Dirty Jack Doyle: A Baseball Life

This article was written by Neal Mackertich

This article was published in The National Pastime (Volume 27, 2007)

The Ball

It all started with a baseball. My wife Marilee’s otherwise wonderful family are not big baseball fans. With the exception of my father-in-law Robert Belliveau’s golf club and ball design expertise (he was an innovative design engineer with Spalding), sports are not typically the topic of conversation at family gatherings. Marilee’s late grandmother Marion O’Connell was different. Marion, an avid golfer and big Tiger Woods fan, and I were known to sneak away from the dinner table to catch an ESPN update or two.

Every now and then Marion would talk about the old days and how her late husband Sam was a big baseball fan. After learning about just how much I love baseball and the history of the game, Marion and her daughter Betty Anne (my mother-in-law) gave me an old signed ball of her late husband’s as a gift. They said that they had looked for an old ’27 Yankees ball that they used to have lying around but thought that Sam had given it away. Not only was I extremely grateful for the gift, but I was intrigued. What was my wife’s family doing with an old signed ball and talking of the ’27 Yankees? It turns out that Sam’s best friend was an old scout for the Cubs named Jack Doyle. A quick inspection of the ball and reference to my handy Baseball Encyclopedia identified the ball to be signed by the ’43 Cubs. I quickly looked up the career statistics of each player and bemoaned the fact that I missed Jimmie Foxx’s signature by only a year. I then showed it off to all my baseball friends.

For some reason, I didn’t pursue more information involving Jack Doyle for another year or so. I even remember questioning why Jack Doyle, a mere scout, put his signature on a ball signed by other­ wise legitimate ballplayers. Little did I know at the time, Jack Doyle (a.k.a., “Dirty Jack” Doyle) was much more than just a legitimate ballplayer … but rather was one of the most interesting baseball characters of all time. His remarkable career as a player, manager, umpire and scout would span an incredible and entertaining 71 years!

Catcher on the Rise

John (Jack) Joseph Doyle was born October 25, 1869, in Killorglin, County Kerry, Ireland, on the Laune River, south of Tralee.The Doyles immigrated to Holyoke, Massachusetts, when Jack was but a child. Years later upon refusing to pay $1.50 for a hotel room, he quipped: “My father raised our whole family on $1.50 a day and gave us all a complete education, short and long division.” Holyoke at that time was a bustling and growing mill town full of opportunities that Ireland could not provide.

Young Jack Doyle played New England semi-pro ball in 1887 before breaking into the professional ranks with Lynn in 1888.Amazingly, the box score from that initial game, May 3, 1888, Lynn at Portland, has survived. Jack Doyle batted eighth, going 2-for-4 with a run scored and 11 putouts from the catcher position (10 by strikeout), three assists and three errors (the other catcher had seven) in a 9-6 victory.

In 80 games with Canton in 1889, Doyle impressed big league management both as a run producer (he stole 81 bases) and as Cy Young’s battery mate. Inundated with offers from big league clubs, Jack Doyle signed with the Columbus Colts of the American Association for $2,500 in salary and a $1,000 signing bonus. In his first game with Columbus, Doyle put his ex­ceptional speed to immediate use by stealing four bases off future Hall of Fame catcher Wilbert Robinson, then with the Philadelphia Athletics. At 19 years of age, Jack Doyle was one of the youngest players in the major leagues.

“Just One Purpose: to Win”

“Dirty Jack” Doyle was an absolute terror on the base paths, stealing 518 bases in his career (tied for 30th all­ time) averaging 53 steals per 162 games. Stealing bases at this rate over a lengthy career is remarkable for a catcher/first basemen even in those inside baseball days. Jack Doyle is arguably the greatest catcher/first baseman base stealer in major league baseball history. Some say his nickname derived from his uniform always being dirty; others point to his desire to win at all costs. They appear to both be contributors. Even in an exhibition game during his heyday with the Orioles, “Dirty Jack” slid face first into all four bases one trip around the dia­mond. Doyle himself said:

I was a hard base-runner. You had to be those days. It wasn’t a matter of being rough or dirty. With the dead ball, games were won by very small margins. As a result, a stolen base meant more than it does today. It often meant the difference between victory and defeat. And my base-running was for just one purpose: to win.

The First Pinch-Hitter and More

Jack Doyle spent his first couple of years in the major leagues learning the ropes primarily in a utility role. As one might expect of such a gamer, “Dirty Jack” began his penchant for being at the scene of baseball’s most unusual and historically significant events. On June 7, 1892, at Brooklyn, Jack Doyle of Cleveland pinch-hit for pitcher George Davies with his team down a run in the ninth and promptly singled. It was long held that this was the first instance of pinch-hitting in major league baseball history. (Through SABR research, others have since been cited.) It was also during this period that Jack was reprimanded by the National League for dropping pebbles into the heel area of batters’ shoes as they leaned forward to swing only to discover the discomfort as they attempted to run the bases. An edge to be gained was to be taken.

A Leader Among Giants

By l 894 Doyle was entering his prime and was one of the everyday leaders of the New York Giants. In 1894, Doyle hit .368, scored 94 runs, drove in 103, and stole 44 bases in just 107 games while primarily serving as their starting first baseman. A great contact hitter, Jack Doyle also led the league in 1894 with an amazing at bats per strikeout ratio of 142.3. In those days, a World Series of sorts (The Temple Cup) existed between the top two teams in the National League. The Giants finished second in the National League in 1894 with a record of 88-44, a mere three games behind the 1890s dynasty that was the Baltimore Orioles. The big showdown was a mismatch this time, as Amos Rusie and Jouett Meekin limited the mighty Orioles to four runs in total with Doyle sparking the Giants by hitting .588.

During the 1895 campaign, Jack Doyle followed George Davis as player-manager as the Giants entered the infamous Andrew Freedman reign of terror. None of the Giant managers that season, Davis ( 16-17), Doyle (32-31), or Harvey Watkins (18-17) could rally the squad to their 1894 level. Turmoil and a revolving door of managers/players were to be a frequent occurrence during the Freedman era. (Doyle himself was to be traded to and from the Giants three times.) Frank Graham described Freedman as “coarse, vain, arrogant and abusive, he insulted, threatened, or assaulted any who opposed him and many who inadvertently, merely got in his way… For eight years Freedman ruled the Giants and almost completely wrecked them.” Bill James famously described Freedman as “George Steinbrenner on quaaludes.” At the end of the season, Jack Doyle would be on his way to the rival Orioles of Baltimore.

Birds of a Feather …

After two championship seasons, Oriole manager Ned Hanlon pulled off one of his trademark coups by trading Kid Gleason (a solid but unspectacular infielder who later went on to manage the infamous Chicago Black Sox) and cash for their fierce rival “Dirty Jack” Doyle. Other teams voiced their protest, as the mighty Orioles became even stronger. Despite their more than comfort­able lead going into the final month, the Orioles of 1896 won 16 of their final 21 games. It was a natural fit. Doyle could be himself among this contentious band of character loaded with future Hall of Famers: third baseman John McGraw, shortshop Hughie Jennings, right fielder “Wee Willie” Keeler, center fielder Joe Kelley, and catcher Wilbert Robinson. Doyle was more than a nice addition to this squad; an old surviving scorecard has Doyle bat­ting fifth in a powerful lineup that produced 995 runs (while yielding only 662) and stole 441 bases in only 132 games.

Doyle himself had one of his best seasons, hitting .339 with 73 stolen bases and 29 doubles while scoring 116 runs and driving in 101 in only 118 games. The run barrage continued in 1897 with Doyle once again pro ducing terrific results: hitting .354 with 62 stolen bases and 29 doubles while scoring 91 runs and driving 87 runs in only 114 games. Throughout his career Doyle was at best a mixed blessing in the field: while his speed and aggressiveness enabled above-average range, his below­ average glove contributed to above average errors. Doyle would lead league first baseman in errors three times (1894, 1896, and 1900). But this was not the case with Doyle in 1897 (SABR fielding statistical statistics have him above average across the board), as he was clearly firing on all cylinders at the peak of his career.

On September 3, 1897, teammates “Wee Willie” Keeler and our man Jack Doyle went 6-for-6 during the same nine inning game for the Baltimore Orioles, reportedly the second time this had been accomplished in major league history. (Doyle would go on to record five hits in a game four times.) The Orioles would finish 50 games over .500 (90-40), but this time there would be significant competition from Boston. This was one of baseball’s first great pennant races, culminating in a passionate final weekend series in Baltimore before the mighty Orioles were finally slayed. The Orioles had somewhat of the last laugh, however, as they drubbed Boston four games to one in the last Temple Cup ever played, with big-game Jack Doyle hitting .526. (Doyle is listed as the ex post facto MVP of the 1897 Temple Cup in the ESPN 2005 Baseball Encyclopedia).

Doyle, who loved the spotlight, led his teams to blowout wins in all three Temple Cup series in which he participated, winning a remarkable 12 out of 13 contests. In these 13 showdown contests, Doyle hit .472 (25 for 53) and slugged .600. There are very few World Series and/or playoff performers of this caliber with 50+ at-bats across the history of baseball.

To say that the Old Orioles played with rare intensity is an understatement. Connie Mack is quoted as saying, “The Orioles played the game like the gladiators in ancient Roman arenas …not as gentlemen.” Boston sportswriter Tim Murnane called the Baltimore brand of baseball

“the dirtiest ball ever seen in this country… diving into the first baseman long after the ball is caught; throwing masks in front of the runner at home plate; catching them by their clothes at third base and interfering with the catcher, were only a few of the tricks performed by these young men from the South.”

A famous quote from the voice of experience comes from Honus Wagner, regarding his first game against the Orioles:

“On my first time up, I got a single. The next time up, I might have had a triple but Jack Doyle gave me the hip at first,Hughie Jennings chased me wide around sec­ond, and John McGraw blocked me off at third, then jammed the ball into my belly, knocking the wind out of me.”

Doyle fit right in with the Orioles and their style of play. At least until the tempers flared and their great run of championships was taken from them by Boston. Doyle and McGraw were said to have grown to truly dislike each other. One such flaring up was captured by Kavanagh and Macht:

Some heads had become swollen with success. McGraw took to snarling and cussing at his teammates more than at the umpires, and became a royal pain in the neck to many of them.He rode Wee Willie Keeler to the point that they tangled naked in the clubhouse one day. Nobody moved to break it up. When McGraw was first to cry “enough,” there were smiles among the onlookers. McGraw blamed “Dirty Jack” Doyle for stirring up trouble. Doyle blamed McGraw. They were probably both right.

McGraw insinuated that Doyle played more for his own stat line than to win. Having read much about Doyle and met with many who knew him personally, I am fairly certain that that nobody cared more about winning than Doyle did. Anger management issues: yes; interested in his numbers more than winning: no, definitely not. Having lost the pennant race, Hanlon decided to remake the team, and Doyle was moved to Washington in a six­ player deal.

Doyle would stay connected with his famous Oriole teammates, attending reunions and the likes, including one put together by McGraw in 1922 that included old teammates: Sadie McMahon, Wilbert Robinson (in the middle of his own feud with McGraw), Steve Brodie, and manager Ned Hanlon. Jack Doyle along with the battery of Bill Hoffer and Bill Clarke would live long enough to enjoy the major league rebirth of the Baltimore Orioles in 1954 when the St. Louis Browns came to town. Both Doyle and Clarke were in attendance during the Opening Day festivities.

Fireworks in New York

After just 43 games of fairly typical play (including 17 games as player-manager) with Washington, New York Giants owner/president and resident madman Andrew Freedman was able to reacquire his former player during the summer of 1898 and reestablished him as the Giants’ playing captain for the 1899 season. Doyle’s second stint with the Giants would last through the 1900 season.

Still a productive everyday player, Doyle suffered and fought along with the rest of his teammates through a particularly tumul­tuous period as the Giants bottomed out all the way to the cellar in 1900. As one might expect given this envi­ronment, cliques existed within the team. One clique included manager Buck Ewing and Jack Doyle. Another included George Davis and George Van Haltren. When the team got off to a slow start, Ewing was fired and re­placed by Davis. Ewing blamed Davis, who supposedly had been home resting a sore knee (and “working” Freedman) while the team was on a long road trip. Doyle was subsequently traded before the 1901 season to the Chicago Cubs (for three players) after both he and Davis announced that it was impossible for them to get along. The saga would continue as Doyle would rejoin the Giants for the 1902 season as its captain and Davis would end up in Chicago (White Sox).

Fireworks in the clubhouse in 1900 for Doyle were matched on the field at least on one occasion. On Independence Day, “DirtyJack” was called out in an attempt to steal second at Cincinnati and flew into a rage. He charged umpire Bob Emslie with such force that he pushed him to the ground. On the way down Emslie grabbed Doyle and they rolled over a couple of times in short center field before being separated by the other players. Both Doyle and umpire Emslie were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. While Doyle was extremely apologetic regarding his behavior, the fact that both men were charged indicates some sort of mutual culpability. It was truly a different time.

A Reunion with Hanlon and a Shortstop Who Threw Spitters

In 1903 Ned Hanlon would trade for 33-year-old Jack Doyle to play first base and be the captain of his Brooklyn team. It would be one of the best years of his career, as Doyle led Brooklyn in almost every category. Playing in all 139 games, Doyle was all over the league leaderboard: putouts (1st), RBIs (3rd), singles (6th), at­ bats and hits (7th), stolen bases (tied for 8th), times on base (tied for 10th). That was to be the swansong of his career, as Doyle tailed off in 1904.

In 1905, Jack Doyle came out of retirement to play in a single game for the New York Highlanders against the Tigers in Detroit. As recorded by Ernie Lanigan: “Clark Griffith sent him out to work at first in a game started by Jack Chesbro, whose spitball was real wet. In the final frame, a ball thrown from short took a freak jump as it neared Doyle and hit him in the jaw. Griffman lost the game, Doyle lost the job. Said it was time to quit when both the pitcher and shortstop threw spitters.” Lanigan went on to interestingly comment: “Look up the games Chesbro pitched for New York and you’ll find that he very seldom received errorless support.”

The Reformation

Where would an aggressive, no-holds barred talented player go after his rabble-rousing days are over? Law enforcement, of course! Jack Doyle served as police commissioner of his hometown Holyoke in 1908 and ’09. Perhaps even more ironically, Doyle came back to baseball in 1911 as an umpire. The great pitcher Christy Mathewson saw the irony in this reversal: “Umpire Bob Emslie is under cover. It is no secret, or I would not give way on him. But that luxuriant growth of hair apparently comes off at night like his collar and necktie … I had to laugh myself… when Mr. Lynch appointed Jack Doyle, formerly a first baseman and a hot-headed player, an umpire and scheduled him to work with Emslie. I remember the time several seasons ago when Doyle took offense at one of Bob’s decisions and wrestled him all over the infield trying to get his wig off and show him up before the crowd. And then Emslie and he worked together like Damon and Pythias. This business makes strange bed-fellows.”

On June 2, 1911, an announcement came from NL headquarters that umpire Jack Doyle had been temporar­ily relieved from duty “for not knowing the rules.” After returning to the National League, Doyle had follow-up stints as an arbiter with the International League, PCL, Western League, and the American Association before hanging it up as an umpire.

According to a New York paper, Jack Doyle, by then the “ivory merchant of New York,” was greatly enjoying the 1915 off-season until he was reminded that he still owned the remains of the Asbury club of the Atlantic League by a young prospect: Prospect: “You are Mr. Doyle, aren’t you? Well, I’m a pitcher and I want you to give me a trial.” Doyle: “I’ll do ever better than that. I’ll give you the club.”

Bill Veeck, Gabby and the Hack

After bird-dogging as a scout for various clubs, including crosstown Chicago rivals, Doyle became the Cubs’ head scout in1920. It was a great run as the Cubs won pennants in ’29, ’32, ’35, ’38, and ’45. Doyle has been personally credited with discovering numerous Cubs stars: Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman, Riggs Stephenson, Phil Cavarretta, Guy Bush, Augie Galan, Charlie Root, Stan Hack, and others. Reportedly, it was upon Jack Doyle’s recommendation that the Cubs acquired one of their greatest sluggers in Hack Wilson after the Giants failed to protect him against the draft. And there was great fun along the way, spring training on Catalina Island and countless cross-country trips in search of talent. A few interesting captured tales from the road:

Courtesy of Bill James:

John McGraw heard about Hartnett and sent Jesse Burkett to check him out, but Burkett reported that Hartnett would never make it as a catcher because his hands were too small. Hartnett disliked Burkett and would speak bitterly about him for many years after. He signed with Worcester of the Eastern League. He played fairly well and Jack Doyle, scouting for the Cubs, took a liking to him, reportedly because he has “a strong puss” and didn’t back down on contact plays at the home plate. Doyle bought him for the Cubs.

Cubs president Bill Veeck Sr. once wired Doyle to head down to Fort Worth and take a look at a real prospect named George Washington. Doyle thought he was being kidded and telegraphed back: “Your wire received. Shall I detour via Springfield and catch Abe Lincoln?”

The aging, feisty Doyle still liked to mix it up with the players. The essence of this is nicely captured by Peter Golenbock in his description of a late night spring training poker game involving Gabby Hartnett, Doyle, and rookie Phil Cavarretta. After Cavarretta bluffed his way into a big final pot with only a pair of jacks to Doyle’s three kings, a still fuming Doyle took the kid aside and said: “You only had a pair of jacks? … I could kill you … young man, you’re a young player. .. we got good reports on you…if you play baseball the way you play poker, you’re going to be an all-star.”

Elder Statesman

Jack Doyle’s commentary and charisma were not limited to the ball yard. In 1949, at the age of 79, Jack Doyle attended the wedding and reception of my future in-laws and slipped them five crisp hundred dollar bills (quite a sum in those days). Upon hearing a year later that Betty-Anne was with child, Doyle promised another five hundred if it was a boy and nothing if it was a girl. Alas, my future sister-in-law was off to an inauspicious start.

Two other lasting family memories of “Dirty Jack” from this era include visiting with old ChiSox manager “Pants” Rowland (where have all the great nicknames gone?) out in California and attending the first integrated World Series, as Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers hosted the Yankees of Joe DiMaggio at Ebbets Field. My mother-in-law Betty-Anne, then a freshman at the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, recalls “people being pretty excited.” For Betty-Anne, who is not much of a sports fan, it was her first and only baseball game. I haven’t dared to take her to another, as that is a pretty high standard.

Even into his 80s, Doyle regularly traveled south for spring training, providing input for the Cubs, and on the game in general (“it’s improved tremendously, just about everything has gotten better-pitch­ ing, infield play and hitting … baseball is the future of our country”), and participating in various first (the Orioles’ return to Baltimore) and last pitch (the last game at the Polo Grounds) events.

John Joseph Doyle died of heart failure on New Year’s Eve 1959 at the age of 89 in his hometown of Holyoke, Massachusetts. Active in the game to the end, Doyle was employed by the Cubs as either their head scout or as a scout/adviser for the final 38 years of his life. Amazingly, “Dirty Jack” Doyle was employed by professional baseball as player, manager, umpire, and scout for 71 years. A full and interesting baseball life indeed.

NEAL MACKERTICH is a diehard Red Sox fan with a passion for the game, his family, and all things SABR.



Bready, James. Baseball in Baltimore. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1998.

Golenbock, Peter. Wrigleyville. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999.

Green, Paul. Forgotten Fields. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Parker Publications, 1984.

James, Bill. Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

James, Bill. The New Bill James Historical Abstract. New York: Free Press, 2001.

Kavanagh, Jack. Uncle Robbie. Cleveland: SABR, 1999. Palmer, Pete. The 2005 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia. New York: Sterling, 2005.

Ritter, Lawrence. The Glory of Their Times. New York: Macmillan, 1966.

Shatzkin, Mike, and Jim Charlton. The Ballplayers. New York: Arbor House, 1990.

Schwarz, Alan. The Numbers Game. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004.

The Library at the Baseball Hall of Fame, archived articles and photographs.