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Dirty Trick or Dirty Lie: 1880s Phillies Players Caught Around Town

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Major League Baseball Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

On June 30, 1889, the then Pittsburg Dispatch ran a story entitled “A Very Dirty Trick: Three Philadelphia Players Accused of Most Ungentlemanly Conduct.” It is a long title to describe a simple grift. During their road trips around the country, three Philadelphia Quaker players supposedly had been getting spectacularly drunk in each city before proceeding to cause trouble around the towns. They would travel from bar to bar loudly making scenes while referring to one another by aliases.

The aliases weren’t just random fake names though— they were names from players on the opposing teams. The Quakers would each choose a name belonging to a player from the home city in which they were visiting for a series. The article claims that the players ran into Cleveland Spiders fans who just accepted that these drunken players were their own and believed anything they were told about their hometown club.

And I know you’re thinking two things here:

  1. “Spiders” is an awful name for a baseball team.” Yes, you would think that but keep in mind what Cleveland calls their modern baseball team. I’d happily welcome the Cleveland Spiders back to the MLB if it meant never having to look at the city’s current racist name and logo again.
  2. Didn’t the fans know what the players looked like? While baseball cards did exist at this time, certainly not every fan had an intense interest in them and even when they did, the likenesses weren’t especially accurate. The same goes for the occasional images of players that were published in the newspapers. It would be all too easy to trick fans who didn’t know any better.

While in Cleveland, the trio of Quakers [supposedly] imitated Spiders players Chief Zimmer, Cinders O’Brien, and Jimmy McAleer. Of these three players, two of them didn’t drink and the other was said to be “temperate.” The city’s media was furious about the “wild stories of debauch” caused by the Philadelphia players and The Plain Dealer went as far as to name the suspected culprits: James Fogarty (the captain of the team at the time), George Wood, and Joe Mulvey. The manager of the Cleveland Spiders, Tom Loftus, said that “a more harmful or cowardly trick was never played.”

The accusations were published in a few papers around the country and it was not long until Jimmy Fogarty and Harry Wright, the Philadelphia manager at the time, publicly denied the incidents. It is uncertain if their responses were directed towards the published articles or the formal complaints that were supposedly passed from Cleveland management to the Phillies.

Jimmy Fogarty, captain of the Philadelphia Quakers, great mustache, awful photograph
New York Tribune

James Fogarty released the following statement printed by Philadelphia newspapers:

I most emphatically deny being guilty of the most recent charges published in the Philadelphia Press and Cleveland papers. In justice to Mr. Wood, Mulvey, and myself, please contradict these charges. I am determined to make a thorough investigation of this affair and will sift it to the very bottom. I do not wish to pose before the public as a disreputable ball player: and if Wood, Mulvey, and myself were inclined to drink, I am quite sure we could consume enough in our own names without impersonating such well known players mentioned in the recent malicious article. The “coming champions” to a man are taking unusually good care of themselves and it is hardly probably that Wood, Mulvey, or I, as captain of the Phillies, would be guilty of the charges preferred against us. Hoping you will do us justice, I am, yours truly,

James G. Fogarty

Captain Philadelphia B.B. Club.

Pittsburg, July 1

Harry Wright’s only comment was his insistence that he had seen all three of the men at 11 PM the night of the incident. You read that correctly. He saw all three men at exactly 11PM. Wright probably should have just let Fogarty’s statement be the only one printed.

Did our never-do-wrong “coming champions” take to the Cleveland streets to imitate and badmouth their opponents? Did they trick these innocent fans for their own awful enjoyment? Cleveland’s record against Philadelphia so far that season was 6 to 2— not exactly a record to be upset about. What would be their motivation for fabricating such a story?

One of the Philadelphia players accused, Joe Mulvey, had been previously shot by an irate fan when he was on the Providence Grays in 1883 so it is hard to believe that he would commit such an act that might cause a repeat incident. On the other hand, none of the players accused were welcomed back to the Philadelphia Quakers the following season so it is more than possible that their [supposed] behavior could have affected their tenure in this city.