A New Major Leaguer

This article was written by Harold Dellinger

This article was published in 1979 Baseball Research Journal

Both Thompson’s All Time Roster of Major League Baseball Clubs (1973) and Macmillan’s The Baseball Encyclopedia (1976) identify player Porter of the 1884 Kansas City Union Association club as Henry Porter.

That is in error. Henry Porter, a fine pitcher, spent the 1884 season with Bay City and Milwaukee of the Northwestern League and Milwaukee of the Union Association. He compiled a W-L record now figured at 32-15. SABR member Vern Luse figures Henry Porter’s 1884 ERA in the Northwestern League at 0.78.

Henry Porter’s prowess as a pitcher is what first made me suspicious that some previous baseball researcher had mistakenly identified the Kansas City Porter.

Kansas City’s Porter played only in the outfield. If Henry Porter had played for Kansas City he would certainly have been good enough to pitch on the sad 16-63 club. As it was, club pitching “aces” were James Hickman (4-13), Bob Black (4-9) and William “Peek-a-boo” Veach (3-9).

Kansas City’s Porter was one Matthew S. Porter, heretofore unrecognized as a major league baseball player and manager.

The Kansas City Unions were formed on June 4, 1884 to enter the Union Association in place of the Altoona (Pa.) club, which folded. H. V. Lucas, Union Association founder and president, granted the franchise to a group of Kansas City businessmen headed by malt producer Americus V. McKim. Other investors included one Matthew S. Porter.

Matthew Porter was a young Kansas City druggist, the son of a respectable real estate developer by the name of Nathaniel Porter and his wife Cecelia Porter. Matthew had been born to them in the State of New York in either 1858 or 1859.

Matthew was thus only 25 or 26 in 1884 but already an experienced businessman as he had clerked in stores several years before opening his own drug store in Kansas City. He had also been an amateur baseball player in the area for several years.

Although all the details of the club organization will likely never be fully understood, Porter apparently assumed a position second only to McKim and had among his first responsibilities preparing the old Kansas City amateur field, Athletic Park, for professional baseball. The Unions were the initial Kansas City entry in Organized Baseball.

Very quickly, a team was put together. Obviously, since only three days elapsed from the time they were admitted to the league until they played their first game on June 7, 1884, it was not the best planned or coached nine ever to take the field.

The best known of those assembled was Harry Wheeler, a flamboyant old-time pro with Providence, Columbus, St. Louis and Cleveland. Wheeler was given the responsibility of picking the other players for the team and also “managed” or “captained” the club during its opening four-game series with the Chicago Unions. It is difficult to pin down Wheeler’s exact responsibilities because the terms “manager” and “captain” were often used interchangeably. To complicate matters further, it was not until later in the 1880’s, at the suggestion of Harry Wright, that anybody other than a player was allowed on the field.

Quite often the “manager” was the general manager and the “captain” the manager as we know them today. Thus the manager was probably sitting in the stands, unless he was also a player, and the club’s play was orchestrated and the umpire challenged by the field captain.

After that opening series at home against Chicago, the Kansas City club left on a trip that was to begin in Chicago followed by stops in Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Chicago again. The Kansas City Times (June 10, 1884) reported that Porter would manage the club on its eastern tour.

One of Porter’s first moves was to release Harry Wheeler (0-4 as Kansas City manager or captain). Soon Porter added a new battery, inducing pitcher Dick Blaisdell and catcher Dwight to jump from the Lynn, Mass., club.

Porter also began inserting himself in center field occasionally, a move none too popular with the remainder of the team. In 12 times at bat in three games Porter managed a lone hit (for a .083 average) and made two errors.

His new battery didn’t work out either. Blaisdell, despite “a straight shoulder throw that bothered the hitters considerably,” compiled an 0-3 record. Dwight hit only .233.

After some initial success under Porter-winning three out of the first six games, the team dropped nine straight by scores as outlandish as 22-3 and 19-3. This prompted the Kansas City Journal to suggest the team “change their name or come home.” Porter, 3-12 as manager, was replaced by T. P. Sullivan.

The standard works list Sullivan as the only manager for Kansas City during 1884. As seems to be the case with Porter, nobody apparently ever bothered to check the Kansas City papers. In truth Sullivan did not take over the club until July 13-more than a month after Kansas City joined the league. The best proof is the sports page headline of the July 14, 1884 Kansas City Times welcoming the arrival of Sullivan.

Matthew Porter apparently never played or managed in professional baseball again although a Porter shows up in Kansas City amateur box scores for several more years.

He returned to his drug store on Kansas City’s west side. By 1887 he had formed The American Electric Lights Company, acting as general manager and president. That venture was shortlived.

In 1890 he became involved in mining operations in south Missouri near Carthage. Porter bought up an inactive mine and made an estimated $10,000 within two weeks with the discovery of calamine zinc. Some called it the richest mine in the state.

Porter put in steam pumps, steam jigs, steam crushers, a steam elevator and a complete electric light plant capable of facilitating 60 men below and 20 above ground. He grossed as much as $1,000 to $1,500 per day. “It takes a Kansas City man to know a good thing when he sees it,” said the Kansas City Times (April 10, 1890).

Whatever the truth of that, Porter was back in Kansas City by 1891 and pursuing a fairly mundane existence. He continued to operate drug stores and also clerked in stores.

Personal tragedy struck in 1895 when his three small children died within 20 days of each other of what was variously called membranous croup or meningitis.

In 1898 he opened the Sphinx Drug Store at a location near the present day Federal Building in Kansas City. It lasted only a year.

Despite strenuous efforts to trace Porter further, nothing could be located about him beyond that point. When and where he died remain unknown, although he probably is not buried in Kansas City. At least a check of all available Kansas City death records and cemetery data turned up no information on him.

And so, while some questions remain, part of another mystery has been solved with the verification of a “new” major leaguer-Matthew S. Porter of the 1884 Kansas City Union Association team.