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The Baseball Career of Cliff Carroll

CARROLL, ANSON, VON DER AHE

Posted By: John Stuekerjuergen (email)
Date: 10/29/2014 at 22:43:42

The Baseball Career of Cliff Carroll

Samuel Clifford “Cliff” Carroll was one of only two natives of northern Lee County, Iowa ever to play a Major League baseball game. He is one of the relatively few Iowans to have done so, and one of the most successful. Carroll was born at Clay’s Grove, just six miles northwest of West Point, on October 18, 1859. A book about professional baseball in Boston lists his birth year as 1861.

Carroll was a right-hander and batted both right and left. He was a left fielder during most of his career, but played some right field. He was described as quick, aggressive, and a smooth fielder. While not a big man at 5’8” and 163 lb, he often demonstrated that he could be very physical.

In a day when the long ball was relatively uncommon, Carroll often manufactured runs from virtually nothing. In an 1884 game against Chicago, for example, he led off the ninth inning with a bunt single. He stole second and took third on a ground out. Then, on a grounder to the shortstop, Carroll plowed into catcher Cap Anson and knocked the ball loose for an important run. An account of another game described a throw to home as “not in time to catch the fleet Cliff.”

Carroll made his professional debut with the celebrated Peoria Reds in 1878. The next two years, he played with the Athletics of San Francisco. Both were minor league teams.

Major League Debut

Carroll joined the Providence Grays of the National League in 1882. The league had just been formed six years earlier. Providence gave Boston a hard battle for the pennant over the next several years. Carroll’s all-around skills contributed greatly to Providence winning the equivalent of the World Series against the New York Metropolitans in 1884. His batting average that year was .261, and he had 54 RBIs. The Providence Journal praised his brilliant leaping catches, sometimes made with one hand, in the days before mitts.

During his second year with the Grays, Carroll had a serious incident involving a fan described as a “crank.” As noted in Sporting Life on July 1, 1883, fan James Murphy was drenched at the park by Carroll, who was wielding a garden hose. The enraged Murphy went home, got his gun, and returned to the park. When several players left the field after a workout, Murphy took aim at Carroll and fired. Instead of hitting Carroll, however, he shot Providence back-up shortstop Joe Mulvey in the shoulder.

In 1886 and 1887, Carroll played for the Washington Nationals. But in 1988 he seemed to lose interest in baseball, playing only five games. The next year, he left the diamond to operate his farm near Bloomington, Illinois. While there, he settled down and regained his former strength in fielding and batting.

Back from the Farm

By 1890, good players had become scarce due to the startup of the Brotherhood movement, baseball’s first union. Cap Anson of the Chicago Colts, and one of the greatest players of his era, lured Cliff “Farmer” Carroll back to baseball. The Colts were a predecessor of the Chicago Cubs. Carroll’s solid performance for the Colts surprised some in the baseball fraternity, who had thought his career over. He had a career-best batting average of .285 in 1890. He had the most at-bats in the National League at 582, the most singles at 137, and was tied for third in number of hits at 166. He scored 134 runs, second-highest in the league.

On July 25, 1891, an over-the-fence drive by Carroll capped a four-run rally in the bottom of the ninth to give the Colts a 15-14 victory over Cleveland. Although the ground rules at the park called for a home run on balls hit over all outfield fences, the winning run scored from second base. Therefore, Carroll got credit for only a double.

Bad-Luck Ball

When the American Association broke away from the National, Carroll was in demand. He joined the roster of the St. Louis Browns in 1892. On August 18, in the course of a 13-4 win over Baltimore, Carroll attempted to field a ground ball. He misjudged it, and the ball became lodged in his shirt pocket. Before he could extricate it, the Oriole batter made it to third base. St. Louis owner Chris Von der Ahe was so outraged he fined Carroll $50 and suspended him without pay for the rest of the season. Carroll appealed the fine and the suspension, but was denied. The incident soured Carroll on the Browns organization.

Following the ball-in-the pocket play, Von der Ahe ordered all pockets removed from his team’s uniforms. With very few exceptions, other Major League teams soon did the same. So an Iowa-born player was directly involved in the origin of today’s pocketless baseball jersey.

The chance to play in 1893 for the Boston Beaneaters, a predecessor of the Atlanta Braves, pleased the “reliable old player.” Carroll had turned 33 near the end of the prior year. He was the starting right fielder for the eventual pennant-winner. On June 14, 1893, he made a phenomenal catch to rob a St. Louis player of a home run. Later, in the bottom of the ninth inning, he knocked in two runs and scored the third and decisive run to propel Boston to an 11-10 win. Carroll played a solid 120 games for Boston that year, driving in 54 runners. However, his batting average of .224 was one of the lowest of his career.

In 1894, Carroll played a few games for Detroit and Grand Rapids, but then encountered health problems. He gradually faded into obscurity, and died in Portland, Oregon in 1923.


 

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