September 7, 1891: Washington’s Kid Carsey becomes major leagues’ youngest umpire, later pinch-hits in game

This article was written by Larry DeFillipo

Kid Carsey (SABR-Rucker Archive)The American Association’s decision in the summer of 1882 to hire umpires brought an end to the practice of Association teams providing their own arbiters – almost.1 Games of that era were regulated by a single umpire, so when the league-provided umpire suddenly became unavailable, the home team shouldered the burden of finding a replacement. Otherwise, they stood to lose precious gate receipts. In those situations, teams often turned to rostered players they could afford to have out of the lineup.2

This practice led to a number of active Association ballplayers serving as temporary umpires, three of whom, all pitchers, did so before reaching the age of majority (21): William, later “Adonis” Terry of the 1884 Brooklyn Grays; Elton, later “Ice Box” Chamberlain of the 1887 Louisville Colonels; and, on September 7, 1891, Wilfred “Kid” Carsey of the Washington Nationals.3 The use of young pitchers as temporary umpires wasn’t unique to the Association; two National League teams did the same in the eight years after that league centralized its umpiring corps in 1883.4

Washington’s Opening Day starter in 1891,5 the then-thought-to-be 20-year-old Carsey was a workhorse for a team that lost two games out of every three. By the end of August, he’d made 40 starts for three different player-managers: 6 Sam Trott, who’d tabbed Carsey to throw the franchise’s first pitch on Opening Day; Charley “Pop” Snyder, a once-elite catcher at the tail end of his career; and Dan Shannon, the skipper of the Western Association’s Omaha Lambs until a few weeks earlier.

Washington was 30 games below .500 and one place up from the cellar when the Columbus Buckeyes came to the nation’s capital for a six-game series in early September. Led by veteran manager Gus Schmelz, the “Black Legs,” as the Washington Sunday Herald Star called them,7 were making their last stop on a six-city road trip that would soon be in its fourth week.

The two teams split a series-opening doubleheader on Saturday, September 5, with Washington winning the opener behind recent addition Ed Cassian.8 Columbus ace Phil Knell, a southpaw, earned a win over Carsey in the nightcap. After a day of rest on Sunday,9 the series resumed with a Labor Day twin bill set to start at 10:30 A.M.

A crowd estimated at 500 to 800 was on hand at Washington’s Boundary Field early Monday morning,10 enjoying weather that was “delightful, the air being just warm enough to make people appreciate more thoroughly the gentle breezes which blew regularly all day.”11 But when gametime came, there was no umpire.

Scheduled to work the game was John Kerins, who’d called the doubleheader two days earlier. After waiting 10 minutes, the managers decided to proceed, with Carsey and Knell chosen to share umpiring duties. At 10:41 A.M., with Carsey behind home plate and Knell covering the bases, Columbus hurler Hank Gastright threw the game’s first pitch.

A 30-game winner for Columbus in 1890, Gastright had struggled so far in 1891 with wildness, epitomized by the 10 walks issued in his previous start, a 4-2 loss to the Boston Reds.12 Washington’s first three batters singled, with Canadian rookie Larry Murphy scoring the first run of the game. Murphy was driven in by Elmer Sutcliffe, a left-handed catcher Shannon had brought with him from Omaha. A double-play grounder by cleanup hitter Jim Curtiss, picked up two weeks earlier after his release by Cincinnati’s Kelly’s Killers, allowed Gastright to work his way out of further damage.

The umpiring agreement reached between the two managers, which fixed Carsey behind the plate and Knell on the bases, specified that pitch location be called by the umpire whose team was batting. So as Washington’s fielders moved into place for the bottom of the inning, Knell “waltzed up to the rubber and essayed to call balls and strikes.”13

While setting up behind the catcher had long been the norm for pitch-calling, Knell’s location was not unheard of. Major-league umpires had dabbled with calling balls and strikes from behind the pitcher in the 1880s, with at least two regular arbiters, John Gaffney and Billy McLean, having done so during regular-season games.14

The hurler Knell stood with was Martin Duke, a fun-loving rookie making his third start for Washington after jumping from the Western Association.15 Pitching “a very speedy ball, but [with] no curves,”16 Duke had been pasted in his debut, allowing 13 runs, 11 hits, and 10 walks in six innings. In his last outing, one week before this game, he held the Milwaukee Brewers hitless through the first four frames of a 5-1 loss.17

The partisan crowd razzed Knell when he gave a free pass to leadoff batter Jack Crooks (a future two-time NL walks leader), but jeers turned to cheers when Crooks was tagged out on a 5-3 inning-ending double play by Nationals third baseman Billy Alvord. A quick top of the second, in which Columbus center fielder Charlie Duffee recorded all three putouts, put the Nationals back in the field. Expecting “hot work before him,” Knell, who hadn’t donned a uniform, removed his collar and necktie.18 He was in for a long half-inning.

Columbus cleanup hitter John Sneed started the action with an opposite-field hit to left that he stretched into two bases. He moved to third when Alvord overran a bunt by Larry Twitchell, a standout for the 1887 World Series champion Detroit Wolverines who’d played for Shannon in Omaha earlier in the year. Sneed scored when Alvord failed to handle a bunt laid down by speedy Bobby Wheelock, the Buckeyes’ top basestealer. A wild pitch brought in Twitchell and moved Wheelock to third. Alvord’s nightmare continued when he hit Wheelock in the back on a throw to the plate after fielding a grounder from Mike Lehane. Lehane advanced to second on a passed ball charged to Sutcliffe, then scored on a two-out opposite-field single by the right-handed-hitting Crooks. Up 4-1, Columbus was just getting started.

A single to left by “Voiceless” Tim O’Rourke19 and a walk to Duffee filled the bases, bringing Sneed up once again. Sutcliffe followed with an errant pickoff throw to second, allowing Crooks to score and O’Rourke to take third. Duffee swiped second, and when Sutcliffe couldn’t handle shortstop Gil Hatfield’s return throw, O’Rourke scampered home for the sixth run of the inning. Another passed ball brought in Duffee, clearing the bases without Sneed having put the ball in play. A walk to Sneed, followed by four straight singles and more shoddy play by the Washington battery,20 gave Columbus 11 runs in the inning, not one of which was earned.

At some point during the Buckeyes’ outburst, umpire Kerins appeared.21 As the third inning began, he relieved Carsey and Knell and took command of the game.

Kerins’ first batter was Cassian, in to pinch-hit for Duke, destined to never play in another major-league game.22 Cassian fouled out, but Washington pushed across a pair of runs on a triple to the left-field corner by Sutcliffe after singles by Murphy and Deacon McGuire, the Nationals’ most reliable hitter. “A bad tangle” by Crooks on a ball hit by Curtiss brought Sutcliffe in to make the score 11-4, Columbus.23

Washington tallied another three runs in the fourth, a “lively inning” that “was inspiriting to the bleachers.”24 After Alvord doubled down the left-field line, Murphy beat out an infield single and McGuire drew a walk. Two scored on a Sutcliffe single, with the trail runner Murphy making a “remarkably good slide.”25 A two-bagger by Curtiss plated McGuire to cut the Nationals’ deficit to four.

Washington never got any closer. The Buckeyes notched a 12th run in the seventh off Cassian, who’d stayed in to pitch, and four more in the seventh on a single by O’Rourke sandwiched between miscues by Alvord, Hatfield, McGuire, and Alvord again.

With Washington down 16-7 entering the eighth, Shannon sent Carsey, idle since umpire Kerins’ arrival, in to hit for Cassian. He failed to reach but his appearance was extraordinary nonetheless. He’d completed the rare feat of both umpiring and playing in the same major-league game.26

Neither side scored again, giving Gastright an easy victory. The nightcap of the doubleheader ended in a 3-3 tie, shortened by darkness to eight innings. In its summary of Washington’s lopsided loss in the opener, the Washington Post called the home team’s fielding “sickening,” making the game “about the worst exhibition of the season.”27

For at least 105 years after this game, major-league records showed Kid Carsey’s date of birth to be October 22, 1870, a date consistent with newspaper reports in the late 1880s,28 indicating that he was six weeks away from turning 21 on the day of this game. Sometime after those records became electronic in the late 1990s, Carsey’s reported date of birth, as listed on MLB, Baseball-Reference, and Retrosheet websites, was revised to October 22, 1872.29  

As a result of that change, during the opener of Washington’s Labor Day 1891 twin bill Carsey not only both umpired and played in the same game, but at 18 years, 10 months, and 16 days, he became the youngest person known to have umpired a major-league game.30



This article was fact-checked by Ray Danner and copy-edited by Len Levin.



This article is based on the author’s research for his “Teenage Umpires of the Nineteenth Century” article in the Spring 2024 edition of SABR’s Baseball Research Journal. In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Stephen V. Rice’s SABR biography of Kid Carsey, Paul Proia’s SABR biography of Martin Duke,,,, and for pertinent information. In compiling game logs for the Nationals pitching staff, he relied on box scores and game summaries published in the Washington Post, Washington Evening Star, and Boston Globe.



1 Peter Morris, A Game of Inches (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006), 252.

2 Larry DeFillipo, “Teenage Umpires of the Nineteenth Century,” SABR Baseball Research Journal, Spring 2024, 44.

3 Twenty-year-old Joe Murphy umpired four games in 1887 played by the St. Louis Browns before pitching one game for the team “as a fill-in.” Paul Winter, “Joe Murphy,” SABR Biography Project, accessed April 13, 2024,

4 Between 1883 and 1891, three active National League pitchers under the age of 21 are known to have served as umpires in that league: Egyptian Healy of the 1888 Indianapolis Hoosiers and Malachi Kittridge and Ed Stein of the 1890 Chicago Colts. One active NL ballplayer whose date of birth is unknown umpired a game for the 1890 New York Giants: John “Shorty” Howe, an infielder. Neither of the other major leagues in operation during those years, the Union Association in 1884, and the Players’ League in 1890, used any active ballplayers under the age of 21 as umpires.

5 “Washington Wins the First,” Philadelphia Times, April 9, 1891: 3.

6 Based on game logs prepared by the author. “Travelling Westward,” Washington Post, August 1, 1891: 6.

7 Presumably the name stemmed from the black trousers that the Columbus players wore in the early 1890s. “Honors Were Even,” Washington Sunday Herald, September 6, 1891: 9.

8 Released by the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies in July, Cassian joined the Nationals in early September. This was his first start for Washington. “Sporting Trifles,” Glendive (Montana) Independent, July 11, 1891: 2; “Base Ball Notes,” Meriden (Connecticut) Journal, September 1, 1891: 1.

9 Sunday baseball in 1891 was more than a quarter-century from being legal in the nation’s capital. Congress lifted the ban on Sunday baseball in the District of Columbia on May 14, 1918. Andrew Glass, “Congress Lifts Ban on Sunday Baseball in D.C., May 14, 1918,” Politico website, May 14, 2017,

10 The Washington Post estimated the crowd at 800, the Washington Evening Star at 500. “Lost by Poor Fielding,” Washington Evening Star, September 7, 1891: 3; “Couldn’t Get a Game,” Washington Post, September 8, 1891: 6.

11 “A Gem of a Day,” Washington Post, September 8, 1891: 2.

12 “Like Rubber Balls,” Boston Globe, September 3, 1891: 5. Five of Gastright’s walks were issued to Dan Brouthers, on his way to a fourth career batting championship in his first year playing in the Association. 

13 “Lost by Poor Fielding.”

14 Morris, A Game of Inches, 262.

15 “Pitcher Duke Here,” Washington Post, August 22, 1891: 6. The St. Paul Globe gave a hilariously fanciful description of Duke’s departure from the Western Association’s Minneapolis Millers as he left to join the Nationals in mid-August. “Martin Duke – the one, the only, the statuesque Duke – had bidden good-bye to the ozone of Minnesota and beer of Minneapolis. He has gone to Baltimore. Last night he boarded the train, moved his hand in adieu, cocked his hat on one side, closed an eye, uttered a certain familiar expression peculiar to Dukes and disappeared for ever.” “To Be Kicked Out,” St. Paul Globe, August 16, 1891: 6.

16 “Blanked by Baltimore,” Washington Post, August 25, 1891: 6.

17 “Ragged Ball Playing,” Washington Post, September 1, 1891: 6.

18 “Lost by Poor Fielding.”

19 While he was catching several years earlier, a foul tip to O’Rourke’s throat had cost him much of his voice. “Base Ball Gossip,” Washington Evening Star, September 14, 1897: 7.

20 According to the Washington Post account, at some point during the singles barrage Sutcliffe committed an error, while Duke threw another wild pitch and failed to cover the plate. “Couldn’t Get a Game.”

21 What caused Kerins’ delay is unclear, but the next day’s Washington Post included a puzzling note that said “Umpire Kerins didn’t oversleep himself, but was late in reporting yesterday morning.” “Baseball Briefs,” Washington Post, September 8, 1891: 6.

22 Duke signed with the Chicago White Stockings for the 1892 season, but was let go before Opening Day. Paul Proia, “Martin Duke,” SABR Biography Project, accessed April 13, 2024,; “Anson Leaves St. Louis,” Chicago Inter Ocean, April 15, 1892: 3.

23 “Lost by Poor Fielding.”

24 “Lost by Poor Fielding.”

25 “Lost by Poor Fielding.”

26 On September 12, 1914, Bob Groom of the Federal League’s St. Louis Terriers both umpired and pitched in the same game, the only other instance that the author has identified in a major league contest.

27 “Couldn’t Get a Game.”

28 See, for example Hy Turkin and S.C. Thompson, The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball (New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1951), 72; The Baseball Encyclopedia (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1996), 867; and “Kelly’s Magnificent Muscle,” Wilkes-Barre Sunday Morning Leader, September 15, 1889: 6.

29 The reason for the change in Carsey’s year of birth is unclear but the 1872 date matches two particularly significant genealogical records that originated long after Carsey’s playing days. Carsey’s signed World War I military registration card identifies 1872 as his year of birth, as does his claim for Social Security benefits filed in 1938. Author Stephen V. Rice, in his 2020 Carsey SABR biography, argues that Kid was born in 1870 – based on contemporary reports published early in his baseball career. If indeed Carsey was born in 1870, he would have been two years older than the uppermost age for registering when he submitted his military registration card. The Selective Service required registration by September 12, 1918, for males up to 45 years of age, coincident with the upper age limit for the World War I draft being extending to 45 at that time. It’s plausible that Carsey might’ve claimed he was born in 1870 early in his professional career, adding two years to his real age in order to boost his odds of making a team, but far-fetched that he would expose himself late in life to military service by claiming to be two years younger than he actually was. “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards,” Wilfred Carsey, 1917-1918; “United States, Social Security Numerical Identification Files (NUMIDENT), 1936-2007,” Wilfred Carsey.

30 As of April 1, 2024, Retrosheet’s biographical files list 155 major-league umpires whose year of birth is unknown. As birth records for those umpires are uncovered and incorporated into the Retrosheet database, along with those for Negro Leagues umpires, Carsey’s standing as the youngest major-league umpire may change.

Additional Stats

Columbus Buckeyes 16
Washington Nationals 7
Game 1, DH

Boundary Field
Washington, DC

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