Young Tommy Long had quite a productive two-year major league run in the mid-1910s. In 1911 he jumped from the First District (Alabama) Agricultural School squad to the majors in five months. Later, still listed as a rookie in 1915, his 25 triples set the St. Louis Cardinals record for triples in a season, and is still tied for third place for triples in any National League season since 1900.1 In the same season, he finished in the NL top ten for batting.
Thomas Augustus Long Jr. was born on June 1, 1890, in Coffeeville, Alabama,2 to Thomas Augustus Long Sr., a real estate timbered lands developer and later Alabama State Senator,3 and Jessie Scruggs Long, an artist. Tommy had two brothers, William and Reginald, and four sisters: Bessie, Lucille, Louise, and Helen. The family, descending from Scot and Irish heritage, lived in nearby Bladon Springs, where Tommy attended Mitchum Elementary School, before moving south to Jackson, Alabama. Tommy went to high school in Jackson before enrolling at the post-secondary Marion Institute in 1909. The elder Long became the state senator for Clarke County, representing the 19th district.
After his time at Marion, young Tommy signed with the upstart Gadsden (Alabama) Steel Makers of the Class D Southeastern League in May 1910. It was announced that “T.A. Long Jr., of Marion arrived today to join Paul Stevenson’s league squad.”4 Long was a starting outfielder in the Steel Makers inaugural matchup against Morristown, Tennessee.5 Moved to third base, he had a horrible audition, making five errors in one contest against Anniston.6 Soon, he was back playing left field.7
In the spring of 1911, Long played college ball for the First District Agricultural School, located in his former hometown of Jackson. He ripped a triple but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a game-tying inside-the-park homer against Southern University in an April game.8 In May, Tommy returned to Gadsden, to play for manager King Bailey and the Steel Makers.
By summer, Long was sold to the Washington Senators, for delivery after the Southeastern League season, “a result of the recent visit of Gadsden by Scout M.T. (Mike) Kehoe.”9 Senators manager Jimmy McAleer was trying to promote Long to the Senators in late July, but Long stuck it out in Alabama through season’s end.10 He belted a homer, triple, double, and two singles, coupled with two stolen bases and three runs, in a doubleheader against Decatur in late August.11 Official league figures showed that Long hit .363, with 132 hits and 84 runs in 369 at bats, finishing second in the batting title race to Anniston’s Fred Wasem.12
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound Long was identified as part of Washington’s “young blood added…in the hopes that next year, if not this, they will have a team full of ginger, youth, and fight.”13 Such was the anticipation for him, it was stated on September 8 that “if Long arrives in time, he will play right today.”14 He finally reported to the nation’s capital on September 11, and was immediately inserted into the sad-sack Senators lineup in the cleanup spot against the Boston Red Sox. The 20-year-old replaced Doc Gessler, with the “Gadsden youngster expected [to] strengthen [the] locals’ outfield.”15 After Long’s debut, the Washington Evening Star’s venerable writer J. Ed Grillo wrote:
The youngster from Gadsden does everything like a ball player. He stands well at the plate, is fast and hits at the ball like a hitter. He is cool and acted as if he had been in this company for years, and in the field seemed to cover a lot of ground, and is blessed with a good throwing arm.16
In the outfielder’s third game, also against Boston, “both Tom Long and ‘Long’ Tom Hughes,” the Senators starting pitcher, collected hits in a 3-1 victory.17 Long hit safely in his first three games, followed by three more hits, including a double, in his fourth game on September 16 against the St. Louis Browns. The only early criticism of the youngster was regarding his baserunning:
When Tommy Long learns how to slide and get a start, he is sure to make a good base runner, for there is no question about his speed. Long can step down the lines as fast as any man on the team. In fact, it would be a pretty close race between him and [Clyde] Milan, who is one of the fast men in the league.18
Long started in 13 games down the stretch and hit .229, while drawing one walk. He claimed he had “not been a well man” since his arrival, and that the “change in climate has affected him.”19 It was later stated that he suffered from malaria.20 Long’s star began to dim, as McAleer opined before the end of the season that Milan, Danny Moeller, and Doc Gessler would comprise the Nationals outfield in 1912. Washington finished 38½ games behind the American League-leading Philadelphia A’s. McAleer wouldn’t have the opportunity to see his prognostication come to fruition, however, as he was replaced after the season by Clark Griffith.
Long sent in the 1912 contract offered by Washington,21 and attended training camp in Charlottesville, Virginia. He technically broke camp with the Senators, but only recorded one pinch-hitting and one pinch-running appearance in April, with reports indicating that he might be sold to Indianapolis of the American Association.22 A scouting report stated that he was a good hitter and the fastest man on the team, but a weak throwing arm kept Griffith from holding on to him.23 He was optioned to Mobile in mid-May and was recalled by Washington in early August, but didn’t play in a game and was officially released later that month.24
Nonetheless, there was chatter of bringing Long back to D.C. for 1913, to give him “another chance to cavort in the Senatorial outer gardens.”25 The Senators did re-sign him, but manager Billy Smith and the Atlanta Crackers of the Class A Southern Association were heavily courting Long.26 He was eventually “turned over to Atlanta by Manager Griffith” in a deal that had been in the works for weeks.27 In a season preview, Atlanta skipper Smith proclaimed in an eponymous article that “this year’s team is [the] best I ever managed in this league.”28 Smith further declared that “(Bill) Bailey in left, (Harry) Welchonce in center, and Long in right is, in my opinion, the best outfield that has ever been assembled in one ball club in this league.”29
Long had quite a season in Georgia, shattering the Southern League record for runs scored with 112; no one had ever tallied triple digits.30 He hit .318 with 42 stolen bases, and followed that up by hitting .303 with 32 thefts the following year. Long was once again brought up by Washington at the tail-end of the 1914 season but didn’t see any action.
Finally, long a “serf in Griffith’s grip,”31 he was traded by Washington to the St. Louis Cardinals in January 1915 for Bill “Booth” Hopper.32 Long was still classified as a rookie, and splashed on the scene in St. Louis. To kick things off, he went 12-for-24 in the six-game, pre-season intra-city series against the Browns, being their “fly in the spring series ointment.”33 He quickly earned the praise of both manager Miller Huggins and Cincinnati Reds player-manager Buck Herzog, who declared him “big league stuff, needing very little polish.”34 He quickly wrested away a starting outfield spot from Cozy Dolan,35 and belted a bases-clearing triple on April 25 against Erv Kantlehner and Pittsburgh.36
In a May 6, 1915, article syndicated nationally, writer Bill Murphy of the St. Louis Star and News eviscerated Senators manager Griffith for his handling of Long, having kept him in the minors for so long. In an article titled, “Where Has Tommy Long Been the Past Five Years?” Murphy wrote that Long, “the Siberia of the diamond [was] slaving in baseball mines condemned by an autocrat.”37 The article concluded with the positioning of manager Huggins as Long’s savior, saying the player “was in sad straits. His trousers’ seat was refulgent and perilously extenuate.”38
Long was “bawled out” for costing the Cardinals a game in the summer against the Phillies by dropping a fly in the outfield.39 Still, three weeks later, the youngster “clamped the defeat clutch on the Steel City delegation” by driving in all three runs with RBI singles in a 3-0 shutout over Pittsburgh.40 St. Louis finished in sixth place. Long ended his rookie campaign tied for ninth in batting and leading the circuit with a Cardinals franchise-record 25 triples. As of 2020, he remains tied with Larry Doyle behind Owen Wilson‘s 36 and Kiki Cuyler’s 26. But he also posted a National League-worst .927 in fielding percentage, committing 20 errors.
Huggins was effusive in his praise for his young outfielder:
If Tommy Long can learn to bunt and field he will be one of the greatest ball players in the National League. Long has all the other requisites of base ball greatness. He has speed galore and knows how to use it on the base paths. He has a good batting eye and can clout the cover off the ball with marked consistency. He also knows how to place his long hits.41
It was also reported that Long was quite the dapper dancer:
Tis said of Tommy that he kicks the meanest foot in balldom. The trickiest tripper in three leagues! Can do a Brazilian maxixe, an Argentine tango or the fox trot better than the good muse Terpsichore herself. Every day he plays ball he’s playing hooky from the cabaret. Some dancer, suh, some dancer.42
Lamenting that his long hits in 1915 did not result in four-baggers, Long groused to a St. Louis sportswriter before spring training in 1916: “Say, don’t you think we could get Huggins to cut out those center field bleachers? You know that fence down there stopped many of my drives, and I couldn’t get a home run in the park. See what you can do.”43 Fences notwithstanding, Long posted another fine campaign in his sophomore season, including a torrid 29-game stretch from mid-June to mid-July where he hit .465.44 He finished seventh in the League at .293, one notch above 42-year-old Honus Wagner.
Unfortunately, 1917 was not nearly as productive for Long; he hit only .232. When the Cardinals reduced his salary for 1918, he sent his contract back unsigned.45 Therefore, “Branch Rickey shunted Tommy to the minors rather than meet his demands.”46 Long was sent to the Vernon (California) Tigers of the Class AA Pacific Coast League.47 Even rival manager Wade Killefer of the cross-town Los Angeles Angels believed that Vernon manager Bill Essick “made a ten-strike when he landed the Card gardener.”48 The Los Angeles Evening Express was just as ecstatic:
Tommy Long should be one of the stars of the league this season. He is as fast as a bullet and can make that old pill whistle ‘over there’ as it passes the heads of the infielders. How players of this type ever get away from the majors is a mystery. The scouts need not come out this way looking for outfielders if Long is a sample of their discards.49
Long quickly assumed the cleanup spot in Vernon’s lineup. However, many players were being called by their local draft boards. Long was in Class Number 1 of the draft, although he was far down the list of his hometown.50 The 27-year-old claimed an exemption for having a father, mother, and young sister to support. Alas, Long’s initial stay on the West Coast was short. The “star outfielder” left in May after 34 games to report for war duty,51 and was assigned to Camp Upton, New York.52
After the cessation of World War I, the whereabouts of Tom Long perplexed everyone. The Los Angeles Evening Express wrote that Long “is somewhere between here and the Rhine — Essick doesn’t know where. Thomas wrote his baseball [boss] some weeks ago that he expected to be shipped back to this country pronto, and that’s all Essick knows.”53 California congressman H.Z. Osborne was solicited via wire to “trace Tommy Long” who, it was reported, had left France with a detachment of soldiers in early May.54 Finally, Long was mustered out at Mobile, Alabama, and reported back to Vernon in early August.55 Long hit .277 in part-time duty over 29 games, as Vernon repeated in winning the PCL pennant. However, the fix was in; Vernon first baseman Babe Borton and possibly other players had offered bribes to competing players during the pennant stretch of 1919. Long testified before a grand jury regarding his knowledge of the scandal.56
In 1920, his only full season on the West Coast, Long hit .273 in 124 games for the Tigers, as Vernon earned a PCL crown three-peat. He began 1921 with the Tigers but was released in late April to the Shreveport Gassers of the Class A Texas League,57 where he hit .278. He also married a young lady with the first name of Euly. She, like Long, hailed from Alabama. A year later they had a daughter, Audrey.
For the 1922 season, Long signed with the Denver Bears of the Class A Western League and hit .321 in the hitters’ league. In May 1923 Denver traded him to the Albany Senators of the Class A Eastern League, where he remained until Albany released him in August of 1924.
It was reported that he was to sign with Hartford.58 However, in a telegram to Hartford management, Long stated that he would not report, instead opting to play semipro ball in Canada, evidently not finding “the grind of league ball to his liking, preferring a berth calling for two or three games a week.”59 After a change of heart, Long eventually signed with the Springfield (Massachusetts) Ponies in the same Eastern League. He came up with a “lame leg” on August 15,60 but finished the year in Springfield.
Long tried to hang on one more year, but was released by Albany in March 1925.61 By 1930, Tom was a laborer at a naval store, with Euly a clerk at a general store. Sadly, Euly passed away in 1937. In 1940, Long was still a naval store worker, while daughter Audrey, then 18 years old, was an assistant postmaster.
In 1956, Long, who had experienced a “severe stroke” earlier in the 1950s, worked as a guide for the Coffeeville Ferry, which connected Bladon Springs with the rest of the world.62 Hereminisced about “how a lucky break ([, his trade to St. Louis] gave him his big chance in the majors.”63 He also recalled saving the life of a man involved in a serious car accident in 1920, with the two becoming “fast friends…and they’ll be on the old Tombigbee (River) in quest of some bass and bream when the water gets right.”64 The next year, a crippled Long answered a mailed request to sign a ball for a fan based in Indianapolis, Indiana, to be displayed at an upcoming hobby show.65 In 1958, Long’s friend Ed Dent relayed that Long had spent over three weeks in the Veterans Hospital in Birmingham, dropping from 170 to 109 pounds, as he had multiple gallstones surgically removed.66
Tom Long passed away on June 23, 1972, at 82 in Mobile, Alabama.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Terry Bohn.
Baseball Hall of Fame Files: Thomas Augustus Long Jr.
1 Baseball-Reference.com “Single Season Leaders and Records for Triples” https://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/3B_season.shtml
2 Files from the Baseball Hall of Fame show Long being born in Mitchum, Alabama. However, extensive research could not find a town with that name. The belief from previous researchers is that Mitchum was either a variant of Chilton, Alabama, located to the east of Coffeeville, or a tiny hamlet dammed over by a TPA project.
3 “Hon. Tom Long at Andalusia,” Andalusia (Alabama) Star, April 7, 1914: 2.
4 “Notes,” Gadsden (Alabama) Times, May 12, 1910: 4. He is listed as “Tommy Long” in Baseball-Reference.com during his Gadsden stay.
5 “Locals Lost Fine Game: League Season Opened,” Gadsden Times, June 7, 1910: 3.
6 “Cotton Spinners Took It from Our Team,” Gadsden Times, May 27, 1910: 4.
7 “Awful Game is Lost to Jobbers,” Gadsden Times, July 22, 1910: 4.
8 “Southern Takes Two,” Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser, April 19, 1911: 11.
9 “Notes,” Anniston Star, June 13, 1911: 6.
10 “Tom Long in Week or So,” Washington Times, July 30, 1911: 10.
11 Washington Post, August 29, 1911: 8.
12 “Wasem Leads Southeastern,” Montgomery Advertiser, October 13, 1911: 13.
13 “Youngsters Who Hope to Put Washington in First Division, Some Day,” Topeka (Kansas) State Journal, August 10, 1911: 2.
14 J. Ed Grillo, “If Long Arrives in Time He Will Play Right Today,” Evening Star, September 8, 1911: 12.
15 J. Ed Grillo, “Long Reports; Will Take Gessler’s Place in Right,” Evening Star, September 11, 1911: 10.
16 J. Ed Grillo, “Tommy Long Looks Like a Natural Young Ball Player,” Evening Star, September 12, 1911: 10.
17 “That Boy from Boston is Peeved at Walloping Handed Him by Hughes,” Washington Times, September 14, 1911: 14.
18 J. Ed Grillo, “Notes,” Evening Star, September 14, 1911: 16.
19 J. Ed Grillo, “McAleer Sees Hope for Nationals Next Season,” Evening Star, September 26, 1911: 12.
20 Evening Star, December 4, 1911: 14.
21 “Tom Long Signs,” Washington Times, January 16, 1912: 14.
22 J. Ed Grillo, “Outfielder Tom Long May Be Sold to Indianapolis,” Evening Star, April 23, 1912: 15.
23 J. Ed Grillo, “Jack Flynn Will Be Sent Back to the St. Paul Club,” Evening Star, May 18, 1912: 12.
24 “National Commission Announces Releases,” Nashville (Tennessee) Banner, August 22, 1912: 14.
25 “May Recall Long,” Montgomery Advertiser, November 19, 1912: 13.
26 “Billy Smith Goes East for Players,” Birmingham News, December 30, 1912: 5.
27 “Griffith Send Tom Long Here,” Atlanta Constitution, January 18, 1913: 9.
28 Bill Smith, “This Year’s Team is Best I Ever Managed in This League, Says Bill Smith,” Atlanta Constitution, April 13, 1913: 7.
30 “Southern League Starts Its 16th Season on Friday,” Atlanta Constitution, April 9, 1916: 3.
31 “Pitcher Traded for Dog a Life-Saver for Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 30, 1915: 18.
32 “Tommy Long is Traded to St. Louis Cardinals,” Montgomery Advertiser, February 1, 1915: 6.
33 W.J. O’Connor, “Fans Cheer Tommy Long When He Fans with Two on Base,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1915: 8.
34 “Hug’s Success May Be Up to Him,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 22, 1915: 22.
35 Dent M’Skimming, (?) “There’s No Chance for Dolan to Take Tommy Long’s Job,” St. Louis Star and Times, May 5, 1915: 8.
36 “Triples Scoring Three Runs,” Pittsburgh Press, December 26, 1915: 22.
37 Billy Murphy, “Where Has Tommy Long Been the Last Five Years?” St. Louis Star and Times, May 6, 1915: 11.
38 Murphy, above.
39 “Notes,” Montgomery Times, August 7, 1915: 8.
40 “Outfielder Tom Long Cuts Loose and Causes Much Misery in Corsair Circles,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 28, 1915: 10.
41 Evening Star, February 13, 1916: 64.
42 “Pitcher Traded for Dog a Life-Saver for Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 30, 1915: 18.
43 J. Ed Grillo, “Pertinent Comment on Happenings in Sportsdom,” Evening Star, February 24, 1916: 16.
44 “Long Distance Swat Artist with Cards,” Dayton News, July 18, 1916: 11.
45 “Tommy Long Sent to Vernon Club in Coast League,” Atlanta Constitution, March 8, 1918: 14.
46 Same as above.
47 “Long Released to Our Tigers,” Los Angeles Times, March 5, 1918: 6.
48 “Long Likely to Star,” Los Angeles Evening Express, March 4, 1918: 2.
49 “Baseball News and Views,” Los Angeles Evening Express, April 3, 1918: 2.
50 “Long on Waiting List as Warrior,” Los Angeles Times, April 21, 1918: 66.
51 “Pertica to Take Box Against Tigers Today,” Los Angeles Evening Express, May 8, 1918: 1.
52 “Tommy Long Passes Through Atlanta Going to Upton,” Atlanta Constitution, May 22, 1918: 10.
53 “Outfielder Lost,” Los Angeles Evening Express, March 8, 1919: 7.
54 “Congressman Osborne Asked to Locate Tommy Long,” Los Angeles Evening Express, May 15, 1919: 23.
55 “Tommy Long, Mustered Out, to Rejoin Vernon,” Los Angeles Evening Express, July 31, 1919: 1.
56 R. Scott Mackey, Barbary Baseball: The Pacific Coast League of the 1920s (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1995), 12.
57 “Vernon Tigers Release Flychaser Tom Long to Shreveport,” Los Angeles Evening Express, April 30, 1921: 25.
58 “Eastern League Notes,” Berkshire Eagle, August 6, 1924: 10.
59 “Champs Need Fielders,” Bridgeport (Connecticut) Telegram, August 8, 1924: 3.
60 “Ponies Close In on Brasscos by 6 to 3 Victory,” Bridgeport Telegram, August 16, 1924: 14.
61 “Eastern League Notes,” Berkshire Eagle, March 28, 1925: 14.
62 Stuart X. Stephenson, “A Man’s Life Saved” Montgomery Advertiser, May 13, 1956: 6.
63 Stephenson: 6.
64 Stephenson: 6.
65 “Old Ball Player Asked to Autograph Baseball,” Clarke County Democrat, February 14, 1957: 1.
66 Henry Vance “The Coal Bin,” Birmingham News, January 31, 1958: 8.