by Steven G. Farrell
It is always fun for a writer to play around with words as well as ideas. I am also a historian who enjoys researching things are overlooked by others in my field of interests. With this paper, I shall write about two of my favorite subjects: my Irish surname of Farrell and the sport of baseball. I especially enjoy old-time baseball, roughly from 1880 to 1910. I suppose much of my infatuation with that particular epoch is that the Irish were the dominant ethnic group in the sport at the time, comprising anywhere from 25% to 50% of every major league roster.
For the purpose of this article, I shall be examining the careers of three Irish American baseball players from the Dead Ball Era by the name of Farrell: Jack, Duke and Frank. I will also introduce the reader to Francis X. Farrell, the fictional creation of Ring Lardner in his “Alibi Ike.”
I could not let this opportunity to go by without writing about author James T. Farrell. The author wrote often about his memories of his beloved Chicago White Sox as well as his recollections of the nightmarish Chicago Black Sox. I will then cover the baseball careers of Dick “Turk” Farrell and John Farrell, both who pitched in my lifetime.
Of these baseball players from the Farrell Clan, only John Farrell is still alive and active in baseball. I shall not be covering the two Ferrell brothers from Greensboro, NC, Wes and Rick, as they never put in any claim on their Gaelic DNA. I would happily include them among our clan as Wes won 193 games and Rick, a catcher, stroked 1,692 hits. Rick Ferrell was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Old-Timers Committee in 1984.
Jack Farrell: The Unpleasant Farrell
John A. Farrell, aka “Jack” or “Moose,” was a stocky Irish-American second baseman from working-class Newark, N.J. He was active from 1879-1889, playing with five major league teams (Syracuse Stars, Providence Grays, Philadelphia Quakers, Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles) and two major leagues (National League and American Association). In a time when seasons were much shorter and the baseball traveled a shorter distance, Jack accumulated 877 base hits and finished his career with a .254 batting average. His best season was when he batted .305 in 1883.
Jack’s claim to fame was that he was the starting second baseman for the 1884 National League champion the Providence Grays whose best player was Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn, the greatest single season pitcher in baseball’s long history. “Old Hoss” tallied 59 wins (60 by some accounts), 678 innings and 441 strikeouts: all records that have never been broken. Jack contributed a lame .217 batting average but his head’s up brand of play and his slick fielding were main factors in the team’s success. Farrell had to shake-off a persistent case of pneumonia that hung on him the entire season.
Edward Achorn, in his book Fifty-nine in ’84, describes Jack this way: “The Unpleasant Farrell was an unpleasant character, with close-set, frowning eyes and a bushy mustache, and was fully capable of irritating friend and foe alike.” (Achorn, p.75). Farrell bragged about sprinkling sharp rocks on the base path between first and second to cut up would-be base stealers.
He was also the first on the bench to bellyache if an opposing pitcher threw the ball overhanded. A pitcher in those far off days threw underhanded or submarine motions. Farrell also fought constantly with Grays’ manager Frank Bancroft and he used to report late to the team’s spring training camp. He received catcalls for for his ongoing weight problem. Jack also escaped with his life and his underwear when a hotel he was once staying at burned down to the ground.
This Farrell was a hard-drinking and roughneck brawler like many of the Irish urban breed that sprung up in the 19th century, but he was foxy enough to run a hotel at Oakland Beach near Providence for many years. He sold his interest in the establishment for $16,000, a substantial amount of loot in the “Gay Nineties,” and he lived out his days in comfort in Cedar Grove, N.J., dying in 1914 at age 56.
Charles Farrell: The Duke of Marlborough (Massachusetts)
Charles Andrew Farrell, aka “Duke,” was a more affable Irishman than Jack Farrell whose likable personality found him a place in baseball up until his death. Sportswriter Tim Murnane wrote about Farrell’s “happy disposition” and another sportswriter from the Hub by the name of Jacob Morse gushed, “There was never a more popular player in Boston than Charles Farrell.”
“The Duke of Marlborough” (Massachusetts) was a giant of a man at 6’2″ and around 200 pounds. He played in major league baseball for eighteen years (1888-1905), with seven teams (Chicago Colts, Boston Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Giants, Washington Nationals, Brooklyn Robins and the Boston Red Sox), and in three leagues (National League, the American Association and the American League. Duke was a hard-hitting catcher who had 1,572 base hits in his career and a .277 lifetime average.
In 1891, he led the American Association with 12 homers and he finished with 52 career home runs. Most impressively, he drove in 923 runs and was the member of three pennant-winning teams. In his banner year of 1891, he tied with Hugh Duffy for the league’s lead in RBIs with 110.
Rick Eldred wrote in an entry on Farrell in Nineteenth Century Stars (edited by Teimann and Rucker, p. 85): “Good cheer, a smile and a handshake was his trademark, and while he tried other careers, baseball was his life. When he died in 1925, he was a coach for the Boston Braves.”
Charles Farrell was signed to his first major league contract by Cap Anson, a longtime player-manager for the Chicago National League club. Anson, who was an outspoken bigot, feuded with his Irish stars like Jimmy Ryan and Hugh Duffy. Anson used Duke in the outfield before slotting him behind the plate. Anson had discovered Duffy and Farrell playing in the New England League: Duffy with Lowell and Farrell with Salem.
I could find no indication that Farrell and Anson had any trouble working together in their three years as teammates, However, Farrell jumped to the newly organized American Association in 1891. Tommy McCarthy, signed by the upstart St. Louis Browns team, actively pursued Duffy and Farrell for his new club. Hubbard wrote “In cloak-and-dagger fashion, McCarthy continued to beat the ancient brick streets of Boston for Duffy and Farrell.” (Hubbard, pp. 76-77).
Farrell and Duffy joined Boston instead and Farrell’s timely hitting did in McCarthy, Charles Comiskey and the Browns on more than one occasion, as Boston raced to the American Association first championship.
Charles Farrell appeared to have had a better on-field relationship with Hall-of-Famer player-manager Jimmy Collins than he did with the irksome Anson. Collins, another Irish-American from Buffalo, New York, employed Duke as a player, scout and coach.
In Bill Nowlin’s historical research paper on Charles Farrell for SABR, he mentions how Farrell was harassed bleacher fans for his ballooning weight. He suspected the sportswriters were egging on the fans. It made his tenure in that burg very unhappy for the normally easy-going Farrell.
Some of Charlie’s other highlights included catching a no-hitter thrown by Jesse Tannehill, being a leading light in the Players Brotherhood, and starting at the catcher position in the first World Series game ever played, held in 1903. He was also 3-for-6 in the Red Sox first opening day in history.
Both Jack Farrell and Charles Farrell were the sons of Irish immigrants who had settled on the eastern seaboard to work in the factories of industrial and urban America. Casway, in his book The Emerald Age of Baseball, referred to the late 19th century and early 20th century as the “Emerald Age” because of the legions of Irish and Irish-American baseball players in the game. Mike Kelly, Jim O’Rourke, Tim Keefe, Jim Galvin, Hugh Duffy, Mickey Welsh, Dan Brouthers, Roger Conner, Connie Mack, Jimmy Collins, John McCraw, Willie Keeler, Johnny Evers, Ed Walsh, and Tip O’Neill (a Canadian) were some of the Celtic galaxy of stars produced during that time.
“Baseball remained an attractive occupation for sons of immigrant families. With hand-and-bat-ball games part of an Irish kid’s heritage, the athletically gifted few found baseball to be a rapid entry into the “American Dream”…If Irish players were skilled, fleet-footed, and crafty, they could be ‘strong-headed” and slow like a “weary elephant.” (Casway, p 128).
Jack and Duke seem to be the opposite heads on the same coin of the paradoxical natures of that ancient breed of Irish-American baseball players. Jack was part of the roughneck tradition of Irish ballplayers who were more like boxers. In contrast, Duke was sober, friendly, and got on well with everybody. As noted before, both men suffered throughout their career with weight gains. I relate to their Irish roots as well as to their waistlines.
Frank X. Farrell: The Apologetic (And Fictitious) Farrell
Frank X. Farrell was a rookie outfielder for the 1915 Chicago Cubs in Ring Lardner’s comic short story “Alibi Ike.”
“His name was Frank X. Farrell, and I guess the X stood for “Excuse me,” because he never pulled a play, good or bad, on or off the field, without apologizing for it.” . Carey, the manager of the Cubs, claimed Farrell could not hit as near good as he could apologize. When he was questioned about his 1914 season in the minor leagues, he responded, “I had malaria most of the season…”
“And you ought to hear him out there on that field! There was not a day when he did not pull six or seven, and it did not matter if he was going good or bad. He popped up in the pinch he should have made a base hit and the reason he did not was so-and-so. And if he cracked one for three bases, he ought to have had a home run, only the ball wasn’t lively or the wind brought it back or he tripped on dirt rounding first base.” (Lardner, p. 16-18).
Lardner’s delightful yarn from the diamond became as a movie vehicle for comic film star Joe E. Brown in 1935. The feature-length Alibi Ike featured Brown as an eccentric rookie pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. Such stars as Olivia de Havilland (Gone with the Wind and Robin Hood) and William Frawley (I Love Lucy and My Three Sons) helped to flesh out the cast. The movie featured some good baseball playing scenes, romance, kidnapping by gangsters and a rip-snorting car chase at the climax of the film. Joe Brown had a reputation as being a fair baseball player in his youth and his son later went on to be the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Frank Farrell: The Pool King of NYC
Frank Farrell, widely known as the “Pool King” of New York City, is the third member of the Farrell clan that I would like to discuss in my paper. He never stepped foot on a baseball diamond. He made his name as a magnate, owning the New York Highlanders, later the Yankees, for many years just before the outbreak of World War I. Frank could not be inside of the ranks of professional baseball today because of his longtime links to organized gambling in New York City and his deep-rooted connection to Tammany Hall.
Frank Farrell rubbed shoulders with Boss “Big” Tim Sullivan of the East Side and gambling kingpin Arnold Rothstein. In fact, Gambling Frank was on the casino front long before Arnold “the Brain” was on the scene fixing boxing matches and baseball games or shuffling decks of cards. His career in the world of chance extending for almost 40 years. Frank Farrell was still involved in the horseracing business when he died in 1927.
Frank Farrell’s career peak was in the 1890s under the reign of bosses Richard (“The people can’t stand corruption, but they can’t stand reform either”) Crocker and Charlie Murphy. His closest business relationships were with Sullivan and one-time Police Commissioner William Devery. Welch writes in book on Big Time, King of the Bowery, “Big Tim formed a syndication with Frank Farrell and Police Commissioner “Big Bill” Devery that provided protection-for a price-to gamblers and gambling houses.” (Welch, p. 57).
According to Welch’s calculation the syndicate hauled in over three million dollars a year from pool halls, crap games, gambling houses and sporting establishments: not bad at all for the sons of Irish immigrants who grew-up on the mean hardscrabble streets of Manhattan. The street gang mentality learned from gangs like the Hudson Dusters and the Gophers of Hell Kitchen on the West Side and the Five Pointers, the Eastman galoots of the Bowery and the East Side carried on throughout life by the products of these neighborhoods.
“Perhaps the most successful operator of gambling establishments in the country before the rise of Las Vegas after World War II, the main focus of his business was a posh casino he opened on West 33rd Street in 1891. It soon became the place to go for the city’s elite and the Diamond Jim Brady crowd…the signature feature was a $20,000 bronze door found in the wine cellar of a Venetian palace and installed at the rear of the casino’s entrance hall. Once it was in place, Farrell’s establishment known as the “House with the Bronze Door” (Dewey and Acocella, p.42).
Farrell made a rapid climb up the social ladder, working his way up from store clerk to gambling czar at a young age. He had enough cash to become a part owner of the New York American League club for in 1903. The sale transaction was for $18,000. The team played its first game on April 22, 1903, at American League Park on the northern edge of Manhattan Island. The neighbors referred to the makeshift ball park as “Hilltop Park,” and soon they were referring to the team as the “Highlanders”.
Frank’s only notable success as an owner was luring “Wee” Willie Keeler away from the National League for a hefty yearly salary of $8,000. Willie, a popular little Irishman was Brooklyn, went on to play seven years for Farrell, batting over .300 four times, including .343 in 1904. The most notorious player to take the field for Farrell’s club was “Prince” Hal Chase, later banned from baseball for throwing games to gamblers for money. Frank Farrell finally unloaded the New York club, now known as the “Yankees,” to beer baron Jacob Ruppert in January of 1915.
Frank Farrell’s fortunes started to wane as his pals in Tammany Hall began to die off and the country entered the “Roaring Twenties” of the Prohibition Era. A short and stocky man who never said much, Farrell makes for colorful reading. The likes of Frank Farrell is gone forever from American sports. Harvey Fromme, an independent researcher, estimated that Farrell and Devery received $460,000 for selling their team: a profit of $442,000 (“The Real Jake: Jacob Ruppert: the Man who built the Yankee Empire”).
Author James T. Farrell
Before I move to the two Farrell baseball players that were active in my own lifetime, I would like to provide a bridge to them to mention in passing James T. Farrell, my favorite author and a person I actually had the opportunity to correspondent with briefly in 1977. Farrell (1904-1979), a Chicago native, was the author of the Studs Longian Trilogy as well as over fifty published books. A product of the South Side of Chicago, Farrell gravitated towards rooting for the White Sox at Comiskey Park.
One of my favorite books on baseball is Farrell’s My Baseball Diary. He recounted the happier, pre-scandal Pale Hose “Hitless Wonders” clubs. Jim’s favorite players were Eddie Collins and Big Ed Walsh, fellow Irish-Americans. Farrell told me that he was a friend of Buck Weaver, the third baseman of the 1919 Black Sox squad.
Dick “Turk” Farrell: Houston’s First All-Star
Richard “Turk” Farrell was a massive and tough pitcher from the Irish neighborhood of Brookline Village outside of Boston. I lived in Boston in the very early ‘80s and remember natives there still talking about the home run Dick launched out of a local ballpark as a mere high school student in the ‘50s.
Farrell’s nickname was not because he was of Turkish ancestry; rather it was from his “turkey strut” as a cocky and swaggering six-and-half footer Irishman. He pitched 14 years in the National League with three teams (Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Colt 45s and, finally, back to finish his career with the Philadelphia Phillies. His record was a so-so 106 wins and 121 losses, but he was good enough to collect 10 to 14 wins a year for the dismal Houston club, an expansion team, and to strike out 203 batters in 1962. I clearly remember Farrell closing out his career as a sore-armed relief pitcher for equally deplorable Phillies teams, playing out the string in a ramshackle Connie Mack Stadium. I recall proudly owning several of his Topps baseball cards, circa 1967.
In his essay for SABR, Dick “Turk” Farrell: Houston’s First All Star, Ron Briley mentions how Dick used his $5,000 signing bonus as a rookie to send his mother Mary on a trip back to her native village in Mayo, Ireland. Turk was known for being a “free spirit and a practical joker.” This Farrell openly confessed on the radio that he had thrown Stan Musial an illegal spitball, and Willie Mays once publicly chided him from clucking on the back after Willie had belted two homers off him earlier in the game.
Dick Farrell’s greatest claim to fame was that he was the first player from the Houston National League Club ever selected for the coveted all-star team. Indeed, since there were two all-star games in baseball in 1962, he was in two times. In the first game, Farrell did not appear, and in the second he coughed up a three-run homer to Detroit Tiger slugger Rocky Colavito.
Tragically, Dick Farrell died in a car crash in 1977 while working for an American company in England.
John Farrell: World Champion
Finally, I would like to conclude my paper by discussing John Farrell, who is the only active Farrell in MLB today. Another Farrell from New Jersey, John did not set the world on fire during his eight-year career in the American League, finishing with a less than impressive 36-46 win-loss record. His best season was in 1988 when he picked up 14 wins for the Indians.
John Farrell made a much bigger impact in the dugout as manager of the Boston Red Sox. In 2013, he led the Sox to their first World Championship since 1918 and was selected Sporting News 2013 Manager of the Year.
Since this is my labor of love fusing the Farrell clan with the sport of baseball, I shall finish by briefly mentioning Will Ferrell, the Hollywood actor. This Farrell, alumni of the long-running Saturday Night Live television series, came up with a stunt to raise money for charity — he would briefly appear in exhibition games for 10 different teams in five separate games during the Arizona Grapefruit League. He struck-out two times in two at bats, finishing his all too short career with a .000 batting average. More importantly, Ferrell’s stunt raised over $1 million for cancer charities.
The results of Will’s athletic exploits made for a hysterical documentary called Ferrell Takes the Field. On that note, this Farrell shall leave the field.
This article originally appeared in the Irish American Post. It is reprinted here with permission of the author.
About the Author
Steven G. Farrell is a Professor in the Speech & Theater Department at Greenville Technical College in Greenville, South Carolina. His fiction and nonfiction has been been published in over two dozen publications, including Crime, Scary Monsters, Frontier Tales, Lost Treasure and Candlelight Stories. He has also produced a short film, Mersey Boys: A Letter From Al Moran, which has been screened at ten international film festivals.
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All baseball statistics came from Baseball Reference
Articles from the Society for American Baseball Research: