Sunday, September 16, 2007

Silver Flint

Frank Sylvester Flint, one of the best catchers of the 19th century, was born in Philadelphia on August 3, 1855 and his family moved to St. Louis a few years later. According to the St. Louis Republican, “every boy in St. Louis (at the time) who was but half a boy learned to play and love baseball.” This generalization certainly applied to the young Silver Flint.

Flint first gained notice as a baseball player while playing as an amateur with the Elephant Base Ball Club of St. Louis in the early 1870’s. When baseball enthusiasts decided to enter the top amateur team in St. Louis, the Red Stockings, in the professional National Association, Flint was brought in, at the tender age of 19, to start at catcher, replacing the club’s veteran captain.

This rookie campaign was certainly an interesting one and the young man received several lessons about the nature of professional baseball that year. Flint played in 17 of the Reds 19 games and hit a woeful .082 on a team that won only 4 games. He saw the Red’s starting pitcher, Joe Blong, and starting third baseman, Trick McSorley, removed from the team for crooked play. Shortly after that, the team essentially dropped out of the NA.

With his first pro team, according to William Ryczek, “alive only in that they had not officially disbanded”, Flint, rather than stay in St. Louis with the Reds and scuffle around playing in games against amateur and semi-pro teams, headed to Covington, Kentucky to find employment for the rest of the season. The Covington Stars essentially became the St. Louis Reds East as Flint was joined on the Stars by Blong, McSorley, and Reds reservist, Packy Dillon.

In 1876, Flint was back with the Reds, along with McSorley. The highlight of the year was a no hitter thrown by the young Pud Galvin against the Cass Club of Detroit in a baseball tournament held in Ionia, Michigan. A year later, in 1877, Flint was playing on the Indianapolis Club that won the championship of the International Association, joined again by former Reds teammates McSorley and Charlie Hautz.

With their championship in hand, the Indianapolis Club decided to join the National League in 1878 and Flint enjoyed a bit more success in his second season in the big leagues then he did in his first. Flint hit .224 while playing in 62 of 63 games for a team that was, unlike the old Reds, relatively competitive. Cap Anson certainly had enough respect for the Blues to raid the club and take Flint, Ned Williamson, and Joe Quest for his White Stockings team.

It is in Chicago that Flint found success and fame as a player. While never a great hitter, he certainly had his best offensive years with the White Stockings and as the team found success, winning five pennants between 1880 and 1886, Flint gained a reputation as a stalwart defender behind the plate, an excellent handler of pitchers, and one of the toughest men in professional baseball. Flint even managed the White Stockings for a time after Anson went down with an illness late in the ’79 season.

By the end of his career, Flint, of course, also had a reputation as a drinker and a curmudgeon. A rumor that he had fallen off the wagon in the middle of the season made headlines in 1887, stirring up “a regular hornet’s nest”, according to the Mitchell Daily Republican. Both Flint and Anson had to publicly deny the rumor that Flint had violated his temperance pledge. The veteran catcher also refused to go on Albert Spalding’s world tour in 1888/89 with his Chicago teammates, stating, according to Mark Lamster, “(no) trip for me. I don’t care who goes, but you can rest assured that Silver doesn’t.” While Flint did accompany the tour as far as San Francisco, playing with the All-American Club against his Chicago teammates, his time on the tour was punctuated with several bouts of drunkenness.

Flint also had a falling out with Anson towards the end of his career, as Anson began to phase out his veteran catcher in favor of younger men. In 1885 and 1886, King Kelly was cutting into Flint’s time behind the plate (although Flint was always the number one catcher). By 1887, Flint found himself backing up Tom Daly and would never regain the starting job.

Flint retired from the game after the 1889 season and a benefit was held in Chicago that raised $1,000 to help him ease his way into a post-baseball life. He remained in the public eye in 1890 as the proprietor of a bar in his adopted home town but it doesn’t appear that the business was much of a success.

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