At 5-foot-11, Thomas J. “Long Tom” Doran was not all that long. Nor was his career in the major leagues. He was a slim (152 pounds) catcher who batted from the left side and threw right-handed. He was born in Westchester County, New York, on December 2, 1880.i And he died quite young, at the age of 29.
He was said to have started his career with the semiprofessional Emerald team of Westchester, and “for some years he played with various independent clubs around New York City and in New Jersey.”ii
Before he died, Doran did have time to play eight seasons of baseball, his first coming in the year 1900, purportedly for ten days in the Connecticut State League for the New Haven Blues, a 19-year-old outfielder at the time.iii There is a Doran who caught games for Springfield Ponies in the Eastern League later in the season – whether the same Doran or not is uncertain. His obituary, and at least one other story, reported that his “first real professional engagement was with the Wilmington A. A. club, of Wilmington, Delaware, in 1901.”iv Given the passage of time and the lack of any information other than an obituary in his Hall of Fame player file, it seems difficult to pin down his precise moves from team to team.
In 1901, Doran the catcher was on the Worcester Quakers, another Eastern League team (Springfield did not field a team in 1901.) In June, the Sporting Life correspondent from Worcester wrote, “Doran, our colt catcher, handles himself like a veteran.”v
Doran played in the New England League for the Concord (New Hampshire) Marines in 1902. This is the first season for which we show him with a batting average – .261 in 88 games. He was tough, as catchers need to be, and played the last couple of innings in the June 27 5-4 win over Dover after being struck by a bat and suffering a “gash in his head.”vi More than one team was taking notice. Among them was the Boston Americans, whose manager, Jimmy Collins, was said to have an eye on the “very promising youngster, tall, with a good arm.”vii
Collins may have had an eye on him, but he didn’t pull the trigger. On December 20, 1902, Doran signed with the Colorado Springs club of the Western League known as the Millionaires.viii Doran was far from a millionaire, though. In fact, Collins could have purchased the rights to Doran’s contract for $300, but did not do so. In September, even before Boston clinched the pennant and went on to become the winner over Pittsburgh in the first World Series ever staged, it cost Collins “a cool thousand” to buy the rights to Doran from Colorado Springs.ix Doran hit .221 for Colorado Springs.
Boston owner Henry Killilea was unsure of Lou Criger’s health and was stocking up on catchers. Jake Stahl, a catcher for Boston in 1903, was being moved to first base, it was suggested, and Killilea said, “I expect to carry [Duke] Farrell, too. Doran was one of the best catchers in the Western League, and will, I feel positive, do well with our team if he has a chance.”x Killilea called Doran “a great catcher, and one who can throw as well as Criger.”xi
Doran showed well in spring training at Macon and made the team. He had his chance, but didn’t hit well for Boston, batting only .125 in 12 games, without driving in a single run. The team sent him to Montreal, where he played in 10 games, and hit .189. Montreal in turn was reported to have sent him to Hartford – all this by the end of June. The catcher sent to Hartford, however, appears to have been Frank Doran.xii By December, Tom Doran was playing indoor baseball in New York City, a somewhat short-lived sport of the day.
An investment that could have benefitted him, but did not, was a pencil farm in the Macon, Georgia, area that he and Boston pitcher George Winter had purchased. But they let go of it because “Doran didn’t care to come down here and run it, and Mrs. George is no traveler and does not fancy a trip this way.” It was said that they could have doubled their investment in less than two years, had they held on.xiii Doran apparently did not like the American South.
He started the 1905 season with Boston, playing in three games, with three at-bats and no hits. Duke Farrell was back, and Collins may not have felt he needed Doran so Boston placed him on waivers and he was picked on May 11 by the Detroit Tigers, who paid $1,000 to acquire him.xiv He played in 34 games for the Tigers, batting .160 with four RBIs, but stayed friendly with his former teammates from Boston and went fishing after the season with Lou Criger and Jesse Tannehill near Elkhart, Indiana. They planned to follow with a hunting and fishing trip down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from Cincinnati to New Orleans on a houseboat.
He suffered an injury in April, dislocating his shoulder in throwing his arm up too forcefully to catch a ball, and never did play for the Tigers in 1906, but he was on their roster and in late May there was some expression of interest in him from Jimmy Collins in Boston.xv He was released by the Tigers and sold to Toronto on June 4 and he played briefly there but was soon sent back to Detroit. However, “Detroit did not want him,” explained Sporting Life, “and he was released without the usual ten days’ notice. He asked that the [National] Commission compel the Toronto club to pay him for that time, which it did.”xvi
Doran rejoined the Boston Americans in time to get into both games of the August 11 doubleheader against the Tigers, coming in late in the first game and then playing the full game in the nightcap. He played well, according to coverage in the Boston papers, but these were his last games in the major leagues. He was 0-for-3 on the season, leaving him with a major-league career average of .144, with a .236 on-base percentage and a total of four RBIs and ten runs scored.
He signed with Rochester in September for what was left of the 1906 season. Over the wintertime, he went to Florida and played some winter baseball there. It was Rochester again in 1907. He played in 89 games, but only hit .164. That was not an impossibly low average for a catcher at the time. And Doran was still only 26 years old.
Rochester made a deal and sold Doran’s contract to a club in the South, but he refused to go there “on the claim that he was unable to stand the climatic conditions of that section. On these grounds President Chapin, of the Rochester Club, last week gave Doran his unconditional release.”xvii
Reports have him playing with the Wichita club in the Western Association in 1909, and with some independent league clubs in and around New York. xviii In 1910, he became very ill and an appeal was issued on May 14 for funds. He had undergone three serious operations over a six-month period at the Post-Graduate Hospital in New York City and was very weak. His doctor urged him to go to a mountain climate for recuperation, but he was without money. The Elks Club and others attempted to raise money.
He died in New York on June 22, 1910, of the white plague – tuberculosis. He had contracted the disease at some point in 1908.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Doran’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
i Most contemporaneous accounts listed him as born in 1879.
ii Boston Globe, June 23, 1910.
iii Sporting Life, June 9, 1900. The ten days are as reported on Baseball-Reference.com, from June 5-14, 1900.
iv Sporting Life, July 2, 1910.
v Sporting Life, June 8, 1901.
vi Sporting Life, July 12, 1902.
vii Sporting Life, December 6, 1902.
viii Boston Globe, December 21, 1902.
ix Sporting Life, November 14, 1903. The purchase itself was first announced in the September 19 issue.
x Sporting Life, January 16, 1904.
xi Boston Globe, January 8, 1904.
xii Sporting Life, July 2, 1904.
xiii Sporting Life, March 31, 1906.
xiv Sporting Life, May 20, 1905.
xv Sporting Life, April 21 and June 2, 1906.
xvi Sporting Life, September 22, 1906.
xvii Sporting Life, April 18, 1908.
xviii Sporting Life, March 6, 1909.