Saturday, September 22, 2007

Charlie Sweasy

Charles James Sweasy, a member of the 1869/70 Cincinnati Red Stockings, was born on November 2, 1847 in Newark, New Jersey to John H. and Rachel Sweasy. According to the 1850 census, he had two brothers, George (b. 1835) and John H. (b. 1842), and three sisters, Henrietta (b. 1833), Sarah (b. 1840), and Eliza (b. 1840).

Sweasy first drew attention as a ballplayer in the mid 1860's while playing as a second baseman for amateur teams in the Newark area. In 1866 and 67, he was playing second for Irvington (N.J.) in the NABBP. One of his teammates was Andy Leonard, another future member of the 1869 Red Stockings. In 1868, Sweasy moved to the Buckeyes of Cincinnati, where he played both second and third. There is a reference in his obituary in the New York Times to Sweasy playing for "the Lancaster Red Stockings" and being managed there by Harry Wright in 1868 but there is no other evidence to support this. The Buckeye team also included Andy Leonard and Dick Hurley, who would join Sweasy the next year on the Red Stockings.

In 1869 and 1870, Sweasy was playing for the Cincinnati Red Stockings. He appeared in all 57 of the Red Stockings’ victories in 1869, playing second base. In 1870, he appeared in 73 of 74 games, again all at second base. According to The Advocate, Sweasy was paid $800 in 1869. Although there were a few players making more, specifically the Wrights, this was the "standard rate" for Reds players. In 1870, it is suggested that Sweasy was involved in a salary dispute, asking for a $200 raise (a salary that would have made him the third highest paid player on the team). It's unclear whether he got his raise. However, if the account is true, this might make Sweasy the first baseball player ever to hold out for more money.

It's interesting to note that Sweasy listed his occupation in the 1870 census as "ballplayer". With baseball still transitioning from a purely amateur game to a full time profession and there still being some controversy surrounding the professionalization of the game, to list one's occupation as ballplayer was fairly unique. It is known that Sweasy was, as Harry Wright said in The Sporting News in 1866, a hatter by trade and practiced that profession after his playing days ended. There is also a reference to his being a hatter in 1869. So while he had an "honest" profession, Sweasy choose to identify himself as a professional baseball player in 1870.

After the Reds broke up following the 1870 season, Sweasy lived a journeyman's life, officially playing for eight teams in seven years. While he lived the vagabond's life of a fringe player, Sweasy actually captained at least three of the teams he played for: the 1871 Olympics of Washington D.C., the 1872 Forest City Club of Cleveland, and the 1875 Red Stockings of St. Louis. While the statistical evidence shows that Sweasy was not much of a player (at least in the batter's box), the panache that he earned playing with 1869/70 Red Stockings usually guaranteed him not only a spot on a roster but also the field manager's job. It seems that more than one team used Sweasy's "fame" to establish their own credentials.

In 1875, when the Reds of St. Louis transitioned from a top local amateur team to a professional team in the NA, they stocked their team with local amateur talent. Every member of the St. Louis Reds made their professional debut in 1875-except for Charlie Sweasy. Sweasy, the only player with any “big league” professional experience, was brought in by Reds’ management in mid April to the captain the club. This is in contrast to the Brown Stockings of St. Louis who joined the NA in the same year and stocked their team with the best eastern ballplayers they could buy.

The results of this were what you would expect. The Browns had a decent season, finishing fourth in the league with a record of 39-29. The Reds were not competitive in the NA in 1875, finishing with a record of 4-15, good for tenth place. The Reds, for numerous reasons, ceased league operations after a game on July 4, 1875. Regardless of whether or not the Reds had difficulties scheduling games against other NA teams or the players refused to make a scheduled road trip or the team ran out of funds or a combination of these, the Reds NA season was finished.

After the Reds ended their NA season, several members of the team, including Sweasy, bolted the team and ended up playing out the season on various professional teams in the Cincinnati area. One would have to conclude that Sweasy, who had had lived and played baseball in Cincinnati, played a role in getting his teammates jobs in the area, although Joe Blong may also have had something to do with this. Sweasy not only finished the 1875 season playing for the reorganized Cincinnati Red Stockings, he also signed a contract to play for them the following year.

While Sweasy's career in the major leagues ended with Providence in 1878 (were he was involved in Paul Hines' controversial unassisted triple play), he continued to play baseball with various minor northeastern teams through the 1881 season. It was reported in his obituary that he was forced to retire in 1882 "on account of rheumatism."

After his playing days, Sweasy lived a nomadic life, living in various towns in the northeast. In 1886, it's reported that he was living in New York City. In 1890, Newark. In 1897, Providence, Rhode Island. In 1900, Sweasy was living by himself in a house in Irvington, New Jersey.

Sweasy, who died on March 30, 1908 of tuberculosis, had a reputation for being "difficult". Between the salary dispute, Harry Wright's later descriptions of Sweasy, and the numerous teams he played for, it's easy to see how this reputation developed.

Another interesting note about Sweasy comes from The Mexia Evening News. In 1922, an article in the paper appeared that stated that Sweasy was alive and living in Fort Worth, Texas. “…(He) is seventy-five years of age and in feeble health…He has prospered in business and is passing his last days in comfort.” Of course, Sweasy had been dead for fourteen years.

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