“Pete Kilduff, by dipping dust whenever Burleigh Grimes was to pitch a spitter in the 1920 Brooklyn-Cleveland (World Series), tipped off the Indians when a spitter was coming, and they let it pass and clouted his fast one, winning the series by beating the Brooklyn spitball ace, simply because they got onto a spitball sign.” — Al Demaree, Brooklyn Times Union1
Diminutive (5-feet-7, 155 pounds) Pete Kilduff also was a principal in the most famous play of the 1920 World Series: he made the second out on Bill Wambsganss’s unassisted triple play. Kilduff later manned second base for one of the highest-ranked minor-league teams ever, the 1925 San Francisco Seals.2 However, Kilduff’s career highlight occurred in 1917, during his first start in the major leagues: a game-tying home run off the great Pete Alexander. Kilduff would not homer again in the majors for over 1,200 plate appearances spanning parts of four more seasons, until 1921, his final year in the majors.
Tragically, after a successful start to a minor-league managing career, Kilduff died at the age of 36 following complications from appendicitis.
Peter John Kilduff was born on April 4, 1893, in Weir City, Kansas. His parents were John Kilduff, a coal miner who emigrated from Staffordshire, England in 1884, and Ellen (née Doughtery), who was also born in England. Peter was the ninth of 12 children. When he was young, the family moved to Chicopee, then Baker, both in Crawford County (near the Missouri border). Multiple brothers became miners; one, Felix, played minor-league ball.
By 1912, young Pete was playing for local teams in Mulberry and Arcadia. By year’s end, the 19-year-old “Kid” Kilduff was also gaining a local reputation as quite the amateur billiard shot, running 24 games in neighborhood parlors.3 In 1913, he starred on a Frontenac, Kansas team for local manager Nonie Baker. Pete worked as a secretary for the state mine inspector during this time.
Kilduff began the 1914 season with a Galena, Kansas semipro team, then joined one based in Pittsburg, Kansas. By May, he debuted for Oklahoma City of the Class D Western Association. An initial writeup reported that Kilduff, “the new shortstop for the locals, looks good, despite his two errors yesterday. He covers a large territory, has a good whip and used good judgment in a pinch Sunday.”4 Kilduff, a righthanded batter, hit .262 and had 31 stolen bases in 115 games for the Boosters, who won the first half and then the championship in a playoff over Muskogee.
In his return engagement in 1915, Kilduff hit .291 with 35 doubles and 17 homers, as Oklahoma City again won the title over Muskogee. However, Kilduff also committed 64 errors at shortstop that season, for a woeful .902 fielding percentage. Local fans nonetheless proclaimed Kilduff a “better player” than another young shortstop in the Western Association, Rogers Hornsby of Denison, who had just been picked up by the St. Louis Cardinals.5 After the season, Kilduff was sold to the Omaha Rourkes of the Class A Western League.
Kilduff hit .290 in 145 games for the pennant-winning Rourkes in 1916. He attracted the attention of New York Yankees scout Dick Kinsella, who recommended that the parent club sign the 23-year-old. The Yankees refused, allegedly after receiving a conflicting negative report from another scout, so Kinsella recommended Kilduff to his former employer, John McGraw of the New York Giants.6 Both Kilduff and teammate Ernie Krueger were acquired by the Giants in late August for after-season delivery.
Kilduff showed well in Giants camp in Marlin, Texas7 and made the opening day roster.8 He made his major-league debut on April 18 against Brooklyn, lining out to center field after subbing for second baseman Buck Herzog after Herzog was ejected. Kilduff earned his first start a week later, on April 25, because Herzog had oddly injured himself in a fall at the train station before the game.9 Kilduff faced Philadelphia Phillies ace Grover Cleveland Alexander as the opposing starting pitcher. He singled to left in the sixth inning, scoring two runs. In the top of the eighth inning, Kilduff hit a dramatic game-tying two-run home run off Old Pete, as the Giants eventually won, 9-8.
Regarding the rookie, the New York Mail wrote, “The little freckle-faced Irish lad brought the downfall of Alex the Great.” The story added this description: “‘Little’ Pete Kilduff, short and stocky, with a wistful smiling face, a great pair of hands, a good whip and the courage worthy of an Irishman. He has quite won his way to the hears of the Giant players and is the apple of John McGraw’s eye.”10
McGraw’s Giants, in the thick of a pennant race, were desperate for more pitching, so Kilduff was traded in mid-August to Chicago Cubs for Al Demaree. Cubs skipper Fred Mitchell quickly moved Kilduff from second base to his original position of shortstop. Even the great McGraw later lamented the trade, claiming it wasn’t “a square deal.”11 Kilduff was quickly identified as “a far better hitter” than incumbent Cubs starting shortstop Chuck Wortman, and it was noted that Kilduff was an “excellent fielder and a fast base runner.”12 Kilduff hit .277 in 56 games for the fifth-place Cubs. He was still voted a half playoff share by the pennant-winning Giants.13 In fact, McGraw lobbied Cubs president Charles Weeghman to reacquire Kilduff during the off-season, but to no avail.14
Before the 1918 season, Kilduff held out, then joined the Cubs on the train to Pasadena for camp in Southern California. He made the squad, but lost his starting spot on May 22 after an 0-for-15 slump. So, with World War I in full swing, he decided to not wait for his draft number to be called; instead, he enlisted on his own after 30 games for the Cubs.15 Kilduff reported at Mare Island in the San Francisco Bay area.16 He ended up at Norfolk, Virginia, but never saw action overseas.17 He was discharged near the end of 1918.
In his 1918 contract, Kilduff had negotiated a bonus if the Cubs finished first or second. He attempted to collect that bonus after the season but was rebuffed by Weeghman. Kilduff claimed he was “forced” into service in June – but as Weeghman saw it, Kilduff, by volunteering, didn’t fulfill his contract, so no payout was in order.18
In spring training 1919, Kilduff lost a battle with Charlie Pick for the defending National League champs’ second base opening. He made the Cubs squad, but soon became dissatisfied with his amount of playing time from manager Mitchell. In June, Chicago traded Kilduff to the Brooklyn Robins for Lee Magee. Kilduff mainly played third base for the Robins in 1919 and hit. 301 in part-time duty. In the offseason, he married 21-year-old Elizabeth J. (Lizzie) McManus from Pittsburg. The wedding took place on Christmas Day back in Frontenac, Kansas. The couple made their home in nearby Crawford, Kansas.
Kilduff impressed Brooklyn early on in 1920 as a utility infielder.19 He soon got the starting job at second base for the Robins, who won the National League pennant. Kilduff played in 141 games, collecting 26 doubles while hitting .272. Before Brooklyn began their World Series matchup with Cleveland, New York writer James J. Corbett opined that “no man played a more important part in the success of the Dodgers than did little Pete Kilduff.”20
Brooklyn fell to the Indians in the World Series, five games to two, with Kilduff hitting a dreadful .095 (2-for-21).21 As noted in the introduction, it was also claimed that Cleveland won at least in part because Kilduff inadvertently tipped off the opposing batters to Burleigh Grimes’ famed spitter. (After winning Game Two, Grimes lost both Game Five and Game Seven.) The fifth inning of Game Five featured the historic unassisted triple play by Indians second baseman Bill Wambsganss. After Kilduff and Otto Miller had singled, Clarence Mitchell ripped a line drive, snagged by Wambsganss, who proceeded to step on second to retire Kilduff before tagging Miller to complete the remarkable feat.
Pete’s father John died in January 1921. The younger Kilduff soon had a salary dispute with Brooklyn before signing late. He played in 107 games, even with a deep charley horse late in the season, and managed to hit .288. On July 13, Kilduff hit his first major league homer in over four years, connecting off Cincinnati’s Dolf Luque. He hit two more during the season.
When offseason trade talk regarding Kilduff emerged, Brooklyn scout Larry Sutton, an admirer of the infielder, supported retaining him. Of Kilduff, Sutton proclaimed, “There are few if any who possess the gameness and staying qualities of little Pete. Besides being a wonderful ground coverer and a batter feared by every pitcher in the league, he is of an even temperament, a quality rare in a ball player.”22
Nonetheless, before the 1922 campaign, the Robins purchased Sam Crane from the Reds and slotted him for shortstop, with Ivy Olson moving to second. Thus, Kilduff’s time in the borough was up. He was sold in February to the Cincinnati Reds for the waiver price, then immediately flipped to the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League.23 The Seals had shortstop in mind for Kilduff, but the newcomer expressed his preference for second base.24 This caused San Francisco to promote Hal Rhyne, and a highly effective four-year double-play combo was born. In other new beginnings, Pete and Lizzie welcomed their first child, daughter Virginia Ann, in 1922.
Kilduff had some notable performances for his new club in 1922. In a May doubleheader sweep against Salt Lake in Utah, he collected eight hits, including a homer and triple.25 He also accepted 25 chances cleanly in a doubleheader against Oakland in June.26
The Seals, managed by Dots Miller, won the 1922 crown by four games over the Vernon Tigers. They repeated in 1923, winning by 11 games over the Sacramento Senators, with Kilduff hitting .328 and leading PCL second basemen with a .973 fielding percentage. He missed two weeks in August, however, with appendicitis, although surgery and removal of the appendix was avoided.27 As it later developed, that may not have been the best course of action.
After the season, Pete and Lizzie bought a grocery business in Pittsburg, Kansas.28 In 1924, Kilduff hit .294, as San Francisco lost a wild PCL pennant chase by 1½ games to the Seattle Indians. Kilduff had been late in reporting to Seals camp because Lizzie was hospitalized back home. Sad to relate, she died in December 1924 in Pittsburg after nearly a year of illness.29 She had not accompanied Pete out west during the 1924 season.
In 1925, in their best season ever, the Seals won the PCL flag by 12½ games over the Salt Lake City Bees. Kilduff had 56 doubles to go along with his 20 homers, hitting .306 over 174 games. Unfortunately, after losing Paul Waner and Hal Rhyne (to the Pirates), among others, the Seals fell to the cellar in 1926. Kilduff hit .286 and led the league in fielding at second base at .978; even so, he was jettisoned in August to the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. After just four games in Minnesota, he was suspended for 10 days by league president Thomas Hickey after a fist fight with umpire Frank Connolly.30 His contract rights were returned to San Francisco soon thereafter, but Kilduff himself did not physically go back to the Bay Area.
Kilduff signed with the Shreveport (Louisiana) Sports of the Texas League for 1927. He hit .297 and .290 in his two years with the Sports. Before the 1929 season, Shreveport signed recruit Cecil Stewart from the Piedmont League, so Kilduff became expendable. In March, he was named player-manager of the Alexandria (Louisiana) Reds of the Class D Cotton States League, an affiliate of Shreveport’s. Kilduff the player hit .326. Kilduff the rookie manager steered the Reds to the best overall league record at 74-50, but they missed the playoffs, as Jackson won the first half and El Dorado the second. Kilduff suffered from ptomaine poisoning, reportedly caused by eating many shrimp salads down in the bayou area during the season. The ailment cost him a few weeks away from his squad.31
During the offseason he returned to Chicopee, just outside Pittsburg. Kilduff died on February 14, 1930, at the age of 36 at the Mt. Carmel hospital in Pittsburg after a three-week illness, having been stricken again with appendicitis and intestinal influenza. He was buried at Highland Park Cemetery in Pittsburg, and survived by daughter Virginia Ann (age seven), two sisters, and six brothers.32 Virginia went to live first with her grandmother Ellen, then later with her aunt Mary.
Pete Kilduff’s obituary in the Shreveport Times listed him as “one of the greatest baseball players ever produced by the Sunflower state.”33
This biography was reviewed by Gregory H. Wolf and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Russ Walsh.
In addition to the sources shown in the Notes, the author used Baseball-Reference.com, StatsCrew.com, Ancestry.com, and MyHeritage.com.
1 Al Demaree, “Indians Spotted Grimes’ Spitter and Won,” Brooklyn Daily Times, September 23, 1927: 17. Coincidentally, the author Demaree was traded for Kilduff in 1917.
3 “Notes,” Pittsburg (Kansas) Daily Headlight, November 16, 1912: 9.
4 “Diamond Dust,” Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), May 11, 1914: 6.
5 “Too Fast for Senators,” Daily Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), November 5, 1915: 10.
6 “Pete Kilduff Once Refused by Yanks,” Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware), May 1, 1917:
7 “McGraw Picked Clever Youngster in Pete Kilduff,” Bridgeport (Connecticut) Times, March 23, 1917: 22.
8 “Pete Kilduff Given One Chance for Team,” Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), April 18, 1917: 8.
9 “Alexander Retires Under Giants’ Fire,” Sun (New York, New York), April 26, 1917: 13.
10 “Pete Kilduff Wins Home When He Hits Alexander for Circuit Clout,” Omaha Evening News, April 30, 1917: 7 (reprinted from James P. Smott, New York Mail, April 26, 1917).
11 “Pete Kilduff Missed 1917 World’s Series,” Des Moines (Iowa) Tribune, October 16, 1920: 3.
12 H.C. Hamilton, “Ty Cobb is Running Bases in the Same Old Way,” (San Jose) Evening News, August 15, 1917: 5.
13 “Kilduff Case Similar,” Asbury Park (New Jersey) Press, September 7, 1917: 10; “Demaree Divides Share with Pete Kilduff, Cub,” Moline (Illinois) Dispatch, October 19, 1917: 16.
14 “Confer on Parting with Pete Kilduff,” Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1917: 16.
15 Louis A. Dougher, “Looking ‘Em Over,” Washington Times, June 1, 1918: 14.
16 “Pete Kilduff Goes to Mare Island Yard,” Tacoma Daily Ledger, May 31, 1918: 5.
17 “Pete Kilduff, Who Quit Cubs for Navy, Asks for His Bonus,” St. Louis Star and Times, November 5, 1918: 12.
18 “Pete Kilduff of Cubs After Coin,” Pittsburgh Press, October 26, 1918: 12.
19 “Pete Kilduff Bulging Forth as Best Utility Infielder,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 4, 1920: 18.
20 James J. Corbett, “’Jim’ Corbett’s Daily Column,” Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, New York), October 5, 1920: 18.
21 The World Series held in 1903 and 1919-1921 were best-of-nine matchups.
22 “Pete Kilduff Good Enough to Cover Keystone,” Brooklyn Times Union, December 25, 1921: 14.
23 “Pete Kilduff Sold to Reds via Waivers,” Brooklyn Times Union, February 5, 1922: 10.
24 “Kilduff Will Play Second,” Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), March 4, 1922: 13.
25 “Seals Win Two and Fatten Batting Averages,” San Francisco Examiner, May 15, 1922: 13.
26 “Kilduff Accepts 25 Chances During Double Header,” Dubuque (Iowa) Telegraph-Herald, June 18, 1922: 20.
27 “Kilduff May Recover Soon,” Los Angeles Evening Express, August 9, 1923: 1.
28 John J. Connolly, “Pete Kilduff Signs Pact to Play for Seals,” Fort Worth Record-Telegram, February 12, 1924: 14.
29 “Kilduff’s Wife Dies,” Los Angeles Evening Express, December 10, 1924: 24.
30 “Three Millers Get Suspensions for Fist Fight,” Milwaukee Sentinel, August 31, 1926: 13.
31 Otis Harris, “As We Were Saying,” Shreveport (Louisiana) Journal, July 6, 1929: 11.
32 “Pete Killduff (sic), Manager of Alexandria Reds, Dies in Kansas Following Three Week Illness.”.
33 “Pete Killduff (sic), Manager of Alexandria Reds, Dies in Kansas Following Three Week Illness,” Shreveport Times, February 15, 1930: 15.