Tag Archives: Bill Holbert

“O’Brien…Felt Like Dropping Dead”

8 Oct

Darby O’Brien was a rookie and Charley Jones was near the end of his 12-year career  when the two were teammates with the New York Metropolitans in 1887; his friendship with Jones gone sideways made O’Brien a brief sensation on the police blotter.

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O’Brien was playing for the Brooklyn Bridegrooms the following season when, on July 21 he was arrested along with teammate Jack Burdock were arrested when leaving Brooklyn’s Washington Park after a game.

The troubled Burdock, who battled alcoholism, was arrested for assault for attempting to kiss a 17-year-old stationary store employee the previous year, while, as The New York Sun said he “was under the influence of liquor,”  Burdock was acquitted later that year when the victim failed to appear to testify against him.

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Jack Burdock

Burdock being in trouble was not news, but said The Sun:

“(O’Brien) is one of the steadiest men in the ball business and, consequently felt like dropping dead when (New York Detective)  McGrath told him he was wanted for larceny.”

O’Brien’s alleged crime?  The Brooklyn Eagle said:

“The charge against O’Brien is made by Mrs. Louisa Jones, wife of Charles W. Jones, formerly left fielder of the Kansas City nine, and is that he stole her dog.”

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Charley Jones

According to Mrs. Jones, O’Brien had given her the dog, “a small pug,” to take care of after the 1887 season and subsequently “presented the dog to her.”  Mrs. Jones said O’Brien later returned to the Staten Island hotel where the Jones’ lived and stole the dog.  The New York World said he “snatched the dog out of her lap,” at the hotel and ran to a train to escape.

After O’Brien was released on “the promise of (Brooklyn owner Charlie) Byrne” that O’Brien would appear in court on July 23, he spoke to a reporter from The Eagle:

“Mrs. Jones story is untrue.  I did not give her the dog nor did I snatch it from her lap, as was reported in a morning paper.  I was stopping at the Nautilus Hotel when she and Jones came there to live.  I got the dog from (catcher Bill) Holbert.  She was a beauty and is Beauty by name.  Mr. Holbert raised her from a pup and I was too fond of her to part with her.  Mrs. Jones admired her very much.  I declined to give her Beauty, but did promise her one the next litter.  That was only to keep her quiet.  She annoyed me very much.  She got square, however, for when I was preparing to go West (after the 1887 season) she and Jones bolted and took the dog with them.  I got Beauty back.”

O’Brien failed to say how he “got Beauty back.”  The Eagle said Holbert backed up his statement.

The World described the scene when O’Brien returned to face the charges:

“Justice Massey, of Brooklyn, was a half hour tardy in his arrival at the courtroom this morning and he found the chamber packed full of people  .

“There were baseball players, baseball enthusiasts and patrons of the national game.  There were a couple of hundred of the youth of the City of Churches, and there as many of the pretty girls for which Brooklyn is famous.”

Both O’Brien and Burdock were in court that morning, but the paper said:

“Darby received most attention, for he is one of the Brooklyn boys who doesn’t pose as a bridegroom.”

In addition to Byrne and Holbert, the New York papers said O’Brien’s Brooklyn teammates Al Mays and Bill McClellan were there for support.

The case was continued and the potential baseball/dog trial of the century was scheduled for September 5, 1888, but ended with a whimper.  The Evening World said:

“Not only is the Brooklyn baseball team in third place in the Association today, but it’s members are at last all out of court.

“Darby O’Brien’s dog case came before Justice Massey this morning and the popular left fielder was promptly on hand to show that he didn’t steal Mrs. Jones’ canine.  He was spared the pains, however, for a note came from the Staten Island complainant in which she declared that she would not press the complaint

“Darby was therefore discharged.”

Unfortunately, the dog did not make it to the trial, O’Brien told The Eagle that in July “(Beauty) had a fit on Sixth Avenue and died.”

O’Brien played with Brooklyn through 1892, became ill with tuberculosis and died in his hometown of Peoria, Illinois in 1893, he was 29.

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O’Brien

When word reached Byrne that O’Brien had died, he told The Eagle:

“Darby was a typical, humorous, quick witted young Irishman, handsome and clever.  He was like a good sailor.  He had a sweetheart in every city the team visited.  He was generous to a fault.  His purse was open to everyone and he never called for an accounting.  He was, without exception, in the full sense of the word, the most popular ballplayer in the country—not for his phenomenal ability or his brilliant work, but for his happy go lucky manner.”