This article was written by John F. Green
A nine-year major league center fielder from 1879 through 1888, Hotaling played in both the National League and the American Association, with six different teams. Pete took part in 840 games and compiled a modest lifetime batting average of .267. Included in his 931 hits were 148 doubles, 63 triples, and nine home runs. A highlight in Hotaling’s career occurred in his final year in the big leagues; on June 6, 1888, he banged out six hits in a game (five singles and a triple).
Peter James Hotaling began life in Mohawk, New York on December 15, 1856; he was the youngest of six children born into the household of William and Rebecca Fryer Hotaling, both New York natives. The year after Peter’s birth, the family moved from Mohawk to the nearby village of Ilion, where William Hotaling became a successful merchant and property owner. According to the Ilion Free Public Library, the first business block in the village was known as the Hotaling Block.
In a high school composition written in 1929 Hotaling’s granddaughter, Genevieve McNeil, stated, “As a child my grandfather was very lively and mischievous, and was fond of rambling off by himself. He kept the whole family busy looking for him. He went to school in Ilion until he began to play ball.” The village of Ilion fielded fine amateur baseball teams in the 1870s, and four players from that decade’s Ilion Clippers made it to the major leagues: catcher John Clapp, first baseman George “Juice” Latham, pitcher Terry Larkin, and catcher-outfielder Pete Hotaling. Standing five feet, eight inches tall and weighing 166 pounds, Hotaling began his career in 1876 with Ilion as a catcher, where his strong throwing arm and tough hands were put to the test. With the pitcher’s box only 45 feet from home plate, backstops stood about ten feet behind the dish, and took a lot of punishment without protective body armor. Pete also caught for a team in Poughkeepsie later in 1876 while attending Eastman’s Business College in that city.
Pete signed a professional contract with Syracuse of the International Association in 1877, and early on was involved in a memorable exhibition game at St. Louis, when he caught all fifteen innings of a scoreless tie that was halted by darkness. Weeks later Hotaling suffered an eye injury when hit by a foul tip, and was out of the lineup for a month. When he returned to duty, he came equipped with a mask. Pete had commissioned the Remington Arms Co. of Ilion to manufacture the protective piece, similar to the one designed earlier that year by Harvard captain Fred Thayer and worn by Jim Tyng in a college game. When Hotaling donned the mask, he became the first professional ballplayer to do so. But wearing the “cage” caused him to be labeled with a nickname, “Monkey,” that followed him throughout his baseball career. Pete batted .241 with Syracuse in 1877, and improved to .278 the following year. The majority of Hotaling’s playing time was as a catcher, but in 1878 he played occasionally in the outfield, where both his speed and strong right arm were utilized.
In 1879 the National League expanded from six to eight teams; with more players needed in “The Show,” the time was right for Hotaling. The Cincinnati Reds had finished in second place in 1878, and were on the lookout for players to help them challenge for the pennant. Pete was signed to a contract, and earned the job as the Reds center fielder. The Cincinnati Enquirer heaped praise on the rookie in its April 6, 1879 issue: “Hotaling, the new center fielder, will prove a taking card. He is a broad-shouldered, heavily-built, handsome young fellow, who does everything with a manner that bespeaks confidence. He hits lefthanded, and hits hard and beautifully.” (Note: this quote taken from Hotaling’s biography in SABR’s Nineteenth Century Stars cites Pete as a left-handed batter; the majority of sources claim he hit from the right side.)
Pete played in 81 games for Cincinnati in his initial big league season; he batted .279, with 103 hits in 369 at bats. In the field his 16 assists led the club’s outfielders. Two of Hotaling’s teammates batted over .300: future Hall of Famer King Kelly (.348) and Deacon White (.330). Pitcher Will White logged all 43 of Cincinnati’s triumphs; his record was 43-31, with an ERA of l.99. In spite of the performances of Kelly, the Whites and Hotaling, the Reds slipped to fifth place in 1879, 14 games behind the NL leading Providence Grays. After the season, Hotaling barnstormed to the West Coast with an all-star aggregation. He didn’t return to play for Cincinnati in 1880, however. In an interview with the Syracuse Post-Standard in 1927, Pete spoke of his time in Cincinnati, and beyond: “I quit there, and later quit the game because there wasn’t any money in the treasury to pay the players. I didn’t see any future with a club that couldn’t pay its men.”
Hotaling hooked on with Cleveland in 1880, playing in 78 games but dropping to .240 with the stick; the team’s composite average was .242, and its leading batter was Fred Dunlap at .276. Hurler Jim McCormick, also the Blues skipper, was credited with 45 of the clubs 47 victories; he led the league in wins and logged a 1.85 ERA. Chicago, under Cap Anson, copped the pennant, 20 games ahead of third place Cleveland.
In 1881 Pete became a member of the Worcester Ruby Legs. The club finished in the NL basement, and its pitching staff recorded the highest team ERA in the circuit. Hotaling, now twenty-four years old, hit .309 (98-for-317), the highest average of his career. The only Worcester player to top him was Louis “Buttercup” Dickerson at .316. After the season it became apparent that Pete Hotaling had qualified as a “journeyman ballplayer” as the Dickson Baseball Dictionary defines one: “A veteran ballplayer who is reliable but not a star; consistent rather than colorful. Because it contains the word journey it is often applied to those who have played for several clubs.”
The reliable and consistent Hotaling journeyed again in 1882, this time to the Boston Red Caps. The New England club resided in third place at year end; the teams overall batting average was .264, and Pete closed at .259. Steady in center field, he paced Red Cap outer gardeners in assists and double plays. The 1882 season was marked by the emergence of the American Association as a major league; fielding six clubs, the loop’s owners challenged the National League with lower admission prices, beer sales in its ballparks, and Sunday baseball.
Cleveland needed a center fielder in 1883, and Hotaling’s return to the Blues was memorable for two reasons: first and foremost, he married Buena Vista Perry in the Ohio city; and secondly, Pete would be in Cleveland for two consecutive years. Under manager Frank Bancroft, the 1883 Blues ended up in fourth place, seven and one-half games in back of Boston. Pete duplicated his previous year’s .259 batting average; second baseman Dunlap, still with Cleveland, was the lone .300 hitter on the club (.326). Pitcher Jim McCormick won 28 games and led the league with a 1.84 ERA.
Players and managers moved all over the map in 1884 as the upstart Union Association came on the scene. According to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, “it was founded on the premise that the reserve clause was invalid.” The Union Association signed some players from the NL and AA by offering higher salaries, but for the most part, the caliber of play wasn’t up to major league standards. All three leagues suffered as a result, and the UA folded after only one season. In a league without parity, the St. Louis Maroons ran roughshod over all opposition and won going away with 94 victories. Fred Dunlap jumped from Cleveland to play with St. Louis, and was first in every hitting category; he won the batting crown with a .412 average.
Manager Frank Bancroft also left Cleveland in 1884; he piloted the Providence Grays to the National League title. Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn shouldered the pitching load for the Grays; the right-hander chalked up 59 or 60 wins (reputable, reliable sources differ), the all-time high in major league history. Meanwhile, Cleveland finished in seventh place, and Hotaling dropped to a sub-par .243 with the bat. Decimated by the loss of several players to the Union Association and declining attendance, the Cleveland club was in serious financial difficulty. Before the 1885 season, a deal was consummated between the St. Louis Maroons of the UA, and Cleveland of the NL; the Maroons would take Cleveland’s place in the National League. Amidst all the upheaval in his adopted hometown, Pete Hotaling was destined to change uniforms–and leagues–in 1885.
After the St. Louis merger, Cleveland sold several players to Brooklyn of the American Association. Hotaling was in the package, along with George Pinkney (3B), Bill Phillips (1B), Germany Smith (SS), and John Harkins (P). Ex-Clevelander Charlie Hackett also went to Brooklyn, and began the season as skipper of the Trolley Dodgers. Hackett had a team with two factions: the Brooklyn holdovers from 1884, and his crew from Cleveland. Club owner Charlie Byrne was a thorn in Hackett’s side as well, and fired him when Brooklyn’s record dropped to 15-22. Byrne himself assumed the managerial reins for the balance of 1885. With Byrne at the helm, Brooklyn was a fifth place finisher, 26 games behind the St. Louis Browns. Hotaling batted .257 for the year; on the defensive side, he led Brooklyn outfielders in fielding average, putouts, and assists. Phillips was the lone Trolley Dodger to hit better than .300 (.302). In spite of the turmoil in Brooklyn, the veteran center fielder was a happy man; on July 8, 1885, Buena Vista Hotaling gave birth to their daughter, Edna Mae.
Hotaling was offered the dual post of player-manager at Savannah in the Southern League in 1886; apparently eager to leave the situation in Brooklyn, he accepted, and had the team in contention for the SL championship in late August. Pete’s ace hurler was Hank O’Day, later to become the only man to play, manage, and umpire in the major leagues. A 20-game winner with Savannah, O’Day was called upon to pitch a crucial game hosted by league-leading Atlanta. When umpire John McQuade failed to show up to call the game, a reserve Atlanta catcher, identified only as “Gunson,” was picked as a substitute arbiter, much to the displeasure of the Savannah team and its fans in attendance.
As the game progressed, several of Gunson’s calls were questioned by players and fans alike, but to no avail, as Atlanta beat Savannah, 4-0. Disconsolate spectators poured onto the field after the game, and police were called out to restrain the riled- up fans and players. That night, Hotaling, ODay, and several other Savannah players were locked up for disorderly conduct. Bailed out by the club’s treasurer, they returned to Savannah and refused to play another game. This action resulted in the league officials forfeiting the remaining games on Savannah’s schedule, and Atlanta was declared the pennant winner. In his solo year as a player-manager, Pete batted .270.
After the Southern League debacle, Hotaling caught a break in late 1886, receiving an early Christmas present on December 23, when the newly-created Cleveland Blues announced that Pete was signed as team captain for the 1887 season. Pittsburgh switched from the American Association to the National League at the conclusion of 1886, and Cleveland, without a major league team for two years, immediately filled the AA vacancy. The Blues were far from a contending team their first year in the American Association; they finished in the cellar, 54 lengths in back of the St. Louis Browns. Piloted by Jimmy Williams, Cleveland won only 39 games and lost 92. Captain Pete batted .299, second on the club to Fred Manns .309, and paced his Blues teammates in several categories: games played (126), most plate appearances (505), most hits (151), total bases (214), runs scored (108), doubles (28), triples (13), and home runs (3). He also stole 43 bases.
In 1888 the Blues moved up to sixth place in the standings. Williams left his manager’s post in July, the same day his father died, and was succeeded by Tom Loftus. Hotaling’s batting tapered off to .251, but he had that one big day to remember: the six-hit performance on June 6, against Louisville. SABR member Dan Hotaling wrote in Nineteenth Century Stars that Pete appeared on three different baseball cards in 1888; they were the first ones to be made by New York’s Goodwin and Co., promoting its Old Judge cigarettes.
Cleveland owner Frank Brunell came to the end of his patience after 1888. Frustrated by declining attendance and the dominance of the upper division clubs, he surrendered the franchise, and neighboring Columbus took over Cleveland’s billet in the American Association. With no major league offers for 1889, Hotaling made a couple of stops in the minor leagues. He played at Chattanooga of the Southern League (27 games, .267 average), and at St. Joseph in the Western League (55 games, .273). It was a bittersweet ending to a twelve-year career in professional baseball.
After his retirement from the game, Hotaling worked for several years in the grocery business with an uncle, and was employed for many years with the White Motor Company as a machinist. Pete’s hobbies were reading, story telling, fishing, and “frogging.” His granddaughter related a frogging incident in her 1929 composition: “About five years ago when we were camping in our tent for several days on a friend’s farm, Grandfather was with us. One morning he got up about four o’clock, put on some hip boots, took a lantern, a bag and a stick with a sharp point at one end. He came back just about the time we were getting up and we all had frogs legs for breakfast.”
Hotaling visited periodically with his sisters and their families in Ilion, and while en route in 1927, stopped in Syracuse to see a ball game. In an interview with the Syracuse Post-Standard, he was asked how the game had changed in the 50 years since he played: “What do I think of the present ballplayers? Why, they’re mechanical.” In regard to game conditions in nineteenth century baseball, Genevieve McNeil paraphrased her grandfather’s interview with the Post-Standard writer: “In those days they usually had two balls to start with, and if both were lost, they had to be found before the game could go on. Sometimes a ball would be so worn and black that the batter could hardly see it coming, especially with a good, fast pitcher working against him.”
In later years, Pete caught winter colds, which led to bronchitis, and eventually, to pneumonia. He died on July 3, 1928, and was buried in Cleveland’s Lakeview Cemetery. He was 71 years old, and at death was survived by his wife (Buena Vista), a daughter (Mrs. Ray [Edna] McNeil), a granddaughter (Genevieve McNeil), and four sisters.
Genevieve, granddaughter of Pete Hotaling, concluded her 1929 composition with the statement, “I hope that I shall be as strong, healthy and clear minded as he was.”
Genevieve’s hopes were realized. She remained in the Cleveland area, married Charles Mallett, and was blessed with four children: Charles, Pete, Barbara and Marilyn.
Genevieve McNeil Mallett files, courtesy of Charles, Pete, Barbara and Marilyn Mallett; May 2007.
Telephone Conversations with Barbara Mallett; April and May 2007.
Pete Hotaling file from Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York.
Dickson, Paul. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary. New York: Facts on File, 1989.
Hotaling, Dan. “Peter James (Monkey) Hotaling” in Robert L. Tiemann and Mark Rucker, eds. Nineteenth Century Stars. Kansas City, Missouri: Society for American Baseball Research, 1989.
Nemec, David. The Beer and Whisky League. New York: Lyons & Burford, 1994.
Pfeffer, Fred. “The Trustful Mr. Hotaling.” Baseball Magazine. August 1918.
Reichler, Joseph L. The Great All-Time Baseball Record Book. New York: Macmillan, 1993.
The Baseball Encyclopedia. 9th ed. New York: Macmillan, 1993.
ProQuest Historical Newspapers, from SABR Research Tools
SABR members: Ray Nemec, Trey Strecker and Brad Sullivan