The Packy Dillon Angle

Thursday, September 20, 2007

One of the things I like about about researching the Reds is the whole Packy Dillon angle. Dillon is one of "missing"-a ballplayer about whom little is known. He's a mystery and a challenge all rolled into one. What's not to love? If you read this post, you'll see how little is really known about the guy.

In the last few days, I've learned a bit more about Dillon from others who are working the same angle. Peter Morris is convinced that Dillon died in 1902 in St. Louis although most contemporary references state that he died in Guelph, Ontario on January 8, 1890. That Patrick Dillon was buried at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis on July 29, 1902. I believe that the guy Morris is looking at is Patrick H. Dillon, who in my opinion is the second best candidate for being "our Packy". Patrick H. was born in Missouri in 1852 to John and Alicia Dillon. He was living in St. Louis in 1860 and had an older brother named John. So Patrick H. fits to a certain extent. He's about the right age, lived in St. Louis, and has the brother. But, if we're assuming that Packy died in Ontario, then Patrick H. doesn't fit the bill.

If the contemporary reference material states that Packy died in Guelph in 1890 and there's no evidence to contradict this, then we should accept it and work from that assumption. The problem is that there is no evidence that I know of that proves that Packy died in Ontario. One of the few facts we know about Packy's life outside of baseball may not be true and we're just searching dead ends. Morris, in fact, may be on the right track in throwing out the assumption of Dillon's date and place of death and working the angle from a fresh perspective.

It's not as if the reference material has never been wrong or contradicted itself. In Dillon's case, his first name has been listed as both Patrick and Packard Andrew. Also, there's no evidence that John Dillon is actually Packy's brother. I don't think that anyone, myself included, can state that they have any real personal details about Packy Dillon. Do I really know his first name? His date and place of birth? His date and place of death? Family details? Anything? The reality is that anything that I state about Dillon's life outside of baseball is nothing more than an educated guess.

Another person dealing with this problem is Jason Christopherson. While researching another book on baseball in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Jason came across a catcher playing for the 1887 Eau Claire team who he believes is Packy Dillon. If Eau Claire's Dillon is "our Packy" then this is fairly significant for a few reasons. First, I've found no references to Dillon playing baseball after 1886 and this would add a little more to our knowledge of Packy's playing career. Second, Jason has a reference to Dillon either playing in or living in Guelph, Ontario. This is the first source I've ever seen that could tie Dillon to Guelph.

The Eau Claire Dillon actually creates more problems then he solves. He's listed early in the season as "A. Dillon". Jason believes that this may be evidence of the Eau Claire Dillon being Packard Andrew Dillon (the assumption being that if your first name was Packard, you'd probably go by your middle name). This, like Morris' assertions, goes against the assumptions that I have regarding Dillon. I believe that his first name was Patrick and the whole "Packard" thing was the mistake of 19th century sportswriter. There's about a billion Irish-Americans named Patrick and I don't know any named Packard. But I can't prove his first name was Patrick. It could have been Packard. It could have been Patrick Andrew. I just don't know.

But this is were it really gets crazy. Maybe there were two guys. Both baseball players in the 19th century and both named Dillon. One played for the Reds in 1875, was from St. Louis, and was named Patrick. The other one was named Packard, played in Eau Claire and other northern Midwestern cities, and lived and died in Guelph, Ontario. Their names, personal information, and playing records got meshed in the Baseball Encyclopedia, leaving us to sort out the mess. Anything's possible.

Right now, I have more questions than answers.

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