By 1911, “Honest John” McCloskey was in his 22nd season as a manager; five in the major leagues. Those five seasons were less than successful.
He led the Louisville Colonels to a 35-96 record in 1895, and was dismissed the following season after a 2-17 start; In three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1906-1908, he was 52-98, 52-101, and 49-105—he also apparently had a bizarre aversion to blond hair.
In those 22 seasons, he won just two championships–in class “B” Pacific National League, but despite a rather inauspicious record, Hugh Fullerton believed McCloskey one was one of the greatest minds in the game.
Writing in “The American Magazine” that summer, Fullerton said:
“John McCloskey, one of the greatest tacticians in baseball, has worked out the theory of coaching, both from the bench and from the lines to an exact science. Yet McCloskey has not been successful because the players lack the quickness and the brains to follow his orders. If he could find men who could think and act quickly enough to obey his signals. I believe beyond doubt he would be the greatest manager of all time.”
McCloskey’s genius, according to Fullerton, was enough to overcome one thing:
“One great trouble in the McCloskey system is that players are not yet educated to the point where they cease independent thinking and obey orders…After every blunder of a ballplayer, the reason assigned is ‘I thought.’ Besides that, the fewer brains a player has and the less he knows of the science of the game, the more liable he is to scoff at the theorist and ridicule or ignore the wigwag system.”
As an example of McCloskey’s players not living up to their manager’s intelligence and ridiculing his “system”, Fullerton related a story from the previous season when McCloskey led the Milwaukee Brewers to a 76-91 sixth place finish in the American Association.
“(A) Milwaukee batter drove a ball down into the left field corner of the grounds. The ball was in the shortstop’s hands when the runner reached third base.”
According to Fullerton “the excited coacher” missed McCloskey’s signal to hold the runner:
“(H)e urged (the runner) onward, and he was thrown out 30 feet from the plate. McCloskey…slid down until the back of his head was resting on the bench and his feet were six feet away on the ground, his body rigid. A cruel substitute, gazing at his manager, asked: ‘What’s that, Mac, a signal to slide feet first?’”
McCloskey’s Butte Miners finished third in the Union Association in 1911. He managed 13 more seasons in the minor leagues through 1932. He won just one more pennant, leading a team to the class “D” Southwestern League championship in 1924—not only was the team “educated” enough to “cease independent thinking” and win for McCloskey, but they did so playing home games in three different towns; they played in Newton, Kansas until July, relocated to Blackwell, Oklahoma for a month, then finished the season in Ottawa, Kansas.