star, October 18, 1890: 3.

22 “Kansas City, 9; Minneapolis 0,” Minneapolis Tribune, September 21, 1890: 5.

23 “General Sporting Notes,” Kansas City Star, October 18, 1890: 3.

24 “On the Diamond,” Kansas City Times, March 22, 1891: 10.

25 “Base Ball Notes,” Sioux City Journal, June 7, 1891: 3.

26 “To Be Kicked Out,” St. Paul Globe, August 16, 1891: 6; see also “Base Ball Gossip,” Omaha World-Herald, August 2, 1891: 7; and “Hunks of Sport,” Lincoln Journal Star, July 14, 1891: 1.

27 “A Victory At Last!” Baltimore Sun, August 25, 1891: 6.

28 “Might Have Been Worse,” Louisville Courier Journal, September 4, 1891: 6.

29 “Columbus Walk-Over,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 8, 1891: 2.

30 “Base Ball Notes,” Nebraska State Journal, November 1, 1891: 15.

31 Cedar Vale (Kansas) Commercial, January 23, 1892: 1.

32 “Sporting Comment,” Minneapolis Daily Times, July 24, 1891: 2.

33 “Superfluous Timber,” Minneapolis Daily Times, April 18, 1892: 2.

34 “Anson’s New Baseman,” Chicago Tribune, April 5, 1892: 7.

35 “Around the Bases,” Buffalo Courier, May 1, 1892: 7.

36 “The Jump,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 22, 1892: 8.

37 “Not Duke’s Day,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 26, 1892: 10.

38 “Base Ball Brevities,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 27, 1892: 7.

39 “Condensed Dispatches,” The Sporting Life, April 22, 1893: 1.

40 “Beaten by a Single Run,” Savannah Morning News, April 28, 1894: 3.

41 “Diamond Dust,” St. Paul Globe, August 5, 1895: 5.

42 “The Old Boys Won It,” Minneapolis Sunday Times, July 26, 1896: 12.

43 “An Umpire’s Joke,” The Sporting Life, January 30, 1897: 10.

44 “Death of Martin Duke,” Minneapolis Tribune, January 1, 1899: 7.

Full Name

Martin F. Duke


, 1867 at Zanesville, OH (USA)


December 31, 1898 at Minneapolis, MN (USA)

If you can help us improve this player’s biography, contact us.