Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Joe Quinn The First Australian Major Leaguer

With the recent two-game series between the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. The Arizona Diamondbacks played at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground, I wanted to take a look at someone I came across from reading The Emerald Diamond: How The Irish Transformed America's Greatest Pastime by Charley Rosen. Rosen highlights that in the late 1890's, one of the most popular baseball players of the era was an Australian-born Irishman by the name of Joe Quinn. Quinn not only was the first Australian-born major leaguer, he was also the first Australian-born manager of a major league team.

Born on Christmas Eve, 1864 in Sydney, Australia Joe Quinn would make his debut for the St. Louis Maroons of the Union Association Baseball League in 1884. Quinn would bat .270 in his rookie season for the Maroons. Baseball politics of the era caused the rapid rise and falls of leagues and the Union Association (UA) was no different. Surviving for only one season, the UA's best team was the St. Louis Maroons that finished their initial season with a 94-19 record. Being the best of a dying league, the National League added the Maroons. In a sign of how weak the UA was, in 1885 the Maroons finished in dead last with a 36-72 with Quinn batting .21. He would play another season for the Maroons before being inactive for the 1887 season.

Quinn would return to professional baseball with the Boston Beaneaters in the National League for the 1888-1889 seasons before jumping ship to the Players League in 1890. Quinn was a tireless champion for players rights. According to the article Joe Quinn, the Australian baseball legend you’ve never heard of by Alex Brown of the Couriermail.com.au from March 21, 2014:
Nicknamed “Ol’ Reliable”, Quinn was a tireless campaigner for players’ rights during an era of rough-and-tumble industrial relations. Perhaps the best example of this was his role in a player rebellion against the draconian labour restrictions placed upon athletes by major league owners in 1890. He was a frontman, a mouthpiece, for the breakaway Players’ League and communicated their objectives to the press in defiance of the millionaire owners of National League ballclubs. The press respected him, the players loved him, the owners feared him.
The Players League came about due to the players bristling at the lack of freedom and options that they available to them due to the reserve clause. According to Scott Simkus author of Outsider Baseball: The Weird World of Hardball on the Fringe 1876-1950:
In order to curb escalating salaries, big-league owners formally adopted the first official version of the reserve clause in December 1879. During this era, all players signed one-year contracts, but under the new clause, teams were able to "reserve" the services of a certain number of players for the upcoming season, even after their contracts had expired. By 1885, the reserve clause was expanded to include everybody. players were forbidden from shopping their services to other clubs or leagues and therefore had almost zero leverage when negotiating compensation issues with their employers. About the only thing players could do, when dickering over contract details, was threaten to hold out. At the time, it was either shut up and sign the contract or hunker down in a nerve-racking one-man player strike.
In one season for the Boston franchise in the Players League, Quinn would bat .301 . Upon the demise of the Players League after their only season, Quinn would return to the National League Boston Beaneaters for two more season before being traded to the St. Louis Browns for the 1893 season. It was during this season, that Quinn was recognized by the Sporting News as being the most popular Baseball Player in America. Quinn would become the player/manager of the St. Louis Browns in 1895 leading the team to a 11-28 record. Quinn would play in St. Louis until part of the 1896 season when he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in the National League (not the same Baltimore Orioles franchise that exists today in the American League). 

Quinn would return to player/managing with the Cleveland Spiders in 1899. The team is arguably the worst professional baseball team to play for any league. The Spiders would finish the 1899 season with a 12-104  record (.103 winning percentage). Alex Brown sheds light on why this team was so bad in his article Joe Quinn, the Australian baseball legend you’ve never heard of by Alex Brown of the Couriermail.com.au:
Quinn had the dubious distinction of captain/coaching the Cleveland Spiders to a 12-104 season record - finishing a whopping 84 games out of first place. The 1899 Spiders, nicknamed “The Misfits” by the local press, are considered the worst team in major league history. But fault can hardly be levelled at Quinn. The team’s fate was effectively sealed when team owner Frank Robison sent all Cleveland’s best players to the St Louis Cardinals, who he also owned.
Quinn play for a handful of National League teams before jumping ship to a new rival of the National League: Ban Johnson's American League. Quinn would finish his playing career with the Washington Senators in 1901 with a .252 average. In seventeen seasons, Quinn would have a lifetime .262 batting with a slash line of .302/.328/.631. Quinn would score 893 with 1800 hits (228 2B/70 3B/30 HR) with 796 RBI, 268 stolen bases, 365 walks and 294 strikeouts. Quinn would also have a 23-132 record in (.148 winning percentage) two seasons as a manager.

Last year Quinn was inducted into the Australian Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Australian journalist and librarian Rochelle Llewelyn Nicholls will have a biography of Joe Quinn released later this year entitiled “Joe Quinn - Among The Rowdies”.

For Further Reading
- Click Here to access Joe Quinn's career statistics from Baseball Reference.com
- Click Here to read the article Australian Baseball: A Brief History by official MLB historian John Thorn dated March 3, 2014