Yes, yes, I know that some people are celebrating today, 4-20, for another reason. But for me, the day means something different, the birthday of my MLB namesake, James “Steamer” Flanagan (1881-1947). Steamer had but 28 major league at bats, barely a cup of coffee or two in the bigs, but nonetheless a spot in the Baseball Almanac.
This year, I went digging through some old newspaper clippings to learn more about Steamer. The clippings are part of an online library created by Tom Tryniski, described in this article as “an eccentric retiree who has digitized (so far) about 27 million newspaper pages working alone in his living room.” Suddenly, my scanned collection of “Fastpitch Bulletins” and Bob Tomlinson’s Fastpitch Chronicle seems pretty small.
A few of the news clippings that I enjoyed:
From the Buffalo Courier, July 10, 1909
“Clever and hard-hitting outfielder [James Steamer Flanagan], who is now a Bison. His hitting has been a feature of the games he has played in since joining the Herd.”
From the Buffalo Courier, August 2, 1909:
“Report had it Saturday at the Buffalo Baseball Park that handsome Steamer Flanagan was to be married the early part of the week in New York. Steamer, when questioned, and didn’t deny the report. And Steamer has made quite a crush along peach basket row in the local stand since he came here.”
Peach basket row? That’s a new one for me. Anyone ever hear of that?
Another, published in 1949, shortly after Steamer’s death in 1947, quoting excerpts from a sports dinner looking back at Buffalo New York sports figures of the early 1900’s:
From the Buffalo Courier, October 4, 1949:
“Steamer Flanagan, a fabulous slugger, hit a ball off Christy Mathewson, the traveled so far that the County surveyor measured it. “And when Flanagan’s name was mentioned, the ball LEPT again”
Yes, I’m sure it did. Tall tales.
A bit more about Steamer:
After the Irishman attended the University of Notre Dame, he worked his way up to the bigs in 1905, Shown at right is Steamer’s 1905 tobacco-baseball card. which is, for obvious reasons, my favorite among all others. 7 hits in 28 major league at bats, including a double and a triple, for a respectable lifetime average of .280. He scored 7 runs for the 8 times he reached base, stealing 3 bases in as many attempts.
It was at the end of his minor league season in 1905 that the Pittsburgh Pirates bought Flanagan for $1,500. He was 25 when he made his debut with the Pirates on September 25, 1905, pinch hitting in the ninth against Factoryville legend and Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson.
He started in center field batting third ahead of Hall of Famer Honus Wagner in six of the Pirates last nine games. In his first start he was 3 for 5 with a triple and scored two runs. He finished 8 for 25, that’s a .320 average, scored seven runs and stole three bases.
Despite that showing and despite credible reports that Flanagan would be signed in 1906 by the New York Giants or the Phillies, he never played in the Major Leagues again.
Move over Moonlight Graham.
Happy Birthday Steamer.
Bio of Steamer, written by Jack Smiles at the SABR Website. (SABR is the ” Society for American Baseball Research”, founded, appropriately, in Cooperstown NY.)
Steamer’s bio, at Wikipedia
Born: April 20, 1881
Died: April 21, 1947 (aged 66)
Batted: Left Threw: Left
September 25, 1905 for the Pittsburgh Pirates
Last MLB appearance
October 7, 1905 for the Pittsburgh Pirates
Batting average .280
Home runs 0
Runs batted in 3
Pittsburgh Pirates (1905)
James Paul Flanagan (April 20, 1881 – April 21, 1947) was a Major League Baseball center fielder. He played for the Pittsburgh Pirates just at the end of the 1905 season (September 25-October 7). The 24-year-old rookie, who stood 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) and weighed 185 lbs., was a native of Kingston, Pennsylvania, and attended the University of Notre Dame.
Flanagan played well during his time with the Pirates. In seven games he hit .280 (7-for-25) with one double, one triple, three runs batted in, and seven runs scored. He also had three stolen bases. In the field he handled 19 chances flawlessly for a fielding percentage of 1.000.
Two of his famous teammates on the Pirates were future Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke.
Flanagan died at the age of 66 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.