Tag Archives: New England League

Rooney Sweeney

18 Oct

John “Rooney” Sweeney was better known for his unpredictability and for making  good copy for the 19th Century press than for anything he did on the baseball field.  He remains one of the few Major League players for which a date of death is unknown.

Born in New York City in 1858, Sweeney’s first professional experience was in 1881 in the Eastern Championship Association, a league which only lasted one season.  Like many of the short-lived leagues of baseball’s first 30 years, the ECA had no fixed schedules and no control over player movement making it impossible to keep full rosters.  Sweeney played with four teams in the league: The Brooklyn Atlantics, New York Mets, New York Quick Steps and New York New Yorks.

There’s no record of where Sweeney played the following season, but in 1883 he played for Camden Merritts in the Interstate Association and made his Major League debut with the Baltimore Orioles in the American Association.

Although there is no other source for the claim, a 1910 article on the origin of catcher’s equipment in The Freeman claims that Sweeney was playing on the West Coast in Oakland for part of 1883 and was one of the first catchers to wear a mask, “The day he placed it on his head and went up behind the bat he was ‘Booed’ until he took it off in disgust.  Later the fans began to see the benefits of the wire covering.”

John “Rooney” Sweeney”

Sweeney then played with the Baltimore Monumentals in the Union Association in 1884.  He appeared in three games for the St. Louis Maroons in the National League in 1885 before being released.

According to The Sporting Life:

“When Rooney Sweeney was recently released by (Maroons owner Henry) Lucas he had quite a roll. So before leaving St. Louis, just to blow in a dollar or two, Rooney… hired a fine team of grays and a park wagon from a livery stable.  This was at ten o’clock Thursday morning.  At three o’clock Friday morning, eleven hours behind time, a messenger boy drove the team into the stable. Both the grays looked ready for the bone-yard and the owner at that moment would have sold them for a song. Their whole appearance showed that they had been driven nearly to death.

“Several men in the stable armed themselves with clubs and horsewhips and started out in search of Rooney. He must have been told of their coming, however, for before daybreak he took a train. It was lucky for him that the train started out before the livery men caught him.”

Rooney’s never again appeared in the Majors, but was said to have joined a team in Troy, New York after leaving St. Louis.  In 1887 and ’88 he played in the New England League, and then dropped out of sight, and apparently out of baseball, again.

In 1890, Sweeney signed with the London Tecumsehs in the International Association.

Official records indicate that he only appeared in one game—The Chicago Tribune, on May 12 reported on his debut:

 “Rooney Sweeney’s return to the diamond was not a success.  In his opening game nine bases were stolen on him and he had three errors.”

Things went downhill from there.  Sweeney was released in mid-May but apparently remained in London.  In June, it was reported that he had been arrested for stealing $40 from London pitcher James Maguire.

He received four months in jail and as the judge handed down the sentence The Sporting Life said, “Sweeney wept copiously.”

It was reported that Sweeney spent his time in jail writing letters to friends, one of which found its way into several newspapers.  Regarding the crime he was convicted of, Sweeney wrote:

 “We were all playing poker in a room up here and there was a big pot on the table.   Just then somebody flung a big black cat square on the table.  Of course the cat was scared and in her hurry to get away scattered the chips every which way and knocked down the stacks that were standing in front of the players.   Well, I just grabbed what I thought was my share, the same as any man would do, and it got me into jail, that’s all.”

After his release from jail, there are no records that indicate he ever again played in a professional game, but nearly every article written about him mentions that “He is not averse to playing baseball again.”

In 1892, Sweeney became involved in boxing, claiming he was going to manage fighters.  Just weeks later he was reported he was through with boxing and said:

 “I thought ballplayers was (sic) the ungreatfullest (sic) lot on earth, but they ain’t in it with fighters.”

And of course, the articles said, “Rooney is going to try his hand again at catching.”

Within a year of Sweeney’s foray into the boxing world both of his parents and his brother, New York City police officer Jeremiah Sweeney, died, and it was reported that he had inherited a great deal of property in New York and New Jersey, but of course in between collecting rents he said he’d like to play baseball again.

Sweeney was next heard from in September of 1897 when The Sporting Life said:

 “John Sweeney, a once famous base ball player, more popularly known as “Rooney” Sweeney  is dying in the Hudson Street Hospital as the result of injuries sustained by a fall in Battery Park last night.

“For some past Sweeney has been assisting the boatmen at the Battery…last night, while seated on the excursion pier, he was seized with an epileptic fit, and fell heavily to the ground, sustaining a concussion of the brain. An ambulance was rung up, and he was hurried to the hospital.  Sweeney has played with many of the principal base ball clubs both in the East and West, being at one time a member of the famous Metropolitan nine. He was also identified during his career with the St. Louis and Indianapolis.”

But that might not have been the end for Sweeney.  Three years later it was reported that he was working as a “Fireman on a tug boat.”

Sadly, that’s the last bit of information about the enigmatic Sweeney.  Whether he had succumbed to his illness in 1897 or he recovered and ended up aboard that tug boat we may never know.  No records of his death are available.

11-Inning No-Hitter

24 Sep

Harry Wormwood played seven seasons in the New England League with Worcester, Fall River and Portland.  His statistics are incomplete but he was basically a .500 pitcher and weak hitting utility infielder with a fairly uneventful career until June 9, 1910.

Pitching for the Fall River Indians Wormwood pitched an 11-Inning no-hitter against his former team, the Worcester Busters.  Game summaries mention that Fall River did not commit any errors, but don’t say whether Wormwood walked any batters.

The Eastern press couldn’t ignore the fact that just one year earlier in the Bluegrass League Fred Toney of the Winchester Hustlers had thrown a 17-inning no-hitter against the Lexington Colts, so the papers referred to Wormwood’s feat as “The Eastern record for a no-hit game.”

Toney of course would become famous for another no-hitter in 1917 when he was with the Cincinnati Reds—he and Chicago Cubs pitcher Jim “Hippo” Vaughn hooked up in one of baseball’s greatest pitching duels, with neither allowing a hit through nine innings.  Vaughn would allow a hit in the 10th and lose the game 1-0.

But back in 1910 Toney was not well known and was referred to in the New York Times and other papers simply as “Pitcher Torrey (sic) of Winchester, KY,” in the coverage of Wormwood’s no-hitter.

The following season Wormwood nearly duplicated his feat.  He held the Lawrence Barristers hitless for 10 2/3 innings; Wormwood gave up three straight singles in the 11th, but retired the side without giving up a run.  He held Lawrence hitless for two more innings and the game ended in a 0-0 tie after 13 innings.  1911 was Wormwood’s best season, he posted a 20-15 record and hit .289.

Harry Wormwood, from a picture of his high school football team in Auburn, ME

Wormwood finished his career with the Portland Duffs in 1913—newspaper reports from 1914 and 1915 say he spent time with the Lewiston Cupids in the New England League and the Hartford Senators in the Colonial League, but there are no records to confirm this.

Wormwood passed away January 9, 1955 in Auburn, Maine.

“The Greatest Play Ever Made”

2 Aug

Most fans know that the first confirmed major league unassisted triple play was turned by Neal Ball of the Cleveland Naps July 19, 1909, and that one credited to Paul Hines of the Providence Grays against the Boston Red Caps May 8, 1878 has been disputed.

What most don’t know is that the first confirmed unassisted triple play in professional baseball was turned on August 18, 1902 by Hal O’Hagan of Rochester in an Eastern League game in Jersey city, New Jersey.  The New York Times called it “The Greatest Play Ever Made in Baseball.”

Patrick Henry “Hal” O’Hagan had two brief stays in the major leagues.  He played in one game as a twenty-two-year-old rookie with Washington in 1892, and trials with Chicago and New York in the National League and Cleveland in the American League in 1902.

After being released by the Giants in mid-July, O’Hagan was signed by Rochester to manage and play first base.

John Butler was batting for Jersey City with George Shoch on second and “Mack” on first (every contemporary newspaper account identified the runner on first this way, it was probably catcher/1st baseman Frank McManus).  Butler attempted a sacrifice bunt as The Times reported “O’Hagan ran in and caught the ball within a few inches of the ground, a seemingly impossible catch.”

According to the glowing account: “Having in his quick-thinking mind the possibility of a triple play, O’Hagan, with the coolness and agility which are part of a baseball player’s earning capacity, ran back and placed his foot on the initial bag thus completing a double play.”  O’Hagan then ran to second as Shoch returned from third, “It was a hot race, but O’Hagan, ball in hand, reached the bag first, thus dismissing the side.”

Diagram of the play published in The New York Times and several newspapers across the country

O’Hagan continued playing until 1908, finishing his career with Lynn in the New England League.  He passed away on January 14, 1913 in Newark, New Jersey at 43 years old.