Tim McGinley was Boston’s Opening Day catcher in the first game in National League history on April 22, 1876, and scored the NL’s first run. That is about all McGinley can be remembered for. He caught in the days when catchers wore no mask, chest protector, or glove. He suffered an eye injury from a foul tip in that opening game. Although it was never reported, that could have much to do with why he only played in eight more games in his career. Little is known about him before or after his playing days.
McGinley was born in Philadelphia in 1854, but we don’t know the exact date or very much about his family. The 1880 census listed him living with his mother, Johanna, sisters Margaret and Elizabeth, and a brother, Francis. His mother was listed as a “store keeper.” We don’t know who his father was, but both parents had emigrated from Ireland.
In 1874, McGinley was a catcher for the Philadelphia Americus amateur team.1
McGinley began his professional career in 1875, the last year of the doomed National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. The NAPBBP, entering its fifth and final season, was baseball’s first attempt at establishing an organized league of professional teams. Six new teams were added to the league in 1875, a costly move as four of them disbanded early in the season. McGinley was on one of these floundering clubs, making his major league debut on April 21, 1875, for the Philadelphia Centennials. The Centennials joined the Athletics and the White Stockings as the third team in Philadelphia, which had little hope of drawing crowds. Boston dominated the league and won four straight pennants 1872-1875, so fans in other cities had little excitement for a pennant race.
In his debut, McGinley batted ninth and didn’t score, making three outs in a 7-5 loss to the Athletics.2 He had two hits and scored two runs in a major upset when the Centennials walloped the Athletics, 11-2, which the Philadelphia Times called “one of those freaks that baseball is subject to.”3 They would not be so lucky the next day, losing 20-1 to the same club. In that loss, the Times reported, McGinley deserved “great credit for the plucky manner in which he stood behind the bat with his painfully sore hand.” In the ninth, McGinley was up with the bases loaded and no outs. He struck out, but the ball was not handled by the catcher and the runners appeared confused about what to do. The official scorer for the Athletics yelled to the catcher to step on home and throw to third. Two runners were retired and Bechtel, the Athletics pitcher, told the Centennial runner on second that he had to go back to first. “He foolishly did so, and the ball was passed to second and he was out. The Centennial managers forgot that the man who had missed on strikes (McGinley) was at first.”4 Such was life on the 2-12 club, which dissolved at the end of May. McGinley played 12 games at catcher and two in the outfield, batting .231 with five RBIs, committing a disastrous 29 errors in 12 games at catcher, with 22 passed balls, and two errors in two games in the outfield.
McGinley signed with the New Haven (Connecticut) Elm City club and remained there the rest of the season. “The visitors have made an improvement in their nine by securing the services of McGinley and (Ed) Sommerville of the Centennial nine of Philadelphia,” wrote the Daily National Republican in Washington, D.C.5 In a return to Philadelphia against the White Stockings, McGinley “still shows his fault of having passed balls and making bad throws, but with practice and encouragement he may improve,” wrote the Times.6 He committed another 41 errors in 32 games at catcher and one in two games in the outfield, with another 43 passed balls. McGinley’s total of 65 passed balls led the league and his 70 errors were third-highest. In a June 14 12-0 loss to Hartford, McGinley hurt his hand and finished the game at third base.7 That was one of only two games played at third, with 32 games being behind the plate. He batted a respectable .275 with 10 RBIs.
With catcher Cal McVey jumping to Chicago, Boston was in need of a catcher for the 1876 season as the new National League began. “McGinley,” wrote the Springfield Republican, “who has played with exceptional ability as a catcher for the New Havens during the season, will catch for the Bostons, next year.”8 “McGinley’s catching and throwing seem remarkably good,” wrote the Boston Post, “and under the instruction of the Wrights he promises to be one of the best catchers of ’76.”9 But such a prophecy was never fulfilled.
Boston won their NL opener, 6-5, over the Athletics at the Jefferson Street Grounds in Philadelphia. McGinley scored the first run on a sacrifice fly by Jack Manning, giving Boston a 1-0 lead in the second inning.10 McGinley “had his eye nearly closed in the seventh inning by a foul tip, but pluckily played his position throughout,” reported the New York Clipper.11 Even with only one eye, he made a catch on a foul popup in the ninth inning to help Boston hold on for the win. “Those who recollect what a miserable catcher McGinley was formerly,” sarcastically noted the Chicago Times, “were surprised at his excellent form and steady pluck.”12
The Boston management was still trying to figure out who their starting catcher would be, and McGinley’s four passed balls in four innings in an exhibition game on April 27 didn’t help his cause.13 He also had a pretty hard time “in supporting the erratic delivery of [pitcher Joe] Borden,” wrote the New York Clipper.14 The club signed John Morrill from the amateur Lowell, Massachusetts, team, and played him at catcher and McGinley in center field for the April 29 game against Hartford, which Boston lost, 3-2, in 10 innings. Morrill gave up one passed ball and McGinley was error-free in center.15 But he committed 10 errors in three games at catcher with 5 passed balls, and was woeful in the outfield as well, with six errors in six games. His final game for Boston was spent playing center field again, collecting two hits in a 15-6 Boston win.
A 1907 article about Borden in the Boston Herald16 provides some further information on the relationship between Borden and McGinley. When Boston’s star pitcher Al Spalding left for Chicago, they signed Borden, who had thrown the first no-hitter in professional baseball the year before. Borden had grown up in Philadelphia and was a teammate of McGinley. In 1875, Borden pitched in only seven games for the Philadelphia Athletics, yet was highly sought out by Boston as Spalding’s replacement. Borden, remembered in the Herald article, “had a peculiar drop to his ball that made him unhittable,” and Boston signed him to a three-year contract. “It was figured that, as they [Borden and McGinley] knew each other intimately, they would make an ideal battery.” But McGinley’s shortcomings may have caused both of their careers to be shortened. “McGinley could never master the handling of the drop ball,” the Herald writer remembered, “and acting on his advice, Borden altered his style, using instead a ball that would rise instead of drop as it came to the plate.” Borden admitted to team captain George Wright that he was trying to “ease up on McGinley.” Wright’s solution was to change catchers, giving the job to Morrill. McGinley’s days were numbered.
In June, Boston realized Morrill couldn’t handle Borden either, and signed another Lowell catcher, Lew Brown. But no matter who caught him, Borden was never the same pitcher, and his career ended after 1876. McGinley “proved a failure behind the bat,” in the words of the Lowell Daily Citizen, and was released by Boston when Brown was signed. He was signed by St. Louis as a change catcher to replace Tom Miller, who had suddenly died.17 McGinley’s salary was listed as $1000 for the season, but he never got into a game beyond exhibitions, as John Clapp handled the catching duties.18
McGinley wasn’t heard from again until March of 1878, when he participated in a game between Philadelphia-area professionals and amateurs. His team included Jim Devlin of Louisville, who had just been banned from the major leagues for throwing games.19 McGinley began the season playing shortstop for the Cleveland Forest Citys, an amateur club. It didn’t go so well. “There is no use of further denying,” wrote the Cleveland Leader, “that McGinley is not the man for short stop. It takes him altogether too long to pick up the ball…he is certainly the weak man of the nine.”20 A description of a game by the Plain Dealer two days later said McGinley’s play at shortstop was “as miserable playing as ever annoyed an audience…and he came very near [to] demoralizing the whole nine by his massive blundering.”21 In September, the Plain Dealer, in reviewing the season, said “McGinley was short lived at short stop and was such a failure in the field that he was permanently retired.”22 He played only seven games with a .189 batting average.23
Later in the year McGinley pitched for the Mutual Base Ball Club of Plymouth, Michigan, against the Detroit Cass club.24
McGinley worked as a clerk for the United States Shipping Commissioner in Philadelphia.25
All we know about McGinley’s later years comes from his obituary in Sporting Life on December 23, 1899, submitted by “F.A. M’Ginley,” which we could reasonably conclude was his brother, Francis. McGinley lived in Oakland, California, for the last 11 years of his life, working in the sheriff’s office in San Francisco, and as a private secretary to the warden of San Quentin Penitentiary. He died in Oakland on November 2, 1899, of consumption, a result of catarrh, which he suffered from for several years. “I thought it proper to notify you of his death,” F.A. M’Ginley wrote to Sporting Life, “so that his many friends might be aware of the fact. He always read your valuable paper, keeping himself in love with the game up to the time of his death.”26
Nemec, David. The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball: Biographies of 1,084 Players, Owners, Managers, and Umpires. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2012), 114.
1 Ryan A. Swanson. When Baseball Went White: Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and Dreams of a National Pastime. (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2014), 149; New York Clipper, August 22, 1874: 163.
2 “The Base Ball Season Open,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 22, 1875: 3.
3 “Centennial Club Dissolved,” Philadelphia Times, May 27, 1875: 4.
4 “The Ball Field,” The Times (Philadelphia), May 11, 1875: 4.
5 “Out-Door Sports. A Game That Was Not a Game,” Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), May 31, 1875: 4.
6 “The Base Ball Field,” The Times, June 4, 1875: 4.
7 “Base Ball. The Hartfords Win Their Twentieth Victory,” Hartford Courant, June 15, 1875: 2.
8 “The Sporting Season. The National Game,” Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, September 25, 1875: 7.
9 “The Boston Nine,” Boston Post, March 20, 1876: 4.
10 “Athletics vs. Bostons,” Chicago Times, April 23, 1876: 10.
11 “Athletic vs. Boston,” New York Clipper, April 29, 1876: 34.
12 “Athletics vs. Bostons.”
13 “Sporting Intelligence,” Boston Traveler, April 28, 1875: 4.
14 “Baseball. The Players of 1876,” New York Clipper, December 30, 1876: 315.
15 “Out-door Sports. Base Ball,” Boston Journal, May 1, 1876: 4.
16 “Pitcher Borden was Paid to Get Lost,” Boston Herald, November 17, 1907: 36.
17 “Changes in the Nine,” Boston Daily Advertiser, June 19, 1876: 4.
18 “Players’ Salaries,” Providence Evening Press, July 20, 1876: 3; Two box scores of McGinley appearing in an exhibition game were found in the New York Clipper, August 26 and September 9, 1876.
19 “Opening of the Season in Philadelphia,” New York Clipper, March 16, 1878: 405.
20 “Ball and Bat,” Cleveland Leader, May 11, 1878: 8.
21 “In and Out-Door Sports,” Plain Dealer, May 13, 1878: 4.
22 “In and Out-Door Sports,” Plain Dealer, September 14, 1878: 1.
23 “Records,” Cleveland Leader, December 5, 1878: 2.
24 “Sporting News,” Detroit Free Press, September 17, 1878: 2.
25 Official Register of the United States, Vol. 1. (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1889), 256; “Death’s Doings,” Sporting Life, December 23, 1899: 1.
26 “Death’s Doings.”