Research of Minors Yields Major Finds

This article was written by Vern Luse

This article was published in 1984 Baseball Research Journal

The search for data on nineteenth-century minor leagues to be used in compiling league records has led to the discovery of stories about the accomplishments of individuals, teams, and even leagues which have long been forgotten, completely overlooked, or in some cases attributed to others.

In 1887 Walton Goldsby assembled one of the premier teams of minor league history. His Topeka Golden Giants spread-eagled the Western League. Two of the Golden Giants were short-term major leaguers – James P. “Dark Days” Conway, a pitcher, and Daniel E. Stearns, primarily a first baseman. On September 20 the Lincoln team arrived in Topeka. Two six-inning games were scheduled that day, and Conway was assigned to pitch both. After winning the opener, 11-7, the Golden Giants romped in the nightcap, 22-0. The box score shows Conway allowed one hit and gave up one walk. But wait! In `87 bases on balls were scored as base hits, and thus Conway had in fact pitched a no-hitter.

Just as Conway was robbed of a no-hitter by the scoring rules, Stearns may have profited from the same peculiar rules. Topeka played 115 games in 1887. Steams participated in all 115. He went hitless for the first time in the team’s fourth game on April 27. He was credited with a hit in each of the next 23 games before drawing the collar in the May 31 Decoration Day opener. It was 18 games later — on June 27 – before he was blanked again. Topeka had 69 games remaining in the Western League season, and Stearns had one or more hits in each. He wound up producing a hit in 112 of the 115 games. To put frosting on the cake, after the Western League season ended on October 2, Stearns and James “Bug” Holliday joined Des Moines of the Western League. Steams had hits in each of his six games with the Prohibitionists.

When one screens out games in which the opposing pitcher allowed fewer walks than Stearns had hits or in which he was credited with an extra-base hit, only about 15 games remain in which there is any question as to whether Stearns delivered what we today would define as a hit. If David Voigt’s argument (see page 32 of the 1983 Baseball Research Journal) is accepted, Stearns clearly should be listed as the first to establish the all-time O.B. 69-game hitting record attributed to Joe Wilhoit of Wichita (Western) in 1919. There is even justification for crediting Stearns with a 75-game streak because the league he joined (Northwestern) after the expiration of the Western League schedule was of at least equivalent caliber.

Delivering six or more hits in a game is a rare feat and hitting for the cycle in the nineteenth century was even rarer. Only one player ever combined connecting for the cycle with six or more hits in a game. He was Frank Fitch, a shortstop for Fort Wayne of the 1897 Interstate League. He went 6-for-7 against Mansfield on July 4, including three doubles, a triple, a home run, and a single. For the season Fitch batted only .289 in 92 games, but what an explosion on that Fourth of July.

Even in the nineteenth century, four homers in a game was worth an extra paragraph in the newspapers. Only seven players achieved this feat. Five did it after the lengthening of the pitching distance to the present 60 feet, six inches had produced a surge of high batting averages and immense slugging feats.

The first to unload four home runs in a contest was Jack Crooks of Omaha in 1889. He was immediately tagged “Home Run,” a nickname which followed him throughout his rather undistinguished major league career. Buck Freeman, who later led both the National and American leagues in homers one season each, delivered his quartet of four-baggers for Haverhill in 1894. That same season Billy Bottenus, who never reached the majors, had a four-homer game for Buffalo. Perry Werden and Willie Kuehne turned the trick under slightly colored circumstances in 1895. Their home park in Minneapolis was so small that Werden had 45 homers for the season, the all-time major-minor record until the advent of Babe Ruth. Aptly-named Hercules Burnett also joined the four-homer group in 1895 while with Evansville of the Southern League. Although Burnett played in the majors in two seasons – and two of his seven hits were homers — he was a positionless player who could fill in well all over the field but was unable to penetrate the majors permanently in a day when utility players were virtually non-existent.

The seventh player to hit four round-trippers was Daniel F. Cronin with Pawtucket of the New England League. A resident of Manchester, N.H., he had played for his hometown Amskoegs in 1891, batting a mere .212 in 37 New England League games. With Pawtucket in 1892, he was hitting a robust .301 through Decoration Day. A makeup game was scheduled on May 31 at Salem, not a park noted for home runs. According to an account by a Boston reporter, Cronin walloped four consecutive home runs, all well hit and leaving no doubt as to their outcome when they left the bat. The four blasts produced 13 RBIs among the 17 runs scored by Pawtucket that day. On his fifth plate appearance, Salem gave Cronin a base on balls, and he managed to score his fifth run of the afternoon.

The unique thing about Cronin’s May 31 explosion is that the four homers represented the entire home-run production of his two-year career. Although still hitting .301 on July 7, he was released by Pawtucket and returned home to Manchester, where he died on May 5, 1896. His four-homer performance was still sufficiently remarkable that his death was noted by an exceptionally long obituary for such an obscure minor leaguer.

Discovering and documenting “new” major league players is an interesting by-product of minor league statistical research. Among the “new” ones are Roger J. Carey, James Gilman, Harry Ely, and Mortimer Martin McQuaid. The records of their short major league appearances have been listed in The Baseball Encyclopedia under Dennis Casey, Pit Gilman, Bones Ely, and James McQuaid, respectively.

The McQuaid case is especially surprising because he was the brother of a prominent and well-respected major league umpire. McQuaid, who used Martin M. as his “baseball name,” was playing with Minneapolis of the Western Association in 1891 when the team disbanded on August 9. Several Minneapolis players were spirited out of town by a St. Louis American Association representative and signed to contracts on arrival in that city. After four games, during which he hit .364, McQuaid went home to Chicago. Although he played in the minors as late as 1897, he never again had a chance in the majors.

In contrast to McQuaid, who was in his fourth minor league season when he made his big-league appearance, Gilman was a raw rookie in his first season. He began 1893 at Akron in the Ohio-Michigan League. When the circuit disbanded after the Fourth of July, Gilman returned home to Cleveland. Shortly thereafter Patsy Tebeau, manager-third baseman of the Spiders, was injured and needed a replacement. Gilman played two games and received favorable mention in the Cleveland papers and Sporting Life. Although James Gilman played the remainder of the nineteenth century in the minors, including captaining the Newark and Paterson teams of the Atlantic League, he never again appeared in the majors. His photograph appears in the Dallas Texas League team picture for 1895 as published in the Texas League Record Book of 1950.

Fred “Bones” Ely was a versatile player who appeared in 161 games in the majors between 1884 and 1891 at all positions except catcher. Finally, in 1892 he found his true calling — shortstop — and returned to the majors in 1893 to star for ten years. The Baseball Encyclopedia credits him with pitching in one game for Baltimore in 1892, a season when he played more than 100 games in the Southern League. The fact of the matter is that the Ely who pitched that game for Baltimore was Harry Ely, a pitcher-outfielder from Reading, Pa. He played for various Pennsylvania State League teams from 1892 through 1896. In 1897 he was living at 1257 Cotton Street, Reading, and advertised for a baseball playing position.

Dennis Casey was one of the premier minor league centerfielders of the 1880s. An older brother of Dan Casey, a lefthander who pitched in the majors from 1884 to 1890, Dennis Casey went to the majors with the Wilmington Eastern League team when it joined the Union Association in 1884. Three years later he played center field in every game for his hometown Binghamton International League team until it disbanded on August 5, after which he joined Newark of the same league. Yet while Casey was playing for Binghamton in 1887, he was credited with appearing in one game at second base with the New York Giants. Sporting Life‘s box score lists the player as “Casey,” but several New York papers show the spelling “Carey,” some with the explanation that the player was one of the “New York Reserves” who was called in to play because of an injury to the Giants’ regular second baseman. Roger J. Carey from

Massachusetts played with Wheeling and Mansfield in the Ohio League up to June 27 that year, then joined the New York Reserves. Primarily a second baseman, Carey returned to his native Lynn, Mass., later in 1897 and played three games. He wound up his career at Macon in the Southern League in 1892.