The Grandstand Baseball Annual 1996 reprinted an article titled “Baseball Research Before SABR,” by Frank Phelps, which had originally appeared in the 1990 SABR membership directory. GBA’s editorial comment stated that Phelps’s article serves as the “definitive research road map,” and that “all the big names are there who contributed to baseball’s early foundation.”
When SABR published Lee Allen‘s Cooperstown Corner several years ago, Steve Gietschier of The Sporting News, writing the introduction, felt Allen’s greatest contribution was in collecting biographical data on the then estimated 11,000 major league players. Gietschier stated that Allen’s effort “would grow into the first edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia,” where Allen “labored with other pioneers in baseball research, including John Tattersall, S.C. Thompson, Frank Marcellus, Karl Wingler, Harry Simmons, Allen Lewis, Joseph Overfield, Clifford Kachline, and Paul Rickart.”
Unfortunately, neither Phelps nor Gietschier made any reference to baseball’s greatest biographical researcher, the late Tom Shea. Shea remains the forgotten man among baseball’s great researchers.
Tom Shea was born on June 7, 1904, in Boston. He started corresponding with Ernie Lanigan while attending Boston College, from where he graduated in 1926. From then until the start of the Second World War, Tom worked as a traveling salesman for the Macmillan Publishing Company and later the Thomas Nelson Publishing Company. He sold textbooks to school systems from North Carolina to Maine, as far west as Pittsburgh.
Wherever he went he carried index cards and small scraps of paper in his pocket. While waiting for appointments with school administrators, he would kill time taking notes from the local newspapers of whatever small town he was in. During the evenings he would use his Macmillan expense account–these were Depression years–to buy drinks in an area establishment and steer the conversation toward local baseball.
Shea is less well-known than he should be because his best ideas and biggest contributions either didn’t quite come off or were uncredited. Three examples:
His detailed proposal for a baseball reference encyclopedia in 1939 was sabotaged by Hall of Famer Eddie Collins‘ paranoia.
In 1941, Shea responded in detail and at length to J. G. Taylor Spink’s plaintive requests for help in marketing the Baseball Register. Shea’s advice worked, but his only payment was a lifetime subscription–which was abruptly cut off when Spink died.
It is obvious from the materials in his files that Shea supplied a high percentage of the biographical facts for Turkin and Thompson’s Official Encyclopedia of Baseball, first published in 1951. Tom trustingly thought he was a co-author, and the fact that he got only a brief credit in the preface turned him off baseball research for almost a decade. “Turkin and Thompson” should have been known as “Thompson and Shea,” or at least “Turkin, Thompson, and Shea.”
Cliff Kachline introduced me to Tom Shea at a SABR meeting in Boston in 1983, and for the next ten years I had the great pleasure of spending an afternoon a week listening to an elderly man who could tell me the story of any major league baseball player from the advent of the game through 1950.
As our relationship grew, Tom decided I was a worthy successor to his research files. His collection consisted of about 125 shoe boxes crammed with index cards and newspaper clippings. Included in Tom’s files were about 100 letters from Lee Allen, thirty-one from S. C. Thompson, thirteen from Hy Turkin, ten from Ernie Lanigan, two from Eddie Collins, and twelve from J. G. Taylor Spink.
Sampling these letters gives you a sense of how central Shea was in the development of the universe of biographical data we now take for granted when we turn to our favorite baseball reference works.
The two letters from Collins were both written on Boston Red Sox stationery.
May 18, 1939: “I received a letter from Mr. Will Harridge in which he indicated the American League would be interested in such a proposal as you [sic] suggestion.”
June 13, 1939: “Thank you very much for yours of recent date enclosing brief analysis of the proposed work. I had planned to discuss this matter with Mr. Harridge at Cooperstown yesterday, but the opportunity was not presented. I have, therefore, forwarded all the material on to him to Chicago today.”
Included with the Collins letters was a carbon of a letter from Tom to Collins with the outline for a prototype baseball encyclopedia. The book called for 743 pages: 150 for “history,” 60 of “photos,” 100 of “contributions,” 156 of “statistical summary” and 277 of “biographical index.”
Shea told me fifty years after the fact that Collins was interested enough in Tom’s idea to run it by American League President Will Harridge. Collins swore Tom to secrecy about the deal, stating that he didn’t want the National League to hear about the project. Several months into the project, Collins abruptly refused to respond to Tom’s letters or answer his phone calls.
Tom approached his friend Moe Berg and asked him to find out the details. Berg returned with the following story. Tom had a friend named Andy O’Connor who had pitched one big league game for the New York Highlanders in 1908. Tom had been drinking one evening with O’Connor and had related some of the details of the deal he had going with Collins. Several weeks later O’Connor ran into Collins at Fenway Park and mentioned what Tom had told him. Collins, upset that a drunken ex-ball player knew of the plans, dropped the project on the spot. Berg attributed Collins’ response to residual paranoia that Collins retained from his dealings with Charlie Comiskey and the Black Sox scandal.
Tom had begun his correspondence with Ernie Lanigan in the mid-1920s. Through Lanigan, Tom met S. C. Thompson sometime in the 1930s. Lanigan worked at the International League office which was in the Ruppert Building at 535 Fifth Avenue in New York City. Thompson, a musician by trade, spent a lot of time traveling with shows. Shea likewise was on the road a lot. Both called New York City their home base in the late 1930s. The International League office was their meeting spot, and they went there to exchange data and pick the brain of their mentor, Lanigan.
Unfortunately most of Shea’s pre-World War II correspondence was lost. Tom left his files with a friend in Philadelphia, where he had been based in the early 1930s. The friend, thinking Tom was not going to return, threw out the files. Tom lamented that ten years of research done on Philadelphia area players was lost.
The letters from Lanigan were short and usually pessimistic.
October 23, 1941: “I took a terrible beating on revising Who’s Who and doing the Baseball Cyclopedia.”
December 12, 1941: “Thompson lacked some first names of players in the American League in 1900, that not being an American League. I got Irving Posan of the Sporting News to dig for them. He spent five hours and emerged with 15. No charge to Thompson and no dough to Posan. I think we-uns will have to take a course in accounting showing the hours spent in productive and unproductive labor.”
July 31, 1946: “The Great Thompson gave me your address and I have told the Great Simmons [Harry Simmons] to send you the material you left at 535 when you departed for the wars. It is pretty well mixed up, but is intact. I came up here [Cooperstown] for the good of baseball and am making the mistake of my life. As I can sell everything I write I will not go into details. Have decided with Kipling that the fastest traveler is he who travels alone. I have been going at a snail’s pace.”
September 15, 1946: “I am taking a large sized and luxurious financial beating here, thanks for my fondness for doing something for baseball. I will recuperate. Nat Goodwin once appeared in a play called ‘An American Citizen,’ written by Henry Guy Carleton. In Act the first he discovers that his partner has absconded with the assets of the estate leaving him holding the well-known bag or portfolio or whatever you call it. He makes a speech to the effect that by observing a rigid economy until he is 93 years old he can pay off the debts and start life afresh. I am 73 now and have no debts, but I think I will start afresh at age 74.”
April 2, 1948: “I plan a story on Mickey Cochrane and you ought to be able to tell me something about him that would appeal to the cash customers.”
One afternoon in the late 1980’s, Tom and I were in the cellar of his home on Bradley Hill in Hingham, Massachusetts. In the corner of the room was a big stack of The Sporting News. Tom said that J. G. Taylor Spink had been sending them to him free since 1941. The issues were continuous until they abruptly stopped shortly after Spink’s death in 1962. Some excerpts from Spink’s letters:
March 22, 1941: “We are pleased to forward to you, under separate cover, a copy of the new edition of our Baseball Register, with the compliments of William J. Manley and Ernest John Lanigan of the International League. Will you kindly advise Mr. Lanigan of its receipt. Mr. Lanigan tells us that you have been following the publishing business for a number of years. As we have put a lot of time and effort into the Baseball Register, we would value your opinion as to whether it is a library book. Your views on this point, together with any suggestions you might care to offer regarding its distribution or sale, would greatly be appreciated.”
April 12, 1941: “I just received your letter which Mr. Lanigan passed along to me, and I want to express my gratitude for the useful information you have given me… Thanking you for your fine co-operation, which we will be glad to reciprocate whenever we can be of service.”
April 21, 1941: “In your recent helpful letter, you indicated that if we wanted any additional names that might help us in getting library distribution for our Baseball Register, you would be able to send them to us. I trust that you will not feel that I am unduly persistent, but we are very anxious to get such names and I will appreciate any further information you might be able to give us.”
May 25, 1941: “I want to thank you very much for additional list of libraries received, which we will follow up at once. Note letter I had from Baker and Taylor. If there is anything you can suggest in this connection, I would appreciate hearing from you.”
May 31, 1941: “After using the lists you sent us, we now have about 250 circulars similar to the attached we would like to send to libraries and I wonder if you might have some list that you might forward to us, or advise us where we might obtain.”
The earliest letter from S. C. Thompson was dated July 26, 1946, and it reads in a familiar, reacquainting fashion, probably the first correspondence the two had exchanged since the start of World War II. The last was dated July 20, 1951, after The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball had been published. Most of Thompson’s letters were undated and they usually consisted of narratives of varying lengths attached at the ends of longhand rosters and biographical data. A typical Thompson letter would be about fifteen ledger-sized pages. He would list players he lacked birth or death data on alphabetically, Tom would then make notations on each name: “Resident of Altoona, Pa. May still be living there.” Or, “From around Sunbury, Pa. A noted judge in Pennsylvania.” After making an entry on each of Thompson’s queries, he would send the entire letter back to Thompson who would then send out inquires to players or local vital statistics offices based on Tom’s tips. There are hundreds of these pages, and I came to realize they were the true guts of the “Turkin and Thompson” book.
The Thompson letters are the most fascinating, but also the most disturbing.
July 26, 1946: “Surprised but glad to get your letter of June 21st but notice it was dated July 15, 1942. I heard you were in the service but it is a mystery about the date of the letter. I also notice it was mailed in a very old envelope of mine. What have you been doing and all about it? Ernie is now the curator of the Baseball Museum at Cooperstown, N.Y. and Harry Simmons has his job at the International League office.”
Undated: “You certainly know where the body is buried in a lot of these cases. Don’t know how you do it or how you keep them all in your noodle.”
Undated: “Received your stuff but haven’t time to dig into it yet. Thanks for the mass of new data and leads. It will take me a little while to get it all digested.”
Undated: “Am sending out letters by the score, sent out over 100 last week. As soon as replies start coming in I will keep you informed as usual.”
Undated: “I guess this is quite a letter but then you wrote a little hunk of epistle yourself. I wish you could arrange to drop in if you are going to be in New York soon. I have a lot of new stuff that I would like to discuss with you … trusting to hear from you especially on your ideas on how we can squeeze info on these Conn. League boys out of the old Conn. League.”
Undated: “Having finished your latest and most interesting letter piece by piece and paragraph by paragraph, let me say that you sure gave out with a lot of very valuable data and clues which I shall follow up and advise you of the results.”
Undated: “We are filling them up slowly but surely thanks mostly to your clues. I think you carry more data under your hat than J. G. Taylor Spink carries in his files.”
Undated: “Your big mass of data on hand today. Will send this on now as it will take several days to digest your latest effort.”
Undated: “Hope to hear from you again soon with some more good dope and leads to follow up.”
Undated: “Thanks a million for your fine letter and mass of data which I received this past week. I am enclosing information wanted lists of ‘C’s’ and ‘D’s’, also complete data list of New England players thru ‘C’s’ and ‘D’s’. Also returning information wanted list of ‘A’s’ and ‘B’s’ per your request.”
Undated: “I am definitely interested in collaborating with you on a book such as you suggest if I can be of any help. I think your idea is a good one. I thoroughly agree with you that no one cares about a history of the American League.”
Undated: “Just got thru checking your last three letters. Comment (if any) enclosed on my new dope list. Just got two more from you this a.m.”
Undated: “I have picked up your cards from the International League office as you suggested and have them here at the house so if you ever want them, you will know where they are. I will keep them in good condition and separate from my files. I haven’t had the opportunity to open the boxes and examine them yet as I just picked them up about a week ago.”
Undated: “Looked over your cards. It was the first time I had opened the boxes since I brought them over from the International League. They are in pretty much of a mess, I am sorry to say. They have been packed in several cardboard cartons and have been pretty well scrambled in the process. As soon as I can get around to it, I will sort them out. It is going to be a job. What are the little sheets done up in rubber bands? Do they belong with the cards?”
Undated: “Yes, I had the Clipper annuals here about a year ago but like a dope, I never took down places of death. I’ll try to get them again from Laurie who lives across the street and who had them before ‘Variety.’ I have combed the Swales card files in the book stack at the public library and got all I need from them.”
Undated: “Thanks a lot for your last letter. Many clues which I am following up. Will keep you advised weekly as usual.”
Undated: “Looking forward to another good mass of data soon. I finally wrote to everyone you gave me an address on. Took a little time as there were a lot of them. Where did my last “A” and “C” list stop? I think I was up to the “H’s” but I forget.”
Undated: “Thanks for all the new dope-too numerous to mention each case. Hope I am doing the same for you. Looks like you will get to see a World Series. My pal Turkin is coming up to Boston this week. I told him to phone you if he has the time. He’s one swell guy and is helping us a lot so if he calls you, show him the ropes.”
July 20, 1951: “The book [The Official Encyclopedia Of Baseball] is doing well. I haven’t had any reports on it lately but at last report it had sold over 30,000 copies and was 8th on the non-fiction best seller list. I am a little disappointed in that the book did not bring forth any appreciable information from the players or their relatives. As far as I know not a single one has written in to offer anything in the way of missing information. So I guess we will just have to go our own way doing business as we always did.. .Don’t take our friend Hy too serious. He is a good Joe but inclined to get into your hair with his grandma tactics. He is one hell of a writer though as I believe you will agree if you have looked over the book. He has gotten a fellow writing to him now and this jerk is a specialist in finding out that a certain player died on August 5th instead of August 4th as we have him etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum. Nothing new or startling. Just petty junk like that until it got into my hair and I just had to tell Hy off. There is never any full data on some guy who is blank. Just a rehash of stuff we have gone over thoroughly. So I finally wrote this jerk and told him off. I hope he shuts his mouth. Ernie is the other sniper. He has a funny system. He never writes to me but sends Marcellus notes that he “don’t think” so-and-so is right. We only have these two snipers so I guess we are lucky. I told Hy if we changed the data in the book to conform we would lose all prestige and respect of the sports writers as well as that of the publishers. It is my idea that once you go into print, you simply can’t bring out a new edition with a million petty changes like one or two days difference in a player’s birth or death without damaging your prestige beyond repair.”
This was the final letter from Thompson. Tom was shocked that he was not listed as one of the authors. He believed that he and Thompson were co-authoring the project. While there is no doubt that S. C. Thompson was the driving force behind The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball, the only credit Tom got from Turkin and Thompson was an acknowledgement in the preface along with Lanigan, Frank Marcellus, Allen, Phil Redelheim, and Harry Simmons.
In retrospect this seems naive on Tom’s part as he had spent so many years in the publishing business, but he had been living in Massachusetts, and by the time the book was published, had not seen Thompson face-to-face in almost a decade. Suspicions aroused, Tom started to hold back material. Tom told me that Turkin was upset when he realized the full extent of what Tom had provided.
The dated Turkin letters all came in 1950 and 1951. Like the Thompson material, there are also many pages of raw data. Turkin would send on whatever biographical data he had obtained and ask Tom to review, correct, or simply okay them for admission to the database.
March 9, 1950: “I have received quite a few new middle names, birth data, etc., as soon as I transcribe them to the rosters, I intend to keep up Thompson’s habit of sending you copies of the agenda. There seems to be some difficulty about the Hengle brothers. Thompson lists only Edward S. (nickname Maxie), and mistakenly lists him as both playing second base for and managing Chicago UA in 1884. The fact is there were two men, brothers. One is Edward S., but that is probably the manager. The other was E. J. Hengle, and Harry Simmons says he thinks that this is the second baseman who later popped up with the St. Paul club of the Northwestern League, full name Emory J. Hengle. Can you enlighten me on this?”
October 27, 1950: “If you get the info, would you please shoot it to me on the enclosed self-addressed postal? I am in the proof-reading stage of the Encyclopedia, so any last-minute additions will have to come in the next few weeks.. .the sooner the better… or else miss the first edition.”
February 23, 1951: “I do hope that last missile I forwarded from Marcellus didn’t scare you off. He was just in a crotchety mood, though generally he’s very genial, helpful and responsible. Lee Allen writes me that he heard from you re Charles Marvin (Pop) Smith. Would appreciate your sending me the data, too.”
April 5, 1951: “Thought I would be seeing you by now, but the old family bus burned out two bearings, stayed in drydock three weeks, and just burned out another. I’m marooned indefinitely, till the jalopy straightens out and flies right. Thank goodness, the book is going much better than the car. In fact, a second printing is imminent. Hence this letter. Could you please send me as soon as possible all the additions and corrections you found for the Encyclopedia? I have found many typos. When I round them all up for the printer’s benefit, I promise to send a copy of the complete batch to you.”
May 28, 1951: “Your last ‘letter’ overwhelmed me. I’m plowing through it carefully. Am piling up a load of material, and will faithfully send you the complete list of corrections for the next printing.”
December 20, 1951: “Please forgive my not writing earlier, but I’ve been bogged down tracing more than 1,000 claims about missing players. Your leads alone would take a year of research. Since $100 reward was the top amount offered, you are being sent the full Century note, which you so rightly deserve many times over. Fine Christmas present.” [In 1951, The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball’s publisher, A.S. Barnes and Company, awarded $50 to each person who furnished the name of any major league player who was missing from the encyclopedia, with a $100 maximum. Tom sent in four names, and received $100 for himself and $100 for Frank Bruno, a Boston librarian who knew nothing about baseball but to whom Tom owed money.]
The letters from Lee Allen ran from 1950 to 1951, and then again from 1960 until Allen’s death. From 1951 through 1960 there are no baseball letters. Tom told me he was so put off by the Turkin and Thompson incident that he gave up baseball. It was Allen who resparked his interest. Most of the Allen letters read like a column from Cooperstown Corner, and justice can only be done by reading them in their entirety. While Turkin and Thompson were more task-oriented in their research, Shea and Allen clearly took delight in the details they discovered. Both were master storytellers.
October 13, 1950: “I have heard S. C. Thompson and Hy Turkin speak of you so frequently I almost feel I know you, and I wonder if you could help me out with something. I have for years been trying to find out something about Robert S. Clack, who played the outfield for Cincinnati in 1876.. .would you be kind enough to tell me what you know about Clack, and where I might go to trace him further.”
October 22, 1950: “Many thanks for the kind words about my work in your letter of October 18. I appreciate them, because the book was not a great financial success.. .extremely grateful for such tips. I’m trying to improve my writing, and think that the next book will be a better job.. .I’m sure that S. C. Thompson, who delights in every mistake I make, will rejoice if Borden’s game was a phony. I am absolutely at a loss to understand Thompson’s attitude. Last winter, for instance, I received a letter saying that Charles Wesley Jones died in 1910 when struck by lightning. I reported the matter to Turkin and we listed Jones as having died then. When I thought about the incident and decided to check on it, I went to considerable expense and made a trip to Princeton, Indiana, and consumed three days before proving the death notice erroneous. When I then asked Hy to erase the Jones death in his records, Thompson considered the whole thing very amusing and proof that I was irresponsible. You figure it out; I can’t. Lord knows there are few of us interested in this sort of thing, and I don’t see why we can’t stick together.
“Thompson has done a lot of good work, and we all owe him a great deal, but he seems to feel that the research he did years ago is final. I am always open to correction, knowing how tough it is to get accurate data on obscure players from the long ago, and he should feel likewise… thanks a million for the tips on Bobby Clack. You bet I’ll follow up every one of them, and then let you know what happens.
“I think you probably agree with me that the early players’ records should be reexamined to prove their data. I know Turkin and Marcellus feel that way too, although it is a nuisance sometimes to erase something you gathered painfully.”
February 28, 1951: “Many thanks for straightening me out on Charles Marvin (Pop) Smith. I will certainly follow your leads and complete the data I need.”
March 11, 1951: “I read your recent letter with great interest. There are so few people in the world who have studied baseball history to the extent that we have that it is a real treat to find one.”
Excerpts from the second run:
March 5, 1960: “I have often wondered why I never heard from you again, and wondered if I could have possibly offended you. I hope not. I wrote to Thompson and he reported that he hadn’t heard from you for a long time either. Are you well? If you are, and if you are in a position to resume corresponding, I would appreciate hearing from you.”
March 11, 1960: “Thanks for your long letter containing all that information. As time permits, I will pursue some of the leads you have given me.. .If you ever locate the data on Frank McLaughlin, I’d surely appreciate receiving it.”
August 22, 1960: “That was a dandy job you did on the McLaughlins. There is a lot still missing, but you dug up much I didn’t have.”
November 16, 1960: “What a wonderful job you did in turning up William J. Tiernay after all this time. I knew he was a Boston lad, but somehow never got around to doing any research concerning him. He played the opening day of the 1882 season for Cincinnati, their first AA game, and the papers took very little notice of him.”
June 30, 1961: “Thanks for your good letter about ‘The National League Story,’ and all the priceless data you enclosed. First of all, it was not flattery that prompted my mention of you in the book. Although you may not have contributed anything specific to that one volume, it was an acknowledgement of my general indebtedness to you for enriching my study of baseball and enriching my life.
“Sam Wright. I’m delighted that you have finally cleared up this most baffling of cases. Some years ago I visited Harry Wright, Jr. in Mt. Holly, N.J. He remembered Uncle Sam but had no idea where he died or where he was buried. I think one of two things happened. First of all, Harry Wright and George Wright were the sons of Samuel Wright and Mary Love Wright. Shortly after George’s birth his father either re-married, his bride being Ann Tone, or Sam was born out of wedlock. I would imagine that Ann Tone was a Catholic which would account for Sam’s burial in St. Patricks. So Harry and George Wright would be English and Sam would be English-Irish. I think it would be more logical to believe that Sam, Sr. re-married than to have had a son out of wedlock, inasmuch as the maiden name of Sam Jr.’s mother was known at the time of his death, and George took charge of the funeral. There was a lot of hatred in the Wright family, due, I think, to the fact that George’s branch became wealthy and Harry’s did not. George’s sons have been most uncooperative over the years about their father’s baseball achievements.”
December 16, 1961: “Meanwhile, can you put me straight in regard to the various John Farrells? It seems to me that obituaries confused Hartford Jack Farrell and Providence Jack Farrell. The latter was well known player, and the former a bum. I seem to recall that Hartford Jack was often jailed, and newspaper accounts would say it was the Providence player, and then the Providence player would write in and deny it.”
January 13, 1962: “I certainly enjoyed the latest fat envelope from you and have studied the material. My American League book is out of the way now, so I have time to write you the letter of a length you deserve.”
January 19, 1962: “Coincidence piles upon coincidence. Shortly after receiving your letter about Honest John Kelly being the Syracuse-Troy performer in 1879, I ran into a long account in The Sporting News for 1889 describing an incident in which Honest John created a scene in a bawdyhouse, throwing beer bottles at the girls and cutting up much in the manner of Fred Lewis ‘or Lew Dickerson.”
February 16, 1962: “I picked up many heights and weights, bats and throws from your latest, and for which many thanks. In confidence, the American League has just read the manuscript of my history and refuses to make it the “official” history because of references I made to drinking by Babe Ruth and Rube Waddell and the suicide of Chick Stahl.”
April 14, 1962: “In my Sporting News column this week I had occasion to mention Daniel R. Ryan, and of course gave you credit for the information I had about him. Thanks to your informing me that Burrill (apparently it is Buster Burrell) is still alive I was able to give that information to Bert Abbey, who, strangely, is an old battery mate of Buster’s.”
October 24, 1962: “For some time I have been embarrassed and pained by the possibility that at our meeting, after inviting you to be my guest, I may have left without having paid the check, thus sticking you with it. Lord, I hope not. But if this did happen, would you please let me know the amount so I can send it to you and ease my conscience. Such excursions have been very rare for me in the past few years, and I beg your indulgence.”
January 7, 1963: “Your letter made me feel better than anything that has happened in many weeks. I want to write at length about this some day, but not right now, so I will confine myself to baseball material. But I still am upset because of the possibility that you had to pay that bar check, so please let me know if this is the case, as it has bothered me for weeks.”
January 21, 1963: “As for separating the Quinns and Morgans, I’m afraid it is beyond my powers. I think the Morgan with Washington in 1884 was William Morgan, a Brooklyn boy and that the one with the Virginias was Henry W Morgan, of Baltimore.
“Another erroneous date of death in T&T is that of Robert M. Barr, who did not die on 11-14-93. That was the date of death of some amateur from Philadelphia. Turkin slipped a lot of those deaths from the Clipper Almanac into T&T and didn’t seem to care to check them out in his anxiety to get data. Robert M. Barr died in Washington, D.C., his lifelong home, on March 11, 1930.”
“Another wrong death date in T&T is that of Jimmie Woods, or Wood. T&T says he died 11-3-86. The Clipper almanac shows plainly that the man who died on that date was Burr Wood, a pitcher from Canastota, N.Y. So Turkin lists the player as James Burr Wood and kills him in 1886.”
March 28, 1963: “Thanks to you, I today received a wonderful bunch of stuff from Wilfred Hamill about his father’s (John Hamill) career, including pictures of a Union Association game, the first I have ever seen.”
April 8, 1963: “What you say about Frank Whitney is extremely interesting. He must have been the last survivor of the 1876 boys. When the Golden Jubilee dinner was held at the Astor on February 2, 1925, the following players were present: Tommy Bond, George Bradley, Jack Burdock, Bill Holbert, Lon Knight, Jack Manning, John Morrill, Deacon White and Tom York. I don’t know why George Wright was not included in this group. I believe all the deaths of 1876 players in the Encyclopedia are correct except for that of Thomas John Carey, who is shown as having expired on Feb. 13, 1899. The Clipper Almanac identifies the man who died on that date as John Carey, an infielder who died in Los Angeles. Turkin probably saw that and leaped to the conclusion it was Thomas John.”
May 30, 1963: “Your opinion that Thayer was Fair makes sense to me. Game in which he appeared for Mutuals, July 29, 1876, was played at Boston. I wonder where T&T got that ‘Mechanic Falls, Maine’ bit for him?”
January 7, 1965: “If I have offended you in any way, I am very sorry about it. It has been so long since I have heard from you, I felt that this must be the case. However, I’m at a loss to know what it could have been. In any event, you may be happy to learn that I went back to AA last January, and am about to complete my first year and am very happy about it.”
May 20, 1966: “You really started something with the business about ‘Sis’ Hopkins. First of all, a curiosity, The Sporting Life shows that the Pittsburgh 1902 player made two hits in four trips in the second game of two on August 24, 1902 at Cincinnati, a Sunday. In its coverage of the same game The Sporting News also runs the name as Hopkins but gives him two-for-two, including a double. To settle the matter I went down to our basement where we have an original volume of the 1902 Cincinnati Enquirer. There was a note that said something like this, ‘When Zimmer left the second game and was replaced by Hopkins, a friend of Wagner’s from Carnegie, the boys in Rooter’s Row all screamed “Sis”.’
“So you were right. But apparently his name was Mike Hopkins and not Hawkins, although when the press box sent word down to the field the name could have come back from the bench as ‘Hopkins’ when ‘Hawkins’ was intended.
“But there were two different Hopkinses, just as you said, just as there were two different Bradys.”
June 28, 1966: “Your booklet on nicknames gave me something I never knew, a VPI connection for Wally Shaner, one of my favorites. Maybe I can trace him now.”
August 15, 1966: “Thanks very much for the collection of notes, which, as usual, contains much information that delighted me. Let’s start by taking up the year of 1874.”
August 23, 1966: “I am haunted by what you wrote about Connie Mack telling Magee’s son-in-law to ‘lay-off, let sleeping dogs lie’.”
January 28, 1967: “I know it isn’t always easy for you to drop what you are doing and reply hurriedly to something, but I would appreciate it greatly if you could help me out at once in straightening out the two Quinns (Paddy Quinn and Unknown Quinn) and of the 1870’s.. .You also once told me that the T&T sketch of Henry William Morgan was the combined record of at least three players.. .The death date on Rooney Sweeney in T&T is also erroneous. Rooney was alive and kicking in 1887.”
March 24, 1967: “Bollicky, Boozing Billy Taylor could not possibly have been the player with Baltimore in 1874, Hartford in 1877 and Troy in 1879… Now, you have established that James B. (Sandy) Taylor was definitely the Troy man. That leaves at issue the identity of the players with Baltimore in 1874 and Hartford in 1877… But who could the Taylor be who played with Baltimore in 1874?
“As for the Hayes matter, I consider Michael Hayes, born Cleveland, to be one of Hy Turkin’s flights of fancy.”
Undated: “I have the exact date on Cap Anson at Notre ame. He entered December 3, 1866, when he was 14 and remained two years, attending with his older brother, Sturgis R. Anson. So it was an academy as I suspected, high school level, and Arise was not a collegian, Baby.”
Undated: “James Niels Peterson runs the swankiest restaurant in Palm Beach and he told me a couple of weeks ago that he handled Connie Mack’s personal correspondence for 20 years and that the 1914 World Series was fixed. He named Chief Bender, but I do not believe it. Bender was a good friend of mine, which is meaningless, but he was coaching for the Athletics and Connie was still alive. I’m sure he would not have taken the Chief back if Peterson had the right dope.”
April 9, 1966: “I am very much amused at your discovery that Carrie Nation died of paresis. When it was not known what caused paresis, newspaper obits often listed it as cause of death. The only ballplayers whose death certificates I have seen that list syphilis as the direct cause of death are Claude Rossman and that strange person, Charles Leander Jones, no-hitter in his first start.
“Even more amusing than the Carry Nation cause of death, however, is the ‘image’ that Christy Mathewson has. Never smoked or drank, but he could handle the women. Tom Swope, the retired Cincinnati baseball writer, has always disliked Mathewson because he (Swope) saw Matty coming out of a whorehouse on Christmas Eve.”
January 23, 1968: “I was thinking of you last Saturday morning, for I was sitting in the living room of Edith Hanke, who is the youngest daughter of James H. (Orator Jim) O’Rourke. I had searched for her for many years and finally learned she was living at Madeira Beach, near Clearwater. . .I told Edith about you and what you had written me about O’Rourke’s fatherless childhood and the strong Christian character of his mother, all of which she verified. She also told me that John O’Rourke never married, got very fat, was an enormous eater and died of acute indigestion.”
March 10, 1968: “The announcement of our Encyclopedia will be coming in a couple of weeks. Could I induce you to look at some proofs in about a year to make certain we have the right club connections for Morgans, Taylors et al?”
June 25, 1968: “Also, I think you will be amused to know that Waldo Ward Yarnall denies having died in 1934 as T&T claims… I think you ought to read a galley of our Encyclopedia for a good fee and have so recommended that you be asked to. We may have some wrong club connections. But we will have some things right too, and I think it will be a big step ahead of T&T”
July 16, 1968: “One time on the telephone you told me to disregard VPI’s claim that Skinny Shaner did not attend the institution. You are so right. Shaner says he went to VPI three years. He is now stage manager of the Lido show at the Stardust in Las Vegas, of all things.”
August 15, 1968: “Did I tell you I turned up the date of death at Philly of George Stacey Davis? 10-17-40, of paresis. The widow refused to tell any of the Davis side of the family even that he had died and they didn’t find out until several years later.”
Lee Allen’s death in 1969 was a heavy blow for baseball researchers. SABR was formed in 1971 and it’s been said that SABR’s Biographical Research Committee was an extension of Allen’s biographical research club. The Biographical Research Committee has been ably chaired over the years by such researchers as Cliff Kachline, Joe Simenic, Rich Topp, and Bill Carle. It has continued to solve some of the most baffling cases.
The flow of letters to Tom Shea did not stop with Allen’s death. Researchers continued to flood Tom with requests for clues on long-dead major leaguers. Some of the most interesting were from Simenic and Bill Haber, both of whom had become mesmerized by Tom at SABR’s founding meeting in Cooperstown. Excerpts from the Simenic letters are as follows.
September 23, 1971: “Many thanks for your ‘fat envelope’ of September 13 with data on Cleveland players. You certainly will keep me busy for many months to come tracking down all these leads but I will enjoy every minute of it.”
January 22, 1972: “Among the many notes I made the night of our dinner in Cooperstown was to let you know when and if I got a questionnaire for Raymond Benjamin Mowe, the 1913 Brooklyn shortstop. You were of the opinion that he came from Earlham College. Earlier this week I received his questionnaire from his daughter-in-law who lives in Sarasota, Fla. She said that he was athletic director at Earlham College, Richmond, Md., from 1917-1923.”
March 31, 1973: “The last time we were in touch was when we solved the Gonzzle- Claude Gouzzie riddle thanks to your excellent tip. Now thanks to another of your excellent tips I am happy to report the solution of another puzzle. You may recall you sent me a lengthy list of players who attended Ohio colleges. One of these was Elisha S. Norton, the 1896-97 Washington pitcher, you said attended Ohio State University. I recently wrote to the Ohio State Alumni Assn. and today I received the enclosed information from their monthly bulletin showing that Norton died in Aspinwall, Pa., March 5, 1950.”
April 11, 1973: “What an interesting letter from you (as usual). So full of nostalgia but more important some excellent leads to follow up. You had so many tips I don’t know just how to begin my reply.”
May 21, 1973: “In your letter of April 4 you were telling me about all the players who came up from the small western Pennsylvania towns along the Ohio River, and ‘one of them was Dr. James S. Darragh, out of the Univ. of Pennsylvania, who practiced as a dentist-I suppose all his life-and died in Rochester, Pa., not in N.Y
“A few weeks before I got your letter I had written to the New York State Dept. of Health requesting Darragh’s death certificate but they wrote back saying they could not locate it.
“Acting on your tip I wrote to the Pennsylvania State Dept. of Health and in today’s mail I received his death certificate. Darragh died in Rochester, Pa. (as you said), Aug. 12, 1939.”
November 26, 1976: “It has been much too long since I was last in touch with you and I wish to apologize for my tardiness. Some months ago you were kind enough to send along a lot of little ‘tid-bits’ on pre-1900 players and though I have done a little digging I regret to say that my efforts so far have been fruitless. I have not given up and will continue to bear down on these ‘toughies’.”
November 15, 1977: “I recently decided to concentrate my research efforts on players who made their major league debuts prior to 1900. It is this group that is the most difficult to trace and presents the greatest challenge. Do you realize that in this pre-1900 group there are over 700 players for whom we have no death data, and that of these 700 there are about 100 for whom we have no first name? Our young friends, Bill Haber and Tom Hufford, are more or less concentrating on the 1900-1915 group and are meeting with a fair amount of success.”
Excerpts from the Haber letters:
October 12, 1971: “Trust all is going well with you. I was hopeful that by this time I would’ve heard from you concerning some of the ‘missing’ players we were discussing at Cooperstown. I recall your saying for instance that Frederick H. ‘Klondike’ Smith died in Massachusetts some six to eight years ago. Cliff Kachline tells me that you’ve provided Joe Simenic with enough leads in the Ohio area to keep him busy all winter long. I am hopeful that you’ll be good enough to do the same for me in the New York City area.”
January 10, 1972: “Thanks a million for sending me all those leads-they’re beautiful and I only hope that some players are found as a direct result of those leads.
“Tom, my main request this time around is that I’d like you to go through the Encyclopedia from C to Z as you did with A&B and send me similar lists as you did from time to time. I hope you’ll be able to do this in your leisure time-I realize this is quite time consuming, but perhaps you can do a little at a time. I feel you’ll be able to provide us with countless clues on missing players and also straighten out errors of which we’re not aware.”
October 22, 1972: “Thanks so much for your letter received, I’ve got some good news to pass along as a result of your letter. I’ve been able to verify the data on Varney Anderson. He was born at Geneva, Illinois, June 18, 1866, and as you said, died at Rockford Illinois, November, 1941.”
February 8, 1973: “Tom, I hope you don’t feel I ‘bug’ you too much, but I know for a fact that you have a good deal of information which will help us locate a good number of the players we list as missing.”
November 16, 1978: “Rich told me that you’ve repeated that Ernie Courtney ended up in Buffalo, so I wrote there. The library had nothing so I wrote to Vital Statistics and don’t you think they found his death certificate. Courtney was listed as a hotel keeper and died in Buffalo, February 29, 1920. So, I’ve just written to try and find a surviving relative, but in any case, that’s another one we can chalk up to you-thanks a million.
“I recently had occasion to locate Charles A. Armbruster with your help. You had suggested that he may have ended up in Salem, Oregon, so I wrote to Oregon Vital Statistics and they sent me his death certificate. You were close, he ended up in Grants Pass, Oregon where he died in 1964.”
March 16, 1979: “Well it took long enough, but I finally found the elusive Walter W. Thomas. If I recall correctly, it was in August of 1976 when my brother-in-law and I visited you at your home, when you first told me that Thomas was from Altoona, Pennsylvania.
“Since that time, I’ve been fighting a battle of sorts, trying to locate an office in Altoona, where I could write for information. I found a young woman at the Altoona Public Library who traced Walter Thomas into the 1940’s. At the same time, she referred me to a genealogist in Hollidaysburg, an Altoona suburb, and he did some digging. Enclosed please find a copy of the letter I’ve just received from him. It turns out that the name of the player was William Walter Thomas, he was born April 28, 1884 and died June 6, 1950.
“So, that’s another one I can chalk up to you. Thanks again for the lead on Thomas. Even though it took the better part of 3 years, it ultimately paid off and I’m grateful to you for the information you provided.”
The letters with research requests continued into the 1980’s. Soon Tom had me answering the letters and eventually the requests came addressed to me, not Tom. But whether the letter came from Haber, Simenic, Topp, Carle, Bob Richardson, Tom Hufford, Cappy Gagnon, Bob Davids, or some other SABR member, the letter always said, “what does Tom think,” or “can you check Tom’s files.”
Tom Shea passed away on March 22, 1995. His wife and their two children are also deceased.
Shea and Bill Haber, along with Allen and S. C. Thompson, were baseball’s greatest biographical researchers, just as Joe Simenic is the dean of those still living. One thing, though, is certain. Whenever Haber, Allen, or Thompson had a tough nut to crack, the man they turned to was Tom Shea.
This article was originally published in SABR’s The National Pastime, Volume 18, 1998. The source material used for this article was largely the letters to and from Tom Shea cited in this article.
Thomas Patrick Shea
June 7, 1904 at Boston, MA (US)
March 22, 1995 at Cohasset, MA (US)
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