Slow Joe Doyle’s name is one that has escaped the darkness of obscurity and is now familiar to many baseball memorabilia collectors. In 1910, he was a struggling major league pitcher at a time when the American Tobacco Company was mass-producing collector cards. One card design with his likeness in an American League uniform appeared to little fanfare and was quickly altered to remove the incorrect abbreviation, “NAT’L,” from the caption. Even as recently as the 1980s, the error version, if found, could be acquired for the price of a common card in the set, and few collectors were aware that it existed. As its scarcity became known, the card’s value skyrocketed, and an example in modest condition sold for an astounding $414,750 in 2012.1 Collecting aficionados now consider the card to be rarer than the iconic Honus Wagner T206 card.2
Indeed, Doyle is better known today for the valuable card depicting him than for his baseball career. From 1906 to 1910, he pitched in 70 games for the New York Highlanders (in the American League, not the National League). He pitched respectably, but injuries shortened his major league career. He took his time on the mound, which earned him his nickname. “For gosh sakes, hurry up!” shouted opponents and spectators to the deliberate hurler.
Judd Bruce “Joe” Doyle was born on September 15, 1881, in Clay Center, Kansas, the youngest child of Thomas Doyle and Susan (Taylor) Doyle.3 Joe grew up on the family farm in Clay County in north-central Kansas.4 He was one of twelve students who graduated from Clay Center High School in May 1901.5 According to the Clay Center Times, he had “a successful season pitching base ball” for the Ellsworth (Kansas) team in 1901.6 The right-handed pitcher stood 5’8” and weighed 150 pounds. He was recruited by Ted Sullivan to pitch for the Fort Worth Panthers of the Class D Texas League.7
In 1902, Doyle posted a 16-13 record for the Panthers and a 5-5 record for the New Orleans Pelicans of the Class A Southern Association. His 16-9 record for the Baton Rouge Red Sticks in 1903 helped the team capture the Class D Cotton States League pennant.8 After compiling an 8-9 record for Baton Rouge in 1904, Doyle deserted the team in July “under the pretense of going to the bedside of his sick father in Kansas.”9 He spent the remainder of the season playing under an alias, “Hanlon,” for the Wheeling (West Virginia) Stogies of the Class B Central League. On August 20, 1904, he struck out thirteen batters in Wheeling’s 8-5 victory over Marion (Ohio).10 Five days later, he shut out Evansville (Indiana).11
Over the next two seasons, Doyle pitched for Wheeling using his real name. He compiled a 12-12 record in 1905 and a 14-10 record in 1906. He was spectacular in July 1906: He fanned 17 Terre Haute (Indiana) batters in a three-hit shutout on July 8; he hurled a three-hit shutout against Grand Rapids (Michigan) on July 13; he struck out 18 in a 9-3 victory over Grand Rapids on July 20; and he pitched a three-hitter against Evansville on July 26 (but lost the game).12 On August 21, Wheeling sold his contract to the New York Highlanders.13
The Highlanders and Cleveland Naps were tied for third place when the teams met in New York on August 25, 1906. Doyle, in his first major league appearance, hurled a six-hit shutout. Sporting Life summed up his debut:
“For a minor leaguer to jump to New York and face [Nap] Lajoie and his [Cleveland] fence breakers is a pretty big undertaking and to hand them a shut-out was a feat fully appreciated by the fans who cheered the newcomer heartily. … Doyle is not impressive in size, but he ran the gamut of shoots and curves, which included a fast drop ball, change of pace and overhand, underhand and three-quarter delivery, and pitched the Naps into a state of bewilderment. Among other feats accomplished by the little stranger was the striking out of Lajoie.”14
In Doyle’s second start, on August 30 against the Washington Senators, he pitched another shutout and drew comparisons to Highlanders pitcher and manager, Clark Griffith:
Doyle “gave Washington a coat of white wash and let them down with two hits. The general impression now is that Griffith has landed one of the greatest finds that a major league ever secured. Pretty good for a raw recruit from Wheeling, W. Va. Doyle’s deliberate delivery worries the batters. He has a drop ball and a raise ball and above all he is as cool and deliberate as Old Fox Griffith himself.”15
After Doyle’s two gems, he pitched in seven more games for the Highlanders in 1906, with a mediocre 3.95 ERA, and was bothered by a sore arm.16
The average duration of a major league game in 2014 was three hours. In the first decade of the 20th century, however, a three-hour game was rare. In May 1907, the average duration of a nine-inning American League game was one hour and 49 minutes.17 “There does not seem to be any good reason why a legal game of nine innings should not be completed inside of two hours. When they go beyond that limit they impose a great deal of inconvenience upon the spectators,” wrote Frank L. Hough in Sporting Life in 1909. “When a game is prolonged to two and one-half hours it means cold suppers for many, and possibly a run-in with the women folks,” he added.18
On May 3, 1907, Doyle established his reputation as one of the slowest workers in baseball when he needed roughly thirty seconds per pitch in defeating the Athletics in Philadelphia, 4-3. The 10-inning game took three hours and seven minutes. Philadelphia fans left the ballpark in disgust until “there were not more than 1,600 of the 5,300 spectators on hand to see the finish.”19
Doyle “is slow on purpose, his idea being that his tediousness will exasperate the opposing batsmen and cause them to swing at anything,” reported the Washington Times.20 Sporting Life called his “dilatory” tactics “a menace to the game.”21 Tommy Connolly, who umpired the May 3 game, was criticized for failing to enforce the rule that required a pitch to be called a ball if the pitcher takes more than twenty seconds to deliver it. The press called Doyle “the human snail,” and by 1908, he was known as “Slow Joe.” He must be getting paid by the hour, noted one reporter.22 In fact, the average duration of his complete games in 1907, excluding the May 3 contest, was only two hours.23
On May 16, 1907, Doyle and the Highlanders lost a 1-0 pitchers’ battle to Ed Killian and the Detroit Tigers. With Connolly behind home plate and ready to call a ball if Doyle took too long, the game finished in a snappy one hour and 35 minutes.24 The sole run was scored by 20-year-old Ty Cobb. The play was memorable to Cobb, who described it in his 1961 autobiography. He was on third base with two outs in the seventh inning and Germany Schaefer at bat:
“When Doyle wound up, I dashed in almost halfway to the plate and then hastily retreated. My motive seemed to be to unsettle Doyle, which was only partially true. Each dash down the base path was an experiment aimed to show whether or not I could go all the way and beat the ball. Doyle wound again, and this time I kept going. Germany was so startled to see me coming that he half-swung, and topped the ball toward third, enabling me to cross the plate without bothering to slide. But Schaefer still had to beat the throw to first to make my run count. As I’d hoped, my unorthodox tactics had Doyle so unstrung and ridden with tension that he grabbed Germany’s topper, couldn’t find the handle, fumbled it an instant, threw low and missed getting Schaefer by a step.”25
Doyle’s best game of the 1907 season was a one-hit shutout against the Senators on September 10.26 He finished the year with an 11-11 record and a 2.65 ERA, and his fifteen complete games would be by far his career high. Doyle’s 94 strikeouts were the most on the Highlanders staff. One of his pitches was the spitball, which he probably learned from his teammate Jack Chesbro, the spitball master.
It was a chilly Opening Day when the Highlanders hosted the Philadelphia Athletics on April 14, 1908. An estimated 22,000 fans enjoyed the parade and other pregame festivities. Doyle received the honor of starting the game, and he delivered a 12-inning shutout, as the Highlanders nipped the Athletics, 1-0. Sporting Life observed: “He has all the assurance of a tried veteran, with ample speed and a full supply of breaks and shoots. His deliberate style – regarded by opponents as dilatory tactics – disconcerted the Athletics at times and his coolness recalled the manner of Tim Keefe.”27 “And how the Athletics will boil, when beaten by slow Joe Doyle,” wrote Lester Steinweg in his 1908 poem about the Highlanders.28
On May 12, Doyle pitched well but lost to Addie Joss and the Cleveland Naps, 2-0.29 Six days later, Doyle hurt his arm in a game against Detroit30 and was sidelined for two months. On a rehab assignment with the Atlanta Crackers, he threw a six-hitter in a 3-2 victory over Mobile on July 29, but his arm “gave out” again.31 He returned to New York and pitched occasionally in relief in August and September.
Doyle worked six innings on April 19, 1909 but did not pitch again until June 16, his absence reportedly due to “an attack of blood poisoning” from “cutting his big toe with a pen-knife.”32 He was clobbered in a 14-5 loss to the Boston Red Sox on June 23,33 but he excelled from June 28 through September 17. Doyle shut out Cleveland three times during that span and earned a fourth victory over the Naps when he defeated Cy Young, 4-1, on August 31.34 On July 29, Doyle hurled a six-hitter in an 11-2 triumph over Detroit.35 Cobb remained Doyle’s nemesis, making two of the six hits (a triple and a home run) and a surprising play in right field: When Doyle’s fly ball dropped into short right field, Cobb charged in to get it and threw Doyle out at first base.36 In Doyle’s final game of the season, on September 25, he surrendered eight runs to the Tigers in five innings.37 He finished the year with an 8-6 record and a 2.58 ERA. Against Cleveland, he allowed only five runs in 42 innings.38
The 1910 Highlanders had a fine pitching staff, with newcomers Russ Ford and James “Hippo” Vaughn in the starting rotation, and Doyle became expendable. The team released him in late May. The Cincinnati Reds, managed by Clark Griffith, acquired him, but after several unimpressive relief appearances, the Reds released him in late June. Doyle’s major league career was over. He finished the 1910 season with the Louisville Colonels of the Class A American Association.39
In 1911 Doyle pitched for the Providence Grays of the Class A Eastern League and the Binghamton Bingoes of the Class B New York State League.40 He pitched in Nebraska in 1912, both for the Lincoln Railsplitters of the Class A Western League and the Hastings Third Cities of the Class D Nebraska State League.41 He returned to the New York State League in 1913, and for three seasons he pitched for the Elmira Colonels, managed by his former Highlanders teammate, Wid Conroy. 42 On July 21, 1914, Doyle threw a no-hitter against the Syracuse Stars.43 Elmira released him in August 1915,44 and he retired from professional baseball at the age of 33.
Doyle married Mary Louise Lackey in 1910.45 They had three sons and lived in Tannersville, New York, where Doyle owned an automobile repair shop.46 He died in Tannersville on November 21, 1947, at the age of 66, and was buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in Tannersville.
The American Tobacco Company issued collector cards of baseball players from 1909 to 1911 in a set now known to collectors as T206. The set consists of 524 different front designs, distributed with multiple back designs advertising various brands of cigarettes and tobacco. Piedmont Cigarettes and Sweet Caporal Cigarettes were the most common brands. The set was produced with full-color fronts and excellent artwork. The cards were distributed nationally and in huge quantities. As a result, it is possible for a collector today to find and acquire almost all of the 524 designs. There are a few exceptions, though. The lone pose of Honus Wagner is the most famous and highest demand card in the set. Examples of this card have sold for more than $1 million. There is also a scarce card of Eddie Plank which few collectors own, and a rare error card of Sherry Magee with his name misspelled “Magie.”
The Slow Joe Doyle card can be found with two variations on his team designation. On most cards, his team is listed simply as “N. Y.” On a few rare cards, his team is listed as “N. Y. NAT’L.” The correct designation for his team would have been “N. Y. AMERICAN” or “N. Y. AMER” since he played for the New York Highlanders of the American League, and not the New York Giants of the National League. Collectors and historians theorize that the “N. Y. NAT’L” version was issued first. Once alerted to the error, the publisher or printer simply removed the “NAT’L” from the caption and continued printing more copies of the card.
Hundreds of examples of the revised version exist today, but fewer than ten authenticated copies of the error are known.47 It is thought that the designers and publishers confused Joe with Larry Doyle, the New York Giants second baseman.48 Larry, no relation to Joe, had three poses in the T206 set49 and was becoming quite popular. He had a batting average over .300 in 1908 and 1909, and was much better known than Joe. In the late 1970s, a major collector of T206 cards discovered the Joe Doyle error card but kept his discovery private for years while he attempted to find other examples. Gradually, word got out and collectors located other examples, but few have been found. With his virtually unattainable card, it seems oddly apropos that Slow Joe Doyle has found one more way to frustrate and confound those who may speak his name one-hundred years after his retirement.
2 Dave Jamieson, Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010).
4 1885 and 1895 Kansas State Censuses.
5 Clay Center (Kansas) Times, May 30, 1901.
6 Clay Center Times, September 12, 1901.
7 Sporting Life, June 6, 1908.
8 Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide, 1904.
9 Sporting Life, September 10, 1904.
10 Sporting Life, September 3, 1904.
11 Sporting Life, September 10, 1904.
12 Chicago Inter Ocean, July 9, 14, and 21, 1906; Sporting Life, August 11, 1906.
13 Washington Post, August 22, 1906.
14 Sporting Life, September 1, 1906. Doyle’s strikeout of Lajoie was noteworthy. Lajoie batted .355 in 1906 and struck out only 19 times in 655 plate appearances.
15 Sporting Life, September 8, 1906.
16 Washington Post, December 30, 1906.
17 This figure was computed by the authors from box scores in Sporting Life.
18 Sporting Life, June 19, 1909.
19 The Sporting News, May 11, 1907.
20 Washington Times, May 4, 1907.
21 Sporting Life, May 11, 1907.
22 Sporting Life, May 18, 1907.
23 This figure was tabulated by the authors from box scores in Sporting Life.
24 Sporting Life, May 25, 1907.
25 Ty Cobb and Al Stump, My Life in Baseball: The True Record (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1961).
26 New York Times, September 11, 1907.
27 Sporting Life, April 25, 1908.
28 Sporting Life, February 29, 1908.
29 Sporting Life, May 23, 1908.
30 Sporting Life, May 30, 1908.
31 Atlanta Constitution, July 30 and August 2, 1908.
32 Sporting Life, May 1 and 22, and June 26, 1909.
33 Sporting Life, July 3, 1909.
34 Sporting Life, July 31, August 14, and September 11 and 25, 1909.
35 New York Times, July 30, 1909.
36 Oakland Tribune, August 24, 1909.
37 Sporting Life, October 2, 1909.
38 These figures were determined by the authors from box scores in Sporting Life.
39 Cincinnati Enquirer, July 6, 1910.
40 Sporting Life, February 18 and July 22, 1911.
41 Sporting Life, April 6 and August 31, 1912.
42 Elmira (New York) Star-Gazette, February 3, 1913.
43 Sporting Life, August 1, 1914.
44 Syracuse (New York) Post-Standard, August 6, 1915.
45 Sporting Life, October 8, 1910.
46 1930 US Census and ancestry.com.