Samuel Morrison “Dunnie” Dungan returned home to Southern California in 1889 after graduating from Eastern Michigan University—the the Michigan State Normal School– and joined the F.N. Hamilton’s a powerful San Diego based semi-pro team that included 39-year-old Cal McVey, a member of Harry Wright’s Cincinnati and Boston Red Stockings teams from 1869 through 1875 (with a detour to Baltimore in 1873).
In the spring of 1890 the Oakland Colonels, champions of the California League in 1889 recruited Dungan to catch for them during a series of exhibition games in Los Angeles. The Oakland squad did not impress Southern California critics. The San Diego Union said:
“It is drawing it mild to say that it was the rottenest game that been played on the ground. If it was not a fake, than the Oaklands cannot play ball. Do they suppose up about San Francisco and Oakland that they can bring down to Southern California a lot of boys and show the Southerners how to play ball?”
The Union said the Hamiltons, as well as two other San Diego teams, the Schiller & Murthas and the Llewellyns “can beat the Oakland team out of sight.”
The paper said only one player stood out:
“Dungan, the San Diego catcher, who caught for the Oaklands both days, was about the only redeeming feature of that club…And he does not pretend to be a professional.”
As a result of his play during the exhibitions, Dungan was signed by the Colonels; he still caught occasionally, but was now primarily an outfielder.. Team owner Colonel Thomas P. Robinson was unable to restrain his enthusiasm when Dungan was signed, telling The Oakland Tribune:
Fred Carroll, a California native who played with the Pittsburgh Burghers in the Players League in 1890, called Dungan “the only scientific batter on this coast.”
Statistics are incomplete for the 1890 California League season, but both The Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Dungan was the league’s batting champion. The Los Angeles Herald said he hit .332. The Colonels finished third in the four-team league. The Tribune said it was “probable that Dungan will go East.”
He was first rumored to be heading to be heading to the Washington Statesmen in the American Association, but ended up signing with the Western Association’s Milwaukee Brewers.
It was Dungan’s departure from the West Coast in the spring of 1891 that led to the biggest headlines of his career.
The San Francisco Chronicle told the story:
“Sam Dungan, the ballplayer who was with Oakland last season and who led the California League in batting, is being pursued by an irate wife who says she will follow him to the end of the earth if necessary to again clasp him in her arms. It seems that last year among the many conquests Dungan made in Oakland was Miss Mamie Bodgard. She became wild over him, and at last was introduced to him. After the season Dungan came south to his home in Santa Ana, but communication between himself and Miss Bodgard kept up. She sent him many dainty perfumed notes. Finally the marriage of the couple was announced and it created no great surprise.
“Now comes the thrilling part of this story. Two hours after the marriage had taken place (in Los Angeles) Dungan left his bride and journeyed to Santa Ana, where he had an interview with his parents, who are well and favorably known and rank among the leading families. Sam is a college graduate and was the idol of his parents. Mrs. Dungan also journeyed to Santa Ana. She did not go to the home of the Dungan’s, but went to the Richelieu Hotel. She is a most pronounced brunette, rather petite, and is reported to have a temper. The couple had parted, and the news of the separation soon became noised around. Mrs. Dungan consulted a lawyer to have her ‘hubby’ restrained from leaving Santa Ana, but the heavy hitter eluded his young wife and started for Milwaukee, giving his bride the slip at Orange, she being on the same train with him that far.”
The jilted bride told a reporter for The Los Angeles Herald that she was “a grass widow,” but vowed to pursue Dungan to Milwaukee. Mrs. Dungan’s trip to Milwaukee was unsuccessful.
A year later The Herald reported that a court in Santa Ana had awarded Mrs. Dungan $25 a month “and she is very elated in consequence.” She was said to have gone to Milwaukee twice the previous year and had taken to reading “Sammy’s love letters on the street corners,” of Santa Ana:
“Mrs. Dungan is an excellent dresser and is an exceptionally handsome woman. She doubtless could be induced to kiss and make up, but the parents of her husband stand in the way of a reconciliation. The Dungan’s are anxious to have Sam get a divorce, but he can’t very well, and Mrs. Dungan says: ‘Never in a thousand years.'”
A divorce was finally granted in 1893. Sam Dungan remarried in 1900.
Dungan went on to play parts of five seasons in the major leagues, mostly with the Chicago Colts, and had a .301 career batting average. He was an excellent minor league hitter, putting up several excellent seasons—including averages of .447, .424 and .372 in 1894, ’95, ’97 with the Detroit Creams and Detroit Tigers in the Western League. He also hit a league-leading .337 in 1900 for the Kansas City Blues in the inaugural season of the American League.
Dungan returned home to Santa Ana after retiring at the close of the 1905 season, and participated in many old-timers games in Southern California. The Santa Ana Register reported on his heroics during a 1924 fundraising game for former player Ed Householder who was dying of stomach cancer—Dungan joined Sam Crawford, Gavvy Cravath, Fred Snodgrass and other West Coast baseball legends for the game in Los Angeles:
“Yesterday, Dungan, now a prosperous Santa Ana resident and rancher, proved that years have not dimmed the remarkable eye nor time deprived the power from his arms and shoulders that enabled him, year after year, to outhit the other big league players of his day.
“Dungan rapped out a two-bagger with two men on the cushions in the tenth inning. This blow broke up the game. Previously Dungan had smashed out three other bingles. Thus, Dungan of Santa Ana, the oldest man on the field in point of years, was the heaviest hitter just as he used to be years ago.”
Dungan died in Santa Ana in 1939.