Who is Major League Baseball History’s Most Interesting Character?
Baseball history didn’t start in 1901.
You think Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Ichiro Suzuki are
interesting characters? You thought Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were intriguing? Not
compared to John Montgomery Ward.
When interesting and intriguing characters of the game are discussed, Monte
Ward is not usually among the first names that pop up. But the name should roll
off the tongue. When the topic of influential men of the game is brought up,
Monte Ward is not among the first names that pop up. But it should.
When many think of fascinating or interesting or intriguing baseball men, the
names of Ruth, Cobb, Cap Anson, ?Shoeless? Joe Jackson, John McGraw, Moe Berg,
Casey Stengel, Jackie Robinson, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis and the likes
are named off. Not many think of Ward, who was as big a baseball figure and
mind as he was a factor while playing.
To those who don’t have reservations about reading or learning of 19th century
players, there is plenty to learn and perhaps a new baseball hero to talk about
upon learning of Ward’s impact.
Start with the fact that Ward is the only player in major league history to
have accumulated as many as 2,000 hits and have earned as many as 150 wins.
(Ruth won 94 games.) Continue with the fact that he established the first players’
union in baseball history as well as a rival major league at one point, and
you have the makings of a multifaceted man and a strong leader.
Ward ?is perhaps the most fascinating figure in baseball history?, said Mark
Alvarez, editor for Society for American Baseball Research.
The ever-so competitive Ward had the playing
style and hustle of a Pete Rose, the pitching ability of a Charles ?Old Hoss?
Radbourn, the leadership presence of a Willie Stargell, the fight of a Billy
Martin, the brains of a Cobb and Tom Seaver, and the power of a Landis and Donald
Fehr. A player, manager, labor organizer and team owner, Ward was quite simply
the most significant baseball man in the 19th Century, aside from
the game?s inventor Alexander Cartwright.
Today?s fans don’t know of Ward, because he played his last major league game
in 1894, or 107 years ago.
When not pitching, the five-foot-nine and 165-pounder was primarily a shortstop
though he played third base, second base and the outfield as well. Overall,
Ward played 826 games at short, 491 at second base, 291 as a pitcher, 215 in
the outfield and 46 at third base.
In 1878 for Providence of the National League, the 18-year-old rookie out of
Bellefonte, Pennsylvania used a great curve ball to dazzle batters with a league-best
1.51 ERA, the lowest of his career, as he won 22 of 35 decisions. The following
year, Ward led Providence to the National League pennant as he won a career-high
and league-leading 47 games, while posting a 2.15 ERA over 587 innings.
But 1880 was a special campaign for Ward, who went 39-24, with a sparkling 1.74
ERA and eight shutouts spanning a massive total of 595 innings. The season was
especially notable since he threw baseball history’s second perfect game, five
days after John Lee Richmond threw the first on June 12th. Ward?s gem was a
5-0 win over Buffalo and fellow Hall of Famer Pud Galvin.
The wear and tear began taking its toll on Ward, who had
pitched 1,516 innings over his first three seasons and a whopping aggregate
of 1,182 frames over the 1879 and 1880 campaigns. With a tired arm and sore
shoulder, Ward?s workload would decrease every season there on.?
By no means was Ward unable to perform spectacularly as evidenced by his 18-inning
shutout on August 17th of the 1882 season. He just couldn?t perform spectacularly
After two more seasons at Providence with a collective record of 37-30 and a
combined ERA well under 2.50, Ward moved to New York.
In his first year with the Giants in 1883, Ward went 16-13 with a 2.70 ERA over
277 innings. Unbeknown to him, that would be his last full season as a pitcher.
With his arm dead-tired, his sling was dealt a final straw, suffering an injury
while running the bases during a game early in 1884. Thus it ended a marvelous
pitching career that featured a 164-102 record for a .617 winning percentage.
In addition, Ward threw 24 shutouts, pitched 2,462 innings and compiled an ERA
of 2.10, which still ranks as the fourth-best ever.
But his career was far from over. Wanting to remain a player, Ward decided to
work hard to secure a position elsewhere on the field. Already handy with the
glove (thanks to his previous experience at third base, outfield and shortstop)
and very fast on the base paths, Ward was diligent in his endeavor to become
a better hitter. Through 1883, Ward’s first seven seasons as a pitcher and part-time
position player, his batting average was .248. That wasn?t good enough for Ward,
who would eventually become an excellent bunter and situational hitter, not
afraid to give himself up for the sake of the team.
With his pitching career over and his future so uncertain, Ward couldn?t just
sit and play the healing game. Like Tris Speaker would do years later, Ward
grew impatient and decided he couldn?t sit idly while his right arm recuperated;
so he taught himself to throw left-handed in order to play center field for
the remainder of the 1884 season. To boot, he also demonstrated his leadership
skills by managing the last 16 games of the year - his second brief stint in
As his right arm regained its strength, Ward took over as the Giants? full-time
shortstop for the next five seasons. During those five campaigns, he served
as the Giants? captain and established himself as the league’s best shortstop,
averaging over 104 runs scored and almost 62 stolen bases (they began counting
them in 1886) in the process.
In October of 1887, Ward married actress Helen Dauvray. Described as a ?handsome
society lion? by Total Baseball, Ward was about to enjoy the fruits of
His desire became even more prominent when, in 1888, he taught himself to bat
left-handed after a beaning made him realize that his batting style would be
more conducive to a left-handed swing.
All his hard work, effort and leadership paid off as he marched his Giants to
the N.L. pennant and ?world championship? in 1888 and 1889. And he proved to
be the team?s true leader, simply taking over in the ?World Series?.
In the victory over the St. Louis Browns (champions of the American Association)
during the 1888 World Series, Ward hit .379, with 11 hits, six RBI and six stolen
bases in eight games. In the victory over Brooklyn the following October, Ward
got on base very often for the big sluggers like Roger Connor, and would have
most definitely received a series MVP honor if one had been in place. He hit
a series-high .417 with 15 hits, five walks, 10 runs scored and a whopping 10
stolen bases. He also drove in seven runs to boot.
For his efforts, he was being considered ?the model ballplayer of the country?
and ?the most dashing, daring and winning player the Giants ever had? by reporters
of the day.
An article in the New York Journal stated, ?(Ward) was, too,
the hero of more close games that were won - pulled out of the fire by individual
excellence, grit and ginger - than any other Giant, old or new.?
One month after the Giants’ second straight World Series triumph? in 1889,
Ward organized, established and announced the formation of the Players League.
Ward, who had founded the first-ever union for players and named it the Brotherhood
of Professional Base-Ball Players four years earlier, had his hand forced when
the owners secretly decided to lower all the players? salaries by classifying
and ranking them while they were on Al Spalding?s world tour following the 1888
season. It was a dirty underhanded trick, and the players union was going to
Ward and the rest of the players already were against the reserve clause, which
he described as ?a contract, which on its face is for several months being binding
for life?. And now a salary cut, he thought?
Playing for and managing the not-so-talented Brooklyn Wonders in the Players
League, Ward had one of his best seasons in 1890. Among 100 players who jumped
leagues, Ward hit .337 and stole 63 bases, with career-highs of 134 runs scored
and 12 triples, to lead Brooklyn into a surprising second-place finish. Defensively,
he shone as well with a league-leading 303 putouts and 450 assists.
The season appeared to be a success for the Players League, which outdrew the
National League and the American Association, and may have very well been the
start of something big had there been enough financial backing. It was for that
reason that the Players League folded after one year.
Ward and the other players returned to the National League in time for the 1891
season. Ward stayed put in Brooklyn, where the Bridgegrooms, formerly of the
American Association, desired his services after the city had fallen in love
After two years as player-manager with Brooklyn, Ward returned to finish out
his career with the Giants in the same capacity. The move across town rejuvenated
Ward as he batted .328 in 1893, with a career-high 193 hits, 129 runs scored
and 46 thefts on the base paths. Ward, who retired following the 1894 season
after leading the Giants to a Temple Cup victory, finished a 17-year career
with 2,105 hits, 1,408 runs scored, a .275 batting average and 540 stolen bases
(the last total excludes his first eight seasons).
His numbers as a manager may have been even
more impressive, if possible, winning 394 of his 701 decisions for a .562 career
Ward was not, in the least bit, lost after his playing days
were over. The intellectual had prepared ahead. While other players rested and
recovered in between seasons, Ward hit the books hard and earned two degrees
- one in law and one in political science - at Columbia University, graduating
with honors. With that, Ward became a full-time lawyer and opened his own practice.
Among his clients were baseball players, of course, who sought representation
in disputes with their teams. His most notable client was Amos Rusie, who sued
hated Giants owner Andrew Freedman and benefited by settling out of court.
Ward was indeed a winner. Everything he touched turned to gold. He couldn’t
do anything wrong, it seemed, even if he tried.?
As a matter of fact, Ward, who earlier served briefly as the president of the
Boston Braves and ran for N.L. President in 1909, was hired as a business manager
for the Federal League’s Brooklyn Tip-Tops in their financial fight against
Major League Baseball in 1915.
Ward?s talent and versatility even spread to
golf and journalism, as he founded and presided over the Long Island Golf Association,
and even wrote a few books and articles on baseball.
Ward was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964, almost 39 years after
Here are some other accomplishments by Ward:
- He was one of the few men in history, and just the second ever, with a
shutout in each of his first two major league starts (July 18th and 20th,
1878; each against Indianapolis)
- He introduced the intentional walk to baseball
- On August 9th, 1878, Ward earned two complete game victories (both wins
- Ward became the first pitcher ever to hit two homers in a game (on May
3rd, 1883 for N.Y.)
- He hit 10 career homers as a pitcher
- He had five games with five or more hits
- During the first game of a doubleheader on June 10th, 1892, Ward recorded
12 assists for Brooklyn (no second baseman has ever surpassed the mark)
Mike Attiyeh is a published baseball historian whose works have appeared
in such publications as Baseball Digest, Pirate Report, Society for American
Baseball Research, Birch Brook Press, and numerous web sites. Attiyeh, who has
appeared as an expert guest analyst on sports radio talk shows throughout the
United States, is best known nationally for breaking the story of Tony Gwynn?s
blood clot in 1997.
Posted: June 21, 2001 at 06:00 AM | 3 comment(s)
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