Sunday, October 14, 2007

Tom Loftus

Tom Loftus was a prominent 19th century baseball man who was involved in the game for more than 25 years. A player, captain, manager, and team president, Loftus was described by Al Spink as a person who "did much to bring the game into its proper sphere" and as "one of the great builder's up of the national game".

Loftus was born in St. Louis in 1856 and first gained notice on the baseball field while playing for the 1875 St. Louis Reds. In 1876, Loftus was regarded as the best player on the Red Stockings.

Living a rather nomadic baseball life, Loftus played with a Memphis team in 1877, captained Peoria in 1878, and joined the Dubuque nine in 1879. Loftus would call Dubuque home for the rest of his life, even as his baseball career took him from city to city.

The 1879 Dubuque Rabbits were an outstanding baseball team. The nine consisted of Loftus, Charlie Comiskey, Old Hoss Radbourne, the Gleason brothers, Tom Sullivan, Billy Taylor, William Lapham, and Larry Reis. Loftus played second base as the team won the championship of the Northwest League and a victory over Cap Anson's Chicago White Stockings.

In 1882, Ted Sullivan, who had put the Dubuque team together, went to St. Louis to manage the St. Louis Browns and brought the core of his Dubuque team with him. Loftus, Comiskey, and the Gleasons all joined Sullivan on the Browns. Coming down with a serious illness, Loftus played in only six games for the Browns in 1882 and 1883.

In 1884, Loftus's health had recovered enough for him to sign with Milwaukee in the Union Association as both player and manager. However the illness had taken its toll and Loftus only played the early part of the season before retiring as player and devoting his full time to managing.

Over the next seventeen years, Loftus would manage numerous teams. In 1885, he returned to St. Louis to skipper the Whites. From 1887 to 1889, Loftus managed in Cleveland. He then managed two seasons in Cincinnati from 1890 through 1891. In 1894, Loftus was managing the Columbus Western League team and remained there until 1900 when he took the manager's job with the Chicago Orphans of the NL. In 1901, Loftus took his last baseball job, managing the Washington Senators. Staying in Washington for two seasons, Loftus also served as team president.

Retiring from the game in 1902, Loftus returned home to Dubuque to devote himself full time to his business interests, specifically the ownership and management of a hotel. He received numerous offers to return to the game but preferred to remain in Dubuque.

While no longer active in the game, Loftus was still a respected figure in baseball circles. Al Spink wrote that "(while) he was not active in the game from 1902, he was one of the counsellors of both big leagues and was regarded as one of the substantial men in baseball. His advice was sought and heeded..." Ted Sullivan would write that Loftus was twenty years ahead of his time when he was playing and remained so throughout his baseball career. Henry Chadwick regarded Loftus as one of the greatest baseball men who ever lived.

Loftus, who according to Al Spink was"one of the best fellows ever prominently identified with the game," died at his home in Dubuque on April 16, 1910.


Anonymous said...

This was my great grandfather. Thanks so much for posting this.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

You are very welcome.

Anonymous said...

You quoted Al Spink, Ted Sullivan and Henry Chadwick regarding Tom Loftus. If it's not too much trouble I was wondering where you found these quotes and what the exact words Chadwick used.

I think Tom is the stuff of a Hollywood movie and maybe you're the one to write the script.

Tom's son was John and John's son was Tom, who was my father. It's a very curious thing that my Dad did not have any memorabilia, although he mentioned him from time to time.

When Tom died his hotel/saloon was left in the hands of his wife Annie and son John (aged 24 at the time). That saloon must have had memorabilia on every wall. But ten years later Prohibition shut them down (1920-1933) so they probably sold all it to stay alive, although in 1930 a census Annie owned mortgage free a house in Dubuque valued at $40,000.

One question if I may. What was the serious illness Tom had in 1882-83?

Jeffrey Kittel said...

Almost all the information in that post comes from Al Spink's The National Game. Spink wrote a nice biographical essay on Loftus that appeared on pp 294-296 in the second edition. I really don't know much more than what I read in Spink's book.

I did a quick search in the databases and I did find some interesting stuff that I'll have to post at a later date because I have a deep respect for guys like Loftus, who spent their lives building the game. He is certainly an interesting fellow.

As to the illness, I don't have anything specific but it appears that he was well enough to play in 1883. I don't see much about him during 1882 so the illness may have been confined to that year. But the Brown Stockings did sign him in November of that year so it may not have been that serious. Spink, as important a figure as he is, is notorious for his errors in fact in The National Game. He's an important source but always needs to be fact-checked.

Anonymous said...

As I've done some more research, Al Spink and Tom were born and raised in the same city, St. Louis, and lifelong friends. Spink traveled the St. Louis to Chicago circuit in his life too. I would think that as a publisher/writer for The Sporting News Spink knew what he was talking about when it came to Tom. I found obituaries of Tom in The Washington Post, and The Chicago Tribune (Daily) that back up what he said in his book (which I now have). I hope to someday find the Dubuque, Iowa, obituary of Tom, his lifelong home. I've contacted the Baseball Hall of Fame and they are sending some items to me in the mail soon.

I'll tell you an utterly baffling mystery. Spink's book went out of print with the publishing of his 2nd edition in 1911, the same year Spaulding published his book America's National Game. Spink wrote glowing things about Tom but Spaulding never mentioned him at all. Spaulding was the owner of the Chicago Orphans when Tom managed the team in 1900 and 1901. It's acknowledged that Henry Chadwick probably wrote most of what we find in Spaulding's book, since he he willed his manuscript to him upon his death. And this silence about Tom meant that generations would not know of him since Spaulding's book was the bestselling one that was reprinted ever since.

Did Spaulding and Tom have have a parting of ways, and was this one last way of getting even? Everywhere I read it says Tom was well-liked by everyone, even in that tumultuous era. Or, did Chadwick on the east coast not hear much about Tom or not think much about that part of that game in America, or just not get around to writing about him before he died.

I'm determined to try and find out by looking at the Chicago Tribune toward the end of the 1901 season when the team was sold and became the Cubs.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

Spink was actually born in Quebec and didn't move to the US until the 1860s and didn't get to StL until the mid 1870s. But I have no doubt that he and Loftus were friends. While I love The National Game and think it's a great book, I'll again just mention that it's full of errors. Misspelled names, wrong dates, errors of fact-that kind of stuff. I imagine that Spink wrote a lot of the stuff off the top of his head, leading to the errors. There's some fantastic stuff in the book but it always needs to be fact-checked. Spink will often have the basic outline of the story correct but then have all the dates wrong or something like that.

I'm not a big fan of Spalding's book. He has a specific agenda that he's pushing and doesn't let the facts get in the way. It's interesting as a historical document but a poor piece of history. I think he mentions Chris Von der Ahe once in passing and they had all kinds of dealings in the mid 1880s. I would think that Lofus' exclusion from the book has less to do with any falling out and more to do with the fact that Loftus didn't fit into the narrative that Spaulding was creating. Also his joining the AL probably didn't sit well with Mr. Spalding. It appears that Loftus was having talks with Ban Johnson and Comiskey in September before any decisions were made about his future with Chicago.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for your expert clarification on these matters. I was merely suggesting that Spink probably knew what he was talking about when it came specifically to Tom, regardless of his handling of the facts and figures elsewhere.

In any case I'll let you know if I find anything important out. The Baseball Hall of Fame sent me some articles that appeared in The Sporting Life about him, which were interesting to me personally.

Tom Loftus said...

I'll be damned! Sounds like one hellofa Guy! He did the name proud!
-Tom Loftus, Omaha, NE, 2/28/2013