Ed Doheny: Tale of Tragedy

Before getting into the start of the 1903 World Series for the regular Sunday history article, I thought it was important to cover one aspect of it that really hindered the Pirates going into the series, and that was the absence of star pitcher Ed Doheny. Without him the Pirates were down to two pitchers they trusted to start the series, Deacon Phillippe and Sam Leever. Both of them were 31 years old at the time, in that day most pitchers weren’t effective after age 30, and both of them had plenty of work during the season. Leever pitched 284 innings, his highest total since 1899 and Phillippe led the team with 289 innings pitched.  

Doheny joined the Pirates in late July of 1901. He had played for the New York Giants his whole career up to that point, signing as a 21 year old free agent in September of 1895. He did not pitch well that year in his three late season starts but he showed potential and the Giants, as a 9th place team in a 12 team league could use all the help they could get.

In 1896 he pitched better but was still far from the star player he was in Pittsburgh and he was not a regular starter. He began to have discipline problems that cost him playing time and money from time to time but it was nothing compared to what the future would hold. Doheny had a good arm but was wild at times, his 4.9 BB/9 average in 1896 was the same ratio he finished his seven year Giants career with although he seemed to get his wildness on the mound under control at the same time the Giants decided to give up on him.

Doheny had a break out season in 1897, at least when he wasn’t serving another suspension. Doheny was actually the opening day starter for the Giants that year despite the fact they had future Hall of Famer,Amos Rusie. Amos had 198 wins in his first seven seasons including 4 straight years in which he won over 30 games. He also led the NL in strikeouts in five of his seven seasons. Rusie was so good the Reds traded a promising young pitcher named Christy Mathewson straight up for him. They also had Jouett Meekin, a future Pirates player for a very brief time in 1900, Meekin had won 26 games in 1896 and went 33-9 in 1894 so the fact Doheny started game one was a big deal at the time.

He started off the 1897 season slow but seemed to turn it around after beating the Pirates 11-5 on May 18th. However, by June 4th, despite winning his last start 5-3 over Louisville, Doheny did not pitch again that season. He had a 2.12 ERA in his 10 starts and he completed all ten games.

Things were smoothed over between the Giants and Ed the next year as he again got the opening day start. He unfortunately faced future Hall of Famer and 361 game winner Kid Nichols his first two starts and took the loss in each game. He had a 3.68 ERA which was decent for the era but in 27 starts he had 101 walks and a league leading 19 wild pitches which led to his 19 losses that season.

Doheny’s 1899 season was a pretty rough one for him and the Giants pitching staff . He pitched a career high 277 for the 10th place Giants. They had three pitchers who took the mound often and all three were very flawed. Cy Seymour led the league in walks for a third straight year. He was actually moved to the outfield where he played out his 16 year career which finished with a .303 batting average. They Giants also had Bill Carrick who led the league in hits and runs allowed. Then Doheny contributed league titles in hit batters and wild pitches making for quite a trifecta among the group.

It is surprising that Doheny not only made it all the way through the 1900 season with the Giants but they brought him back for one more year because he went 4-14 5.45 for them and he was as wild as ever walking 96 batters in 133 innings. He also had his string of three straight opening day starts broken that season.

In 1901 he started the year in the minors and went 0-4 and he barely did better when the Giants used him from late May through early July as he went 2-5 4.50 in 10 games. One of his losses was a 7-0 shutout by Jack Chesbro of the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 20th which makes the fact the Pirates picked him up a month later a bit of a surprise and a pleasant one at that. The one thing that stood out about his final stint with the Giants was his 17 walks in 74 innings, the first time in his career he displayed any control which makes the timing of his release very odd.

When he finally joined Pittsburgh, the 5″10 lefty had a 37-69 career record in 113 starts and 11 relief appearances. He had pitched for a poor team his whole career and joined a team in the middle of a pennant race so it is possible his new found control along with pitching for a team playing meaningful games helped Doheny. The Pirates had just a two game lead on August 7, 1901 when he made his first start for Pittsburgh and he won 9-3 over the Cardinals. Just 18 days later after beating the Reds, he had started his Pirates career 4-0. He would finish 6-2 and the Pirates would win their first NL pennant.

In 1902 the Pirates had likely their best team ever and the pitching staff was so good that even going 16-4 2.53 in 22 games that year, Doheny was considered the 5th best pitcher behind Chesbro, Jesse Tannehill, Leever and Phillippe. All four of them posted better ERA’s than Doheny and the team finished with a franchise record winning percentage of .741 with their 103-36 mark. The off-season saw the departure of Chesbro and Tannehill which left Doheny as the 3rd best pitcher and led to the extra work for Leever and Phillippe.

What happened to Doheny that year was hinted to in his past with bouts of poor behavior but I’m sure no one thought it would go as far as it did. He was still pitching well although mentally he was showing signs of problems. Doheny at this point was a heavy drinker, he was still able to pitch effectively as he went 16-8 3.19 in 25 starts but he began to have problems with his teammates and at one point in late August, after a 5-2 win in Cincinnati he just decided to leave the team and go home. He had been suspended earlier in the season and had also claimed that detectives were following him wherever he went.

In late September after not pitching for 2 weeks Doheny had a fight in the Pirates clubhouse with teammates and was sent home for treatment. The newspapers at the time had called him “insane” and “deranged” but little did they know at the time what was in store for Doheny. The Pirates still had hope Doheny would return next season as they played in the first ever World Series. Ed had a doctor who took great care of him and a full-time male nurse at his side but he showed no signs of getting better and finally snapped on October 10, 1903.

The Pirates had just lost game seven of the best of nine World Series and when word got to Doheny about the loss, he lost it mentally. He physically threw his doctor out the front door of his house and told him not to return ever. The next day he attacked his male nurse with a cast iron stove poker, beating him bloody and unconscious. Doheny’s wife, fearing for her life, ran to the neighbors for help. Doheny stood in his front doorway armed with the cast-iron weapon and threatened anyone who came near him for over and hour before finally being subdued by two policemen.

Doheny was declared insane by a judge and sent to an asylum, his baseball career was over at age 29 despite going 38-14 in just over two years with the Pirates. More importantly to his friends, teammates and family, his normal life was over. He lived 13 more years in that asylum but he was never the same person he was before leaving the Pirates for good. He did not recognize family and friends who visited him and he never showed any signs of getting better. He died in the asylum on December 29, 1916 at the age of 43.

John Dreker

Author: John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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  • Lee Young

    If only AA had been around then?