This article was written by Mark Armour
“Tacky” Tom Parrott enjoyed a long and colorful career in professional baseball, showing both great athletic talent and a gift for showmanship. Forgotten today, for a brief time he earned a reputation as one of the game’s best players. He was the second native Oregonian to play in the major leagues, debuting eleven months after his brother, Jiggs.
Thomas H. Parrott, Tom’s father, had emigrated from England to Oregon in 1857, and soon became one of the leaders in his East Portland community. He and the former Eliza Ann Rhodes raised eight children, (all boys save one daughter), many of whom played organized baseball. The elder Thomas was a shoemaker when he arrived in Oregon, but he eventually made his living in the music business-he owned a music store and organized the East Portland Brass Band.
Thomas William Parrott, the third child, was born April 10, 1868. Music was a part of the Parrott children’s education from a young age, and many of them, including Tom, played in bands for much of their lives. In 1881 the East Portland Band won a contest for the best brass band in the state of Oregon, and were given a gold medal and $125.00, donated by the firm of Mellis Brothers to the winner. The elder Thomas conducted the band, while his sons Henry, Dode, Tom and Jiggs and a few cousins made up more than half its members.
While not playing his cornet, young Tom played organized ball in the Portland sandlots at a young age. In 1888 the Willamettes, a top-flight amateur team named after the river that divided Portland and East Portland, was assembled. Tom was the team’s ace pitcher, and was joined on the club by his brothers Dode and Jiggs.
The Pacific Northwest League, the first professional circuit in the region, was organized in 1890, and Tom and Jiggs were important members of the Portland team. Tom was the team’s best starting pitcher, finishing 15-25 for a team with a record of 28-67, and also its third leading batter (.253), playing the outfield occasionally. He was impressed enough with his own talents to leave the team in August in a demand for more salary. Tom actually got the raise, but soon after returning he refused to pitch unless certain teammates were not playing behind him. The team’s manager, Harris, suspended Parrott, but when the team’s fans demanded that their local hero return to action, the club’s officials reinstated him. Harris resigned.
Parrott had already gained a reputation for being what a later generation would call a “flake,” both on and off the field. Late that season, The Sporting News reported: “He has lots of speed and splendid curves, but knows nothing of headwork until he gets several good thumpings, which set him to thinking.”
Tom returned to Portland the next season vowing to behave. The Sporting News dutifully proclaimed Parrott to have “one of the strongest pitching arms in the league.” Portland won the league pennant in 1891, led by Tom’s strong pitching and hitting (.284). At the conclusion of Portland’s season, he joined the Sacramento club of the California League, playing the outfield for 18 games that fall.
In 1892 Tom returned to the Pacific Northwest League, but this time he split the season between Tacoma and Seattle, pitching and playing second base. Before one early season game, the Seattle team staged a “field day” during which Parrott made a big impression. He won the 100-yard dash easily, then threw a baseball 131 yards 2 feet, the latter just short of the reported record, set in 1872 by John Hatfield in New York. In early August, the league agreed to end its season and disband, with Parrott’s Seattle squad the circuit’s champion. Tom caught on as a pitcher for Philipsburg of the Montana State League for the remainder of their season.
With no professional leagues in the northwest in 1893, Parrott traveled diagonally across the country to hook up with Birmingham of the Southern League. The local Sporting News correspondent was enthusiastic: “Parrott is a fine pitcher, a smashing good hitter, and above all a kicker. He plays ball for his side from the time the bell rings.”
He was pitching and hitting (.346) well in June 1893 when his contract was sold to the Cincinnati Reds of the National League. At essentially the same time, Parrott, claiming that Birmingham had allowed him to make a deal for himself, signed with the Chicago Colts, who already employed his younger brother Jiggs. National League president Nic Young ultimately resolved the dispute in favor of Cincinnati, but not before Parrott pitched four games for Chicago. His debut for the Colts was on June 18, and he was awarded to the Reds on the 29th. His pitching was unimpressive in Chicago (0-3, 6.67), but solid in Cincinnati (10-7, 4.09). After the season The Sporting News reported: “There is no probability of Cincinnati allowing Parrott to drift away. At times he has pitched great enough ball to warrant the belief that he was well worth the fight that Cincinnati made to get him.”
After the season Tom headed to California to join an Oakland ballclub that hosted games against the NL champion Boston Beaneaters. Parrott continued to hone his colorful reputation. San Francisco’s Sporting News correspondent reported that “Tom Parrott does not play ball like any mortal on earth. When he plays third base he becomes filled with some sort of idea that he ought to play all of the other positions on the field, and comes pretty near doing so. When he pitches he tries hard to imitate a windmill. This he did yesterday with more or less success.” For his part, “Parrott says that some of the people who continually roust a pitcher, have not enough sense to pound sand into a rat hole.”
Throughout his baseball career he received a lot of attention for his musicianship. He still played the cornet in his father’s orchestra in Portland during the off-season, but also regularly played clubs during the season both at home and on the road. The Sporting News often mentioned his upcoming concerts at locations like New York’s Coney Island.
Parrott was the Reds’ opening day pitcher in 1894, and gained the victory over Chicago in large part due to his own home run. By May, The Sporting News could report: “Tom Parrott has Cincinnati patrons at his feet. His work this season has been gilt edged. He is liable to win out any game he pitches with the bat… Altogether the Reds made its best catch in three seasons when it captured Tom Parrott.” He finished 17-19 in 41 games, and hit .323 in 229 at bats, getting playing time at every position on the diamond save catcher.
By this time he had acquired his unusual nickname: “Tacky” (or “Tacks”). The reason for this is unknown, but likely stems from his occasionally outrageous, even clownish, behavior. He kept this handle his whole life, well beyond the end of his baseball days.
By 1894, his first full season in the big leagues, Parrott began to suffer arm troubles that ultimately shortened his pitching career. In fact, he had at least two disputes with Charles Comiskey, the Reds’ manager, related to his inability to pitch, each of which led to his suspension from the team. In each case Parrott claimed he was unable to pitch and was suspended. The Sporting News opined: “It does not seem to be square treatment though, to lame a man up by overwork and then suspend him for not being able to do his duty. The Cincinnati management are hard task masters.”
Tom had one of his most memorable days on September 28, 1894, when he connected for the cycle in a game against the New York Giants. The very next day was memorable for less positive reasons. Due to pitch the first game of a double-header, Parrott reported for duty midway through the game. Pitching the second game instead, Parrott was about to start the second inning when, responding to a bit of encouragement from Arlie Latham, the Reds’ third baseman and captain, Parrott got in a heated argument with Latham, ultimately refusing to pitch further. He was ordered off the field and suspended for the duration of the season. The local Sporting News correspondent was fed up: “Parrott has been kindly treated by the patrons of the game in this city, and very often he did not deserve it. He wanted to be known as a clown, and in this role he was a dismal failure.”
Things were patched up soon enough, and Parrott was back with the Reds the next spring. The Sporting News was able to report, from spring training in Mobile: “Tom Parrott, after playing ‘The Heart Bowed Down’ upon his cornet in a touching manner, stepped into the band wagon. The gentleman from Oregon signed his contract after two hours debate.”
In 1895 Parrott’s arm troubles continued, and by mid-summer he often spoke of the end of his pitching days. In any event, he pitched 41 games, 31 of them starts, and finished 11-18, 5.47. He also played first base and the outfield, and led the team with a .343 batting average in 201 at bats. For the latter accomplishment he earned a gold medal from a local merchant. Nonetheless, after the season he was dealt, with Arlie Latham, Morgan Murphy, and Ed McFarland, to the St. Louis Browns, for Heinie Peitz and Red Ehret.
The Browns had been a fairly hapless bunch since joining the NL in 1892. The Sporting News took a cynical view of the pairing of Tom Parrott with the Browns’ enigmatic owner, Chris von der Ahe, as this amazing diatribe attests: “Everybody know that ‘Tacky Tom’ is ‘some pumpkins’ as a cornetist and some folks say that if you would search the world over, you could not find a better bugler for a race track… What would Tom care if he were knocked out of the box in the afternoon, if he could at nighttime call the horses to the post? Chris has announced that he will run an electric light track in 1896. There will be a high old time if Tom’s wheels begin to revolve the wrong way while Chris is raising a row with his boys. It is said that the Oregonian is not predisposed toward the Germans anyhow and nothing rouses his ire more than a roast in the Dutch dialect. It may be Chris and he will not have any trouble, but the chances are that Parrott will not play the season out in St. Louis.”
In the event, Parrott did play the full season for the Browns. St. Louis moved him more or less full-time to the outfield (he pitched in seven contests) and Parrott hit .291 (highest on the team) and socked 7 home runs and 12 triples among his hits. Parrott also was the lead cornetist in Von de Ahe’s brass band that entertained at the owner’s horse track. It was a disastrous season for the Browns, who finished 40-90 and went through five managers, including Von der Ahe himself.
Although Tom had had another respectable season, his major league career was over. This was likely his own decision, as he still had a lot of baseball left. Because of his abiding twin loves of baseball and adventure, Parrott spent the next eleven years wandering around the country playing ball. Just where he would play would be dictated by where the money was, including for his ability to play music.
Parrott played the 1897 season for St. Paul and Minneapolis of the Western League, hitting .290 in 128 games at first base and the outfield, and returned to Minneapolis for 1898. He spent much of the winter of 1898-99 playing center field for an unaffiliated Seattle team that played a series of games in California. Unfortunately, the team ran out of funds in early 1899, and a benefit game was arranged to allow the Seattle club to be able to afford to get back home.
Parrott still held a reputation as a “dandy,” as demonstrated by this anecdote from the January 7, 1899, Sporting News: “‘Tacks’ was compelled by the club edict to part with his Andy Gilligans. He is the first player of recent years to try and play ball with Asa Brainard attachments.” The column is referring to Parrott’s long sideburns, a few decades out of common style.
He did not play organized ball in 1899, instead remaining in Portland, playing music and baseball and helping his family after his father’s death. For 1900 he signed to play with Denver of a newly organized Western League (the former circuit having transformed into the American League for 1900), also securing an engagement with a dance hall orchestra for the evenings. In mid-summer he was transferred to the Pueblo Indians club in the same league, where he occasionally took a turn on the mound along with his work at first and the outfield (.311 in 91 games). After the season, the Pueblo club folded.
In 1901, Parrott returned to the Southern League after eight years, this time playing for Nashville. The Volunteers won a controversial championship, aided when several late season games at Little Rock were awarded to Nashville when the hosts did not supply adequate police protection. Parrott had an excellent season, .335 in 120 games, leading to speculation that his season might earn him another shot at the major leagues, though he was nearing 34 and was several years removed from the big leagues.
The Sporting News continued to rely on Parrott for good copy. He gave the readership this wisdom in its September 21, 1901 issue: “If ball players on which age creeps apace wish to arrive at the secret of Ponce de Leon possessed by me they must abandon Gambrianus, Bacchus, Boozus and Venus [referring to gambling, wine, booze and love] and stick to plenty of Appolonarius and Morpheus [sunshine and rest]. I played in the highlands of Colorado, in Pueblo, last season, where the diamonds are very near the sun, and I read the remedy for perpetual youth in the Garden of the Gods.” So speaketh Tacks Parrott.
In 1902 Parrott jumped the Nashville club, accepting a larger offer to play for Milwaukee (American Association), but secured his release after just 28 games. He first agreed to return to Nashville, but suddenly took a better offer with San Francisco of the independent California League (which would become the Pacific Coast League the next season). He played centerfield for San Francisco, and The Sporting News correspondent claimed “he has made some of the most startling catches ever seen on the local diamond.”
In January 1903, Parrott saw fit to write to The Sporting News to wish baseball fans a “happy New Year.” He was back in Portland and in great shape (“fit to put on the uniform with the gladiators”), weighing a solid 190 pounds. His music was now a full-time job, but “nevertheless, I will toe the mark when the bell rings and be ready to play ball for whoever pays me the most mezuma.”
Nashville finally offered him the most “mezuma”, so he returned south for the start of the 1903 season. After just 27 games (.294), he returned to Portland and hooked on with the local team in the Pacific National League. The Portland club was facing new competition from the invasion of the Pacific Coast League to the city, and it soon was forced to move to Salt Lake City. Parrott was an excellent player for the club, hitting .357 in 87 games.
In 1904, Parrott was back in Nashville, but his decreased effectiveness at bat soon got him shipped to Little Rock and then Atlanta, and he managed just an aggregate .229 in 50 games before drawing his release. No longer having the leverage he had once enjoyed, Parrott finished the season with Monroe (Louisiana) of the Cotton States League (.236 over 165 at bats). Parrott blamed his poor showing on working too hard the previous off-season instead of resting up. He vowed that his 1905 team would “find your old friend … fresh as a daisy and as fast as any 8-year-old.”
He returned to the Cotton States League for 1905, playing for Greenville and Meridian (both in Mississippi) and hitting .249 in 278 at bats. The league ended its season on July 31 because of an epidemic of yellow fever that swept through New Orleans and the Mississippi delta that summer. (It was the last such epidemic in the United States.)
Parrott went on to play in the South Texas League (for San Antonio and Galveston) in 1906, and the Texas League (Houston) in 1907, before leaving finally organized baseball behind. Playing mainly first base, he hit just .234 and .235 in the two seasons. After 18 years in professional ball, and more than 20 teams, Parrott’s nomadic baseball career was over.
Thomas was married twice and had eight children. He married the former Sarah Edwards in Portland on Jaunary 20, 1898, but Sarah died during childbirth soon after. He later married the former Frances Fannie West on June 28, 1909, in Galveston. They had seven children at the time of Frances’ death in 1922; local families adopted several of the younger children.
After his baseball days, Thomas made his living as a musician, living mainly in Galveston and Houston. He was also a member of the fire department for a time.
A few years after his second wife’s passing, he moved back to Oregon to live with a cousin in Yamhill County, south of Portland. After a long illness, Parrott died on January 1, 1932 at the age of 63. His obituary honored him as “Tacks” Parrott, an old musician from Portland, who had gone east and made it big on the baseball diamond.
In preparing this biography, I made extensive use of The Sporting News throughout Parrott’s career, roughly 1890 through 1907. I also used his file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, his obituary from the Newburg (Oregon) Graphic (January 7, 1932), his statistics in the annual guides published by Reach and Spalding, information on the various leagues from Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolf’s Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, 2nd Edition, and his major league record from www.baseball-reference.com. I also received assistance and leads from baseball researchers Carlos Bauer, John Thorn, Lyle Spatz, Jean-Pierre Caillault, and Reed Howard. I was able to confirm information about the Parrotts from family genealogists Loretta Welsh, Karen Faunce, and Susan D. Engle.