This article was written by Chris Rainey
Mike Kahoe appeared on major league rosters mostly as a catcher for eleven seasons. In that time he played in an unremarkable 410 games and batted a mere .212. Yet his career is forever joined with some of baseball history’s most celebrated individuals, unique events, and folklore. Kahoe’s acquisition by the Chicago Nationals in 1901 allowed that team to move Frank Chance from catcher to the outfield and eventually to first base where he was immortalized in “Tinker to Evers to Chance.” In 1907 Washington was hit with the injury bug at catcher and in August acquired the veteran Kahoe from Chicago. Mike was immediately put to work as the personal catcher of a rookie from Idaho, Walter Johnson. Later Kahoe would scout and sign dozens of players for the Senators and Braves.
His Sporting News obituary also called attention to his claim that he used shin guards (possibly in 1902 to protect an injury) before Roger Bresnahan ever did. An extensive search of newspapers did not turn up any mention of Kahoe’s use of protection until the 1908 season. In fact, in a Washington Post article from June 17, 1907, Mike was interviewed about Bresnahan’s use of shin guards. He discussed their use saying; “I believe there are more low fouls hit nowadays than there were two or three years ago and ones shins are likely to get it any minute. Also they are a good protection when a man is sliding into the plate…” There is no mention in the article that Mike had ever used shin protection.
Mike Kahoe was born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, on September 3, 1873. His parents, Irish immigrants, were Mary and Laurence and he joined four older brothers and a sister. Mike’s father was proprietor of a saloon on Dayton Street in Yellow Springs. Mike grew up to be athletic and above average in size. Baseball records list him as six foot and 185 pounds, and the Washington Post noted in 1908 that “Kahoe is no pygmy, but hasn’t much extra adipose tissue to worry about.” Legend has it that Kahoe played for the Antioch college baseball team, but a search of records reveals that he was never a student in the prep school or in the college. This technically would not have precluded him from being added to the roster, given the lax nature of collegiate athletics at that time. Sometime in the 1890’s Mike began playing ball for Cincinnati-area semi pro squads. In 1895 he joined Montgomery of the Southern Association. He appeared in 56 games and hit .276. He averaged an assist per game (the third highest rate in the league). When the season was concluded he returned to the Queen City area and was recruited to catch for Maysville, Kentucky, against the Red Stockings.
Maysville had played Cincy twice earlier and won both games. The Red Stockings meant business this time and on September 19, they pounced on Maysville for a 17-8 victory. Mike must have shown something in this game and at Montgomery. Both the Louisville club and Cincinnati bid for his services. After a chat with Cincy manager Buck Ewing, Kahoe agreed to join the Red Stockings. He was acquired from Montgomery for the draft price of $500. His first appearance was in Louisville on September 22, 1895, when he came into the game to spell Farmer Vaughn. He later made an appearance in a game in St. Louis and also one contest in Cincinnati.
Kahoe returned to Montgomery the next season to join a Gladiators squad that would pile up a record of 60-37. Mike produced the best statistics of his career. In addition to 64 games at catcher, he also played 19 at second and a dozen in the outfield. The Reach Guide credits him with a .308 average, but Marshall Wright in The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961 credits him with a .337 average. Kahoe always possessed decent quickness and a fine arm which enabled him to finish second in the league in assists. This performance led to another invitation to join the Red Stockings.
Mike went to spring training in 1897 in New Orleans with the Cincinnati club. After three weeks it was decided to farm him to Indianapolis for the year. The two clubs had such a close working relationship that newspapers referred to the Hoosiers as “Cincinapolis”. He was the rookie and was put to work in exhibition games to show his stuff. His first appearance was against an out-manned DePauw university team when the Indianapolis News stated: “the work of Kahoe behind the plate was greatly admired.” The game itself was a blow out (41-0) as the Hoosiers scored at least twice each inning. Mike would also appear in exhibitions against Dayton, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Louisville where he pounded out two doubles.
Veteran Bob Wood was slow to get into shape so Mike found himself as the starting catcher. The team jumped out to a fast start and Kahoe did not disappoinst. In an early game versus Detroit he had 3 hits including a triple. On April 27 versus the Tigers Mike performed one of the rarest base-running feats, especially for a catcher, by stealing second, third, and home in the same inning. The local newspaper declared that he was the first Indianapolis player to ever steal home off the pitcher.
After sixteen straight appearances Mike finally got a rest. The team was beset with injuries and in mid-May Mike began to play third base. On May 20 he smacked a home run versus Minneapolis. He also assumed the three spot in the lineup and went on a hitting tear that raised his average 50 points in June. The Hoosiers survived the injury bug and climbed back into first place by mid-July. Mike also saw action behind the plate as he and Wood split the duties. The Hoosiers ran their record to 71-29 when injuries again forced Mike to show his versatility. On August 23 he was forced into action at shortstop. Four days later the News reported “players say Kahoe is a natural-born shortstop” and should consider the switch from catcher. Obviously the management did not share that view because the next day a new shortstop named Knau was brought in and Mike returned to catching. The Hoosiers ended the season 96-35 eleven games ahead of Columbus. Mike hit .302 (97 for 321) according to the local paper.
The Detroit Free Press sponsored a Cup series that pitted the Hoosiers with second place Columbus. Games were played in Detroit and Indianapolis and the Hoosiers won 3 games to 2. Mike saw action at first base and catcher in the series. He also pocketed an extra $75 for the games.
Since the pitcher’s rubber had been moved back in 1893, batters had enjoyed superiority over the pitchers. In 1898 the pitchers finally caught up and batting averages were down throughout baseball. (The National League overall average dropped 21 points). Nowhere was this more evident than with the Indianapolis Hoosiers. The team hit .314 in 1897, but tailed-off to .252 in 1898. Kahoe appeared in 106 games, 82 of them behind the plate, and hit .249 for the second place team. It was a tough season for Mike. On May 17 he broke his nose in a collision at home plate. He returned to action a few days later because injuries to infielders had decimated the squad. Playing third base he took a throw from the catcher and had his fingernail ripped off. These two injuries kept him out until the second week of June. During that time he served as a base coach and ended up in a melee on Memorial Day against St. Paul. For his part in the fisticuffs he was fined $25 for hitting a St. Paul player.
The June 21 edition of the Indianapolis News mentioned that Kahoe did not return from the road trip with the team. Instead he had traveled to Cincinnati where he was wed on June 22 to his companion for life, Lillian McBride. Mike rejoined the team on June 24 and the paper quipped that he caught a good game but “…his eye was not on the ball. He was too busy watching the grandstand.” The editor of the News also took up a fund to raise $25 to pay Mike’s fine from St. Paul as a wedding present to the new couple. As luck would have it, Mike was injured two days later and missed two more weeks. When he did return he was pressed into service as an outfielder. The Hoosiers were in pennant contention the whole season, but lost out by a game and a half. Mike and Lillian returned to Cincinnati for the winter.
The Hoosiers restocked their roster for 1899 and rebounded to win the pennant by a nose over Minneapolis. At the end of the campaign Kahoe and Wahoo Sam Crawford were sold to the Reds. Crawford debuted on September 10. Mike saw his first action on September 12 when catcher Heinie Peitz was forced to pitch in relief of Brewery Jack Taylor who developed a pain in his side. Kahoe then started the second game of the doubleheader and recorded his first major league hit, a triple in the fifth off Washington’s Dan McFarlan. Later that season Kahoe received plaudits from John McGraw for his throwing and work behind the plate.
In the spring of 1900 the Reds trained in Alabama and Louisiana. Bob Allen was promoted from Indianapolis to become the new manager. Catching was a very demanding job in those days, injury was a constant threat, and teams frequently carried three receivers. On a roster that numbered 16 to 18, this meant that players had to have some versatility. That would explain why in the preseason “Regulars vs. Colts” games Kahoe saw action at shortstop and third as well as at catcher. In one game he was credited with a “sensational” catch by the local scribe. Unfortunately he also made 3 errors at short in that game. In early April the Reds returned to Cincinnati for more exhibitions including a match with the University of Cincinnati. Kahoe again played shortstop. His counterpart for the collegians was Miller Huggins. Mike would get into 52 games in 1900, one at shortstop the rest behind the plate. He only hit .189, but his catching skill and knowledge of the game ensured him a position for the next year.
The Reds carried three catchers in 1901: Peitz, Kahoe, and newcomer Bill Bergen. The National League teams had agreed to reduce rosters to sixteen players on May 15. The Reds initially wanted to release outfielder Johnny Dobbs, but he was playing excellent ball and they decided to keep him. This meant that either Bergen or Kahoe had to go. The Chicago Tribune reported that the choice came down to Kahoe because he had a higher salary, but new manager Bid McPhee was reluctant to let either player go. The Commercial Tribune reported that “McPhee refuses to say who the Reds martyr will be.” Cincinnati went so far as to petition for a revote by the league to allow teams to keep 17 players. Teams were requested to telegraph their votes to President Freedman. Player contracts at that time contained a “10 day clause” that allowed a team ten days to make a decision about a player’s future once they notified the player he was to be released. On May 16, the clock started ticking for Kahoe. The Commercial Tribune was full of rumors about Mike’s next stop. At one time or another he was to be employed by Columbus, St. Louis, Chicago, or Pittsburgh.
Then on May 18 came word from Philadelphia that the court there had ruled the options clause in contracts illegal. This freed Nap Lajoie and others to remain in the American League. It was immediately reported that Kahoe would sit out the remainder of his 10 days and then jump to the upstart rival league. One of the quirks of the “10 day clause” was that the player was still part of the team, even though he knew his days were numbered. After the Lajoie ruling came down, the Reds and Kahoe left for a series in Boston. The Commercial Tribune quoted Mike as saying “After the way the Cincinnati Club has treated me since giving my release, I would rather go to the American League. After I was let out… I received offers from several National League teams. Two were for more money than I was paid by Cincinnati. I suppose it (the Cincinnati club) hopes to evade the limit rule and call me back. After depriving me of an opportunity to make more money it need not expect to hold me, I’ll go to the American League.” Cincinnati was pressured to make a deal and not allow Kahoe to jump leagues. On the May 28 they sold Kahoe to Chicago. In his first action for the “Remnants” on May 30, Mike caught Rube Waddell in the morning game of a twinbill in Boston. He went 2-4 at bat.
The Chicago Daily Tribune heralded the arrival of Kahoe because “he has more success behind left handed pitchers than any man in the business.” The acquisition also meant that Chicago could move Frank Chance from behind the plate to right field. On June 14, Kahoe accounted for the first and last putouts in a most unusual 5-2-4-3-4-2 triple play in a game against New York. This was one of only 13 triple plays ever recorded that featured tag outs for all the outs. Less than a week later he slugged his only homer of the season over the fence in Boston. Mike split time behind the plate with Johnny Kling and also was pressed into emergency service at first base in July when Jack Doyle was injured. The experiment ended abruptly when Mike committed 5 errors in three games. For the season he hit .228 and earned a spot on the roster for 1902.
Manager Frank Selee’s plan for 1902 was to use Kahoe and Kling behind the plate and put Frank Chance at first base. Kahoe’s weak hitting and the need for depth at other positions led to Mike’s sale to the St. Louis Browns in mid-July. Chance was forced into service behind the plate in 1902, but would take over first base in 1903. Kahoe meanwhile joined a St. Louis Browns team that had seen their catching corps depleted by injury. Mike would hit .244 in 55 games with 2 home runs for St. Louis. It was by far his best offensive season in the majors. Based upon his 1902 performance, Kahoe was expected to play a bigger role with the Browns in 1903. Unfortunately, he had nagging injuries, his batting average dropped to .189, he showed very little “pop” in his bat, and he lost the job to Joe Sugden.
Sugden enjoyed another excellent season in 1904, once again pushing Kahoe into a back-up role. Mike caught 69 games and hit .216, but St. Louis decided to look elsewhere for a back-up catcher in 1905.
Kahoe caught on with the Phillies, but only appeared in 16 games. The Sporting News reported that he “did not have the speed [ability]” to be kept in the majors. In 1906, Mike spent the season with Indianapolis and proved to be a valuable acquisition. He appeared in 78 games at a variety of positions (51 behind the plate) and hit a healthy .274. This performance earned him a return to Chicago for the start of the 1907 season. According to the Washington Post, Mike was not pleased to be acquired by the Cubs. Johnny Kling and Pat Moran were both veteran catchers and Kahoe saw very little chance of playing. The management supposedly promised him that there would a World Series share for him. In mid-July the Senators were searching for another catcher. Chicago President Murphy was looking for a way to reduce salary and took the opportunity to move Mike to Washington. Mike soon became the personal catcher for Walter Johnson. Late in August the Post quoted Kahoe calling Johnson “Greatest ever, that kid… I never saw a raw recruit get into the big leagues and show so much class.” Mike would appear in 17 games, most of them with Johnson.
Mike had always been regarded as a knowledgeable catcher and had received kudos for his work with pitchers, the success with Johnson only added to high regard the Senators front office had for him. Kahoe was added to the 1908 roster, but it was evident that his playing time would be limited. It was his brains and leadership that Joe Cantillon most wanted. In the spring of 1908 the Senators sent a special sleeper car with about 20 players to Galveston, Texas for spring training. The papers reported that Kahoe somehow strayed from the train at a stop in Houston and had to provide his own transportation into Galveston. This gaffe did nothing to lessen Mike’s reputation as a leader. When the squad was split into Colts and Vets for games and eventually the trip north, Kahoe was the coach and catcher for the Colts. The Colts left Texas a week before the Vets and played exhibition games through the South and Midwest. On March 21 Kahoe highlighted the game in Wichita with a first inning three-run homer. Kahoe saw little on-field action in 1908, catching only 11 games, usually for Johnson. His main task seems to have been working with pitchers in practice where the Post noted that he wore cricket guards made with soft padding.
During the off-season, Mike’s name was frequently in the papers. He along with 7 other Senators, 9 White Sox, and a handful of other major leaguers played exhibition games against an independent club called the Logan Squares from Chicago. When the commission got wind of this, all the major leaguers were threatened with ineligibility. The Logan Squares had been labeled an outlaw team because they used ineligible players. Ultimately, the commission ruled that each player was ineligible until they requested reinstatement and paid a fine of $200. The players were ultimately reinstated after they paid a $50 fine. In January it was reported that Kahoe might be dispatched to Minneapolis and replaced by a younger player.
At the close of spring training the decision was made to keep Mike because of his experience and his ability to coach the pitchers. Rookie Bill Rapp was sent to Minneapolis. Kahoe would only appear in 4 games during an unusual 1909 season. In April he was left behind in Washington to work with pitchers when the team went on a Western swing. In May, Rapp was injured in Minnesota and Mike was loaned to the Millers as his replacement. When Rapp returned to health, Kahoe was sent on a scouting mission to places like Reading, Pennsylvania, South Bend, Zanesville, Ohio, and Buffalo. Mike finally rejoined the Senators in mid-July. Pitcher Ewart “Dixie” Walker was purchased from Zanesville, and Speed Kelly was acquired from South Bend as a result of this scouting trip. The purchase of Kelly from South Bend led to the South Bend manager signing Max Carey to his first professional contract. On August 12th, Kahoe suffered a finger injury in a game when he was catching for Johnson. This injury marked the end of his playing days.
On February 3, 1910, Kahoe was hired as a fulltime scout by the Senators. Since 1906, Mike and Lillian had lived in the Hyde Park area of Cincinnati, where Mike had been an active member of the Hyde Park Businessman’s Association. The scouting job necessitated a move from Cincinnati, but so far research has not determined his new home. The Washington Post carried numerous mentions on Kahoe over the next few years as he scouted around the nation trying to land minor leaguers for the Senators. He never signed a Hall of Famer like Walter Johnson, but he did lasso an impressive number of players who would help form the Senators for many years. On July 25, 1911, he inked contracts with 3 members of the Rochester, New York club. Eddie Foster and Danny Moeller became starters for the 1912 Senators who finished second in the league. Both players would be fixtures for the next few years. He also scouted and signed catchers John Henry, Eddie Ainsmith, and outfielder Howard Shanks for the 1910 squad. In 1949, Shirley Povich penned a column talking about a player that Kahoe did not sign for the 1912 squad. In an interview with Casey Stengel, Povich reported that Kahoe did not like Stengel’s performance and chose not to sign him. Stengel claimed that he was doubled up 3 times on running mistakes and that “Kahoe reported I was a bonehead.” Other top players who did not impress Kahoe were Red Faber and Everett Scott. In fact, newspapers in 1915 were quick to mention that 5 or 6 scouts had passed on Faber, who would have a 24-14 record for the White Sox that year.
In 1916, Mike was let go by Washington. According to a Post article, George Stallings, the Boston Braves manager, immediately asked his ownership to hire Kahoe. Stallings considered Mike “the greatest scout in the baseball business.” Scouts in those days not only scoured the countryside for talent but also helped decide where players would be placed. In a sense they were early farm directors. One of his early signings for the Braves was Art Nehf. Mike had tried to get Griffith to sign Nehf, but the Senators had balked. Similarly, Mike signed Jesse Barnes for Boston after the Senators had passed on the opportunity.
In 1918 Mike left professional baseball and he and Lillian, the couple was childless, moved to Akron, Ohio. Mike joined the recreation department of the Goodrich Rubber Co. and took over as manager of their semi-pro ball club. There was a thriving industrial league in the town with stiff competition against Goodyear, General Tire, Fisk, and other factories. He would manage until 1921 and then stay on in the Rec department for many years. He also worked for the Northern Ohio Traction and Light Co. Kahoe died on May 14, 1949 after a brief illness. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Akron, Ohio. Lillian would live at their Tallmedge Avenue home until her death on January 20, 1956. She is buried beside Mike, but no one ever engraved the year of death on the tombstone.
Vicki Willis of the Greene County Library in Xenia, Ohio for help with genealogy.
The SABR Scouts Committee for information on Mike Kahoe’s signings.
Antiochiana @ Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio
Newspapers from: Akron, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Washington.
Wright, Marshall D. The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2002.
Craig Lammers for information on Dixie Walker, Speed Kelly, and Everett Scott
National Baseball Hall of Fames (Cooperstown, New York) files on Mike Kahoe.