Martin Flaherty

This article was written by Mike Passey

Martin Flaherty was a major-league owner, player, and umpire during the 1880s – sort of. Mostly, he was a fan. For six innings in 1881, he played outfield as an emergency substitute for the Worcesters, a National League team he partly owned. The following season he umpired a single game: the Worcesters’ final nine innings as a professional franchise. The rest of his major-league experience took place in the stands rooting for his hometown team.

Martin John “Flip” Flaherty was born on September 24, 1853, in Worcester, Massachusetts. His parents, John and Mary (Welch) Flaherty, had fled the Great Famine in Ireland and settled in Worcester sometime before his birth. Like many of the city’s Irish immigrants, the Flahertys were parishioners of St. John’s Catholic Church, where Martin and his two younger siblings, Anna and James, were baptized. John worked at a local shoe factory to support the family.

Martin grew up near the Worcester Agricultural Fairgrounds, a busy 20-acre site that featured a half-mile horse track. In 1861 thousands of Union soldiers trained there, raising the possibility that Flaherty, then eight years old, might have spent time watching the soldiers drill and play games of “ball” like the one the Worcester Spy observed on October 3, 1861.1 The site later housed the Worcester Driving Park Grounds, where the Worcesters played home games from 1879 to 1882.

Little is known about Flaherty’s early life and education, but he was, from a young age, “a lover and a player of sports” and adept “at every sport except ping-pong,” according to the Providence News.2 During his late teens and early 20s, he developed into a well-rounded athlete, running track, rowing crew, and competing in six-day bicycle races.3 A left-handed batter and thrower, he also played baseball. In 1876 and 1877 he managed and played for the semipro Worcester Irvings – “a very creditable nine,” the New York Clipper opined.4 In 1878 he umpired amateur games while playing for the Mazeppa Club of Worcester.5 When not preoccupied with sports, Flaherty worked as a teamster, and then as a clerk, before settling into a job as proprietor of a sporting-goods store.6

In 1879 Flaherty helped bring professional baseball to Worcester. That year a group of local citizens formed the Worcester Base Ball Club – the Worcesters – to represent the city in the National Association. According to historian Charles Nutt, “Martin Flaherty was at the head of this organization.”7 To raise funds and sell tickets, the club sponsored a variety of events, including a “go-as-you-please” race in which Flaherty competed barefooted and finished second.8 The Worcesters went 26-31 during their inaugural season but nevertheless caught the National League’s attention, thanks largely to the outstanding pitching of J. Lee Richmond. When the team entered the NL on February 3, 1880, Flaherty and the club’s other shareholders became part-owners of a major-league team.9

On April 8, 1880, the Worcesters opened their first NL campaign at home with an exhibition game against Harvard University – and with Flaherty playing right field. The Worcesters were shorthanded because several players had been delayed during their return from the team’s offseason barnstorming tour of Louisiana.10 As a result, manager Frank Bancroft turned to Flaherty and other amateurs to fill out his roster. “The game was limited to five innings and rendered uninteresting by the cold, blustering weather,” according to the Clipper.11 Flaherty walked once and scored a run, and the Worcesters defeated Harvard, 9-5, in front of nearly 2,000 spectators (including more than a few rowdies).12

Flaherty’s only regular-season major-league appearance came the following year, a month before his 28th birthday. On August 18, 1881, during the fourth inning of a game against the visiting Providence Grays, Worcester’s shortstop, Arthur Irwin, broke his right ankle while sliding into second base. With no substitutes on the bench because of injuries, the team looked into the stands for help. And there, despite a heavy mist, sat Martin Flaherty.

Flaherty suited up and reported to left field, where he struggled. “The Worcesters now had no outfield worth mentioning, and many balls were lost that ought to have been caught,” the Worcester Evening Gazette reported.13 Other witnesses agreed. “[T]hree of the hits with the usual outfield would have been out, and not a run would have scored,” the Spy grumbled about the Grays’ four-run seventh inning.14 At some point during the game, Flaherty switched positions with center fielder Pete Hotaling, but the change made little difference. Providence, which had been losing 7-0 when Flaherty entered the game, tied the score, 8-8, in the ninth.

Flaherty fared no better at the plate. He struck out twice in two at bats, both times against future Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward. When he struck out to end the ninth inning, with a runner on base and Hotaling, one of the team’s top hitters, on deck, the game was called on account of rain and ended in an 8-8 tie. The Evening Gazette complained that it was “perhaps the dampest, slowest, most unsatisfactory game” ever played at the Fairgrounds.15 The paper singled out Flaherty for criticism: “He is hardly a strong enough player for a League game.”16

Flaherty continued to play amateur baseball despite his major-league debacle. In July 1882 he helped lead the Worcester Amateurs to a 17-16 victory over the Cherry Valleys in an exhibition game in Worcester. Playing in front of 300 spectators, Flaherty hit two singles, scored three runs, and committed no errors in the outfield. He and his teammates split a $100 purse.17

In September 1882 Flaherty received a second shot at the big leagues, this time as an umpire. The Worcesters asked him to officiate their last game of the season, probably because no one else wanted the job. On September 29, with just 18 people in the stands, Flaherty called balls and strikes in what ended up being the Worcesters’ last gasp as a professional franchise.18 The team committed nearly a dozen errors, gave up eight unearned runs, and lost to the visiting (and equally struggling) Troy Trojans, 10-7. Poor home-field attendance, shaky fielding, a high-scoring loss: It was a microcosm of the Worcesters’ entire season. To no one’s surprise, the team folded on December 6, 1882, and its players moved on.

Flaherty moved on, too. In 1884 he married an 18-year-old woman named Elizabeth Taylor and four years later relocated to Providence, Rhode Island. (The couple appears to have had no children.) During the next three decades, Flaherty focused his athletic pursuits on hunting and fishing, and he published an annual handbook on thoroughbreds – reflecting, perhaps, lessons he learned years earlier watching horse races at the Fairgrounds. He also developed his command of sports trivia. “He had all kinds of dates and data in connection with sports always on his fingertips,” the Providence News recalled. “If there was a bet to be settled or a dispute, he was always resorted to, because he always knew.”19 It probably helped that he also was a bookie.20

On June 10, 1920, Flaherty died at his home on Bridgham Street in Providence. He was 66 years old. The Providence News called Flaherty the “dean of all Rhode Island” sportsmen and reported that his death had caused “genuine grief” for the “thousands and thousands” of people in Rhode Island and central Massachusetts who knew and admired him.21 His funeral was held at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul on June 12, and he was interred next to his wife – who had predeceased him in 1909 – at St. Ann cemetery in Cranston, Rhode Island.

 

Sources

Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census. Online database. Provo, Utah: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2004.

1910 United States Federal Census. Online database. Provo, Utah: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2004.

Massachusetts, Birth Records, 1840-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, Utah: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, Utah: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, Utah: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

“Base Ball,” Worcester Spy, March 1, 1879.

“Base Ball: Annual Meeting of the League – Troy and Worcester Withdraw,” Providence Morning Star, December 7, 1882.

“Base Ball: The Latest Developments in the League Row,” Worcester Evening Gazette, September 30, 1882.

“Baseball Notes,” New York Clipper, June 22, 1878.

“The Ball Field,” Worcester Spy, August 19, 1881.

“The Ball Field,” Worcester Spy, July 20, 1882.

“Baseball Games,” New York Tribune, September 30, 1882.

“Broke His Leg,” New York Clipper, August 27, 1881.

“City and County,” Worcester Spy, October 3, 1861.

“A Damp Ball Game,” Worcester Evening Gazette, August 19, 1881.

“Funerals: Martin J. Flaherty,” Providence News, June 12, 1920.

Goslow, Charles Brian. “Fairground Days: When Worcester was a National League City (1880-82),” Historical Journal of Massachusetts vol. 19, no. 2 (Summer 1991): 133-154.

“The Last Game,” Worcester Spy, September 30, 1882.

Lee, Bill. The Baseball Necrology: The Post-Baseball Lives and Deaths of More than 7,600 Major League Players and Others (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2003).

“Manchester vs. Worcester,” New York Clipper, August 24, 1878.

“Martin J. Flaherty, A Square Sport, Answers Last Call,” Providence News, June 11, 1920.

“New Association,” New York Clipper, March 30, 1878.

“New Bedford vs. Westboro,” New York Clipper, August 10, 1878.

Nutt, Charles. History of Worcester and Its People, vol. 1 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1919): 306.

History of Worcester and Its People, vol. 2 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1919): 1119-1124.

“Pedestrianism: The Fifteen-Mile Race – Henry S. Hall the Winner, M.J. Flaherty Second,” Worcester Spy, April 10, 1879.

“Providence and Worcester Play a Tie Game in the Rain: Richmond Playing Again for Worcester – Irwin Breaks a Leg,” Providence Morning Star, August 19, 1881.

“Rhode Island vs. Irving,” New York Clipper, September 1, 1877.

Rice, Franklin P. “Base Ball.” Dictionary of Worcester (Massachusetts) and Its Vicinity (Worcester, Massachusetts: F.S. Blanchard & Co., 1889): 9-10.

“Troy vs. Worcester,” New York Clipper, October 7, 1882.

“Troy wins the final game from Worcester,” Providence Morning Star, September 30 1882.

“UNA vs. Mystic,” New York Clipper, August 17, 1878.

“Westboro vs. Worcester,” New York Clipper, August 17, 1878

“Worcester vs. Harvard,” New York Clipper, April 17, 1880.

“Worcester vs. Holyoke,” New York Clipper, August 17, 1878.

“Worcester vs. Lowell,” New York Clipper, August 24, 1878.

“Worcester vs. Rochester,” New York Clipper, August 23, 1879.

“The Worcesters Admitted to the League,” Worcester Evening Gazette, February 4, 1880.

 

Notes

1 “City and County,” Worcester Spy, October 3, 1861.

2 “Martin J. Flaherty, A Square Sport, Answers Last Call,” Providence News, June 11, 1920.

3 Ibid.

4 Charles Nutt, History of Worcester and Its People, vol. 2 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1919), 1120; “Baseball Notes,” New York Clipper, June 22, 1878; “New Association,” New York Clipper, March 30, 1878; “Rhode Island vs. Irving,” New York Clipper, September 1, 1877.

5 “Baseball Notes,” New York Clipper, June 22, 1878; “Manchester vs. Worcester,” New York Clipper, August 24, 1878; “Worcester vs. Lowell,” New York Clipper, August 24, 1878; “Worcester vs. Holyoke,” New York Clipper, August 17, 1878; “Westboro vs. Worcester,” New York Clipper, August 17, 1878; “UNA vs. Mystic,” New York Clipper, August 17, 1878; “New Bedford vs. Westboro,” New York Clipper, August 10, 1878.

6 Charles Nutt, History of Worcester and Its People, vol. 1 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1919), 306.

7 Ibid.

8 “Pedestrianism: The Fifteen-Mile Race – Henry S. Hall the Winner, M. J. Flaherty Second,” Worcester Spy, April 10, 1879.

9 “The Worcesters Admitted to the League,” Worcester Evening Gazette, February 4, 1880; “Martin J. Flaherty, A Square Sport, Answers Last Call,” Providence News, June 11, 1920.

10 “Worcester vs. Harvard,” New York Clipper, April 17, 1880; “Later Baseball Notes,” New York Clipper, 3 April 1880; “Baseball in New Orleans,” New York Clipper, 6 March 1880.

11 Ibid.

12 Charles Brian Goslow, “Fairground Days: When Worcester was a National League City (1880-82),” Historical Journal of Massachusetts vol. 19, no. 2 (Summer 1991): 136.

13 “A Damp Ball Game,” Worcester Evening Gazette, August 19, 1881.

14 “The Ball Field,” Worcester Spy, August 19, 1881.

15 “A Damp Ball Game,” Worcester Evening Gazette, August 19, 1881.

16 Ibid.

17 “The Ball Field,” Worcester Spy, July 20, 1882.

18 “Base Ball: The Latest Developments in the League Row,” Worcester Evening Gazette, September 30, 1882; “Troy vs. Worcester,” New York Clipper, October 7, 1882.

19 “Martin J. Flaherty, A Square Sport, Answers Last Call,” Providence News, June 11, 1920.

20 Bill Lee, The Baseball Necrology: The Post-Baseball Lives and Deaths of More than 7,600 Major League Players and Others (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2003), 131.

21 Ibid.