Tag Archives: Darby O’Brien

“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.

burdock

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.”

Erastus Wiman’s Trophy

20 May

A trophy presented to the 1886 American Association Champions was created as a peace-offering to heal bitter feelings in the wake of one of professional baseball’s early controversies.

Erastus Wiman was a former Canadian journalist who had become a railroad, ferry and entertainment magnate on Staten Island.  Wiman, who promoted Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and a circus at his Staten Island Amusement Company, wanted to add baseball, at the adjacent St. George Cricket Grounds, to the entertainment offerings on the island in order to increase commuter traffic.

 

The St. George Cricket Grounds--home of the 1886-87 Metropolitans. The Giants would play a handful of home games there in 1889.

The St. George Cricket Grounds–home of the 1886-87 Metropolitans. The Giants would play a handful of home games there in 1889.

In December of 1885 he purchased the American Association New York Metropolitans from John Day for $25,000; Day also owned the New York Giants in the National League.

The other American Association owners claimed the sale was merely a scheme to take the Mets out of Manhattan and thus weaken the Association, and immediately expelled the team and began making arrangements to assign the team’s players to other organizations.

Erasmus Wiman

Erasmus Wiman

Wiman went to court in Philadelphia and was granted an injunction.  His new players stood with him and agreed not to seek contracts with other teams until the issue was resolved, and George F. Williams, the general manager of his company, accused American Association owners of being the schemers, telling The New York Times:

“The real motive was a scheme on the part of Charles Byrne, of the Brooklyn club.  He knew that a strong club on Staten Island would lessen the attendance at Washington Park, in Brooklyn, and besides this he was anxious to secure two of players (first baseman Dave) Orr and (outfielder James “Chief”) Roseman…the only way in which to gain his point was to act in concert with others who are also anxious to get the services of some of our men.”

Later in the month, Judge Martin Russell Thayer ruled that there was no merit to the American  Associations’ expulsion of the Mets, The Times said:

“(Thayer) sent the ‘Mets’ all the way around the bases, and landed them safely home in the association, there to stay as long as the organization holds together as an aggregation of baseball clubs.”

Despite the victory in court, bad feelings between Wiman and the other owners remained throughout the winter and spring.

In April Wiman announced that he had ordered a trophy, described by The Sporting Life as “solid silver, 26 inches high, representing a batsman in position to bat a pitched ball. The whole will be enclosed in plate glass case.”

Newspaper drawing of Wiman's Trophy

Newspaper drawing of Wiman’s Trophy

Various reports put the trophy’s value between $1,000 and $2,000.

According to a wire service article that ran in several papers across the country, Wiman ordered the trophy for two reasons:

“(F)irst, to show that he had no ill feelings towards the members of the association because of the bitter legal fight which he encountered on entering it, and second, as a stimulant to extraordinary exertion by the various clubs in order that they might possess so valuable a work of art.”

Wiman’s Metropolitans would never have any hope of winning his trophy.  They finished in 7th place in 1886 and 1887, never drew well on Staten Island, and disbanded at the end of the ’87 season.

Brooklyn’s Charles Byrne got the last laugh; he purchased the team’s remaining assets to protect his territorial control and acquired seven Mets players, including Orr, Darby O’Brien and Paul Radford, who helped lead the team to a second place finish in 1888.  O’Brien, Brooklyn’s captain, would lead the team to a championship in 1889

Wiman would quickly fall upon hard times.  By 1893, the man who was reputed to have been worth between $2 and $3 million, was nearly broke.  In 1894, he was arrested for forgery and embezzlement, and according to The Times “was locked up in the tombs (NYC’s House of Detention).”  Wiman was found guilty, but the conviction was reversed.

The Times said that despite attempts to start businesses “He never recovered his ability to engage successfully in business after these reverses…and he died a poor man”

There are no references to the trophy after an 1886 mention in The Sporting Life that it was presented to the St. Louis Browns.