Grave Story: Billy Barnie (1853-1900)

Here lies “Bald Billy” Barnie, a catcher/outfielder who went on to manage until the day he died. Literally. He played for the Hartford Dark Blues (1874), Keokuk Westerns (1875) and New York Mutuals (1875) of the National Assn. and the Baltimore Orioles (1883, 1886) of the American Assn. He also managed the Orioles (1883-91), Washington Senators (1892), Louisville Colonels (1893-4) and Brooklyn Bridegrooms (1897-8).

A New York native, Barnie started playing on local teams in 1870 before turning pro. He joined Hartford in 1874 and, as a rookie, led the league… in strikeouts (with 13). He also had a .184/.188./.226 slash line. The following season, he played in 10 games for the Keokuk (Iowa) Westerns, hitting .111. The Westerns folded after going 1-12 in their first 13 games, and Barnie signed on with the Mutuals as a backup to catcher/manager Nat Hicks. He had 5 hits in 34 at-bats for New York, bringing his 1875 batting average up to .129. Barnie would go on to insert himself into a few games when he was managing the Orioles and even had a .200 average in 17 games in 1883. All total, he hit .171 in 83 career games, with 55 hits, 23 RBIs and 32 runs scored.

Billy Barnie 2
Billy Barnie’s name on the Paterson Family grave marker, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Barnie finished his full-time playing career in independent leagues. While nursing a hand injury in 1877 while playing for Buffalo of the League Alliance in 1877, the 24-year-old was given his first change to manage a ballclub. He’d play a few seasons more, including the San Francisco Knickerbockers of the Pacific League, but his future in baseball would lie in managing.

Barnie was a part of The Baseball Convention of 1881, which gave rise to the American Association as a competitor to the National League. Earlier that year, he’d helped organize the Eastern Championship Association and ran the Brooklyn Atlantics team, so he was already familiar with getting a new league off the ground. He wanted a team of his own, but his financial backing was lacking. He and his partner A.J. Houck did get the Baltimore franchise in late 1882, and Barnie would spend the next 9 years as its manager.

The Orioles didn’t see that much success under Barnie’s tenure as part owner and manager, finishing as high as third just once. The Baltimore Sun said, “…his kind-hearted and easy-going ways causing players to impose on him and preventing him from making changes at times that would have been of benefit.” He was succeeded by Ned Hanlon who, in his quietly ruthless way, made the changes that needed to be made for the good of the team. The Orioles would go on to win the AA championship three times under Hanlon.

Barnie agreed to helm the NL’s Senators in 1892. That arrangement lasted just 2 games. It seems like there was a power struggle between Barnie and the new owner. The Boston Globe reported on January 7 that Washington’s shareholders put Barnie in charge of the club. Ten days later, though, it was reported that George Wagner had acquired 26 of the 29 shares, giving him absolute power. The Senators started the season with two losses, and Barnie, though he said he was given the change to manage for the whole season, was let go. No reason was given for his termination, he said.

Billy Barnie pic
Source: Cherryvale Republican, August 25, 1900.

Barnie spent the rest of his life bouncing between managerial assignments in the National League and independent leagues. His time in Louisville ended when the 1895 Colonels won just 35 games while losing 95. His final run in the National League with the Bridegrooms lasted until 1898, when he was fired by Brooklyn as one of Charles Ebbets’ first moves as the new owner. In 14 years as a pro manager, he went 470-548 for a .462 win %. He was credited with mentoring stars like King Kelly, Matt Kilroy and Mike Griffin. Ironically, Griffin would eventually be Barnie’s replacement as the Brooklyn manager, following Ebbets’ short-lived attempt at managing his own team.

Barnie kept managing in the Eastern League, first in Springfield and then, until his death, in Hartford. Though he was said to be the “picture of health” when he went to attend an Elks meeting in Atlantic City in early July 1900, he took ill. He returned to Hartford and died there on July 15 of pneumonia. He was 47 years old. Barnie is buried in the Paterson Family plot in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Oddly, it was the second time that an Elks meeting in Atlantic City proved to be disastrous to his health. Barnie, along with several others, was injured in a stage collapse at an Elks meeting in 1896. He had been entertaining the crowd by singing when the accident occurred. His obituary stated that he never fully recovered from his unspecified injuries.

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