Sunday, May 27, 2012

Former Major Leaguer Released and Blacklisted

If nothing else, William Henry "Josh" Reilly's 1897 season was an eventful one. He brought his brash personality and erratic play to at least three different Midwest cities during the summer, including a month long stop in Fargo to play second base for the Divorcees.

Reilly had appeared in nine games the previous season in the National League for the Chicago Colts (later the Cubs). It would be his only major league stint. He began the 1897 season with the Kansas City Blues of the Western League, but was released at the beginning of June after not playing up to Manager Jimmie Manning's expectations. In a June 12 Sporting News report on the Blues, Reilly was grouped with several other Kansas City players who were belittled as "a set of 'cattle drivers' who could not play ball as well as a ten-year-old 'kid' nine" (p.7).

By June 2nd, Reilly had signed with the Indianapolis Indians, also of the Western League. He was signed to fill a need that arose due to other players' injuries. After two weeks, Reilly, who had "showed while with Kansas City that he was not fast enough for (the) league," was released (July 19, 1897 TSN p.5). He likely then traveled to southern Minnesota to play with a team in the city of Kenyon that disbanded shortly after his arrival.

On June 30th, the Forum reported that Josh Reilly arrived in Fargo and would be given a tryout. Described as a great coach of players, Reilly made his debut for Fargo playing at second base on July 1st against the Barmaids and went 1 for 3. His strong character was evident in Fargo, and he even became an object of affection for some of Fargo's female fans. Over the next month, Josh would hit .307 for the team, but had a fielding percentage of just .882 (fielding had been a problem earlier in the season for Reilly). On August 3rd, after the RRVL had officially disbanded, Fargo was playing Moorhead as part of a revised schedule. The team's 4-2 loss in 16 innings to the Barmaids would be Reilly's last game with Fargo.

Angry at Manager George Challis for not advancing him a paycheck, Reilly responded with purposefully erratic play. According to the game summary from the Forum, he "carelessly muffed" an easy throw from a teammate in the first inning. In the second inning, Reilly moved non-nonchalantly toward a slow roller hit up the middle by former Fargo player Charles Jahnke. The last straw for Manager Challis was in the third inning, when Reilly half-heartedly handled a line drive, dropped it, and slowly pursued the ball, allowing Jack Page of the Barmaids to score. Challis took him out of the game and Reilly was released and blacklisted the same day.

The Fargo management should not have been surprised at Reilly's actions, however. They had played a part in helping Reilly come to Fargo despite a warrant for his arrest in southern Minnesota (likely from the town of Kenyon). Apparently, Reilly had been wanted for not paying a boarding bill while staying in the city (Forum Aug 3, 1897 p.4).

The Springfield Governors of the Interstate League picked up Josh Reilly for the remainder of the 1897 season. Interestingly, The Sporting Life reported on July 31st, while Reilly was still with Fargo, that Springfield "expected (him) to report this week..." (*p. 17). This raises the question of whether he intended to leave Fargo anyway around the time of his release. After all, the RRVL's future for 1897 was murky at best, with the league officially disbanding July 31st. Reilly may have simply been trying to squeeze some money out of Fargo's management before heading east for Illinois.

Before the 1898 season began, it was reported that Reilly wanted too much money from Springfield, and had begun playing baseball back home in California. In reality, Josh Reilly had burned many of his bridges in the Midwest. He would spend the next decade playing minor league baseball on the west coast, mainly for teams in his native San Francisco and in San Jose. 

(*There is some ambiguity concerning Josh's 1897 season. Box scores in late July that appeared in The Sporting Life indicated that a player with the last name of Reilly had been playing with Springfield while Josh was still playing for Fargo. There are also reports of a Reilly playing for Indianapolis after Josh was released June 19th. Neither of the accounts referred to the player's first name, however. Based on various newspaper reports, I believe that a different man with the last name of Reilly was playing for Indianapolis in July, and a different Reilly was playing for Springfield before Josh arrived there in early August.)

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