This article was written by Chris Rainey
In real estate the mantra is “Location, location, location.” The same can be true in baseball. Take the case of catcher Mike Hopkins. He lived in the Carnegie district of Pittsburgh and played for one of the local semi-pro teams, McCarthys. Honus Wagner also lived in Carnegie and when word came out that Jack O’Connor was going to leave the Pirates, Wagner arranged for Hopkins to accompany the team on a road trip. Hopkins got into one game; the only professional action he ever saw.
Michael Joseph Hopkins was the oldest child of James and Hannah (Fleming) Hopkins. The couple were both born in Ireland and wed in 1865. They moved to Glasgow, Scotland where Michael was born November 1, 1872. He was joined by a sister (Annie) before the family sailed across the Atlantic. The foursome settled in Chartiers, then a small town south of Pittsburgh, now part of the metropolitan area. James found work as a miner until late in the century when he became a street worker. The family grew with the birth of George and Ceila. Michael attended school through the eighth grade before entering the workforce. He eventually landed a job with the Pennsylvania railroad. He started as a brakeman and would become a conductor after his baseball days ended.
At 5’ 8” and 160 pounds, Hopkins was a typical-sized catcher. He honed his skills and by age 28 was playing with the best semi-pro teams in the Pittsburgh area. He played regularly with the Carnegie team and in the railroad league, but would happily accept an invitation to play as far away as Beaver Falls. He was talented enough that he was in demand by teams looking to supplement their lineup for a big match-up. The 1902 Pirates, managed by Fred Clarke, were up 20 games in the standings in August on their way to an easy championship. It was a good time to look at rookies and see what talent might be available. The Pirates played Brooklyn in a Friday doubleheader and a single Saturday game at home, then, because of Blue Laws, left town for a doubleheader in Cincinnati on Sunday, August 24. Brooklyn traveled to Chicago for Sunday action, and then returned to Pittsburgh for a Monday game. Whether Hopkins was in uniform for the Monday game and beyond is unknown.
August 24 was a beautiful day in Porkopolis and fans descended on League Park from all directions. The crowd numbered 24,597 and spectators were allowed to stand in the outfield. “Ground rules were established putting a two-base value on hits into the crowd and an extra base for throws that reached the populace.”1Pittsburgh won the first game and sent rookie Harvey Cushman to the box for the second game. Cushman lived in Millvale, Pennsylvania and was making his professional debut.
Cushman pitched scoreless ball for two innings, but fell apart in the third and allowed nine runs. Catcher Chief Zimmer had played game one, so Clarke gave him the rest of the day off and inserted Hopkins into the lineup. The vaudeville circuit in 1902 featured a female comedienne who performed as a character named “Sis Hopkins”. Thousands of Cincinnati fans immediately labeled Hopkins as “Sis” and a hiss went thru the stands. The game story in the Pittsburgh Daily Post says “In the fourth…Hopkins singled scoring Conroy.”2 He is not credited in either The Baseball Encyclopedia or on Baseball Reference with an RBI. The box scores of the game list him with an error which also does not appear in current statistics credited to him. After his single in the fourth he advanced to second on a single and then attempted to score when Clarke drilled a shot to left. Joe Kelley fielded the ball, made a perfect throw to Harry Steinfeld who relayed to Bill Bergen to nail Hopkins at the plate. In the sixth inning, Hopkins doubled but was left stranded. The game was called after seven innings with the Reds up 9-4. Hopkins ended his major league career with a 1.000 batting average and a 1.500 slugging percentage.
A married man with his first daughter on the way and employment with the Pennsylvania railroad, Hopkins did not pursue a professional baseball career. He was in greater demand than ever in the semi-pro circuit. Major league experience and a 1.000 batting average can do that for a player. Yet, his batting average must have been an anomaly. In the available box scores he is frequently batting eighth and does not show much power. In 1905 he cut back and only played in a railroad league where the competition and talent level was less intense, but he still batted in the bottom of the order for Sheridan Yards and Bridgetown. He gave up the game a year or two later and turned his attention to family. He had wed Sarah Blanche Keane, 10 years his junior, on September 3, 1901. The happy couple would welcome nine children, six girls–Mae, Margaret, Kathryn, Gertrude, Edith, and Bernice–and three boys–Joseph, Paul, and John (known as Jack)–over the years.3In the 1920’s they moved into the Ingram area, slightly closer to downtown Pittsburgh, but still across the river. The family must have been close knit because in the 1940 census four of the daughters, aged 21-38, still lived at home.
Hopkins retired from the railroad in the 1940’s. Mae and Gertrude never wed, but the other children added 18 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren to the family by the time of his death.4 Hopkins died from a coronary thrombosis on February 5, 1952. He was buried in Calvary Catholic Cemetery in the Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Last revised: August 15, 2020 (ghw)
1 Cincinnati Enquirer, August 25, 1902:3
2 Pittsburgh Daily Post, August 25, 1902:6
3 Hopkins’ Hall of Fame Questionnaire completed by daughter Gertrude. The spellings are hers and differ from what might be found on ancestry.com
4 Pittsburgh Press, February 7, 1952: 47