In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many young men turned to baseball to escape the drudgery and dangerous occupations that awaited those without a family fortune. The mines and mills were dangerous and deadly and the prospects of making it out unscathed were low. Taking to the diamond was a way to avoid cave-ins, black and brown lung, and death or dismemberment by industrial accident.
This is not one of those stories. Pitcher Tom Colcolough grew up in a wealthy home that not only included servants but also afforded him a college education. Unlike his peers, he didn’t need baseball to escape the hardships of manual labor.1 His pro career in the 1890s – which included all or part of four years in the majors – came because he wanted to play, not because he had to.
Thomas Bernard Colcolough was born on October 8, 1870, in the port city of Charleston, South Carolina, to Irish immigrant parents. The surname was pronounced as if it were spelled Coakley, as one paper put it.2
According to his death certificate, James Colcolough (1822-1897) was a resident of Charleston for 45 years, which would place his arrival in the city at or around 1852.3 The 1860 and the 1880 census both have his occupation listed as “huckster.”4 David Nemec wrote that James was a commissions agent.5 Today the word huckster often has negative connotations, but in the 19th century it simply meant a salesman who sold door-to-door or in the street. James Colcolough must have been especially persuasive.
Tom’s mother, Ellen Kelly Colcolough (1833-1909), is listed as “keeping house” in both the 1860 and 1880 census.6 In the 1880 census, Tom is listed as living with his parents and siblings John (1859-?), Mary Jane Colcolough O’Donnell (1856-1935), James (1864-1926), Henry (1867-1907), and two Black servants, Scipio Smith (age 17) and Sally Valentine (age 70).7
Though we don’t have any information about Tom Colcolough’s childhood, we do know that he attended college and that he played some baseball while there.8 He even toyed for a time with leaving the game and studying for the ministry.9 He was built like an athlete, however, standing 5-feet-10 and weighing 180 pounds.10
Colcolough’s first mention as a professional on the diamond was in 1892, playing for the Charleston Sea Gulls of the Southern Association, a circuit that was independent of Organized Baseball. An 1892 newspaper article states that Colcolough not only played for the Charleston club but also was part owner and one of the individuals that helped organize the East Atlantic League.11
On April 5, in an exhibition game, the Sea Gulls took on the Brooklyn Bridegrooms of the National League. Colcolough, a right-handed batter and thrower, pitched nine innings but was charged with the loss as Brooklyn defeated Charleston, 6-5.12 Two days later, he faced Brooklyn again, striking out eight while losing a 10-9 decision.13 Colcolough won 10 games for Charleston before the league disbanded on June 13.14
The 21-year-old hurler was in demand. An article published that year in the Atlanta Constitution states that while touring the South, both Brooklyn and the Boston Beaneaters wanted to sign the young pitcher, but Colcolough didn’t want to travel north to play baseball.15
He finally signed with the Atlanta Firecrackers of the Southern Association.16 The first Atlanta box score that can be located has Colcolough playing left field against the Mobile (Alabama) Blackbirds on June 24.17 Just a few days later, on June 29, he pitched the first game of a doubleheader against the New Orleans Pelicans and lost. According to an article published on June 30, a combination of a scuffed and/or wet ball caused him to throw some wild pitches, which led to the loss.18
Though wildness continued to afflict his career, Colcolough survived that loss. On July 6, a headline stated that “Colcolough Pitched a Fine Game and Was Given Excellent Support.” Atlanta beat the Birmingham (Alabama) Grays 4-2 that day.19 Later, on July 29, he struck out Bob Langsford, then with Mobile. Langsford would go on to play for the Louisville Colonels in 1899.20
Colcolough played just that one season with Atlanta. He was released on September 1 and went back to Charleston with a mediocre won-lost record of 5-8.21 Though Atlanta didn’t work out as planned, he was bound for the majors the following season.
Colcolough began the 1893 baseball season playing for his hometown team, the Charleston Seagulls (the spelling of the team’s name had changed that year).22 On April 10, Charleston beat the Chattanooga (Tennessee) Warriors 9-3. Colcolough was one of two pitchers for the Seagulls in the Southern Association home opener.23
Like every player, Colcolough hit a rough patch from time to time. He walked four men in three innings and yielded five runs in a game against the Augusta (Georgia) Electricians on April 21. However, he pulled himself back up and made the news by hitting a home run on April 27 against the Macon/Central City (Georgia) Hornets.24 On June 23, Colcolough threw a no-hitter against the Montgomery (Alabama) Colts. He was the first pitcher to hold an opposing team hitless in a full game under the new rules for pitching that year.25
The first big-league box score with Colcolough’s name appeared on July 22. The previous day, he’d entered as a relief pitcher for Ad Gumbert against the Chicago Colts. Though he started strong in the third inning, retiring the Colts without any hits or runs, Colcolough gave up two bases and overthrew a sacrifice by Cap Anson over Jake Beckley’s head in the fourth. The Pirates lost that game, 12-9.27
Overall, with the Pirates in the 1893 season, Colcolough got into eight games, starting three of them. He didn’t log his first win until September 29, when he started and defeated Amos Rusie of the New York Giants, 4-3.28 He finished the season with a 4.12 ERA in 43 2/3 innings.
For the next season and a half, Colcolough remained on Pittsburgh’s roster. The 1894 season started with the papers mentioning his speed and good control – though the record shows that he was quite prone to walks.29 In late April, he was picked to head down to Washington, Pennsylvania along with a few other regular Pirates to play against the team from Washington and Jefferson College. Colcolough pitched that day and Pittsburgh defeated the college team.30
The early part of the 1894 season looked good for Colcolough, but he began to fall apart as the summer progressed. On June 30, he had to be taken out of the game and replaced by Ad Gumbert in the third inning. Brooklyn had connected for eight hits with a total of 17 bases, scoring six runs.32 Replacing Frank Killen in a game against St. Louis on July 16, Colcolough pitched okay but threw some erratic pitches in the fourth and sixth innings.33 The Pirates lost that day 11-6.
Colcolough’s roughest outing came on July 25. Cap Anson and the Chicago Colts got 27 hits (good for 43 total bases) off him in the first seven innings, crushing the Pirates 24-6.34
In a game against the Louisville Colonels on August 10, Colcolough wrenched his arm while batting in the second and had to retire during the third inning.35 A few days later, there was talk of trading Colcolough to Louisville for Jock Menefee and $1,500. In the end, however, George Nicol was traded instead.36
On August 21, the papers stated without explanation that Colcolough had been released by Pittsburgh. However, he ended up remaining with the team for the remainder of the ’94 season, making three starts during September. He finished with an 8-5 record and a 7.23 ERA.37
The 1895 season would be Colcolough’s last with Pittsburgh. On March 6, Pirates manager Connie Mack received a letter from the pitcher stating that he was training with the Washington team that was in Charleston. In the letter Colcolough also noted that he and the Pirates’ former skipper, Al Buckenberger (whom Mack had replaced in early September 1894), were not very chummy. Colcolough felt that he didn’t get a fair shake the previous season.38 It’s worth noting that his three September starts came under Mack.
Colcolough played for the Pirates at the beginning of the 1895 season. In a game against Louisville on April 20, his pitching was again described as wild and he had to be relieved by Frank Killen.39 Just a month later, the same description applied – the article stated he could not get the ball over the plate and when he did it was mashed in all directions.40
On June 3, Pittsburgh released Colcolough, who had appeared in just seven games for the team, making six starts. His record stood at 1-1 with a 6.65 ERA The Pittsburg Post stated that he would do well in the minors, where batters swung at everything, in contrast to the majors, where they were more careful and deliberate.41
For the next month, Colcolough drifted. He was originally going to play for the Scranton (Pennsylvania) Coal Heavers in the Eastern League, but when he asked for a $300 advance on his salary, the team passed on him.42 In late June he played briefly for the New Castle (Pennsylvania) Quakers in the Iron and Oil League.43 By mid-July, he was across the state playing for the Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Coal Barons, another Eastern League club.44 He chalked up 10 wins and 11 losses for the Coal Barons, finishing with a 3.12 ERA.45
Colcolough would remain in Wilkes-Barre for the next three seasons. However, his time with the Coal Barons would be rocky and full of drama.
At the beginning of the 1896 season, he refused to sign his contract with Wilkes-Barre unless he was given a larger salary. The papers stated that the board of directors would make no concessions and that Colcolough would suit up for the Coal Barons or nobody else.46 The impasse dragged on through April and into May. Finally, the board of arbitration of the National Commission ruled in favor of Wilkes-Barre. Colcolough would not be released; if he wanted to play baseball under the national agreement, it would be with the Coal Barons or nobody.47
Colcolough finally arrived in Wilkes-Barre on May 30 and suited up to play.48 The sporadic articles that mentioned him show that he was not effective. In a game against the Syracuse Stars on June 26, he gave up 20 hits.49 He lost to the Buffalo Bisons on August 3, 7-1.50 On August 28, the Providence Grays got 15 hits and scored 15 runs against him in five innings, leading him to be pulled from the mound. The Grays won, 24-9.51
An article published on October 9 in the Wilkes-Barre Times stated that Colcolough went to Pittsburgh and bad-mouthed the Coal Barons management, saying that they cut his salary down $100 a month. He hoped to be released, thinking he could do better somewhere else.52
Colcolough was back in Wilkes-Barre for the 1897 season, however – and he wasn’t happy about it. By mid-April he had not signed his contract and again appealed to the National Board for his release.53 It again ruled in favor of the Coal Barons.
Colcolough started the 1897 season with some terrible pitching against the Toronto Canucks.54 Though he did show some improvement, his season with the Coal Barons ended abruptly with the passing of his father and his return to Charleston. In a letter published on July 24, Colcolough stated that he didn’t want to return to Wilkes-Barre and suggested that the club use the rest of the salary owed to him to pay their other players. He said he wasn’t going to return to the Eastern League and was pitching for a team in Jamestown, Georgia.55
Colcolough was eventually suspended from the Coal Barons for the remainder of the season but was slated to return in 1898.56 His final tally for the 1897 season was 6-4 with a 2.28 ERA.
The 1898 season was Colcolough’s last with Wilkes-Barre. At the beginning of the season, he was stuck in Charleston on legal business but soon headed north to play with the Coal Barons.57 However, his time in Wilkes-Barre was short – he was cut on June 9.58 Subsequently, he was going to join Buffalo.59 Around the same time, though, he was struck with Bell’s paralysis (known today as Bell’s palsy) and had to sit out the remainder of the 1898 season.60
Colcolough returned to his hometown – not knowing that one more season in the majors was just around the corner.
In the spring of 1899, the New York Giants were playing an exhibition game in Charleston when they discovered Colcolough, by then 28.61 His pitching skills impressed manager John B. Day, who offered a contract.62 Colcolough was back in the majors, though he was a bit rusty. Against Baltimore on April 17, he could not pitch anywhere near the plate and gave up a lot of walks.63 Less than a month later, on May 13, Philadelphia hit almost every pitch that Colcolough threw in a New York 9-0 loss.64 His pitching didn’t improve as the season moved on. One local paper called him the “erratic southerner.”65 Colcolough was not turning heads in his new position. What was more, though, his past was about to haunt him.
On June 19, the Wilkes-Barre News announced that Tom Colcolough was in trouble. It wasn’t for any breach of contract in baseball, as one might expect. Rather, a jilted lover said he trifled with her feelings and ruined her life. Jennie Boyle of Wilkes-Barre claimed that Colcolough had promised to marry her and never followed through. She said that they were introduced by a mutual friend in 1896. Soon after, he called on her at her home and made “violent love to her.” Later that year he proposed and said that they would marry in a reasonable amount of time – a time that never came. She even traveled to Charleston in 1898 to get an answer about when they were going to marry. However, he said that he was in no position at that time to wed, and that he would never marry her. This prompted Boyle to institute a breach of promise lawsuit seeking $10,000 in damages. The outcome of that litigation remains presently undiscovered. Suffice it to say, though, Colcolough and Boyle never married.66
Colcolough continued to have a poor season with New York. At one point he was sent down to the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Orators in the Connecticut State League for a few games, only to be called back up. Finally on August 5, it was announced that New Yok had released Colcolough. At that point, he had logged a 4-5 record with a 3.97 ERA. He never played in the majors again.67
Spread over four seasons total, Colcolough appeared in 49 big-league games, posting a 14-11 (.560) record. In 319 1/3 innings pitched, he allowed 397 base hits and 166 walks, leading to a bloated 5.89 career ERA.
For the next few years, Colcolough would play for teams in the south. In 1900, he was with the Wilmington (North Carolina) team in the North Carolina Association in 1900.68 In 1902 he was captain of the Charleston Hose Reel team.69 And in 1904, he finished up his time on the diamond with the Charleston Sea Gulls of the South Atlantic League.70
Colcolough’s life off the field isn’t as well documented. In the 1900 census he is recorded as “merchant” and living with his mother and sister Mary. Ellen is listed as head of the household.71
By 1910 he had a wife named Annie (née Carey, 1881-1968). It appears likely that they were married at some point after the turn of the century, as indicated by the birthdates of the couple’s five children: Marguerite (1906-1987), Thomas (1907-1954), James (1919-1988), William (1911-1994), and Carmel (1914-1964). In the 1910 census, Tom’s occupation was listed as proprietor of a poultry store.72
Colcolough also ran unopposed and won the position of alderman of an unspecified ward in Charleston in 1905.73 He ran for reelection in 1911 and lost the race for the 10th Ward seat. It is not clear if this is the same ward that he began to represent in 1905.74
At some point between 1910 and 1919, Colcolough changed careers and became a welder in the Charleston Navy Yard.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and fact-checked by David Kritzler.
In addition to the sources shown in the notes, the author used Baseball-Reference.com and the following:
Nemec, David. Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 1: The Ball Players Who Built the Game. (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2011).
US Census Bureau, 1860, 1880, 1900, 1910 US Census
1 “Colcolough Signed – To Pitch Phenomenal Ball for the Atlanta Team,” Atlanta Constitution, June 13, 1892: 5. “Southern Boys in Base Ball,” Nashville (Tennessee) American, December 19, 1897: Page 25.
2 “It Was Like Finding It – Chattanooga Is Not Montgomery, Mr. Colcolough,” Chattanooga (Tennessee) Times, July 12, 1893: 3.
3 James Colcolough’s death certificate: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8741/images/VRDUSASC1821_089178-00800?treeid=&personid=&rc=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=avv388989&_phstart=successSource&pId=979281
4 1860 Census: (At the time, a huckster was usually a person who sold vegetables.) 1880 Census: (The family surname is incorrect on the census, but it is the same family based on all the names and ages of the people.)
5 David Nemec, Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 1: The Ball Players Who Built the Game. (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2011), 31. 1880 Census.
7 1880 Census and James Colcolough https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/47020494/james-colcoloughJ
8 “Colcolough Signed – To Pitch Phenomenal Ball for the Atlanta Team,” Atlanta Constitution, June 13, 1892: 5.
9 David Nemec, Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 1: The Ball Players Who Built the Game. (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2011), 31.
10 “We’re Off Again – And We Want to Win Half the Games,” Atlanta Constitution, June 19, 1892: 5.
11 “Colcolough Signed – To Pitch Phenomenal Ball for the Atlanta Team,” Atlanta Constitution, June 13, 1892: 5.
12 “Brooklyn Had to Work Hard,” (New York) Sun, April 6, 1892: 4.
13 “Brooklyn 10, Charleston 9,” Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1892: 7.
14 Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (Baseball America: Durham, North Carolina, 2007), 162.
15 “Colcolough Signed – To Pitch Phenomenal Ball for the Atlanta Team,” Constitution, June 13, 1892: 5..
16 https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=colcol001tom. “Colcolough Signed – To Pitch Phenomenal Ball for the Atlanta Team,” Atlanta Constitution, June 13, 1892: 5.
17 “Atlanta Shut Out,” Atlanta Constitution, June 25, 1892: 8.
18 “We Won, We Lost,” Atlanta Constitution, June 20, 1892: 8.
19 “Atlanta Won,” Atlanta Constitution, July 6, 1892: 5.
20 “Three to Two – and Atlanta Had the Three and Mobile Had the Two,” Atlanta Constitution, July 29, 1892: 7.
21 “In Macon Today – Morton’s Men Leave for the Central City This Morning,” Atlanta Constitution, September 6, 1892: 5. https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=colcol001tom
22 “The Players Who Have So Far Been Signed by the Southern Base Ball League,” Birmingham (Alabama) News, March 13, 1893: 3.
23 “First Since Earthquake – The Way Charleston Wiped Up the Earth with Chattanooga,” Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, April 11, 1893: 4.
24 “Charleston Whipped Augusta,” Macon Telegraph, April 25, 1893: 6. “How the Clubs Stand,” Macon Telegraph, April 28, 1893: 5.
26 “Diamond Dust,” Chattanooga Times, July 15, 1893: 3. “The Pirates New Batter,” Meriden (Connecticut) Journal, July 15, 1893: 6.
27 “The Game Was a Hot One, Full of Base Hits and Warm Words,” Chicago Tribune, July 22, 1893: 7.
28 David Nemec, Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 1: The Ball Players Who Built the Game. (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2011), 31.
29 “Two Out of Three – Manager Watkins Team Won the Deciding Game,” Pittsburgh Press, April 8, 1894: 8. “Late Sporting News,” Pittsburg Press, April 12, 1894: 4.
30 “Late Sporting News,” Pittsburg Press, April 28, 1894: 7. “Baseball Notes,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, April 30, 1894: 6.
31 “Baseball Brevities,” Pittsburg Press, May 5, 1894: 5.
32 “Deserved the Victory,” Pittsburg Press, July 1, 1894: 8.
33 “That Fourth Inning Saved the Pittsburgs from a More Pronounced Disaster,” Pittsburg Press, July 17, 1894: 5.
34 “Penitent for Past Errors, the Pittsburgs Promise to Pay Ball,” Pittsburg Press, July 26, 1894: 5.
35 “Ehret Worked to Win – He Pitched a Cleaver Game Against the Colonels,” Pittsburg Press, August 11, 1894: 5.
36 “Colcolough and a Cash Consideration Corral the Louisville Man,” Pittsburg Press, August 13, 1894: 5. “We Get Menefee – The Great Louisville Pitcher Becomes a Pirate Bold,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, August 13, 1894: 6.
37 “Colcolough Released,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette August 21, 1894: 6. “Baseball Brevities,” Pittsburgh Press, August 30, 1894: 5. https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=colcol001tom
38 “Late Sporting News,” Pittsburg Press, March 6, 1895: 5.
39 “Late Sporting News,” Pittsburg Press, March 6, 1895: 5.
40 “Colcolough Was Very Wild,” Pittsburg Post, May 23, 1895: 6.
41 “Two New Pitchers,” Pittsburg Post, June 4, 1895: 12.
42 “Diamond Dust,” Scranton (Pennsylvania) Tribune, June 15, 1895: 7.
43 “Diamond Dust,” New Castle (Pennsylvania) News, June 25, 1895: 1.
44 “Three and Two – The Ponies Defeat Wilkes – Barre in an Exciting Game,” New Castle News, July 17, 1895: 7.
46 “Sporting Miscellany,” Detroit Free Press, March 27, 1896: 6.
47 “Base Ball Notes,” Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Times, May 25, 1896: 2.
48 “Base Ball Notes,” Wilkes-Barre Sunday Leader, May 31, 1896: 5.
49 “Sporting Notes,” Pittsburg Post, June 27, 1896: 6.
50 “They Were Easy – Lucky Was Unlucky, and Colcolough Was Unable to Win His Game,” Buffalo Enquirer, August 4, 1896: 8.
51 “Providence 24; WilkesBarre (sic) 9,” Boston Post, August 29, 1896: 3.
52 “Base Ball Notes,” Wilkes-Barre Times, October 9, 1896: 1.
53 “Diamond Dust,” Scranton Tribune, April 14, 1897: 3.
54 “Coakley’s First Game,” Wilkes-Barre Times, May 8, 1897: 3.
55 “Base Ball Notes,” Wilkes-Barre News, July 24, 1897: 2.
56 “Suspended,” Scranton Times, September 2, 1897: 3.
57 “Comments on the Game,” Wilkes-Barre Record, April 13, 1898: 3.
58 “Base Ball Notes,” Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, June 10, 1898: 2.
59 “Diluted Points,” Wilkes-Barre Record, June 14, 1898: 3.
60 “Unfortunate Coakley,” Wilkes-Barre Record, June 18, 1898: 8.
61 “Baseball Men Adjourn,” New York Sun, March 26, 1899: 8.
62 “More Trouble for the Giants,” New York World, March 31, 1899: 8.
63 “Giants Lost Another Game,” World, April 18, 1899: 8. “The Orioles Have Another Easy Time with Freedman’s Team,” New York Tribune, April 18, 1899: 4.
64 “New Yorks Again Beaten,” New York Times, May 14, 1899: 4.
65 “New York Beaten Again,” New York Tribune, June 2, 1899: 8.
66 “Tom Coakley the Base Ball Pitcher in Trouble,” Wilkes-Barre News, June 19, 1899: 1.
67 “Baseball Notes,” New York Sun, August 5, 1899: 5.
68 “Base Ball This Afternoon,” Wilmington (North Carolina) Star, July 12, 1900: 1. “Wilmington Was Victorious,” Wilmington (North Carolina) Messenger, July 13, 1900: 4.
69 “For the Tournament,” (Sumter, South Carolina) Watchman and Southron, June 18, 1902: 3.
70 “Macon 1, Charleston 0,” (Columbia, South Carolina) State, May 14, 1904: 5. “Hot from the Bat,” State, May 15, 1904: 13.
71 1900 Census.
72 1910 Census.
73 “Notes,” (Greenwood, South Carolina) Evening Index, January 26, 1905: 3.
74 “Ward Alderman,” Columbia (South Carolina) Record, November 8, 1911: 1.
75 Colcolough death certificate. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8741/images/VRDUSASC1821_088630-01288?treeid=&personid=&rc=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=qgq544&_phstart=successSource&pId=42789