Patrick Gillespie

This article was written by Paul Browne

Peter Patrick “Padney” Gillespie was one of the original New York players whose height suggested a name for the team that today plays in San Francisco. With three fellow Troy players, he signed with John B. Day’s New York franchise for the 1883 season, and the group formed that would become known as the Giants. While frequently described as a journeyman outfielder Gillespie still holds one National League record, once batted over .400 and may have been the highest paid player in baseball.

Most sources indicate that Gillespie was born in Carbondale, Pennsylvania on November 30, 1851 though some sources list him as being born in Connecticut. His Baptismal Certificate at St. Rose of Lima Church in Carbondale shows him receiving that sacrament and the name Patrick on December 3, 1851 and confirms the November 30th birth date. The name Peter Patrick Gillespie appears on his Death Certificate. The Connecticut location is in error.

His parents were John and Ann Newcomb Gillespie, both immigrants from Ireland. Ann Newcomb came to the U.S. with one of her in-laws, John Ward Browne, a “hedgerow teacher” in Ireland, meaning he taught Irish children to read and write the Irish language that their English occupiers had outlawed; therefore he had a price on his head.

The 1860 Census lists John Gillespie as a “Day Laborer”. The family is listed as Ann, John, Patrick, Bridget and Hanna. The 1870 Census lists sons John and Patrick as mine laborers. Patrick, like many children in the coalfields of the day, was a breaker boy before graduating to the mines as a youth.

Local newspapers indicate that Gillespie had begun his playing career as an amateur in Carbondale by 1874. “Padney”, as he was generally known in the press of his local area, was a member of the Carbondale Alerts when they merged with the Carbondale Lackawannas in 1875.

Following the newly merged Carbondale team’s 4-3 defeat of the Arlingtons of New York City on July 19, 1875 one of the Arlington players said, “if the Carbondale club could keep up such playing that, they (the Arlingtons) would retire and let the ‘Carbondales’ go on a starring tour”. [1] In September, the Carbondale team took the Arlington’s advice and accompanied by Isherwood of the Arlingtons as their Captain, they played some of the best amateur nines of New York State. They won every game, their victims being the “Murphy’s” of Troy and the Catskill, Utica, Syracuse, Auburn, Rochester, Fulton, Elmira, Ithaca, Owego, Binghamton and Norwich clubs.

The 1876 schedule of the Carbondale club, now sometimes known as the Blue Sox, was a mixture of games with amateur and professional clubs. Early season victories over the Alaska club of New York City, the semi-pro Wilkes-Barre club and the professional Binghamton Crickets seemed to point to another successful season. Despite these successes and the reputation earned in 1875, “the renowned Carbondale team”, “one of the best teams in the nation” [2] experienced mostly losses during their July tour of New York and New Jersey.

“Owing to the general depression of business in the vicinity” [3] the Carbondale club’s players were released in mid-August after the tour. Following their release, Gillespie and others joined the Irvings of Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Gillespie moved on to the Wilkes-Barre semi- professional club, in 1877.

In 1878 Gillespie is known to have played for the Live Oaks of Lynn, Massachusetts and Worcester. By 1879, Gillespie was with the Holyoke, Massachusetts club. There, for the first time, he became a teammate of Roger Connor and Mickey Welch. In 1879, the Holyoke team was a member of the National Association of Base Ball Clubs which succeeded the International Association. Gillespie at .411 in 39 games “had the best batting-average that season in the championship games of the National Association”. [4]

Another contemporary report said “In the latter part of 1878 and 1879, Holyoke had, we believe, as good a baseball nine as there was in the country. Smiling Mickey Welch, Roger Connor, and Pat Gillespie, afterwards famous with the New York Giants; James (Chief) Roseman, later star fielder of the New York Metropolitans; Powell, afterwards with the Detroits, and last but not least, R.C. Winchester, made a hard-hitting combination that was unsurpassed.” [5]

In 1880 Gillespie moved on to the Troy National League franchise along with former Holyoke teammates Connor and Welch. There they were joined by Buck Ewing and Ed Caskin, who would join them in New York in 1883, and Tim Keefe who would become part of that National league franchise in 1885.

While still a “rookie” in the NL, Gillespie at 28 was the second oldest starter with the Troys. Bob Ferguson, player/manager, was 36 and Caskin was also 28, but a month younger. Eighteen eighty was one of two years Gillespie appeared among league leaders in offensive categories, placing in the top ten in doubles, home runs, and base on balls. Fielding was Gillespie’s stronger point and 1880 was one of three years in which he would be among the League leaders. Gillespie was first among left fielders with 185 putouts and a .905 fielding average. [6]

During the June 3, 1882 game between the Troys and Metropolitans, Gillespie sustained a serious accident that may have shortened his career. “The Veteran (Ned) Cuthbert” is quoted saying “Perhaps you are unaware that Gillespie, the left fielder of the New York nine, carries a silver plate on the top of his head as big as a half dollar piece. Several years ago when he and Cassidy were members of the famous Troy team the latter played a game against the old Metropolitans at the Polo Grounds. Cassidy was playing at center and Gillespie at left and when one of the home batters sent the ball high into the air between left and center both players started after it with lightening speed. The warning cry from the captain came too late and the players collided. Both were knocked senseless. Cassidy soon recovered from his injuries, but it was a long time before Gillespie was again able to play ball.” [7] As late as 1892 the Caught On The Fly section of The Sporting News was still repeating the story of Gillespie’s injury. Gillespie’s .827 fielding average that year was the worst of his career. It was the only time in his career that his fielding average would not exceed the League average.

Eighteen eighty-two marked the end of the Troy franchise. During the time when the former Troy players’ futures were unsettled, Gillespie and Mickey Welch were included in Buck Ewing’s negotiations with O.P. Caylor of the Cincinnati American Association team, to move the three players to that franchise. Despite possibly having signed contracts with Caylor all three eventually moved to the New York National League team. [8] The move of Connor, Welch, Ewing and Gillespie from Troy to New York has lead some to consider the event as a franchise move.

In New York, Gillespie joined another Carbondalean as a left fielder for a New York major league franchise. The American Association Metropolitan’s left fielder, Ed Kennedy, had been born in Carbondale, Pennsylvania in 1856 and had also participated along with Gillespie in the Carbondale club’s “Starring Tour” of 1875. Kennedy would end his major league career with the Brooklyn AA franchise in 1886 but for three seasons, Carbondale men would dominate left field in New York City.

The 1883 New York National League season began with newspapers reporting General Grant’s attendance at the first home game and a number of early victories for the team, but by the end of the season, the fans would be disappointed by a sixth-place finish. The 32-year-old Gillespie was the New York team’s first Captain. [9] Eighteen eighty-three was Gillespie’s best offensive year and he would be among the league leaders in RBI, base hits, triples, batting average and games.

Eighteen eighty-five was the year in which the team became the Giants and missed first place by only two games. Manager Jim Mutrie took to calling the team “my giants”, due to the size of his players. While not impressive by today’s standards, Gillespie, Connor and Gerhardt at 6 feet or over were considered big men. A July 16, 1906 Washington Post article bragging about that city’s Nationals averaging six feet, still repeats the tale of the original Giants being “the biggest men of their playing days.”

The 1885 Giants were “the only team Triple Crown (fielding average, earned run average and batting average) winner in the nineteenth century to fail to capture a pennant” and have “the best record ever by a second-place team”. [10] The 1885 team finished higher in the standings than any other Gillespie had played for. Gillespie led the league among outfielders with a .942 average. This fielding average is the record Gillespie still holds. It stands as the lowest average in a season by a league leader. [11] While this is in many ways a “backhanded compliment”, Gillespie’s prowess in the field was proven without a glove.

His offensive contributions that year were also notable. The September 11, 1885 New York Times “Notes of The Game” reported that “Gillespie and (Mike “King”) Kelly have each made their one hundredth base hit.”

Eighteen eighty-five also marked the founding of the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players. Despite his close connection to founders Connor, Welch and Ewing, Gillespie never joined the Brotherhood.

Two stories illustrate the admiration that followers of the Giants had for Gillespie during his playing days. In the August 3, 1886 New York – Chicago game Gillespie comes to bat in the ninth inning with Ewing and Ward on base. Gillespie drove the ball into right field past Billy Sunday for a triple, resulting in two runs for New York and a tied score. Gillespie scored the winning run on a fielding error, when the next batter hit a ground ball. Coverage of the game concluded with Gillespie being borne off the field by admirers. [12] Local obituaries at the time of Gillespie’s death in 1910 described a game in which he hit a home run to win the game in the ninth inning resulting in him being carried off the field and showered with an estimated $2,000 in cash from his admirers.

Eighteen eighty-seven would mark the end of Gillespie’s major league career. His fielding record would end with a footnote. His .946 Fielding Average was listed as first among outfielders in the 1888 Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide and first among left fielders in the October 22, 1887 Sporting News summary of League records. Joe Hornung of Boston at .935 is now listed as the leading fielder for the year because of the limited number of games Gillespie played. Gillespie gets an asterisk. [10] While some post-season 1887 and pre-season 1888 articles list Gillespie as an expected returnee to the Giant roster this was not to be. At the time he left the majors, Gillespie was the fifth-oldest player in the NL – or fourth, if you discount Candy Nelson, who came over from the Metropolitans and only played one NL game that year.

The end of Gillespie’s career may have been partially the result of his own miscalculation of his worth. A frequent hold-out during salary negotiations, it was reported that in March 1888 “Gillespie is just now rusticating at his home in this city, and carries as good a ball record as ever. He does not propose to sign until he gets the right kind of offer.” [13] He never did get the right offer.

While accounts at the time of his death indicate that “When his days of usefulness in the big league were over he refused all offers to join minor league teams and retired” [14,15] this was not the case. After leaving the Giants, Gillespie played for Troy of the International Association in 1888, but was released by early June, reportedly for drinking. By mid-June he was playing with Albany, also of the International Association, but by the end of July he was released again after an incident in Rochester in which he and Chief Roseman, who had joined Albany near the end of June, “insulted a lady shamefully” while both were drunk. [16] While this may have been indicative of a long-term problem, as late as 1886 Gillespie was described as “a credit to the profession and the club in (sic) which he is connected.” [17]

On Friday evening, August 10, 1888 “Padney” Gillespie returned to Carbondale. Within the week, he was recruited to bolster the Carbondale amateur team in their second game of that season against the Cuban Giants, a famed African-American barnstorming team. The Carbondale team, anchored by Gillespie’s cousins Frank and Pat Newcomb, had given their famous rivals a tough game, losing 5-4 on July 19th. “Cos” Govern, manager of the Cuban Giants, credited the Carbondale team with being “the strongest amateur organization they had ever played against.” [18]

The return match on August 16th was not as successful despite Gillespie’s presence on the field. The locals got their “First Kalsumining” (whitewashing), 10-0. “The familiar and beloved figure of Gillespie graced the centre field. …The Carbondales started out well in the first inning. After Flannelly had struck out Carpenter got first on Malone’s error. Chamberlain sent him to second by a hit to centre and Gillespie followed with a beautiful drive to right field. Carpenter tried to score on this hit and was put out at the plate.” [19] In many ways Gillespie’s career ended with him stranded on first base, back in Carbondale.

While most current sources list Gillespie’s death as May 5, 1910 his death certificate lists it as May 4, 1910. Because of the slow schedule of papers of the time, some confusion was created due to varying datelines of published reports of his death but May 4th is correct.

Gillespie is listed as a miner, living in Carbondale at the time of his death. He died of pneumonia and was buried in St. Rose Catholic Cemetery in Carbondale on May 7, 1910. The wake was conducted with William J. McHale as undertaker. Gillespie made one last connection to Major League Baseball with this choice. In training to become an undertaker, Edward Wade, father of former Philadelphia Phillies General Manager Ed Wade, apprenticed with McHale.

Gillespie was a widower at the time of his death, and lived with his mother who was “perhaps the oldest woman in Carbondale, (and) is supposed to be over a hundred years of age and was able to attend his funeral”. [20] Another source stated that “He was survived by one sister, Hannah Gillespie.” “A delegation of old base ball players from New York city (sic) are expected to attend the funeral.” [21] Who, if anyone, came was never disclosed by the local papers. Both the Carbondale and Scranton, Pa. papers of the time fail to list the names of any attendees, except the pallbearers, none of whom were major leaguers.

Among The Carbondale Leader’s Sports Briefs of May 5, 1910 was a story attributed to the “old fan”, a device frequently used by that paper’s sports writer of the time. In it, he makes some claims for the hometown favorite. Among the questionable credits claimed for Gillespie are that “…he saved the pennant for New York”, “…was rated among the ‘Big Four’ of base ball and has made one of the most sensational catches ever made on the diamond.” While the third claim may well be true, the first claim is highly unlikely, as New York did not win a pennant until 1888 and most sources are in agreement that Gillespie left the Giants in 1887. The second claim probably depends on what the writer had in mind, but the only references this writer has found to a “Big Four” that included Gillespie, are in rather sloppily written articles which list the “Big Four” as being “Roger O’Connor, O’Keefe, O’Rourke and Gillespie”. [22]

The obituaries that appeared under Wilkes-Barre datelines, list Gillespie as being “…one of the best-known players in the country,” [14] and “one of the best batters in the big leagues at that time” [15]. These obituaries indicate that “He laid claim to being the first player ever to receive $2,800 salary or more” and that “His (older) brother, Jack Gillespie, one of the first pitchers to use a curve ball, was killed in Pittsburg several years ago.”

If he were in fact the first player paid over $2,800 it would have happened in 1882 or 1883. The 1890 Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide lists the players then active who had played from 1881 on, and in 1882, none made over John Ward’s $2,400. In 1883 Buck Ewing is the highest paid at $3,100. As Gillespie had left the majors in 1887, he is not included on this list. In a number of years during his career newspaper articles list Gillespie among the late holdouts on the New York team but never the last, except perhaps his final failed hold-out.

Gillespie’s career goes beyond that of a journeyman outfielder. The newspapers of the time carefully followed his fielding and hitting records and commented on his long periods of errorless fielding, as well as his runs of strong offensive performance. Gillespie’s age upon entering the majors, the serious injury he received early in that career and personal problems common to ball players of the day, may have prevented him from being one of baseball’s early stars, but it can be said with certainty that he was always a strong contributor on teams that included Connor, Ewing and Ward.


Please note: where numbers repeat in the text it is because they indicate the same source–e. g., #10 appears twice because the same item is being quoted. 

(1) Carbondale Advance, 7/24/1875
(2) Astifan, Priscilla. Rochester History: “Rochester’s Last Two Years of Amateur Baseball in the 19th Century, Part Four” , Vol. LXIII, No.2, Spring 2001.
(3) Carbondale Advance, 8/19/1876
(4) New York Clipper, 9/17/1881
(5) Allyn, George H., “Sketch of Holyoke”. The Holyoke Daily Transcript Thirtieth Anniversary edition, 1912.
(6), 2003
(7) Sporting News, 7/26/1886
(8) Nemec, David. The Beer and Whiskey League. New York: Lyons & Burford, 1994.
(9) Reach, Reach’s Official Base Ball Guide-1884. Horton Publishing Co., 1989 (reprint).
(10) Nemec, David. The Great Encyclopedia of 19th Century Major League Baseball. New York: Donald I. Fine Books, 1997.
(12) New York Times, 8/4/1886
(13) Carbondale Leader, 3/27/1888
(14) New York Times, 5/5/1910
(15) Washington Post, 5/6/1910
(16) The Sporting News, 6/2, 16, 23, & 8/4/1888
(17) The Police Gazette, quoted in the Carbondale Leader 5/18/1886
(18) The New York Sun, quoted in the Carbondale Leader 8/10/1888
(19) The Carbondale Leader, 8/17/1888
(20) Scranton Tribune-Republican, 5/8/1910
(21) “Gillespie’s Death Deeply Mourned”. Carbondale Leader, 5/5/1910
(22) Untitled. Carbondale /i>Leader, 5/5/1910


In addition to the sources listed above the author made use of the following:

Graham, Frank. The New York Giants. Carbondale and Edwardsville, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002.

Hardy, James D. Jr. The New York Giants Base Ball Club 1870 to 1890. Jefferson, N.C.: Mc Farland & Company, Inc., 1996.

Soos, Troy. Before The Curse: The Glory Days of New England Basball: 1858-1918. Hyannis, Mass.: Parnassus Imprints, 1997.

Brunell, F.H. Players National League Guide – 1890. Horton Publishing Co., 1989.

Spalding Official Base Ball Guide 1878 – 1890. Chicago and New York: A.G. Spalding & Bros.

Reach Official American Association Base Ball Guide-1884 – 86, 1888-92. Horton Publishing Co., 1989

Negro League Baseball Players Association.

1860 & 1870 Census: HeritageQuest

Pete Gillespie File at National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

Newcomb and Browne oral and written family histories.

Full Name

Peter Patrick Gillespie


November 30, 1851 at Carbondale, PA (USA)


May 4, 1910 at Carbondale, PA (USA)

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