Grave Story: Ren Deagle (1858-1936)

Here lies Ren Deagle, who was usually the second-best pitcher on his team during his short career. That wouldn’t have been so bad except he pitched in the 1880s, when the one-man pitching rotation was still in use. Deagle pitched in the old American Association for two years, playing for the Cincinnati Red Stockings (1883-84) and Louisville Eclipse (1884).

Lorenzo Burroughs Deagle was born on June 26, 1858 in New York City. His father, Lorenzo Sr., was born in New York, and his mother Elizabeth was from England. The Deagles seemed to have moved around quite a bit, as they had three children born in New York, one born in St. Louis and one in Indiana.

Lorenzo Sr. is listed in the 1870 census as a retail sugar dealer, but back in New York in 1855 he was one of the proprietors of a saloon called Stanwix Hall in New York City. Why is that significant? That’s where the infamous gang leader Bill “The Butcher” Poole (think “Gangs of New York”) was shot on February 25. Poole died from his wounds on March 8. Deagle gave a deposition of the chaotic events in his bar, which involved multiple confrontations between Poole and his political rival, John Morrissey. Perhaps his unwilling involvement in such a sensational murder inspired Deagle to move his family out of New York.

By 1870 at the latest, the Deagles and their five children (and one domestic servant) had moved to Cincinnati. While it’s hard to say how it affected his life’s ambitions, Lorenzo Jr. would have lived in Cincinnati right at the time the professional Cincinnati Red Stockings were traveling the country and beating (almost) all comers.

Deagle attended the Chickering Classical and Scientific Institute in Cincinnati in 1869. The family avoided a near tragedy on Christmas Eve in 1871. According to news reports, “Charles Tallman, assistant pressman at the Methodist Book Concern, was in Lorenzo Deagle’s “all night” drinking saloon, where he got into a quarrel with customers. Deagle kindly started to lead him home. Arriving at the [Cincinnati] Enquirer office, Tallman drew a pistol and shot Deagle in the left breast, the ball passing above his heart. Deagle will die. Tallman is under arrest.” Obviously, Deagle recovered from his life-threatening wounds, as he is found in the 1880 census as a liquor merchant. Consider the poor man’s luck, though. He left New York after witnessing one murder only to find himself nearly murdered in the supposedly safer confines of Cincinnati.

As early as 1878, there is a “Deagle” playing in the outfield for local Cincinnati baseball teams. Deagle is listed in the 1880 census as a printer, but he was also playing right field for a team called the Buckeyes. He made several fine catches and hit a single in a game against the Louisville Reds on August 22, 1880. In November 1882, it was announced that the Cincinnati Club (the Red Stockings) signed Deagle, who had been pitching for a team called the Centers. “He has been a member of local nines for several seasons and is probably the best amateur player in the city,” stated news reports. “He promises to be very strong as a pitcher, having terrific speed, which, with due cultivation, will make him a terror to opposing teams. He is a good hitter, a most capable fielder, and will make a first-class substitute.”

The 1883 Cincinnati Red Stockings were the defending American Association champions. The ’82 Reds had a particularly dominant pitching staff anchored by Will White and Harry McCormick, who each had ERAs in the 1.50 range. Both of those pitchers were back in 1883, although they weren’t as effective as they had been the previous year. Still, there wasn’t much work available for Deagle. According to the book The Local Boys: Hometown Players for the Cincinnati Reds by Joe Heffron and Jack Heffron, Deagle spent much of the season in Cincinnati, pitching for a local team called the Shamrocks. When the Red Stockings needed him, they would send him a telegram, and he’d hop a train to join the Reds wherever they were.

Ren Deagle

Deagle ended up pitching more innings for the Reds in 1883 than McCormick, who was at the end of his career (and nearly the end of his life, but that’s another story). Deagle started 18 games and had a 10-8 record and 2.31 ERA, while McCormick played in 15 games and went 8-6 with a 2.87 ERA. Deagle completed 17 of his 18 starts and threw one shutout. He struck out 48 batters while walking 34 and had a WHIP of 1.149 and an ERA+ of 142.

Neither pitcher, though, could match Will White, brother of Hall of Famer Deacon White. He won 43 games for the Reds while throwing 577 innings. That 1883 campaign was his last other-worldly season, as years of a heavy workload eventually took their toll on his left arm.

The Reds’ vaunted pitching staff fell apart in 1884. McCormick was no longer on the team, and White won 34 games but turned into a league-average pitcher. The team couldn’t find an ace to fill the void. Deagle made just 4 starts. He won 3 games, but he had a 5.03 ERA. That high ERA looks pretty misleading once you start combing through the box scores – not always an easy feat from 1884 ballgames. Deagle primarily pitched in exhibition games with a group of Cincinnati reserves, and he generally did pretty well. The reserves narrowly lost to the Louisville Eclipse 2-1 in an exhibition game. Deagle struck out the great Pete Browning three times.

Of his 4 regular season games for the Reds, I found three box scores. On May 24, He defeated Toledo 11-2. He struck out 8 batters in a 6-5 win over Washington on May 30. I’m missing one other win. According to Baseball Reference, Deagle threw a shutout in 1884, but the only shutouts the Reds won were pitched by White. The one loss, though, was easy to find, because it was the Reds’ worst defeat of the season. The team was destroyed by the New York Metropolitans 19-2. Deagle went the distance and didn’t strike out a single batter, and he threw 6 wild pitches. The box score indicates that just 4 of the 19 runs were earned, and one description of the game said Cincinnati committed 16 errors. Deagle was “hit all over the field by the ‘Mets,’” according to reports, so he couldn’t blame the beating all on shoddy defense. Even in 1884, when pitchers were expected to finish what they started, it wasn’t uncommon for a pitcher to get yanked out of a bad outing and moved into the outfield for the rest of the game. What kind of manager lets a pitcher get clobbered that badly without taking him out? Will White, that’s who. He ran the Reds for the first 71 games before being replaced by Pop Snyder.

Deagle was released by Cincinnati a couple weeks after that pounding, and Louisville quickly signed him. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that the pitcher had been cut by the Reds “because he could not get along with that little saint, Will White. He is a good, faithful ball-player and will be a strong acquisition.”

That comment puts a different spin on the 19-2 loss. Did White let Deagle get slaughtered because of some issue between the two? It’s a remarkably petty thing to do, if it’s true, especially since White himself was a pitcher.

Deagle didn’t fare that much better in Louisville. He won 4 games and lost 6 with a 2.58 ERA. It was an above-average performance, but Deagle’s outings were frequently referred to as “erratic.” He also had the misfortune of, once again, being stuck behind an iron man pitcher. In this case, it was Guy Hecker, who won 52 of the team’s 68 total victories. None of the other Louisville pitchers had much of a chance to find work with Hecker’s dominance. When the season was over, Louisville released the pitcher.

In two seasons in the AA, Deagle had a 17-15 record with a 2.74 ERA. He started 34 games and completed 29 of them, with 83 strikeouts and 56 walks in 269-1/3 innings. He never allowed a home run. Deagle also played a few games in the outfield and 2 innings at shortstop for the Reds. He batted .117, with 15 hits and 8 RBIs.

Deagle signed with the Cleveland Forest Citys of the Western League in 1885. It was a highly touted acquisition for a brand-new team. It was racially integrated, too, as African-American brothers Fleet and Welday Walker were on the team. There was a curious incident in the April 14 game, where Deagle hit a long fly ball to center field. Assuming the ball would be caught, he threw down the bat and headed to the dugout. But it wasn’t caught. “The ball was muffed, and Walker, who was at first to relieve Deagle in running, advanced to second.” The ball was thrown to first, and Deagle was called out for not reaching the base, but check out that italicized line. Walker was in the game, apparently as Deagle’s designated runner. In 1885!

While with Cleveland, Deagle had a 7-3 record and a 1.61 ERA in 10 starts. He completed every game. The team seems to have been short-lived, though, as no player appeared in more than 30 games. By June 21, Deagle was pitching for a team in Lancaster, Pa., in the Eastern League. He was less successful there, with a 4-8 record and 3.31 ERA. He surrendered 132 hits in 98 innings. He joined a team in Topeka in 1886 as a pitcher/outfielder/first baseman/assistant captain, but there are no available statistics. The descriptions of his work in the papers are largely positive, and he even slugged four home runs in a game on April 30. Again, it was an integrated team, as Deagle was teammates with John “Bud” Fowler, an African-American pioneer in professional baseball.

Deagle quit baseball as a player after the 1886 season. Arm problems brought his career to an early end. He stayed in the Western League as an umpire in 1887. He also moved to Kansas City and found work as a bartender and a street contractor. He married Eveleen Loftus on November 28, 1888, and the two remained married until her death in 1920. He held several jobs in Kansas City, including working as an express messenger for Wells Fargo for many years, until his retirement.

Ren Deagle died in Kansas City on December 24, 1936, from mitral insufficiency (a type of heart disease involving a malfunctioning valve). He was 78 years old. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Kansas City.

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