David W. “Davy” Force was a popular figure in 19th Century baseball. Francis Richter, founder and editor of The Sporting Life said the five-foot four-inch Force was , along with George Wright ”the two greatest shortstops of the early days of baseball.” Nick Young, National League president, told Ren Mulford Jr. of The Cincinnati Enquirer that Force was second only to Wright as the greatest.
Force played in the National Association and National League from 1871 to 1886, and finished his professional career in the Western Association with the Sioux City Corn Huskers.
He remained popular, and well-known enough that multiple newspapers reported in 1890 that the former player “sided with the Brotherhood,” and supported the Players League; he even made news that year for growing a beard: “Force has raised a crop of whiskers as long as himself. “
So when it was reported on Christmas Eve of 1896 that Force had shot and killed a man—a former ballplayer no less-in a San Francisco bar and then fled, the news was reported in papers across the country.
The Louisville Courier Journal:
Ball Player Kills Another
The Cincinnati Enquirer:
Old Cincinnati Ball Player Kills a Man in Frisco
The Salt Lake City Tribune:
Baseball Player Shoots Another Without Warning
The Chicago Tribune:
Police now on Lookout for Force
The Baltimore Sun:
‘Davy’ Force Wanted for Killing a Man
Towns where Force had been a popular player were quick to distance themselves. The Sioux City Journal said that while fans “took a sort of paternal and patronizing interest” in Force when he played in Sioux City “the Golden Gate murder is quite another story…If he has been leading a wild, reckless life, possibly discouragements and vicissitudes have made a different man of him.”
Once it was determined Manning was not Jim or Tim, no one seemed to know anything about him.
Seven days after the murder, Abraham Mills, former National League president, issued a statement:
“I have known Davy Force almost continuously since I engaged him in 1867 to play in the Olympic Base Ball Club of Washington. For the last seven years he has been in the employ of the company for which I am an officer, (The Otis Elevator Company) and is a steady, hard-working man, and I fully believe his statement that he never knew a Joseph Manning, and that he has never had any serious difficulty with or made any assault of any kind upon any ballplayer, either during or since his professional career.”
Mills’ statement was printed in only a fraction of the newspapers that reported the shooting.
The accusations faded, and by the time Force died in 1918 there was no mention of the case of mistaken identity in the ballplayer’s obituary.
Who exactly Joseph Manning was, and whether he was actually a professional baseball player, remains a mystery; as does the identity of the “Davy Force” who killed him in San Francisco.