Grave Story: Warren Fitzgerald (1868-1930)

Here lies Warren Fitzgerald, a bit of a mystery man who pitched for the Louisville Colonels in their last season in the American Association and their first in the National League (1891-2). The grave is unmarked but is roughly in the location of the baseball in the picture (in front of the tree in the middle of the picture).

Warren Bartholomew Fitzgerald was born sometime in 1868, somewhere in Pennsylvania. Maybe. That’s the best that Baseball Reference can come up with, at any rate, and census records support it. Retrosheet lists his birthdate as April 1972, while Baseball Almanac narrows it down to April 1, 1868 in Harrisburg. I can’t find any corroborating information on the date or location. His father is only identified as N. Fitzgerald, and by 1880, he was either dead or otherwise out of the picture. The 1880 census has Warren and his two siblings living in Joplin, Mo. with their mother, Candace.

By 1890, the 22-year old was pitching for Seattle of the Pacific Northwest League. He had come from a league in Nebraska, and he apparently left a good impression. A columnist for the Sporting Life penned an endorsement of his abilities (reprinted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer), stating “… it would not be a bad idea for the managers of the larger leagues, who are continuously seeking pitchers, to keep their eyes on Warren Fitzgerald, now playing in the Nebraska State League. He is an excellent pitcher and is possessed of a good strong frame and stout heart. Fitzgerald weighs 162 pounds and stands five feet nine inches. He had wonderful speed and uses his head to great advantage: nothing escapes him.”

It didn’t take long for Fitzgerald to extend his dominance to the West Coast. He had a 20-9 record for Seattle with a 1.68 ERA. He struck out 114 batters in 268 innings and acquitted himself pretty well with the bat as well, hitting a couple of home runs to go with a .250 average.

One of the teams in the larger leagues did come calling, and Fitzgerald joined the Louisville Colonels of the American Association for the 1891 season. The Colonels would go on to finish 8th in the AA, with a 54-83 record. They had a few fair hitters, including youngsters Patsy Donovan and Harry Taylor, and Louisville vet Chicken Wolf was still a steady player (and holder of one of the best baseball names – click on his name to read about his tragic fate). The Colonels lacked any kind of decent pitching. Fitzgerald wouldn’t join the team until June, almost two months into the season, but he still would lead the team in most pitching categories, including wins (14), ERA (3.34), innings pitched (267), complete games (28) and shutouts (3). His 3.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) as a pitcher was the best on the entire team and 8th in the AA.

Fitzgerald spent the offseason working in a theater in Leadville, Colo. The Courier-Journal reported that he worked in a playhouse before he went on a ball field and once thought of becoming an actor.

That offseason was a noteworthy one for the Colonels. The American Association folded after an 11-year run, and Louisville joined the National League, which expanded to 12 teams for 1892. The Colonels would ultimately finish 9th with a 63-89 record, and Fitzgerald appeared in a grand total of 4 games.

What happened to him? There isn’t a ton of information available, but a good clue that he was battling arm problems appeared in the April 21 issue of The Courier-Journal. The season was already a couple of weeks old when the paper reported that his arm is “rapidly getting in shape.” It’s true now, and it was true then: When a pitcher states during the season that his arm is getting better, then his arm is most likely not getting better. Fitzgerald ended with a 1-3 record and 4.24 ERA, allowing 45 hits in 34 innings, with 11 walks and just three strikeouts. His only win came in an 11-2 drubbing of the Baltimore Orioles on May 1. In his last game, he was pounded for 12 runs (4 earned, this being 1892) by the Washington Senators on June 8, with center fielder Dummy Hoy being the only Washington player to not get a hit. The Colonels released Fitzgerald and struggling outfielder Emmitt Seery on June 12. “Fitzgerald has pitched unsuccessfully of late, and says he has been troubled with a sore arm,” reported The Baltimore Sun.

For his career, Fitzgerald had a 15-20 record and 3.44 ERA. He appeared in 36 games, all except one as a starting pitcher, and threw 32 complete games. He struck out 113 batters.

It gets difficult to track Fitzgerald after he left baseball, due to the relative shortness of his career and the amount of Warren B. Fitzgeralds out there at the time. The lack of an exact birthdate or location doesn’t help matters much either. He married Addie Fitzgerald, who was about 12 years his junior. The 1920 census has them living in Jerome, Ariz. with their two children, Opal, 18, and Lincoln (also known as Lynn), 8. He was working as a copper miner at the time. The kids were both born in Utah, and there is a Warren B. Fitzgerald listed in city directories in Salt Lake City at the time. If it is the same person, he held a variety of jobs, including a mechanic and trucker. He was listed in the 1930 census as a watchman for a laundry in Arizona (area directories listed him as a janitor),

Warren Fitzgerald died on November 7, 1930 in Phoenix, Ariz. from bronchitis/asthma. He would have been about 62 at the time. He is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah in an unmarked grave.

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