Snake Deal

This article was written by Vincent T. Ciaramella

Snake Deal (BASEBALL-REFERENCE.COM)The baseball diamond and the basketball court could not be more different in size, appearance, and application. The sports themselves have very little in common with regard to game play, like who controls the ball (offense or defense), how points are scored, and even how long the game is played. Yet, there are athletes who have straddled both worlds comfortably and made names for themselves. Dick Groat and Cumberland Posey may come to people’s minds when asked about athletes who played both sports. However, before either of these men, there was John Wesley “Snake” Deal, so nicknamed “because of his ability to wiggle through the opposing team when dribbling the ball towards the basket.”1

John Wesley Deal was born on January 21, 1879, according to his death certificate.2 However, there is conflicting information such as his World War I draft card, which lists his date of birth as January 18, 1879.3 To compound the issue even further, the 1880 census lists him as three years old, thus putting his year of birth around 1877.4 And again, the 1900 census states he was born in 1878.5 Which is correct is anyone’s guess; however his grave marker lists 1879 as the year he was born.6

Another issue is with Deal’s place of birth. Different sources list Lancaster, Pennsylvania, or Germantown, Pennsylvania. However, the most likely location is Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, based on the 1880 census record and his draft card.7

John’s parents were Charles M. (1847-1898) and Clara Jane Davis Deal (1848-1937).8 According to the 1880 census, the elder Deal was a spinner at a cotton mill. His mother is listed as “keeping house.”9 The Deal household included several children besides John Wesley: Chambers, Ellen C., George W., Charles, and Clara.10 By 1900, Charles Deal had died and the family was living in Philadelphia with John Wesley’s occupation listed in both the 1900 and 1910 censuses as warper, a job in the textile industry.11 One obituary stated that he got his start in basketball at the YMCA in the Germantown area in Northwest Philadelphia, and in baseball on local lots.12

Standing at 6 feet tall and weighing 164 pounds, clean-shaven with black hair parted in the middle,13 Deal was an accomplished basketball player. He began playing the sport in Germantown for an independent team in the 1897-1898 season before becoming a member of the Philadelphia Clover Wheelmen in the National Basketball League the next season. The Philadelphia Inquirer in December of 1899 asserted that Deal, who was playing for the Camden National League team, bounced the ball off the court and into the basket during a game against the Pennsylvania Bicycle Club.14 Five years later, another newspaper articles said that “Deal is recognized as one of the greatest basket-ball players in the country and as a goal thrower and a floor general he has no equal. Last season he led the National Basketball League in points scored, having a grand total of nearly 3,000 points to his credit.”15

Deal continued playing basketball until 1919.16

Meanwhile, during the late 1890s Deal, who threw and batted right-handed, began playing amateur and semipro baseball. On April 26, 1896, a box score listed him as playing first base for Central High School.17 In 1898 Deal played first for the Lansdale A.A.18 In 1899 he was with a team called the Invincibles.19 In 1900 the Camden (New Jersey) Post-Telegram reported that Deal “expects to play base ball this year with the Richmond, Virginia, team in the position of first base.”20

Little information is available on whether Deal actually played for Richmond, but his trail picks up in 1901, when he played for Reading of the Pennsylvania State League. The Reading Daily Times and Dispatch, in an article on a game between Reading and Pottsville, noted that Deal scored two runs and stole two bases as Reading won 12-4.21 The paper commented, “Deal gave an exhibition of base stealing in the eighth inning that surprised the Pottsville players. While Evans was getting ready to deliver the ball Deal shot in and crossed the plate in safety.”22

On June 20, three days after the Pottsville game, the Reading team folded because of poor attendance23 and Deal went to play for the Chester team in the same league.24 In 1902 Deal signed with the Wilmington (Delaware) A.A.,25 and in 1903 and 1904 he played for the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Athletic Club of the Tri-State League.26

On May 13, 1904, Harrisburg played the Cuban X Giants, a barnstorming Black team that featured Grant “Home Run” Johnson at shortstop, at Island Park in Pennsylvania. Deal scored two runs as his team prevailed, 8-1.27

In June of that year, Hugh Duffy, manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, reportedly sought to sign Deal. However, Deal remained with Harrisburg. The Harrisburg Star Independent speculated that Deal didn’t want to leave a winning team to play with “tail enders in the National race.”28 However, the York Dispatch said that Deal was the third choice for Duffy but was not that strong a hitter and probably would not succeed in the league.29

By mid-July Deal had a .257 batting average and a .980 fielding average.30 However, storm clouds moved in during late summer. On September 2 Deal was suspended without pay for the remainder of the season for taking a leave of absence without permission. Deal had sent a telegram to Harrisburg team captain Matt Broderick on August 30 stating that he would not accompany the team to Wilmington to play. He gave no explanation. There was speculation that there was a warrant out for his arrest for attacking an umpire the last time the team was in Wilmington. Later Deal said it was because he hurt his arm and his foot was sore. This was deemed unacceptable and he was suspended.31 However, without explanation he was playing the very next day when the Senators took on the Altoona (Pennsylvania) Mountaineers at Island Park in front of nearly 2,000 fans.32

On September 30 Deal had to be removed from the field by a police officer after arguing with the umpire over a call.33 Then on October 8, Deal stormed off the field after arguing with Broderick, the team captain.34 Deal finished the season with the team, but he never played for Harrisburg again. In 1905 he played for the Holyoke (Massachusetts) Paperweights of the Connecticut State League before returning to Pennsylvania in 1906.35

The Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Red Roses of the Tri-State League became Deal’s home for the beginning of the 1906 season. By mid-May he was batting .410 (23-for-56).36 In early July his services were acquired by the Cincinnati Reds of the National League. Deal’s first game with the team was against the New York Giants. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “His work on the bag was not elegant and graceful, but speedy and effective.”37

In a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Quakers on July 22, Deal scored a run in the first game. In the second game he caught a fly ball and scored another run by stealing home.38 The Reds won both games, 13-8 and 10-3. In the grand scheme, though, Deal didn’t make a big impression after this. All told, Deal played 65 games with the Reds, made 243 plate appearances with 231 at-bats and ended his major-league career with a .205 batting average. In December he was still on the Reds roster, but the Enquirer commented that he would be a fine addition for any minor league team.39 And that’s just what happened. In late 1906, there was talk of selling Deal to Birmingham (Alabama) Barons of the Southern League but ultimately Deal was released by Cincinnati to Lancaster in January 1907. 40

In 1910 Deal played for four teams in two leagues. He started the season playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Eastern League. The Scranton Times commented on May 14, “Snake Deal, the Lancaster first baseman, is making a hit with the Toronto fans and filling Ben Houser,s place nicely.”46

But by the end of May Deal had been sold to the Montreal Royals of the Eastern League.47 His next move, in late June or early July, was to the league’s Buffalo Bisons,48 before he was quickly traded to the Syracuse Stars of the New York State League.49 (On the Stars that season was a young pitcher and future Hall of Famer, Grover Cleveland Alexander.) In a doubleheader against the Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Barons, Deal scored one run in the first game and three in the second, helping his team and Alexander win both games.50 He ended the season with a .233 batting average.

In July of 1911, Deal was named manager of the Stars.51 The Binghamton (New York) Press in an article that summer called Deal “one of the cleverest players who knows the game from A-Z.”52 He also was ejected from a game for the second time, after disputing an umpire’s decision in a game against the Utica Utes.53

The following season, Deal was no longer the manager for the Stars54 and by July was playing for the Wilkes-Barre Barons of the New York State League.55 Wilkes-Barre was Deal’s home for the remainder of the 1912 season through 1914. He had a strong 1913 season and finished with a .295 batting average. On April 2, 1914, Deal and Maude F. Kulp of Lancaster, Pennsylvania were married. The couple honeymooned in Atlantic City and he returned to the Barons on April 15.56 That season he suffered a significant slump at the plate, finishing with a .230 batting average. In October he was still listed as on the Wilkes-Barre for the 1915 season, but his time in the New York State League had come to its end.57

The 1915 season found Deal playing for the Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) Patriots of the Blue Ridge League. He played in only 18 games and finished with a basementdwelling .150 batting average. For 1916 Deal signed with Ridgway (Pennsylvania) of the Interstate League. The final box score of his career that can be located was a game in August against the Wellsville (New York) Rainmakers on August 15, 1916. Deal scored two runs, helping his team shut out the Rainmakers, 5-0.58 After the season his playing days were at an end.

After baseball, Deal became a business owner and a police officer. According to the 1920 and 1930 censuses, Deal owned a billiard hall in Lancaster. One of his first customers was professional carom billiards champion Willie Hoppe.59 In 1926 Deal leased Rossmere Ball Park in Lancaster to help try to bring professional baseball back to the city.60 The census data also shows that Deal and his wife lived with his mother-in-law and that the couple had no children.

The 1940 census lists Deal’s career as “policeman”; he had actually been working as a policeman at the Capitol Building in Harrisburg since 1932.61 On May 9, 1944, Deal reported to work not feeling well and before he could be looked at by a doctor from the Health Department, he suffered a heart attack and died while on duty. Deal was 64 years old.62 He was buried in Florin Cemetery, now called Camp Hill Cemetery, where he rests next to his wife and mother-in-law.63



The story was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Len Levin and fact-checked by Paul Proia.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used and the following:



1 “John Deal Dies, Ex-Cage Star,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 10, 1944: 24.

2 Death certificate.

3 World War I Draft Card.

4 1880 Census.

5 1900 Census.


7 1920 Census; 1880 Census; World War I Draft Card.

8 1880 Census;;

9 1880 Census.

10 1880 Census; 1900 Census.

11 1900 Census; 1910 Census.

12 “John Deal Dies, Ex-Cage Star.”

13 World War I Draft Card.

14 “League Basket-Ball,” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 22, 1899: 6.

15 “Deal Will Play at Forward,” Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Star Independent, March 12, 1904: 2.


17 “High School Boys Win,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 26, 1896: 9.

18 “Cyclists Lose a Close Game,” Philadelphia Times, August 28, 1898: 8.

19 “Invincibles Won at Base Ball,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 15, 1899: 15.

20 “Notes of the Game,” Camden (New Jersey) Post-Telegram, April 9, 1900: 2.

21 “Baseball Notes,” Reading (Pennsylvania) Times, June 18, 1901: 5.

22 “Baseball Notes.”

23 “End of State League,” Reading Times, June 20, 1901: 5.

24 “Penn Park vs. Chester,” York (Pennsylvania) Gazette, August 14, 1901: 1.

25 “Wilmington Won,” Altoona (Pennsylvania) Tribune, October 3, 1902: 2.

26 “How the Games Were Won and Lost Yesterday,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 13, 1903: 10. Besides the Harrisburg Athletic Club, the Harrisburg team was variously called the Senators, the Harrisburg A.C., H.A.C, or Champs in contemporary sources.

27 “The Champs Had an Easy Thing,” Harrisburg Telegraph, May 14, 1904: 7.

28 “Duffy After Deal,” Harrisburg Star-Independent, June 13, 1904: 4.

29 “After York Players,” York Dispatch, June 11, 1904: 6.

30 “Splendid Work Done by H.A.C. Team,” Harrisburg Courier, July 1, 1904: 1.

31 “Suspended From the Team,” Harrisburg Daily Independent, September 2, 1904: 1.

32 “H.A.C. Takes Second Hot Game from Altoona,” Harrisburg Daily Independent, September 5, 1904: 7.

33 “Lebanon Won the Last Game in the Home Town,” Harrisburg Daily Independent, October 1, 1904: 9.

34 “Deal Was Unpleasant,” Harrisburg Daily Independent, October 10, 1904: 3.

35 “The Ponies Hustling,” Waterbury (Connecticut) Democrat, May 18, 1905: 7.

36 “Notes of the Game,” Lancaster (Pennsylvania) New Era, May 12, 1906: 3.

37 “New Reds Show Well,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 10, 1906: 8.

38 “Don’t Skip This,” Wilmington (Delaware) Evening Journal, July 23, 1906: 6.

39 “Jude and Wicker for Senators,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 15, 1906: 3.

40 “Baseball Notes,” Paterson (New Jersey) Morning Call, January 18, 1907: 3; Snake Deal To Be Disposed Of,” Wilmington Evening Journal, December 28, 1906: 8;; “Diamond Frost Bites,” Paterson Morning Call, January 29, 1907: 3;

41 “Hall Is Released; New Red Coming?” Cincinnati Post, August 3, 1907: 8.

42 “Manager Hogan Summoned Home,” Lancaster New Era, July 10, 1909: 2.

43 “‘Snake’ Deal Did the Trick,” Altoona Tribune, July 8, 1909: 10.

44 “Roses Make Home Run on Diamond of Goodies,” Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, September 8, 1909: 1.

45 “Catcher Rementer Is Sold,” Lancaster New Era, November 12, 1909: 2.

46 “Small But Newsy Dope for the Base Ball Fan,” Scranton Times, May 14, 1910: 14.

47; “Cross May Land Cy M’Donald for First,” Scranton Times, May 26, 1910: 15.

48 “Montreal and Buffalo Split Even in the Holiday Double Header,” Montreal Star, July 2, 1910: 27.

49 “Snake Deal Has Arrived,” Syracuse Post-Standard, July 8, 1910: 10.

50 “From Training Quarters,” Elmira (New York) Star-Gazette, July 21, 1910: 8.

51 “Barons Shut Out by Syracuse,” Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin, July 7, 1911: 15.

52 “Stars May Lose Clever Jack Deal,” Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin, August 9, 1911: 9.

53 “Sport Gossip,” Elmira Star-Gazette, August 11, 1911: 8.

54 “Harry Steinfeldt to Land Syracuse,” Elmira Star-Gazette, January 11, 1912: 8. The circumstances of Deal’s removal are unclear.

55 “Miners, 2; Stars, 0,” Elmira Star-Gazette, July 6, 1912: 10.

56 “Jack Deal Is Married,” Scranton (Pennsylvania) Tribune, April 4, 1914: 14.

57 “Noonan Keeps Seventeen Men,” Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Evening News, October 19, 1914: 13.

58 “World of Sport,” Warren (Pennsylvania) Evening Times, August 16, 1916: 3.

59 “Mr. Willie Hoppe,” Lancaster New Era, March 31, 1932: 13.

60 “Jack Deal Leases Rossmere Ball Park,” Lancaster News Journal, April 13, 1926: 12.

61 1940 Census.

62 “Ex-Baseball Player Dies,” Shenandoah (Pennsylvania) Evening Herald, May 10, 1944: 6; “John Deal Dies, Ex-Cage Star,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 10, 1944: 24; “Ex-Athlete Dies,” York Gazette and Daily, May 10, 1944: 18.

63 “Funeral Invitations,” Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, May 12, 1944: 27.

Full Name

John Wesley Deal


January 21, 1879 at Lancaster, PA (USA)


May 9, 1944 at Harrisburg, PA (USA)

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