Brewery Jack Taylor: Big Talent, Big Problem

This article was written by Peter Mancuso

This article was published in the Road Trips: SABR Convention Journal Articles


This article was originally published in “Baseball in the Buckeye State,” the 2004 SABR convention journal.

 

Jack (John Budd) Taylor had already earned his salty nickname, “Brewery Jack,” when he became the property of the Cincinnati Reds before the start of the 1899 season. The Reds’ purchased Taylor from St. Louis. Taylor, only 25 years old, had already appeared in eight major league seasons, achieving 20 or more wins three times (1894-96) with the Phillies. He was released by the Phillies in a trade with St. Louis in November 1897. Unfortunately, one of his hardest working seasons, 1898 (50 games, 47 starts, 42 complete games, 397 innings and a 3.90 ERA) was wasted on one of the all-time worst teams in baseball history, the 1898 Browns. Jack led St. Louis with 15 wins, but he also headed the league with 29 losses. At the end of the season, however, he was one of baseball’s most sought after pitchers.

Cincinnati Reds’ owner John T. Brush was everything that Brewery Jack wasn’t. He was highly self-disciplined, frugal and a man focused on financial success. Brush had started as a major league magnate in one of baseball’s smallest markets (Indianapolis) and would finish in baseball’s largest, as the owner of the New York Giants. He achieved this while afflicted with a painful degenerative spinal disease. As the driving force behind the league’s salary structure of the 1890s, he also crusaded against players imbibing and crafted a “temperance clause,” in all his players’ contracts. This clause called for a $700 fine for a player who could not perform due to the affects of consuming alcohol.

In 1899 the Cincinnatis finished sixth in the 12-team NL with Taylor appearing in only 24 games. He started 18 times and finished with nine wins and 10 losses. Jack’s $2,400 salary was the maximum allowed that year, under the league owners’ agreement. After two defeats, he won his first game at the end of April.

Then, in Cincinnati, on May 28, Jack Taylor had a terrible outing in relief. The supposed reason for his poor performance was alluded to the following Thursday, a day after the Reds started play in New York.

New York, (Wednesday) May 31 — The story from Cincinnati that one of the Reds’ pitchers—undeniably Jack Taylor was referred to—had been out late Saturday night (May 27) and had indulged in the flowing bowl to the extent that he was unable to do himself justice on the rubber in Sunday’s game, has aroused the greatest indignation among Cincinnati players. It also set Captain Ewing [future Hall of Famer, Buck Ewing, then the Reds manager] about making an investigation, which came to a satisfactory result, and by which Taylor was exonerated of the charges. Miller [Reds CF Dusty Miller] and Steinfeldt [Reds 3B Harry Steinfeldt] were the principal witnesses for Taylor, and it was their testimony that Taylor was cleared of the charges. Both men told Captain Ewing that they were in front of the Gerdes Hotel [in Cincinnati] Saturday evening when Taylor and his wife came in and that was a long time before they themselves retired. They claim that they had sat up for a long time after Taylor had gone to his room and that he did not come down again. (Cincinnati Enquirer)

Meanwhile, Jack’s wife remained at their in-season hotel residence in Cincinnati. On Tuesday, May 30, before a large Decoration Day crowd at the Polo Grounds, Jack Taylor started the first game of a doubleheader. It proved to be a hotly contested outing, with Cincinnati losing as the result of a disputed call. After the game, Taylor asked manager Ewing for permission to go to Staten Island (his home community) for that evening.

Jack Taylor failed to appear at the Polo Grounds for the next two games. Then on Friday, June 2, as the Reds were losing their opener in Boston, Cincinnati fans were greeted by the following headline: “Jack Taylor Is In Very Serious Trouble. He Has Been Indefinitely Suspended By Captain Ewing.”

New York, (Wednesday) June 1 — Jack Taylor has been suspended indefinitely . . . . On Tuesday Taylor received permission . . . to spend that night at the home of his mother, with the understanding that he was to be back Wednesday . . . He failed to show up. When Captain Ewing returned to the hotel Wednesday night he found a message there from Taylor informing him that he would spend another night on Staten Island and promised to turn up today [Thursday] . . . Again he failed to materialize.

The following day, Cincinnati fans heard that Reds owner John Brush was, “waiting to see what action Taylor will take.”

Boston, (Friday) June 3 — Jack Taylor has been here and has gone. He arrived on an early morning train, and before the whistle blew for the noon hour he had started back to Staten Island . . . Taylor saw Captain Ewing about nine o’clock and was informed for the first time that he was indefinitely suspended without pay. He tried to explain to Captain Ewing that he had gone fishing off Coney Island in a small sailboat, a calm came up and he could not return to land earlier than to get there this morning. Ewing expressed the opinion that Taylor could have swam ashore in that time, and then proceeded to lay down the law to the recalcitrant pitcher . . . Taylor tried to square himself by saying that he had not been drunk during his absence, but that did not soften Ewing, and he ordered Taylor back to New York, informing him that he would notify him in due time when he would again draw salary from the club. President Brush said that the punishment of Taylor was entirely in Ewing’s hands, and that the club would stand by anything he did. (Cincinnati Enquirer)

Months later, one newspaper revealed that Jack’s two sailing companions that fateful day were none other than the daredevil, Steve Brodie, who survived a jump from the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886 and a well known and popular turn-of-the-century, bantam weight prize fighter, Patsy Haley.

For five weeks the Cincinnati press followed Jack’s suspension. Although Taylor made several promises to reform and pleaded for reinstatement, management held firm. He was not allowed to travel with the team, but was ordered instead to work out at the Brooklyn team’s Washington Park to get into shape. As the weeks passed, Taylor realized the resolution of the Reds’ management and continued to work out in earnest.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Taylor remained in Cincinnati, the loyal wife lobbying for Jack’s reinstatement:

Ever since Jack’s suspension the loving wife has been trying to have Jack restored to the good graces of the club. She has written a number of letters to President Brush asking that Jack be given another trial. Yesterday, [June 23] Mrs. Taylor received a letter from President Brush to the effect that Jack would be allowed to join the Reds when they start on their Eastern trip…on the 11th of July . . . . Mrs. Taylor was at the game yesterday. She was overjoyed at the news. She will leave for her home at Staten Island tomorrow. (Cincinnati Enquirer)

True to his word, John Brush reinstated Taylor, who pitched his first returning game July 12. Back from suspension, Jack began pitching nearly as good as he ever had in his career. He continued to do so for most of the remainder of the season. About a week after returning, however, Taylor publicly complained that the Cincinnati management had been overly punitive and that he wanted to be traded:

Jack Taylor is bent on getting away from the Cincinnati team. He realizes that the only way he can get his release is by the trading route. He said yesterday [July 23] that he intended to do such good work for the Reds from now on that he would be in demand. “I’ll pitch good ball and do my best,” said Taylor. “I have worked during my vacation and I am lighter now than I have been this season. The report about my [sic] suspension cost me is all wrong.” “In what way?” was asked. “The reports have it that I lost $500 by my suspension.” was the reply. “That isn’t a marker. It isn’t half what that lay off cost me. I am out just $1,200.” “In what way?’”was asked. “Well, I lost $100 a week for the five I laid off,” said Taylor. “Then the Cincinnati Club is holding out $700 to enforce the temperance clause. Captain Ewing tells me I will lose that also. Do you blame me for wanting to get away from Cincinnati? Twelve hundred is pretty expensive for a little fun. (Cincinnati Enquirer)

In late August, Jack was being revered on the Cincinnati sports pages. He recorded a save against the Giants, the team for which he pitched his very first game, nine seasons before:

Jack Taylor is back again in the good graces of the rooters. Jack jumped in and took Phillips’ place on short notice. He pitched in the last three innings in excellent style. His command of the ball was first class. He did not allow a batter to get him in the “hole.” Right over the center of the “pan” was his object, and he did it nicely . . . . Taylor seems to be himself again. When he is right there is no pitcher in the country that has anything on the big pitcher. On Labor Day, Taylor squared off against Cleveland in the second game of a doubleheader played before a huge crowd. Jack Taylor and the Reds won by a score of 8 to 1. The win was the big pitcher’s 120th and final career victory; (against 117 career losses). (Cincinnati Enquirer)

JACK TAYLOR’S DEATH

On Tuesday, September 12, 1899, Jack Taylor took to the rubber for his last game. It was in Washington, against the Nationals. Taylor got off to a rough start; he struggled into the fourth inning and gave up four runs (three earned) on five hits. Then suddenly, “he was pitching, as usual, and had just entered the box and was preparing to throw the ball when his right arm fell powerless to his side and the ball rolled from his fingers. A physician was called and it was learned that he strained his right side. He was taken to his hotel and was compelled to stop playing for the remainder of the season.” The following evening, “Jack Taylor was sent back to Cincinnati . . .”

By season’s end Jack Taylor returned to his home in Staten Island. He died the following February. Several accounts of his death indicated that he was still pursuing a trade, and many speculated that he was going to get one. One Cincinnati writer at the news of Jack’s death reported that he had seen Taylor at the annual meeting of the NL in New York in December [1899] and that Jack “was in excellent health” (undoubtedly, John T. Brush was there too). Another report stated that Taylor had written to Ewing only a few days before his death requesting the Reds to trade him to the New York club.

Some clues to understanding the cause of Taylor’s death may be connected to the death of his 64-year-old mother, Phoebe Ann Taylor, who resided with the ballplayer and his wife. Some evidence indicates that Jack’s mother had been ailing in mid-August. Phoebe Ann Taylor died of pneumonia on January 20, 1900, just seventeen days before her son Jack’s death. On Wednesday, February 7, 1900 Jack Taylor died at age 26 years, 8 months and 16 days. The cause of death was “Brights Disease”, (acute nephritis, kidney failure). One local Staten Island paper reported the following:

John B. Taylor, aged 27 [sic], otherwise known as “good natured” Jack for several years a prominent baseball player in the National League, and a resident of West New Brighton, died on Wednesday morning in the Smith Infirmary from a complication of diseases, after a brief illness. His mother died two weeks ago, and after that Taylor began to complain of feeling unwell, but did not think he was seriously ill. On Wednesday of last week [January 30th] he was taken worse and a physician was called in. His condition became serious and it was decided to remove him to Smith Infirmary, where an operation was performed, and death ensued in a few hours afterward. Taylor began playing ball 13 years ago with the old Corinthian team. Five years later he joined the Lebanon team in the Eastern League, and two years later he signed with the Philadelphias as a pitcher and afterwards played with the St. Louis and Cincinnati teams. Late last September he played his last game with the latter team in Washington, DC. Several weeks afterward he returned to his home to recuperate. He was expecting to sign with the Cincinnatis this year, and the day that he was removed to the hospital he was looking for his new contract. He leaves a widow, but no children. The Funeral was held yesterday afternoon at his late home. The interment was in Fairview cemetery. (Staten Islander, Feburary 10, 1900)

In Cincinnati, Reds fans read in part:

ONE Of THE REDS IS MISSING — The Death of Pitcher Jack Taylor. His End Came Suddenly and Was Unexpected . . . Poor Jack was his own worst enemy. Although nearly 30 years of age his conduct was that of a youngster just starting in his professional career. He never got over “being a boy,” and he was in his best humor when in company with a party of congenial spirits. His good fellowship and love of fun cost him dearly with the Cincinnati Club last season. Although he signed a “limit” contract with the Reds he did not get over half of $2,400 for his services. Poor Jack lived up to the requirement of his strict temperance contract fairly well until the team started on its first Eastern trip. At New York Jack fell from grace. He was a New York boy, and a return to the old atmosphere was too much for him. Jack joined a yachting party . . . missed the train and did not go with the team to Boston.. Although Taylor was on the Cincinnati Club’s reserve list, it is hardly likely he would have played here this season. In all probability he would have been found with the New York club . . . Taylor was one of the best pitchers in America when in condition and in the humor to give his club his best services . . . . For five or six years he was the crack pitcher of the Quaker City team…On account of his habits his work with the Reds last year was a big disappointment. (Cincinnati Times-Star)

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