Monday, December 14, 2009

The 1876 Brown Stockings: A Few Words About Poor Tom Miller

Thomas Miller, the late catcher of the St. Louis Club, died in Philadelphia, Pa., his birthplace, on May 29, of disease of the kidneys, to the great regret of his comrades and of the members of both the St. Louis and Easton clubs, with all of whom he was a favorite. Miller began play in 1865, in Philadelphia, and during his career as a ball-player he was connected with the Jackson, Logan, Expert, Olympic and Marion clubs of Philadelphia, in the latter of which he was catcher in 1871. In 1873-74 he caught for the Easton Club, and in 1875 he became catcher of the St. Louis nine. This year, owing to ill-health, he was superseded by Clapp, but was, nevertheless, in the St. Louis team. He was a very effective player in the position, and, moreover, had a reliable record. The funeral took place Wednesday afternoon, and was numerously attended, the members of the St. Louis Club accompanying the body of the deceased to its final resting-place. A very handsome floral wreath-the gift of his associates-was placed on the burial casket.

At a meeting of the St. Louis Club, held at the Bingham House, Philadelphia, Tuesday, May 30, 1876, the following preamble and resolutions were adopted:

Whereas, The Ruler of the Universe has seen fit to remove from our midst our late associate and fellow-member, Thomas P. Miller; therefore, be it

Resolved, That we bear testimony to the manliness, honesty and courtesy that ever stamped his intercourse with us, and that it is with genuine sorrow we record his early demise.

Resolved, That we express to the grief-stricken relatives of the deceased our deep and earnest assurance of sympathy with them in their hour of affliction, and that we, his fellow-members, are admonished:

"We, too, shall come to the river side,
One by one;
We are nearer its brink each eventide,
One by one."

Resolved, That we, his late associates, wear a badge of mourning for thirty days as a token of respect for his memory; that the secretary forward a copy of these resolutions to the family of the deceased.

Geo. W. Bradley, Joseph B. Battin,
Jno. E. Clapp, Edgar E. Cuthbert,
H.J. Dehlman, Lipman Pike,
M.H. McGeary, Joseph W. Blong,
Dennis McGee, S. Mason Graffen
C. McManus, Secretary

-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 8, 1876 (from The New York Clipper)

Is anybody else intrigued by the idea of a Brown Stocking team meeting on May 30 with McGeary suspended and Orrick Bishop in town about to undermine the authority of Mase Graffen? That meeting immediately makes my top 50 list of historical events I would like to have been at. Actually, I think I'd rather be in a pub with Cuthbert after the meeting, having a few drinks and asking a few questions.


Richard Hershberger said...

The claim that Miller's place was taken by Clapp due to Miller's health is certainly a polite fiction. Miller lost his starting job because he was a lousy hitter. By all accounts he was a fine defensive catcher and all-round nice guy (with, if memory serves, the traditional fine tenor voice). But he was destined to be your classic backup catcher and general utility guy.

This is the role Bob Ferguson wanted him for with the Hartfords. This explains why the Hartfords dropped their claim on him, which they were winning. They found another suitable backup catcher without the baggage of wanting to play somewhere else. I don't think it is reading too far between the lines that Miller wanted to play with Bradley.

The irony is that Bradley had the same imperfect contract with the St. Louis club as did Miller. Ferguson took on a fight going after the backup catcher, while ignoring the star pitcher. (In fairness, Hartford had Candy Cummings and Tommy Bond, so a shortage of effective pitching wasn't its problem.)

Jeffrey Kittel said...

It's true that Clapp was a better hitter than Miller and may have been the best hitting catcher in the League in 76 and 77. It's most likely that Clapp was brought in to upgrade the position and that you're correct to say that it was a fiction to write that Miller lost his job due to ill health. But I'm unclear as to the extent of Miller's ill health. They say he had some kind of kidney disease but how ill was he? How long had he been ill? Was it a chronic problem that the club was aware of? Was it a problem in 1875?

If Miller had a chronic health problem dating back to 1875 and that was one of the reasons the club felt a need to upgrade the catcher's position then it would be an honest statement to say he lost his job due to ill health. Yes, Miller couldn't hit but neither could half the club. Dehlman, Blong, Pearce, McGeary, Mack, Cuthbert-none of these guys were Babe Ruth. They were trying to win with pitching and defense and Miller, as a fine defensive catcher would have fit in with that.

I think that I need more information about Miller's health situation before I dismiss the idea that he lost his job due to ill health. The fact that he hadn't played in any games at all in 76 may indicate that he was ill most of the year.

David Ball said...

Is the club secretary's name, C. McManus, perhaps a typo for George McManus, who succeeded Graffen as manager in 1877?

Jeffrey Kittel said...

That was my assumption and I almost changed it to G. McManus to reflect that but I try to limit my editorial changes to dividing long pieces into paragraphs as well as some spelling and puncuation normalization. I probably should have mentioned it but figured everybody would catch the typo.

David Ball said...

Actually, I kind of wondered why the secretary was traveling with the team when they had a manager to do that. Or, if McManus came out with Bishop, why his name wound up on the memorial resolution and not Bishop's (or Dickey Pearce's, for that matter).

Not that it has anything whatsoever to do with the 1876 Browns, but George McManus' son, also named George, became a cartoonist and drew the very successful comic strip "Growing Up With Father."

Richard Hershberger said...

You make a valid point that Miller might have had a long term disease. I would have to go through my Miller notes (which I will write up sometime this century: I promise!) but I don't recall any reports of ill health. Of course this is absence of evidence, not evidence of absence, but it's what we have.

Some day I should take a closer look at Miller's batting in Easton. Of course this is not at all the same as facing major league pitching, but comparing his performance with his teammates' might give some clue to how good a hitter he really was.

Jeffrey Kittel said...


Weren't we speculating earlier that McManus may have been the person writing the game reports from the Eastern trip? So weren't we assuming that he was on the trip?

It's not exactly certain that Bishop was in Phil on May 30. The Brown Stockings directors had their meeting about the McGeary situation at noon on May 29 and you have to assume that Bishop was there. You would think that the decision to send someone to Phil would have been made at that meeting. But certainly Bishop is in Phil by the 31st, at the latest.

It is interesting that Pearce's name isn't on the memorial, although I don't read much into out. Honestly, I didn't even notice. Maybe he and Bishop were out have dinner and missed the meeting.


It's 1876 so it's entirely reasonable to believe that Miller fell ill and succombed quickly to whatever ailed him. Or he could have had something for a long time that fatigued him and nobody thought anything of it. It's impossible to say without more information.

David Ball said...

I think it was Graffen we mentioned as a possible newspaper correspondent. I have no reason to think McManus wasn't just as possible, if he was traveling with the team. However, given that teams didn't even always want to spend the money to take all their players on a road trip, you wouldn't normally expect them to be accompanied both by a manager and a secretary. What need would there be for the two of them, anyway?

In all probability I'm reading too much into the situation, but now that I have guessed that Graffen may not have had the confidence of the club management, I'm reminded of s situation in Columbus in 1883, when that club's management and the local press (a truly fractious and hypercritical bunch) became so suspicious of manager Horace Phillips (a genuinely slippery character) that they sent a club director along on road trips to watch the money.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

My memory is really starting to go, along with my eyesight. Old age is no fun.

The idea that Graffen lost the confidence of the club directors is an interesting one and I'm keeping an eye out for more evidence of it. To this day, it's never a good sign when club officials start traveling with the team. Usually means the coach is about to get fired.