Saturday, October 27, 2007

Charlie Sweeney

Charlie Sweeney's name came up a few days ago when we were talking about the St. Louis Maroons. Somebody mentioned that he injured his arm in 1885 and this was a factor in the Maroon's poor showing in the NL. I tried to run this story down and, in the process, learned a bit about Sweeney.

Charles J. Sweeney was born in San Fransisco in 1863 and, as a youth, played on local Bay area teams. In 1883, Harry Wright brought Sweeney and Sandy Nava from California to Providence to play for the Grays.

In 1884, Sweeney was splitting time on the mound with Hoss Radbourne. On June 7, he struck out 19 batters in a 2-1 victory over Boston, a record that would stand for 102 years. On July 22, Sweeney was getting shelled by Philadelphia and Wright replaced him on the mound with right fielder Cyclone Miller. Unhappy about being relieved and refusing to play the outfield, Sweeney stormed off the field, leaving his team a man down. The Grays finished the game while playing with only eight men and lost to the lowly Quakers 10-6. It is unclear if Sweeney was released by Providence at this point but his career with the Grays was over. Radbourne, shouldering the pitching load for the rest of the season, won 26 of his next 27 starts and the Grays stormed to the pennant.

A week later, Sweeney was starting for Henry Lucas' Black Diamonds. The Maroons' roster had been raided by both the NL and the AA and Lucas took a great deal of glee in "stealing" Sweeney from Providence. "There is," he said, "(a) great pleasure in going into the enemy's camp, capturing their guns and using them on your own side." Sweeney would go 24-7 with a 1.83 ERA for the Maroons and would finish the year at 41-15 in 60 starts with a 1.70 ERA.

In 1885, with the Black Diamonds now in the National League, Sweeney suffered through an injury-plagued campaign. Suffering a shoulder injury early in the season, Sweeney was 4-2 (including a win at Providence on May 13th) before getting shelled in back to back starts. He didn't pitch again for almost three weeks and was ineffective when he returned. After a loss to Buffalo on August 28th, Sweeney made only three more starts for the Maroons and finished the season 11-21 in only 35 starts with an ERA of 3.93.

Sweeney's 1886 season was not any better. Making only eleven starts for the Maroons, he went 5-6 with a 4.16 ERA before being released by the team in June. Catching on with the Stars of Syracuse in early July, Sweeney made only two ineffective starts before being let go. He next showed up back in San Francisco pitching for the Altas and being treated as a returning hero by his hometown fans.

Attempting a big league comeback in 1887, Sweeney made only three starts for the Blues of Cleveland. After going 0-3 with an ERA of 8.25, Sweeney's major league career was over. He finished with a career mark of 64-52 and an ERA of 2.87.

Sweeney certainly appeared to be a difficult character to deal with. Besides the incident in Providence, he was involved in a "vicious fight" with teammate Emmett Seery in 1886. While it's unknown what prompted the fight, all of the Maroons sided with Seery and The Sporting Life referred to Sweeney as a "whiskey-guzzling cowardly nincompoop".

A more serious incident occurred in 1894 when Sweeney shot a man named Con MacManus in a bar in San Francisco. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to prison, where he died of consumption in 1902.

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