“Of the other new catcher, McCaffrey,” wrote F.W. Arnold in Sporting Life, “not much can be said. He is claimed by his friends to have all the requirements for a successful catcher, a good arm, a good eye and a stout pair of legs that are speedy. We don’t know about this, but will have an excellent opportunity to judge before the season is ten days older.”1 Actually, there is still little to say about Sparrow McCaffrey over 100 years later, and the 10 days Arnold referred to would nearly cover the 120-pound, 21-year-old catcher’s entire major-league career.2 He batted 1.000, having a hit in his only at-bat while playing two games in his career, stretching from August 13 to August 15 of 1889.
Charles P. McCaffrey was born 1868 in Philadelphia in the annexed borough of Frankford, to Irish immigrant parents Charles P. and Sarah (McDevitt) McCaffrey. Charles Sr. worked as a laborer, and the oldest children also had jobs: John (dyer), Hannah (weaver), Mary (“stands in store”), and young Charles (varnisher). Three younger siblings: James, Susan, and Henry, were at school, while Joseph was still too young to do any of these tasks. Also occupying the house on Melrose Street was Sarah’s widowed mother, Hannah McDevitt.3 Frankford was one of the working-class “river wards” areas a few miles northeast of Philadelphia, where Irish Catholics generally settled at the time.4
McCaffrey played for the semipro Frankford team of the Inter-State League, also called the Philadelphia Region League, during the 1887-1888 seasons.5 The team won the championship while one by one other teams dropped out of the league as they struggled to break even.6 “One of the features was the season’s work of McCaffrey,” wrote the Philadelphia Times, “who caught 73 of the 82 games and had but 25 errors.” The paper also listed him batting .204.7
McCaffrey moved on to the Norristown team of the Middle States League in 1889. “McCaffrey and Lewis] Graulich are stone walls before any pitcher, and both are good hitters,” wrote the Philadelphia Times.8 He was a batterymate of Sadie McMahon, who would play nine seasons in the major leagues. The Philadelphia Inquirer referred to McCaffrey as “the crack young catcher of the Norristown club,” adding, He is McMahon’s old catcher, and the latter says he is a good one, being a fine thrower to bases.”9 McMahon had already been signed by the Philadelphia Athletics, as major-league teams started plucking talent from the minor leagues. By early August of 1889 McCaffrey too had been spotted, and Columbus (Ohio) of the American Association acquired him for catching help.10 The Solons were a woeful bunch, 32-52 at the end of July, 24½ games out of first place.
McCaffrey made his first of two major-league appearances on August 13 at St. Louis. Columbus starter Hank Gastright was getting clobbered by St. Louis, 11-2, through seven innings. Veteran catcher Jack O’Connor called it a day by that point “and then the little Norristown catcher, McCaffrey, went in. He did good work,” remarked Sporting Life.11 McCaffrey didn’t get an at-bat as the game finished as a 12-3 St. Louis win. He bowed out two days later, also in St. Louis, in a game called a “comedy of errors” by the St. Louis Republic as the home team prevailed 19-11.12 McCaffrey again replaced O’Connor late in the game and singled off Silver King to close out his career. McCaffrey did play at least one more exhibition game with Columbus, taking the field against Terre Haute on August 16, a foe one newspaper called “Somebody Columbus can Beat.”13
St. Louis writer Joe Pritchard quipped, “Columbus is carrying a pitcher [sic] named McCaffrey who isn’t any larger than a grasshopper, and when he was called off the bench recently to face Gastright’s fast delivery, the people in the grand stand thought he would be knocked to pieces in a jiffy. But the ‘sparrow’ pulled in Gastright’s delivery just as easy as falling off a log.”14
After his stint in Columbus, McCaffrey had no team to return to. “Norristown’s baseball club at last has succumbed to the inevitable – financial disaster,” wrote a correspondent of the Philadelphia Times. The team was $1,000 in the hole “by reason of wet weather and hard luck,” and disbanded on August 19. “The club is still sighing for a good round of bonus money from the Athletics for pitcher McMahon. Several hundred would also be acceptable from Columbus for catcher McCaffrey.”15
In 1890 McCaffrey joined Lebanon, which played in the Eastern Interstate League and later jumped to the Atlantic Association, where the team won the pennant.16 McCaffrey batted .294 and .221 in these two distinct seasons. He returned to Lebanon, now in the Eastern Association, in 1891, and batted .209 in 56 games, missing time with a broken thumb.17
McCaffrey was arrested in April of 1892 “on the charge of drunkenness and wantonly pointing a revolver,” the Daily News of Lebanon reported. “He threatened to shoot Minnie Lee, residing on Elizabeth Street, and behaved in a disorderly manner. Mack is well known at the place, but his behavior caused the woman to refuse him admission.” McCaffrey had a hearing before a judge and paid a $10 fine.18 He was later appointed a substitute postal clerk and his address was given as Lee Street in Philadelphia.19
McCaffrey spent 1892 with both Troy and Philadelphia of the Eastern League but played only a few games.
Sparrow McCaffrey died of consumption (tuberculosis) on April 29, 1894, at the age of 26. He was living in his parents’ house and was an ironworker at the time of his death.20
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-reference.com and Familysearch.org.
1 F.W. Arnold, “Columbus Chatter,” Sporting Life, August 7, 1889: 6.
2 McCaffrey’s height is unknown.
3 1880 census.
4 See William E. Watson, “Irish (The) and Ireland” in The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/irish-the-and-ireland/ Retrieved April 23, 2019.
5 “Among the Base Ballists,” Daily News (Lebanon, Pennsylvania), March 24, 1890: 1.
6 Charlie Weatherby, “Brandywine Baseball Club (West Chester, Pennsylvania),” sabr.org/bioproj/topics/brandywine-baseball-club Retrieved April 23, 2019.
7 “The Frankford’s Record,” Philadelphia Times, October 14, 1888: 15.
8 “At Norristown,” Philadelphia Times, May 12, 1889: 16.
9 “Notes of the Diamond Field,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 2, 1889: 6.
10 “Base Ball Notes,” Sunday Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), August 4, 1889: 8.
11 “Games Played Tuesday, August 13,” Sporting Life, August 21, 1889: 3.
12 St. Louis Republic, August 16, 1889: 6.
13 Indianapolis Journal, August 17, 1889: 5.
14 Quoted in the Kansas City Times, August 25, 1889: 10.
15 “Base Ball at Norristown,” Philadelphia Times, August 25, 1889: 10.
16 “Wind-up of the Atlantic,” Lebanon Daily News, October 1, 1890: 1.
17 “Passed Balls,” Lebanon Daily News, June 13, 1891: 4.
18 “Base Ball Catcher Arrested,” Daily News, April 7, 1892: 1; “Fined $10,” Daily News, April 8, 1892: 1.
19 “Will Work in the Post Office,” Philadelphia Times, July 27, 1893: 6.
20 “Died,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 4, 1894: 7.