For many ball players, Philadelphia becomes merely a second home. What we aim to do with the "Philadelphia Baseball Ghosts" series is take a look at those who are born within Philadelphia city limits before they set off on their grand baseball adventure somewhere else in the vast, horrible world.
John Francis "Phenomenal" Smith
DOB: August 11, 1862
What was happening in Philadelphia at the time: With gold and silver selling at a premium (18.5% and 13%), the city's coins disappeared from circulation. Two days after gold prices blasted to the moon, they started using postage stamps in lieu of specie. Imagine the despair of collectors and bums asking for change when, several months later, gold bounced up to 37%. The good times were never going to end, clearly, which was quite the break from earlier in the year, when a cartridge factory blew up on 10th Street, killing 17 people.
Although signs of the good times ending were quite clear in September, when Independence Square was morphed into a recruiting station for the Union Army.
"Oh right," everyone remembered. "The terrible thing that's happening."
Four days later, Philadelphia was slammed by torrential downpours that decimated northern sections of the city. They would come a month too early to be any help with the catastrophic fire that scorched anything at 9th and Market off the face of the earth that October.
And in this exploding, penniless, soaking-wet-yet-still-somehow-burning version of Philadelphia, catcher Henry Zeiher entered the world.
MLB career: 1886 Washington Nationals; 0-for-21, 1 BB, 12 SO in 6 G
Bio: They called him "Whitey."
This likely led to the confusion at Baseball Reference, which credited Zeiher's sole major league season stats to a different player, Ed Whiting, for whom the nickname "Whitey" makes a lot of sense. In 2013, BR corrected the page, so that Zeiher's brief, unimpressive legacy can live on in the annals of baseball history.
It does not take long to see the entirety of his career. He was gifted 21 at-bats, and he sucked in each one of them, successfully not striking out in only nine of them. The single time he managed to work a walk was likely a moment of pure giddiness for the 23-year-old, as it was the only time he reached base as a professional ball player, and is the only reason his OBP isn't three tall ovals (it's .045).
"Perhaps," you theorize, "he made his contributions on the defensive side of the game!"
Gee, what a concept. In 37 chances as the Nationals catcher, he committed three errors and allowed 15 passed balls. What are you doing out there, Henry? Thank Baseba'al this young man didn't play in the modern era, when he would have been cursed out and scorned by onlookers and had his god forsaken stats broken down by analysts and beat writers looking for a story to tell.
Fortunately, on the 1886 Nationals, Zeiher blended right in. The team employed four catchers that year - one of whom being a fellow 23-year-old rookie named Connie Mack - and all of them performed better than Zeiher. Even Tom Kinslow, who was 20 and only made it into three games that season, logged a pair of hits, knocked a run in, and scored once. No wonder he was still playing baseball professionally 12 years later.
The regular catcher, Barney Gilligan, who played in 81 of the team's shameful 120 contests, could only manage a .190 BA with a .530 OPS, so clearly the bar was very low. That went beyond the catching squad, too, as only one member of the team hit above .229 for the season: outfielder Paul Hines, who hit .312, led the team in almost every good thing (including home runs, with nine) and probably wondered the whole season if he was just playing a different sport than everybody else.
The Nationals finished 28-92, 60 games out of first place. On July 30, they had forfeited a game to the Detroit Wolverines for what had to be a complete lack of desire to go on, since it was one of their closest losses, featuring a score of 13-9. They also lost games by scores of 15-0, 15-2, and 20-0. In October, the Nationals and the league's second most humiliating team, the 30-win Kansas City Cowboys, would simply refuse to play games, with Kansas City forfeiting the first game of three different double-headers played on three consecutive days from October 7-9.
The Nationals allowed almost 800 runs to score (791), while summoning the skill and will power to score only 445 themselves. They also played in a ballpark called "Swampoodle Grounds" that was jammed into a residential area, warping the shape of the field into something resembling a pentagon. It would still be their home when the team folded three years after Zeiher's pathetic showing.
Zeiher would have plenty of time to do something with his life outside of baseball, however, as he lived to the age of 89, making it all the way past World War II into 1951. He is buried in his hometown of Philadelphia, in Greenmount Cemetery, where the other spirits probably taunt him mercilessly anytime he brings up "that year I spent in the majors."
What allowing 15 passed balls in 48 innings probably resulted in:
HENRY ZEIHER: [Coming off the field]
PITCHER: What the hell is wrong with you.
ZEIHER: I know, I know; I missed, like, every pitch. But the thing is, um, there was a bird...
PITCHER: All the birds in this city were killed in the Great Philadelphia Bird Fire.
ZEIHER: I mean, that heckler kept yelling at me, you know. For sucking.
PITCHER: There's nobody here.
ZEIHER: I mean, it was Phil down at first base! He kept fiddling with his mustache and it was distracting me.
PITCHER: Everyone knows Phil hasn't touched his mustache in ten years.
ZEIHER: I mean, it was dust. There was dust in my eye. The ump wouldn't let me call time out?
PITCHER: What the hell is "time out?"
ZEIHER: Like, when you ask the umpire to stop the game for a second so you can take a break.
PITCHER: [Stares at him furiously]
ZEIHER: When you're tired, or there's something in your eye--
PITCHER: You think umpires just stop the game whenever anybody asks them too? What do you think this is, a trolley?! You can just hop on an off at your whimsy?!?
ZEIHER: I don't think baseball is a trolley...
PITCHER: KINSLOW! YOU'RE CATCHING NEXT INNING!!
TOM KINSLOW: Sweet, now's my big chance!
ZEIHER: I guess you can use my mitt.
KINSLOW: What the hell's a "mitt?"