Friday, September 14, 2007

Packy Dillon

Packy Dillon, who played three games for the 1875 St. Louis Red Stockings of the National Association and had a total of 13 at-bats in the ‘big leagues’, is one of the more obscure players in the history of professional baseball. His tenuous claim to fame is being a catcher on an uncompetitive, tenth place team that dropped out of a borderline major league in the middle of its only professional season during baseball’s “Dark Ages”. His obscurity as a baseball player is matched only by the lack of information that we have about his personal history.

According to baseball reference books and websites, Packy Dillon was born in St. Louis, Missouri and died in Guelph, Ontario on January 8, 1890. He had a brother named John, who also played for the St. Louis Reds and is an even more obscure historical figure than Packy. Those are most of the known facts about Dillon’s personal life and it’s possible to make an argument that none of them are accurate. Even Dillon’s name is up for debate. He’s listed in the Baseball Encyclopedia as Packard Andrew Dillon and at Baseball Reference.Com as Patrick Dillon. Another source lists him as Patrick C. Dillon. His nickname, in contemporary sources, is spelled variously as Packy, Packey, and Packie.

A “Dillon” is listed as a member of the Union Club of St. Louis in the early 1870’s and of the Reds in 1874. While it is an assumption that this is Packy Dillon, it seems a safe one if it is true that Dillon was born in St. Louis and living in the city at the time. The 1875 Reds were, for the most part, made up of the best local amateur players as well as players already on the club so Dillon’s inclusion on the roster in 1875 would presuppose his already being a known commodity in the St. Louis baseball community. The Brooklyn Eagle, on March 9, 1875, published the Reds roster for the upcoming season and listed Dillon as an infielder on the club. In the March 15th edition, Dillon was identified as the Reds starting first baseman. The St. Louis Democrat, in its March 21, 1875 edition, identified Dillon as the Reds starting catcher for the upcoming season. Most references to Dillon in the St. Louis papers identified him as a catcher and it’s possible that the Eagle erred in claiming he was to play first base in 1875. Again, it’s a safe assumption that Dillon was the club’s first baseman or catcher in 1874 or was a top first baseman/catcher on another St. Louis amateur club such as the Union or Empire.

Prominently mentioned in preseason reports, Dillon was one of the Reds who took part in informal practices in mid March before the manager of the Reds had finalized the roster. The first hint of an injury that would ruin Dillon’s NA season was found in the St. Louis Democrat on April 19th. Describing a game between the Reds and the Niagaras that had taken place the day before, it was mentioned that Dillon, “the catcher of the Red Stockings,” could not play because of a “sore hand”.

Dillon made his professional debut with the Reds on May 4, 1875 in a 15-9 loss to the St. Louis Brown Stockings. This game, played at Red Stocking Base Ball Park on Compton Avenue, was the first professional league game ever played in St. Louis. He also played in the first away game by a St. Louis professional baseball team on May 6th, 1875 when the Reds traveled to Keokuk, Iowa to take on the Westerns. Packy Dillon’s final game for the 1875 Red Stockings occurred on May 8th when the Reds beat the Westerns 6-1 to gain the first road victory by a St. Louis professional baseball team. By mid May, the St. Louis papers were reporting that Dillon had suffered a broken hand. His “major league” career had lasted all of three games and 13 at bats

After their 12-5 loss to the Washington Nationals on July 4, 1875, the Reds ceased operations as a franchise in the NA. While the Reds continued to play games against local amateur teams and picked nines and attempted to organize a Southern road trip, their roster was in disarray. Pitcher Joe Blong had been expelled from the team for hippodroming and captain Charlie Sweasy had bolted the club to join the Cincinnati Red Stockings. By August, almost half of the Reds, including Packy Dillon, had left the team to find employment elsewhere. Dillon ended the 1875 season playing for the Covington Stars along with former Reds Silver Flint, Trick McSorley, and the disgraced Joe Blong.

One of the more interesting moments in the Reds eventful 1875 season occurred in November. On the 7th and 11th of that month, the reorganized Reds played two games in St. Louis against a picked nine team. Playing for the picked nine were former Reds Packy Dillon, Trick McSorely, and Joe Blong. Also playing for the picked nine were several members of the 1875 St. Louis Brown Stockings, including Pud Galvin, Lip Pike, and Joe Battin. The Reds lost both games.

In 1876, W.B. Pettit was building a successful professional team in Indianapolis that would eventually join the National League two years later. Raiding the Covington team, Pettit brought in Dillon and two of his teammates to play for Indianapolis in 1876. In 1877, Pettit signed Flint to catch for the Indianapolis club and Dillon was looking for another team. Returning home to St. Louis, Dillon rejoined the Reds for the 1877 season. If Dillon had remained on the 1877 Indianapolis club, a championship team that was celebrated in Indianapolis for many years, it’s likely that we would have more information about the man through the numerous articles written about that team over the years in the Indianapolis press.

After the 1877 season, Dillon is, for the most part, lost in the mists of time. How long his playing career lasted after 1877 is unknown and there are few references to him in the sporting press. In 1881, Al Spinks, speaking about the 1875 Reds, referred to Dillon as a “crackerjack” ballplayer. The Sporting News, in 1886, mentions that Dillon had played in a benefit game for Tom Sullivan on May 8th of that year. Dillon was also mentioned by The Sporting News in their October 4, 1886 issue. Reporting on the death of former Red Tom Oran, it was mentioned that Dillon was now in the “commission business.” There’s a subtle suggestion in the article that Dillon’s playing career had come to an end.

There are several basic questions about Packy Dillon that have yet to be answered. The first and most basic of these involves his real name. Was his first name Patrick or Packard? Was his middle initial ‘A.’ or ‘C.’? Was his last name really Dillon? Or was it Dylan or Dilon or Dillan? The safest assumption is that his name was Patrick Dillon. Packy was a common shortened form of Patrick and it’s tough to imagine a 19th century Irish-American named Packard. There is no reason to believe that his surname was not Dillon other than the fact that baseball players of his time where known to sometimes play under assumed names.

The question of Dillon’s date of birth also needs to be addressed. While all the reference material lists his date of birth as unknown, it’s safe to assume that Dillon was somewhere between 16 and 28 years old in 1875 and therefore he was born between the years 1847 and 1859. The average age of the Reds in 1875 was about 21 and it was remarked upon in the press of the time how young the team was. It was mentioned that one member of the team was 16 and it’s known that Tom Oran and Charlie Sweasy, at 28, were the oldest members of the team. If one believes that Dillon was not the 16 year old team member and that he wasn’t a veteran like Sweasy or Oran then it’s safe to assume that Dillon was in his early 20’s and most likely born sometime between 1850 and 1855.

Another question about Packy Dillon involves his family, specifically the relationship between him and the Reds’ John Dillon. John Dillon, who was usually referred to as ‘Jack’ in contemporary sources, is listed in modern baseball reference material as Packy Dillon’s brother. I have never seen a source that mentions any relationship between the two other than that of teammate. While it is possible that the two were brothers and one would have to assume that there is a basis for the claim, the common nature of the surname ‘Dillon’ in St. Louis in the 19th century leaves open the possibility that the two men were not brothers. This is certainly a serious problem when trying to research Packy Dillon. The identification of a brother is one of the best leads one has when attempting to identify Dillon in contemporary records and if John is not Packy’s brother then most of the leads go cold.

Other questions regarding Dillon that still need to be investigated include his place of birth and his place and date of death. Dillon is listed in modern baseball reference material as having been born in St. Louis. There is no evidence of this that I can find. It’s certainly known that Dillon was living in St. Louis in the 1870’s and 1880’s. However, there is no primary source material that establishes his place of birth or his place of residence prior to the 1870’s. The same holds true for his place and date of death. While secondary source material states that Dillon died on January 8, 1890 in Guelph, Ontario, I have no primary sources that confirm this. While I can not believe that this information is accurate without confirmation from primary source material, I also have not found any definitive source that contradicts this information.

If one accepts the secondary source material as being accurate with regards to his place of birth and his relationship to John Dillon and one makes educated assumptions about his given name and age, then it is possible to find information about Packy Dillon in contemporary records. In general, when looking for Dillon in sources such as census data, birth records, death records, etc, I have based my search on the assumption that his first name was Patrick, his brother’s name was John, he was born in St. Louis in the early 1850’s, and he died in Ontario in 1890. Again, it must be stated that, while it’s logical to assume these things about Dillon, these are nothing but assumptions.

Given those caveats, it is arguable that Packy Dillon was the bastard son of Irish immigrants. A Patrick Dillon was born in 1854 to James and Ellen Dillon, Irish immigrants who would not marry until 1858. While census records state that Patrick was born in St. Louis, it’s possible to imagine that his parents immigrated to America either upon learning of Ellen’s pregnancy or shortly after the birth of young Packy and then settled in St. Louis by the late 1850’s. Dillon also had two younger brothers, John, born in 1859, and James, born in 1864. In the 1880 census, they were living in St. Louis and both James and John listed their occupation as ‘teamsters’ while Patrick listed his as ‘produce huckster’.

This Patrick Dillon was married to Martha F. Dillon. Martha, who is also listed in some sources as ‘Mary’, was born in Ohio in 1859. They had one son, Edward, who was born in St. Louis in 1879. It’s known that Packy Dillon was in the Cincinnati area in 1875 and it’s entirely possible that, while playing with Covington, Dillon met Mary, won her hand, and took his new bride back to St. Louis. Also, there are numerous Patrick and Mary Dillon’s buried next to each other in cemeteries throughout Ontario, where one can assume Packy Dillon was laid to rest.

James and Ellen Dillon’s son John would have been 16 years old in 1875 and William Rzcyek writes that the Reds had a 16 year old on the roster (although he identifies the 16 year old as Trick McSorely who according to most sources was born in 1852). Jack Dillon’s lack of playing time in 1875 (1 AB) could easily be explained by his age and inexperience. It’s possible that the Reds, in the manner of teams at the time, kept the young Jack on the roster simply as a glorified gopher, someone who could take tickets and do the ground keeping.

This Patrick Dillon fits all of the assumptions that we make about Packy Dillon. His name is Patrick. He was either born in St. Louis or, at the very least, was living in St. Louis during the 1860’s-1880’s time period, had a brother named John, and was born in the early 1850’s. By 1890, he disappears from public records, leading one at assume that he might be deceased. There is no other Patrick Dillon in the public records who fits all the assumptions that are made about Packy Dillon. While, of course, it’s impossible to say for sure that this Patrick Dillon is Packy Dillon, the baseball player, I can not find a better candidate.

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