This article was written by Lew Lipset
This article was published in the The National Pastime: Premiere Edition (1982)
Two years ago at an auction in St. Louis, I acquired a cabinet card showing the 1888 Browns posed in an indoor setting after winning their fourth consecutive American Association title. I couldn’t help but notice the matching sports jackets the Browns were wearing, or the magnificent pair of greyhounds reclining in the foreground.
The matching jackets, I knew, had been purchased by the Browns’ flamboyant owner, Chris Von Der Ahe, who reportedly had spent $20,000 on accommodations for the team’s 1888 championship series against the Giants. What the greyhounds were doing in the picture I had no idea. When I returned to my table with the photo, a friend and fellow 19th-century collector remarked that he had read about the dogs in one of a series of three books by Al Spink entitled Spink Sport Stories.
In an interesting coincidence I had just purchased this series myself, so I made a mental note to browse through the books and try to find that specific item. Since the three volumes consisted of 1000 stories and ran over 1400 pages, I was not optimistic of obtaining speedy satisfaction; however, fortune was on my side as the story appeared in the first 50 pages of Volume 1. It goes like this:
In the mid-1880s Peoria, Illinois, was an enthusiastic baseball town. Charlie Flynn was the baseball team’s president and doubled as chief of police. Flynn was a friend of most ballplayers who came through town and probably knew everyone in the National League and American Association.
Spink recalled that one Thursday night in St. Louis ca. 1885, he was aroused by Flynn at an unorthodox hour. Flynn complained, “Saturday we play Davenport the deciding game for the championship.” He went on, “Fish Hall [Peoria’s pitcher] tried to turn Peoria dry and now he has the ‘jimmies.’ Nothing will save us but another pitcher.” Flynn urged Spink to get him a pitcher immediately “with speed like Old Rad when he was right and a cool head like Clarkson.” Spink got dressed and went looking for the “Egyptian,” who, he knew, had just come into town.
The “Egyptian” was John Healy and he hailed from Cairo, Illinois – hence the nickname. Spink and Flynn found Healy in his boarding house. Healy said he couldn’t possibly pitch in the championship game for Peoria, and pointed to two greyhounds he had brought with him from “Egypt.” He said his first business was to sell the dogs, and he could not leave them for a moment. Spink offered to help sell the dogs for Healy. The Egyptian said, “If you can, I’ll go with you to Peoria and win that flag for Flynn and his bunch.”
Spink and Flynn took the dogs to Faust’s tavern on Broadway, where Chris Von Der Ahe was throwing down a few. Immediately on sight of the dogs, he said he wanted them. Spink wrote, “Charlie Flynn and I put the $300 in Healy’s pocket, hurried him to the railway station, and on the next Saturday John Healy and the Peoria team swept Davenport from the face of the earth.”
What became of the dogs? Von Der Ahe named them Fly and Prince. Prince was given to John Botto, the owner of the Louisville club. Fly died in the fire that destroyed old Sportsman’s Park, despite Von Der Ahe’s efforts to save him.
And Egyptian Healy, who came into the National League, according to Spink, with “the skill of a wizard, speed to burn, and an uncanny command of the ball,” went on to a mediocre eight year big-league career topped by his selection for the World Tour squad in 1889.
(Click image to enlarge)