Monday, September 17, 2007

Tom Oran

The Baseball Biography Project over at the SABR website has a great piece on Tom Oran, the first Native American to play in the major leagues, a member of some of St. Louis' great amateur teams, and one of the 1875 Reds. The piece, written by Peter Morris, is a goldmine of information about baseball in St. Louis during the 1860's and 70's.

Some of the highlights:

"In 1867, Oran became the catcher for another amateur St. Louis club, the Olympics. In 1868 he joined the Union Club, which had captured the local championship from the Empires in July of 1867. Oran took over as the Union Club's starting catcher and helped them retain the championship in 1868, leading the club in runs scored.

On June 5, 1869, the Empire Club defeated the Unions to regain local supremacy. Shortly afterward, the Empires lost their catcher to injuries and recruited Oran to take his place. (Spink, 42) Both clubs appear to have been amateurs, and it is unlikely that Oran was offered money to change clubs. It is, however, quite possible that he received another sort of inducement to join the Empires. Empire club president Henry Clay Sexton was the chief of the St. Louis fire department and Oran was soon working as a city fireman.

The Empires retained their championship through the 1873 season and Tommy Oran remained one of their mainstays. He played catcher until early in the 1871 season, at which point he switched to primarily playing third base.

By 1872, the Empires' toughest local rival was a new club called the Red Stockings. In 1873 the two clubs split their first four games before the Empires pulled out the fifth and deciding game to retain the championship. But many wondered whether the veteran club could continue to hold off the upstart Reds.

The 1874 season saw the younger club continue to improve. On May 24, they beat the Empires in the first game of that year's championship series, and shortly thereafter Oran jumped to the Red Stockings. His appearance in their lineup in a game on July 12 sparked a protest."

"(While playing for the Reds in 1875), Tommy Oran became the first Native American major leaguer. He played in all nineteen of the team's games, and retroactive calculation shows him to have had a team-best 10 runs batted in. Otherwise, however, his performance was unimpressive. His batting average was a mere .185 and his eleven errors and .633 fielding percentage while playing the outfield were unacceptably high. (He also played part of one game at shortstop.)"

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