“It is a sad and Pitiful Story”

21 Nov

Thomas Frank “Tully” Sparks had a reputation for being a bit more cultured than his contemporaries: The Nashville Tennessean said of the Georgia born pitcher::

“(A)lthough so successful in his business as a ball tosser, has decided to acquire a professional education.  He is temperate and studious in his habits and is always in condition to pitch a star variety of ball.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer called him a “silent and modest gentleman.”

Sparks attended the University of Georgia and Beloit College in Wisconsin, and spent his off seasons working for prosperous cotton firms in Louisiana as a cotton sampler and buyer, so there was a great surprise in the Southern press when he became part of what would be a tabloid scandal today.

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Sparks

Sparks had spent the off season after posting a 22-8 record and 2.00 ERA working in Opelousas, Louisiana for the New Orleans based Oliver, Voorhies & Lowery cotton company.  After he had returned to the Phillies for the beginning of the 1908 season after a brief holdout, The Monroe Star reported “a sad story which arouse the tenderest sympathies of everyone in Monroe.”

The paper said:

 “Bride secretly married to Frank Sparks, Phillies’ pitcher, goes insane on hearing he deserted her.

“The principal in this sad story was formerly Miss Mabel Winter, the beautiful and accomplished instructor of the kindergarten department of the City High School, who was serving her fifth term in the school prior to her sudden and almost secret departure from the city one week ago tonight.

“Frank Sparks, the man who won her love, secretly married her and caused this bright and beautiful woman to go insane by deserting her.”

The Star said the couple had married just five months earlier on New Year’s Day:

“After the wedding the couple visited Galveston.  The marriage was kept a secret and Miss Winter returned to the city and resumed her position in the school and Mr. Sparks went to Opelousas.”

While the Phillies were training in the South, the paper said the couple “spent several days together’ in Atlanta.  In late April, Winter quit her job at the school and left for Philadelphia to join her husband:

“The secret of her marriage to Sparks then became public and has since been the subject of gossip.”

The Star said Sparks’ wife “became so violent” in her room in Philadelphia’s Hotel Walton, she was taken to the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane as a result of the desertion, which she learned about when a man met her at the railroad station and “pressed a note into her hand,” from Sparks.

The paper concluded:

“It is a sad and pitiful story”

The story was picked up by many papers in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia, but virtually ignored in the North; limited to brief articles in a handful of papers in National League cities.

By May the story was forgotten.  Troubled by shoulder pain—which led to a trip to Youngstown, Ohio to consult with the famed John “Bonesetter Reese, according to The Philadelphia North American—the 34 year-old Sparks had his final winning season 16-15, 2.60 ERA in 1908.

Sparks’ big league career came to an end in June of 1910; he was 6-13 during his final two seasons.

By the time his major league career was over, the story of Mabel Winter was so forgotten, that when Sparks was granted a divorce from her in October of 1910, he claimed he was seeking the divorce because she had deserted him, Sporting Life said:

“(Sparks) testified that his wife left him in June of 1908, and has refused to live with him under any consideration.”

When Sparks died in Anniston, Alabama in 1937, his hometown paper, The Anniston Star said he was “modest and retiring and never sought the limelight of publicity.”

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