Pete Daniels

This article was written by Chris Rainey

Thousands of baseball players have been labeled with a nickname. Some depicted the player’s size like “Rabbit” or “Jumbo”. Others were based on where they came from: “The Hoosier Thunderbolt”, “Vinegar Bend”, “Dominican Dandy”. Some became iconic like “The Babe”, “Joltin’ Joe”, “Hammerin’ Hank”. Some nicknames were so obvious that a player could not help being labeled; for instance “No Neck” Williams or “Spaceman” Bill Lee.1 Pete Daniels, known affectionately as “Smiling Pete” falls into the latter category. All it took was an affable personality and a beautiful set of teeth. The Minneapolis Journal put it best “…that aggravating smile of his…it is a genial one, but very tantalizing to the losing side.”2

Peter J. Daniels was born in Ireland on April 8, 1864. A few years later his parents, Edward and Mary, left Ireland for the United States and first settled in Virginia. Like so many Irishman before him, Edward found work as a railroad laborer. In 1870 the family lived near Moundsville, West Virginia but soon moved from there to Louisville, Kentucky. Edward became a stonecutter and raised the six children in Kentucky. Pete had minimal schooling and by 1880 he was working as a laborer; later he learned the stone cutter’s trade from his father.

Louisville supported numerous semi-pro and amateur baseball teams and in 1882 the American Association placed a franchise in the city. Anchored initially by Pete Browning and Guy Hecker, the city would be represented by a major league squad until 1900. Daniels took advantage of all the ballplaying opportunities and rose through the ranks of the semipro teams as a pitcher and outfielder. In 1887 he was signed and joined St. Joseph in the Western League. He began the exhibition season as a first baseman, but was playing outfield when the regular season began. Despite being left-handed he occasionally played the middle infield. He finally took the pitcher’s box on July 9. He found pitching much tougher in the Western League than on the Louisville sandlots dropping games by scores of 18-3, 19-6, and 17-6. The franchise disbanded in early August and Daniels was added to the Wichita Eagles roster. His first appearance was at third base on August 8 in a 46-7 shellacking by Lincoln. He was starting pitcher versus Lincoln the next day and held them to 24 runs. He split his time between pitching, outfield, and second base until the franchise disbanded. Newspaper reports suggested that he was picked up by Kansas City, but he never appeared with the team. For the season he made 16 pitching appearances and gave up 156 runs in 124 innings. He hit well driving out 22 extra base hits, including three triples in an April win over Kansas City. He ended the year with a .285 average.

Daniels was recruited by the Louisville Colonels and saw action in exhibition games in April, 1888. He shutout a local semi-pro team on April 3 and then beat Milwaukee 9-4 giving up 9 hits. The Louisville team had Toad Ramsey, Guy Hecker, Icebox Chamberlain coming back from the year before with 73 wins and 1155 innings. Management must have sensed that overwork was an issue because they also brought in Scott Stratton and John Ewing, Buck’s brother. The big three had a horrible year and Stratton and Ewing were used extensively. Daniels waited in the wings hoping for a chance to pitch, but never did. Finally he was released in late June and signed with the Danville Browns in the Central Interstate League. His first appearance was June 30 when he beat Lafayette 5-2. The franchise folded the next week and Daniels returned to semi-pro ball in Louisville.

The Dallas Tigers in the Texas League beckoned in 1889 and Daniels went south to play for Doug Crothers. The pair formed the backbone of the pitching staff. With 17 games of professional experience (not counting exhibitions) the stocky3 southpaw was in for a season of extensive work. He would bat either second or fifth in the lineup and occasionally saw action in the field because of a limited roster. Early in the season when third baseman Jack Barry was going poorly, Daniels went to the hot corner. He blasted a triple and four singles, but also made seven errors. Crothers finally sent him to pitch and he hurled five scoreless innings in a 15-15 tie. That was one of 41 pitching appearances that earned him a 20-20 record for a team that finished out of the race. He had a tendency to be wild early in the game before settling down and let opposing batters put the ball in play. He eventually overcame the early inning jitters, but always relied on his fielders to back him up. His five hit day was an anomaly; he ended the season hitting .208 in 53 games.

After a fifth-place finish in 1889, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys cleaned house. Guy Hecker was brought in from Louisville to be the new player-manager and he brought Daniels with him. The team played exhibition games in early April and Daniels performed nicely. He earned the opening day start against Cleveland. Sporting Life reported that “young Daniels pitched like a verteran” in the 3-2 victory on April 19.4 His next three starts saw him pounded for eight, nine and ten runs respectively and he took losses in the last two. The Alleghenys went on to post a dismal .169 win percentage and finished 66.5 games behind Brooklyn. Daniels was released in mid-May “because of the way he talked about Manager Hecker.”5 He hooked on with the Washington Senators in the Atlantic League making his first appearance on May 30. He compiled a 6-10 record before the team stopped play.6 Many of the players were recruited for the New York-Pennsylvania League and Daniels joined Olean. He lost to Jamestown on September 2, but beat Bradford on the fifth. The season ended soon after. Daniels went back to the family home and spent the next months hunting and fishing. He made his biggest catch in January when he eloped with Minnie Sweeny, the Louisville miss he had been courting. They slipped across the Ohio River and were wed by a judge in Seymour, Indiana.7 The surprise nuptials circumvented Sweeny’s parents, but it was reported they later “forgave the young people.”8

1891 found Daniels with the Quincy Ravens in the Illinois-Iowa League. Now in his fifth season and a family bread-winner he came into his prime. His fastball was not overpowering, but when paired with a tantalizing slow-curve that “stopped to nod to an acquaintance on the way to the batter and looked as big as a prize pumpkin”9, he was able to keep batters off balance. He also developed his gamesmanship and took to grinning at the opposition, earning the nickname “Smiling Pete”. The Ravens had a strong array of talent including five pitchers who would see action in the majors. They took the lead early in the season and never relinquished the top spot. Daniels played outfield on occasion and posted a .194 average in 66 games. On the hill he was 29-20 in 44 games with a sparkling 0.79 ERA, courtesy of 102 unearned runs.

Daniels moved up to the Southern Association the next two seasons with the Class B Mobile Blackbirds. He became the ace of the staff and even earned the nickname “The Czar” from Sporting Life.10 The Blackbirds finished off the pace in both halves of the season, but Daniels was 24-12 in 46 games with six shutouts. The shutout total is significant because the final statistics from the league showed only 25 shutouts for the entire season. He also played some outfield and finished the season batting .217.

As the season wound down a Mobile businessman named John E. Hooper made plans for a trip to Cuba with an all-star team. Dubbed the All-Americans the squad was mainly players from the Southern Association including its star pitcher, Daniels. Daniels tossed a shutout in the first game on November 27 and a 10-3 win in the third game. The team stayed for five or six weeks because the Cuban teams only played on Sundays.11 Daniels returned to the Blackbirds the next season but was not as dominant, posting an 18-16 record and batting .182. The season ended early with the owners squabbling and finances in disarray.

Daniels joined Kansas City in the Western League for 1894. He reported to camp in poor shape, but an injury to his moundmate George Darby forced Daniels to carry the load of work for six weeks. He rose to the challenge “winning during that time 24 out of 28 games.”12 Even when not pitching he contributed with ninth inning pinch hits that won games twice. The Kansas City Star and Kansas City Times dropped the nickname “Smiling Pete” and called him “Lucky” instead. One area where Daniels did not have any luck was playing the outfield. In 12 chances he made 4 errors; in future seasons he seldom took a position besides pitcher. His exploits reached mythical levels with one east coast paper declaring he “won 40 out of 48 games.”13 In actuality he was 37-14 for a team that went 68-59 and finished third. He tossed 444 innings with an ERA of 3.53. His .265 batting average looks impressive, but pales compared to the 87 league players who hit over .300. The Sporting Life reported interest from Pittsburgh and Boston, but no contract was ever offered

Manager James Manning was excited about the 1895 season. He had Daniels returning along with a young Joe McGinnity who pitched 20 games in 1894, George Darby, and an addition from Boston, George Stultz. He thought his pitching staff was tops of the league. Daniels was also excited for the new season. He and Minnie were the first to arrive and took a home near the ballpark. He announced “I am feeling as fine as silk…I weigh six pounds less than at the end of the season and was never in better condition.”14 Manning’s enthusiasm was short lived. McGinnity returned home to tend bar, Darby was unable to play, and Stultz was ineffective. Daniels tried his best, but when Minnie was stricken with an illness and returned to Louisville in June he lost his swagger and smile. Minnie passed away on August 3. His grief was obvious as a pout replaced the smile and he no longer engaged the crowd. Nevertheless he recorded a 20-17 record in 331 innings. When the season ended he did a little barnstorming before heading west to the California Winter League with San Jose.

Daniels returned to the Blues in 1896. He struggled until finally in June he put together a three-game winning streak. But that bubble burst when he was manhandled by St. Paul by a 34-21 score on June 21. His next start saw him surrender six doubles, a triple, and two homers while hitting three batters. After a 14-6 loss on June 30 he was released. Three weeks later he joined the Columbus Buckeyes. They tried him in the outfield in a couple of games, but abandoned the idea after he made errors in each game. He joined the rotation on July 22 and made 16 starts for the seventh place team. For the season he posted a 14-18 record and Columbus signed him for the following season.15

League owners decided to cut contracts over the winter. Daniels reluctantly signed the initial offer from Tom Loftus. Daniel’s 1897season got started in a rocky fashion when he allowed nine hits to an amateur team in six innings. Then he surrendered six first inning runs to Cincinnati. Fans feared that he had lost his passion and mastery. Nevertheless, Daniels was given the honor of pitching the home opener before 4000 fans. He was in fine form, beating Detroit 7-3. Daniels became the staff workhorse, appearing in six of the first ten games. The performances were not always pretty, he beat Grand Rapids 11-10, but he had rekindled that competitive fire lost since his wife’s death. Manager Tom Loftus had assembled a pitching staff of castoffs- Daniels, Bumpus Jones, George Rettger, and Harry Keener- but they performed admirably and had the team in first place with a 36-15 record on June 25. Daniels was 12-2 at that point with 22 appearances, his only losses coming in games where the opponents were aided by five Columbus errors.

On the verge of a season like he had in 1894, Daniels and Loftus got into a salary dispute. Daniels asked for a raise based upon his performance. Loftus offered an olive branch of a raise depending upon how the season played out. Loftus then left town on business and Daniels “had a high jinks of a time, dallying with the cup that cheers.”16 Daniels made a final start, a loss to Grand Rapids where he was yanked in the third inning, then packed his bags and headed to Louisville. Columbus went into a losing streak and fell out of the lead. Loftus took a hardline stance and the issue was never resolved. There were suggestions that Louisville was tampering with Daniels, but nothing came of them. In mid-July it appeared that the two sides had reached an agreement, but Daniels did not return.17 Feelings were mixed around the country; some newspapers sided with Daniels. The Kansas City Journal offered “ a magnate who breaks faith with his players should not expect his players to keep faith with him.”18 In early October newspapers around the country reported that St. Louis had purchased Jack Crooks, Frank Genins and Daniels. In November, it was reported that St. Louis actually traded Bill Hallman and pitcher Percy Coleman for Crooks and Daniels.19 Whatever the case, Daniels was free of Loftus and back in the major leagues.

The St. Louis Browns lost 102 games in 1897;Daniels was just one of a myriad of roster changes for 1898. At age 34 he was the elder statesman on the pitching staff. He pitched well in exhibition play and started the season in the bullpen. He picked up his only win by toiling three scoreless innings against Cincinnati on May 9. That performance earned him five starts all of which he lost. The Browns released him in June. Omaha of the Western League picked him up and he started on July 4, but lost 9-1 to Kansas City. He was released shortly after that.

Daniels had learned the marble cutting trade growing up in Louisville, but he still had a thirst for baseball. He would hang on for another four seasons pitching in the Midwest. In 1899 he played with Rockford in the Western Association. The following season he was back in Columbus with the Interstate League franchise. That team was moved to Anderson, Indiana in late August and Daniels was released and joined the Marion, Indiana team in the same league. He hooked on with the Ft. Wayne Railroaders in the Western Association for 1901and pitched in 35 games. Even a headline like “Made 9 runs off ancient Pete Daniels.”20 did not persuade him to give up the game he loved. He joined the Decatur Commodores in 1902 and hurled 26 games before retiring. In his final season he was 12-13 and hit .247 according to The Reach Guide. Although wins totals are missing for some teams it is certain that Daniels posted over 200 wins in the minor leagues in a 16-year career.

After he hung up his spikes, Daniels returned to Louisville and lived in the family home. There are no indications that he ever remarried. After his mother passed away he moved to Indianapolis and lived with his youngest brother James, his only surviving sibling. He died at home on February 13, 1928. Following a funeral mass he was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Indianapolis.

 

Sources

Atlanta Constitution

Boston Herald

Bradford Era (Bradford, Pennsylvania)

Daily Herald (Delphos, Ohio)

Denver Post

Denver Rocky Mountain News

Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette

Ft. Wayne News

Indianapolis News

Inter Ocean ( Chicago, Illinois)

Kansas City Times

Logansport Chronicle (Logansport, Indiana)

Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska)

Olean Democrat (Olean, New York)

Omaha World Herald

St. Paul Globe

 

 

Notes

1 Inspired by Don Zminda’s work “From Abba Dabba to Zorro: The World of Baseball Nicknames.”

2 Minneapolis Journal, May 27, 1897. 4

3 The Dallas Morning News listed him as 5’ 8.5” and 160 pounds. The previous season the Louisville Courier Journal had him as 5’9” and 190 pounds. Late in his career he must have put on weight as he was called portly or round. This is consistent with a life style that included drinking bouts.

4 Sporting Life, April 26, 1890. 2

5 Sporting Life, May 24, 1890.5

6 A note in the August 30 Sporting Life mentions “Daniels of Pittsburgh and Washing ton” joining Olean. Baseball-Reference currently lists the Daniels in Washington as veteran Charles Daniels.

7 Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), January 23, 1891. 5

8 Daily News (Goshen, Indiana) February 16, 1891. 2

9 Morning Star (Rockford, Illinois), August 22, 1891.5 The curve ball was also described as “ a camel’s hump”.

10 Sporting Life, October 1, 1892. 10

11 Sporting Life from the October 1 issue through the first issue of 1893.

12 Sporting Life, October 6, 1894. 5

13 Boston Herald, October 19, 1894. 23

14 The Sporting News, April 6, 1895. 1

15 Record is compiled from boxscores in The Sporting News.

16 The Sporting Life, July 10, 1897. 15

17 The Sporting Life, July 17, 1897. 15

18 Kansas City Journal, July 10, 1897. 5

19 Cincinnati Enquirer, November 8, 1897. 6 Also reported in The Sporting Life

20 Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), September 14, 1901. 3