Saturday, September 22, 2007

Joe Blong

One of the more interesting players in the history of 19th century St. Louis baseball, Joe Blong played a total of 136 games in the NA and the NL between 1875 and 1877. A pitcher and outfielder, Blong was college educated, a member of a politically influential family, and was expelled from three teams in three years for “dishonesty, desertion, and unfaithful conduct”. In November of 1877, he was officially blacklisted and never played another game in the major leagues.

Joseph Myles Blong, the son of Irish immigrants, was born in St. Louis on September 17, 1853. He and his brother Andrew attended the University of Notre Dame in the late 1860’s, where they were members of the baseball team. When Blong made his major league debut in 1875, he, along with Cap Anson, became the first Notre Dame alum to play in the big leagues. Blong was married to a woman named Mary in 1880 with whom he had four children (Joseph, Mae, John, and James). In the 1880 census, Blong listed his occupation as painter. He died in 1892 and is buried at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.

While details about his personal life are rare, much more is known about Blong’s baseball career. After his playing days at Notre Dame were over, Blong returned to St. Louis where he played on amateur teams with his brothers Andy and Tom. When the St. Louis Red Stockings entered the NA in 1875, Blong was added to a club that already included his two brothers as members. In the spring of 1875, as the Reds got ready for the season by playing various amateur teams and picked nines, Blong played first base, second base, the outfield, and pitched for the team. By the time the NA season began in May, Blong was selected as the Reds main pitcher.

The 1875 season was an eventful one for Blong. He certainly had a disappointing record on the mound, officially going 3-12 for the Reds with a 3.35 ERA and an ERA+ of 72. While his performance was certainly not what the Reds had been hoping for, Blong did throw a few gems that showed the potential he had as a pitcher. On May 11th, he held the Chicago White Stockings to six hits and one run in a 1-0 Reds loss. That game, according to Baseball, was the lowest scoring game in baseball history at the time. Also, on May 23rd, Blong threw a two hitter against the Keokuk Westerns. The Reds won 7-1 although the game, because it was played on a Sunday, did not count in the official standings.

On June 29, 1875, just five days before the Reds played their last NA game, Blong signed a contract with the Stars of Covington, Kentucky. The circumstances under which Blong left the Reds and joined the Stars are not exactly clear. While it’s possible that he simply left the team for greener pastures, most sources state that he was quietly expelled from the Reds on suspicion of crooked play. The St. Louis Globe Democrat, in an article on October 31, 1875, stated that Blong was kicked off the team for “hippodroming”.

However it happened, the Reds had lost their main pitcher to the Stars and ended their pursuit for the whip pennant. And while Blong was the first to leave the team, he was certainly not the last. Captain Charlie Sweasy soon left the sinking ship for Cincinnati. Blong was joined on the Covington club by Silver Flint, Packy Dillon, and Trick McSorley. It’s not known how these players all ended up in Covington. There is enough evidence to believe that McSorley had also been expelled from the team for crooked play and may have had no other options. It’s possible that a Covington official may have raided the Reds for players. Blong may have sowed dissension in the clubhouse and enticed several of his teammates to follow him to the Stars. It’s likely that all of these things played a role in splitting up the 1875 St. Louis Red Stockings.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Blong’s departure from the Reds is the role that his brother Andrew may have played. Andrew Blong was born in St. Louis in 1850 and had a long, successful political career in the city before his death in 1909. He served as a police commissioner, a member of the police board, and as chairman of the St. Louis Democratic Party Central Committee. An upstanding member of the community, Andy Blong was also a member of the Red Stockings Base Ball Club. He had played for the team in the past and, in 1875, represented the team at the 5th annual convention of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in Philadelphia. While Mr. McNeary (possibly Tom McNeary), as club secretary, ran the day to day business of the club, Andy Blong was certainly involved in the management of the Reds. There are several sources that list him as Club President and another as Business Manager. Whatever his role, it’s likely that Andy Blong was involved in whatever decision the Reds made regarding the status of his brother.

While the rump Red Stockings soldiered on in St. Louis, Blong was in Kentucky with his new team and some of his old teammates. But the honeymoon in Covington didn’t last very long. In late September, Blong jumped from the Stars to W.B. Pettit’s Indianapolis club. Again the circumstances are less than clear. One source claims that Blong was expelled from the Stars on September 23rd for throwing a game against a Cincinnati team.

Was Blong expelled from both the Reds and the Stars in 1875 for throwing games? Blong certainly took a beating in the press in the off-season. An unnamed Reds official stated in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle that Blong would “not be eligible to play (with) any reputable club in the future” although he did play on a picked nine team against the Reds in November of 1875. That month, the Eagle chastised the St. Louis Brown Stockings for signing Blong for the centennial season and named Blong to their “all-rogue” team. The St. Louis Globe Democrat also chastised the Browns for signing Blong. While it’s possible that this sense of outrage was simply a result of Blong’s disregard for a contract, the Globe Democrat’s article from October 31st, that stated that Blong was expelled from both the Reds and the Stars for “hippodroming, must be taken seriously. The contemporary sources paint Blong as a scoundrel at best and, at worst, as a man lacking honesty and character. The red flags were certainly up.

Playing mostly in the outfield, Blong had an uneventful 1876 season for the Brown Stockings while enjoying his best year statistically. In 1877, he was named team captain. Captain Blong was not having a good year at the plate that year when the Brown Stockings went to Chicago in late August to take on the White Stockings. On August 24, 1877, Chicago beat St. Louis 4-3 in just another game in the dog days of the season. However, later that month, Blong and teammate Joe Battin were named by a group of Chicago and St. Louis gamblers as “willing partners” in the fix of the August 24th game. “Crooked play has been discovered in the St. Louis nine,” said an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “and a dispatch from St. Louis says that (Davey) Force, Battin, and Blong have been expelled with forfeited pay.” The scandal would lead to the blacklisting of Blong, Battin, Force, and teammate Mike McGeary in November of 1877.

Joe Blong’s big league career was over. Even though he was able to catch on with “the Springfield nine” in 1878 and was playing baseball with the Union Club of St. Louis as late as 1884, Blong would never again be allowed to play baseball in the major leagues. While the incidents with the Reds and Stars are open to interpretation, Blong was specifically named, by gamblers, in a fixing incident while with the Brown Stockings and would be persona non grata in Organized Baseball for the rest of his life.

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