Cupid Childs

This article was written by Jimmy Keenan

This article was published in the The National Pastime: Monumental Baseball (Washington, DC, 2009)


Cupid Childs was one of the best-hitting major-league second basemen during the late nineteenth century, not to mention a better than average fielder who possessed great range on the diamond. Only four other second basemen in the history of major-league baseball have averaged more total chances per game than Childs. His all-around outstanding play made him an integral part of the great Cleveland Spiders teams of the 1890s.

A natural middle infielder, Childs threw right-handed and batted left-handed. He played shortstop during his early years in the minors but eventually settled in at the keystone position for the remainder of his career. Childs, who seldom struck out, was a great contact hitter with an excellent batting eye. In his prime, he batted anywhere from first to fourth in the batting order. His best years in the majors produced batting averages of .345, .317, .326, .353, .355, and .338. Childs’s lifetime major-league on-base percentage of .416 is higher than that of every second baseman in the Hall of Fame except Rogers Hornsby and Eddie Collins. His .306 lifetime batting average is higher than seven of the second basemen who have already been inducted into the Hall. Childs scored over one hundred runs in each of seven seasons and reached double figures in triples five years in a row (1890–94). However, for some reason the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee continually overlooks this talented, multi-tooled player. It seems that for now, Cupid’s arrow has missed its mark in Cooperstown.

Clarence Lemuel “Cupid” Childs was born to Singleton and Caroline Childs near Sunderlandville in Calvert County, Maryland, on August 14, 1867. Singleton Childs was a planter and farmer. According to the 1860 census, the Childs’s farm was valued at one thousand dollars. The 1870 census lists Singleton and Caroline as having eleven children. Sadly, Singleton Childs passed away a few years later. At this time Mrs. Childs moved her large family to Baltimore City. While growing up in Baltimore, Cupid learned to play baseball on the local sandlots. Clarence eventually grew to 5’8″ and weighed a solid 185 pounds. In later years, his playing weight was listed at 192 pounds. It’s safe to assume that his resemblance to the fictional matchmaker was the reason for his cherubic nickname. He is also referred to in various newspaper accounts as “Fats,” “Fatty,” “Paca,” and even “The Dumpling.”

Childs’s obituary notes that he first played professional ball in 1883, when he was sixteen years old, for Durham in the North Carolina State League. According to the obituary, he was paid four dollars a week, and the team paid his room and board. Not much is known about Childs’s baseball career at this time. By May of 1885, Childs was playing shortstop for the very talented Monumental team in Baltimore in the Maryland Amateur Association. Future major-league pitcher Frank Foreman pitched for the Woodberry team in the league that same year. At this time, Cupid Childs was living at 77 South Gilmore Street in Baltimore. His occupation is listed as can-maker in the 1885 city directory.

Childs started out the following season playing for the Brooklyn Harlems semipro team. The Harlem team traced its roots back to the New York City amateur leagues of the 1850s. By June of 1886, Childs had moved on and was playing shortstop with Petersburg in the Virginia State League. He played for Petersburg from June 25 to August 1. He left the Petersburg team and signed on with Scranton of the Pennsylvania State League for the rest of the 1886 season. He played in 24 games for Scranton from August 17 to September 30. His final statistics for the 1886 Pennsylvania State League season were 27 hits, 6 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 8 stolen bases, and a .267 batting average.

Childs began the 1887 season with Johnstown of the Pennsylvania State League. He played with Johns- town from May 7 to July 4, when the Johnstown team folded and was partially reconstituted in Allentown. The Allentown Chronicle and News of July 7, 1887, observed: “The Allentown nine has secured Childs, the second baseman of the disbanded Johnstown club. Childs is a good hitter and a splendid baseman, and will prove a strong addition to the team.”

An article in the same paper on July 12 mentions Childs coming through with a clutch triple in a 14–8 Allentown victory over the Bradford team: “Then Childs picked up the stick and drove the ball to right field for three bases sending home Beatin and O’Brien which tied the score and caused such yelling that several boards back of the catcher split.”

Childs was with Allentown from July 8 to July 15, 1887, when the team dropped out of the league. Childs appeared in a total of 38 games during the 1887 Pennsylvania State League season. He had 69 hits, 7 doubles, 6 triples, 2 home runs, and 14 stolen bases, finishing the year with a .373 batting average.

On August 4, Cupid signed with the Shamokin team of the Central Pennsylvania League. He played second base for the team until a broken collarbone ended his season on September 19, 1887. The Shamokin team went on to win the league championship.

In 1888, Childs signed with baseball pioneer Harry Wright’s Philadelphia Quakers of the National League. He made his major-league debut on April 23 against Boston and future Hall of Famer John Clarkson in Philadelphia. Childs went hitless at the plate that day. In the field, he played second base and handled six chances with one error, while turning one double play. Clarkson pitched a complete game that day, beating the Philadelphia team by the score of 3–1. The Quakers managed only six hits off Clarkson. Cupid Childs appeared briefly in the next game and was slated to be released from the Philadelphia team. The Philadelphia Inquirer explained Childs’s pending release: “Childs and [Bill] Hallman are good players but they lack experience and that is worth a great deal in this league.”

A few days later, Philadelphia attempted to trade Childs to the Washington club for Gid Gardner. Gardner reported to the Philadelphia team, but Childs could not come to financial terms with Washington and refused to accept the trade. Gardner actually played one game for Philadelphia before being sent back to Washington due to the nullification of the deal on May 6, 1888.

In June, Childs traveled out to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to try out for that city’s local professional baseball team in the Tri-State League. The Chicago Tribune of March 25, 1900, described Childs’s audition. Although the writer is mistaken about Kalamazoo being Childs’s first professional team, the story is an amusing look at how Childs was perceived by his peers:

Childs appeared in 58 games for Kalamazoo from June 9 to September 1. His statistics for the 1888 Tri-State League included 1 doubles, 3 triples, 23 stolen bases, and a .282 batting average. Childs left the Kalamazoo team in early September and came back east in time to play nine games at the end of the season with the Syracuse Stars of the International Association from September 8 to September 19. For the Stars, Childs had 1 hits, 1 double, 1 triple, and hit .297.

Childs stayed on with the Syracuse ballclub for the following year. He played the entire season with the Stars, appearing in 105 games, and finished with 145 hits, 21 doubles, 12 triples, 53 stolen bases, and a .341 batting average. Childs and the Syracuse team left the International League in 1890 and moved up to the majors by joining the American Association. Childs appeared in 126 games for Syracuse in 1890, amassing 170 hits, 72 walks, and 14 triples and scored 109 runs. He led the American Association that year with 33 doubles and finished the 1890 season with a .345 batting average and 56 stolen bases. On June 1, Childs tied a record for second baseman when he collected 18 chances (albeit with one error) in a game against Toledo.

On January 26, 1891, Childs signed with his hometown Baltimore Orioles of the AA for $2,300 plus a $200 advance on signing day. In early February, the American Association withdrew from Baseball’s National Agreement and decided to conduct operations as an independent major league. This meant that all of the American Association teams, including the Orioles, were no longer bound by the by-laws and clauses that were part of the National Agreement.

The American Association’s withdrawal led Childs to conclude that his Oriole contract had been voided. The Orioles did not agree, and still considered him under contract. News of Childs’s availability spread, and in early February the Boston team of the American Association sent their manager, Arthur Irwin, to Baltimore in an attempt to sign Childs. Newspaper accounts stated that Irwin was unable to locate Childs in Baltimore. It appears that Childs did not want anything to do with any of the teams in the American Association. Childs, now considering himself a free agent, signed with the Cleveland NL team on February 16, 1891. On March 2, 1891, Childs met with Orioles manager and part owner Billy Barnie. Childs informed Barnie that he would not be playing for the Orioles in the upcoming season. Barnie said, “The only explanation Childs gave him for leaving the team was that he could do better.” Childs also attempted to return the advance money to Barnie, but the Oriole manager refused.

Baltimore team management filed an injunction in Baltimore City Circuit Court to force Childs to honor his Oriole contract. The trial opened on April 5, 1891, with William Shepard Bryant and the Honorable Bernard Carter representing the Baltimore Baseball and Exhibition Company and Thomas I. Elliot representing Childs. One hundred and thirteen pages of testimony were read on the opening day of the trial. “The courtroom was crowded with professional and amateur ball players and lovers of the game,” wrote the Baltimore Morning Herald after the first day’s session. The trial gained national attention. On April 22, 1891, Judge Phelps finally ruled in favor of Childs, and the injunction filed by the Orioles was dissolved. Childs’s Oriole contract had stated that he was due all of the rights accorded to professional baseball players designated by the National Agreement. Judge Phelps reasoned that the National Agreement no longer bound the Orioles; the team could not offer Childs the conditions that they had originally agreed upon, thus voiding the contract. By the time the case was eventually settled, the Orioles had already filled the second-base position. It seems that Oriole management pursued the Childs case on principle rather than necessity.

Baseball fans in Cleveland were overjoyed at the outcome. When the verdict was announced, the Cleveland management telegraphed Oriole manager Billy Barnie with the phrase, “He who laughs last, laughs best.”

Cupid Childs went on to play his next eight seasons with the Cleveland Spiders, led by their hard-nosed and hot-tempered player-manager Patsy Tebeau. Baseball historian Lee Allen said, “Patsy Tebeau was the prototype of all hooligans and his players cheerfully followed his example.” At one time, Tebeau’s Cleveland Spiders lineup included Hall of Fame players Cy Young, Jesse Burkett, Buck Ewing, John Clarkson, and Bobby Wallace, plus outstanding players like Chief Zimmer and Ed McKean.

Childs hit .281 and stole 39 bases in his first year as a Spider, with 120 runs, while working pitchers for 97 walks in a league-leading 141 games. The following year, Childs stroked .317 in 146 games and led the NL with 136 runs scored and a .443 on-base percentage.

The next year Childs slapped .326 with 23 steals, 120 walks, and 145 runs in 124 games. Amazingly, Cupid struck out just twelve times in 609 at-bats.

Childs had another good year in 1894, hitting .353, with 169 hits, 107 walks, 21 doubles, 12 triples, 143 runs, and 17 stolen bases. Throughout his career Childs missed his share of games due to injuries and sickness, but he also was capable of playing hurt. On August 8, 1894, Childs fell and broke his collarbone after he was tripped by Pittsburgh first baseman Jake Beckley while he was running down the first-baseline.

Cupid must have had great recuperative powers, because he was back in the Cleveland lineup at second base just 13 days later. In September, Childs handled 16 chances without an error in the first game of a doubleheader against Brooklyn. Remarkably, Childs finished the 1894 National League season with just 1 strikeouts in 591 at-bats.

In the spring of 1895, Childs was having contract problems over a difference of $300 and briefly left the club on April 23. Childs declined to leave on the train with the club for a road trip, stating that he was going to sign with New York if his contract demands were not met. Childs and Cleveland management eventually came to terms and Cupid rejoined the Spiders for the rest of the 1895 season.

The contract troubles may have affected Childs—his batting average slipped to .288. However, he was on base enough to score 96 runs and steal 20 bases. He also poked a career-high 4 homers and knocked in 90 runs in 1 9 games.

Childs bounced back in 1896 with a monster year, rapping 177 hits with 100 walks, 24 doubles, and 106 RBI, and scored 106 runs in 132 games. Childs struck out just 18 times during the season. He finished the 1896 National League season with a .467 on-base per- centage, a .355 batting average, and 25 stolen bases.

The 1897 season was Cupid Childs’s last great year in the majors: a .338 batting average, 105 runs, and 25 stolen bases, with 15 doubles, 9 triples, and 1 home run.

Childs played his final year for Cleveland in 1898, hitting .288 with 90 runs scored. Injuries took their toll on Cupid, as he missed 39 games during the season.

The Cleveland Spiders played in three postseason Championship Series while Childs was a member of the team. The first was in 1892, when the National League played a split season. The Boston Beaneaters had the best record for the first half of the season, and Cleveland had the best record for the second. The two teams played each other at the end of the year in a Championship Series that Boston eventually won. Childs excelled, finishing the series with a .409 batting average. He had 9 hits, including 2 triples and 5 walks in the five Championship games. Childs handled 32 chances at second base during the series without an error.

The other two postseason appearances the Spiders made were in the Temple Cup in back-to-back years. The Temple Cup, named after the trophy’s donator, Pittsburgh sportsman William C. Temple, was a Championship Series played from 1894 to 1897 at the end of the regular season between the first- and second-place NL teams. The Cleveland Spiders played the Baltimore Orioles in two hotly contested Series in 1895 and 1896. The Spiders, who were the second-place team during the regular season in each of the two years, won the Temple Cup in 1895, but lost in 1896. Childs did not hit well (.190 and .231) in either Series. Even though the Spiders and Orioles were bitter rivals on the ball field, Childs always remained popular in his hometown. “Cleveland second baseman Paca Childs is a Baltimorean and has many friends in this city,” wrote the Baltimore Sun after an Orioles home stand against the Spiders during the 1894 season.

Childs was the all-time base-on-balls leader for the NL Spiders team with 758. His .434 on-base percentage as a Spider was the second-highest in team history to Jesse Burkett’s .436. His .318 career batting average as a Spider is second on the team’s all-time list, well behind Burkett’s .356. Childs ranks third on the Spiders all-time hit list with 1,238 after Ed McKean (1,693) and Burkett (1,453). He finished third on the team, with 70 triples (McKean had 127, Burkett 92) and third in runs scored with 941, close behind McKean (996) and Burkett (987). Finally, he led the Spiders with 52 sacrifice hits. Childs, Burkett, and McKean—they were the Big Three of the Cleveland Spiders.

The Spiders had an overall record of 613 wins and 470 losses while Childs was there. In 1899, the Robison Brothers, owners of the Cleveland team, bought the struggling St. Louis club and assumed joint ownership of both National League franchises. The Cleveland ownership then transferred Patsy Tebeau, Cy Young, Jesse Burkett, Ed McKean, Bobby Wallace, Harry Blake, Cupid Childs, and a few others over to St. Louis in an effort to strengthen the ballclub. Unfortunately, Childs contracted malaria while playing for St. Louis that year. When Childs was finally healthy enough to return to the lineup, he was not up to par and finished the year hitting .265. The year before, in 1898, the St. Louis team had won 39 games and finished last in the twelve-team National League. With the addition of the new manager and players from Cleveland, the St. Louis Perfectos won 84 games and finished fifth.

The following season, the Chicago Orphans of the National League purchased Childs’s contract from the St. Louis club. Only after second baseman Bill Keister committed to the St. Louis team did St. Louis manager Tebeau agree to let Childs go.

When a reporter asked Childs how he felt about joining the Chicago team he replied, “I am pleased with the idea of playing in Chicago. I had a little hard luck last season and my relations with the St. Louis club were not pleasant for the club or myself. This Chicago team looks good to me, and I think is stronger than ever. The Chicago club always troubled us to beat it and it is much stronger in the box. I have been riding horseback and taking light exercise all winter in Philadelphia to keep myself fit, for I do not want to take any chances of another attack of malaria and another bad season.”

On April 1, 1900, Chicago Orphans manager Tom Loftus announced his starting lineup for the upcoming season. Childs had won the starting second-baseman position and was batting second in the order. “Childs is showing beautiful form at second and his work is a sign of promise,” wrote the Chicago Tribune regarding Cupid’s play in late April.

Childs was getting older now, but he evidently still possessed the old Cleveland Spiders fighting spirit. In May of 1900, Childs and Pittsburgh player-manager and future Hall of Fame member Fred Clarke got into a fistfight at the train station in Pittsburgh. Childs and Clarke had collided with each other at second base in a recent game. Clarke had dared Childs to fight him on the field that day, but the two were separated before the trouble escalated. Childs and Clarke then ran into each other at the train station in Pittsburgh when both teams were leaving the city. The two exchanged words, and a fistfight ensued. Sources at the time said that there had been bad blood brewing between the two players dating back to previous seasons. Eyewitness accounts said that both players took a beating, but that Clarke got the worst of it.

At some point early in the 1900 season, Childs began to feel the effects from his previous bout of malaria. His weakened state was causing his hand-eye coordination and reflexes to fail him. Although the press was relatively kind to Childs, there were many instances of thrown balls going right through his hands on potential double-play opportunities. Childs evidently knew something was wrong, because in early June he told the Chicago Tribune, “If I last through this season I will quit baseball. I have an excellent business opportunity and will get out of the business.” Later in the article the Tribune observed, “Childs is playing good ball for Chicago and helping the team by his clever bunting. He is drawing more base on balls than any man on the team and fielding well.” Nevertheless, Childs finished the season with an uncharacteristically low .241 average.

The business deal must have fallen through, because Childs returned to the Chicago team for the 1901 season. He never got on track and hit just .258 in 63 games. Since the nineteenth century, major-league players who were past their prime would often catch on with minor-league teams to finish out their professional careers. Childs followed and signed with Toledo of the Western Association, where he appeared in 71 games and earned 17 doubles, 14 stolen bases, and a .247 batting average.

Childs must have regained some strength, because he bounced back to have a good year in the minors in 1902. Cupid started out the season with the Jersey City Skeeters of the Eastern League; playing in 33 games, he hit a solid .290 with 5 doubles, 2 triples, and 6 stolen bases. Childs then moved to Syracuse of the New York State League, where he collected 102 hits, 12 doubles, 6 triples, 14 stolen bases, and a .358 average in 74 games.

In 1903, Childs signed on with manager Wilbert Robinson and Childs’s hometown Baltimore Orioles. The Birds were starting their inaugural season in the Eastern League. Childs came to spring training in good shape and played well. On April 28, the Orioles played an exhibition game against the University of Maryland baseball team at Oriole Park. The Orioles won the game 26–0, as Cupid was 3 for 5 with 2 triples and 3 runs scored. He played flawlessly at second base that day with 1 putout and 3 assists. “Childs made a sensational catch of a fly ball in the first inning,” wrote the Baltimore Sun in their comments on the game.

Childs was with the Orioles in spring training and through the first six games of the regular season. Unfortunately for Childs, his services had been reserved for the 1903 season by another team. The Montgomery, Alabama, club of the Southern League had engaged Childs prior to his signing with Baltimore. The Orioles tried to buy Childs’s contract back from Montgomery, but that club’s management refused to deal. It was reported that the Orioles offered a sum of four figures for Childs’s release. On May 4, Childs sent a telegram to Montgomery manager Lew Whistler stating that he would not play for the Montgomery team under any circumstances. Unfortunately for Childs, the final decision was made for him. On May 6, Eastern League President P. T. Powers wired the Orioles, saying that Childs would no longer be allowed to play in the Eastern League and that he must report to the Montgomery club. Childs was so distraught over the matter that he threatened to sign with the Johnstown team of the New York State League. Childs realized that he had no other alternatives, so he reluctantly boarded a southbound train for Montgomery.

Childs played the entire 1903 season with the Montgomery Legislators. He appeared in 108 games and had 104 hits, 7 doubles, and 1 triple, and finished the year with a .314 batting average. The Atlanta Constitution on June 17 reprinted a brief article about Childs from the Shreveport Times that described Childs’s work in glowing terms: “‘Cupid’ Childs is about one half of the Montgomery team. The way the old leaguer covers the ground and swats the ball reminds one of ‘Cupid’s’ palmy days when he was the ‘whole thing’ with the Clevelanders.”

In February of 1904, Childs was listed on the Montgomery team’s reserve list at second base, but he does not appear in any of the Southern League statistics for the season.

Childs did play in the New York State League in 1904, appearing in 41 games combined for the Schenectady and Scranton teams. Cupid was now at the end of the line, and finished the 1904 season hitting just .245. Childs may have made some attempts to continue his baseball career in 1905. In August of that year, a brief line in a local newspaper reported that Childs attempted to catch on in the New York State League. Childs does not show up in league records that season and more than likely did not play any Organized Baseball after the 1905 season.

With his baseball career over, he began working as a coal driver in Baltimore City. As did many people of his generation, Clarence “Cupid” Childs died young after a lengthy illness, at age 45, on November 8, 1912, at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore. The cause of death was listed as Bright’s disease. His wife Mary and his eight-year-old daughter Ruth survived him. Childs had just recently bought a coal business and home that were located at 1800 West Pratt Street in Baltimore. Unfortunately for Childs, his debilitating illness had rendered him bedridden. Because of this he was no longer able to oversee the daily operations of his coal company. A few weeks before his death, a local paper had reported that the bank was ready to foreclose on his new house and business. When Childs passed away, his obituary stated that his funeral service would take place at his residence; the bankers may have worked out a last-minute deal to allow the Childs family to keep their home. Clarence L. “Cupid” Childs is buried in Loudon Park Cemetery in the southwestern section of Baltimore City.

A portion of Cupid Childs’s obituary from the Baltimore Sun, November 9, 1912, read: “Childs was considered the fastest second baseman and one of the heaviest hitters in the major leagues. He was the idol of baseball fans and although never playing on the old Oriole team in Baltimore, he was always given a warm welcome because he was a Baltimore boy.”

Cupid Childs played a total of 13 seasons in the major leagues. He appeared in 1,456 games, with 1,720 hits, 991 walks, 1,214 runs scored, 205 doubles, 100 triples, and 269 stolen bases. His .416 career lifetime on-base percentage is right below Stan Musial’s .417.

When one considers the era in which he played, Childs has to be deemed a far better than average second baseman. Cupid averaged 6.3 chances a game at second base during his thirteen-year major league career. That places him fifth on the all-time list for chances per game by a second baseman. Childs finished his major-league career with a .930 fielding percentage. Because of his outstanding offensive production and great range in the field, Childs should probably already be in Cooperstown. He compares favorably with most of the second basemen in the Hall of Fame. Maybe it is time to take another look at him.

*****

The Grand Rapids (Mich.) Democrat gives the following story of Cupid Child’s debut in professional baseball:

Childs is the most curiously built man in the baseball business: he is about as wide as he is long and weighs about as much as Jeffries, yet there are few men in the league who can get over the ground faster than the “dumpling.” He started in the business as a professional with the Kalamazoo club in the Tri-State league in 1888 and his work was so good that year that he graduated into fast company, where he has been ever since.

When he reported to the Kalamazoo club he came in on a “side-door Pullman” and presented himself to the management of the “Celery Eaters” and asked for a trial. The manager thought he was joking after looking at his short length and broad girth, telling him he would make a better fat man in a side show than a ball player. Showing them he was anxious for a trial he was told to go to the grounds and practice with the rest of the team. A search was made for a uniform that would fit him, but none could be found, the only thing of that nature large enough for him being a pair of divided skirts, which he put on, cutting them off at the knees. His appearance with this costume on can be imagined and was so ludicrous that it threatened to break up the practice.

However, as soon as he got out on the diamond and began to practice they began to open their eyes and wonder. Such stops and throws were made as they never saw before and with such ease and grace that all were at once convinced he was a wonder. The management signed him on the spot and at a good salary, a move they never regretted, as his playing was the sensation of the league all the season. Besides being one of the greatest ball players in the business, he is said to be one of the best humored, not a single instance of his ever losing his temper in a game being on record.

 

Acknowledgments

I am especially grateful to Ray Nemec and Reed Howard, whose kindness and help made this article possible. Ray provided me with Childs’s minor-league statistics. Reed sent me the dates and places where Childs played in the nineteenth century.

I would like to thank Cupid Childs’s cousin Linda Strain Pagter for contributing two photographs and other family-related information.

 

Sources

Allentown Chronicle and News

Baltimore City Directories

Baltimore Morning Herald

Baltimore Sun

Hoie, Bob, Carlos Bauer, et al., eds. The Historical Register: The Complete Major and Minor League Record of Baseball’s Greatest Players. San Diego and San Marino: Baseball Press Books, 1998.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Phillips, John. The 1894 Cleveland Spiders. Cabin John, Maryland: Capital Publishing, n.d.

ProQuest Newspapers: Atlanta Constitution, Chicago Tribune

Thorn, John, Phil Birnbaum, Bill Deane, et al., eds. Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia. 8th ed. Toronto: Sport Media Publishing, 2004.

United States Census, 1860–1870.

Wright, Marshall D. The International League: Year-by-Year Statistics, 1884–1953. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1998.

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