Grave Story: Egyptian Healy (1866-1899)

Egyptian Healy was not from Egypt, though his baseball career did take him there. He was a pitcher won once won 20 games in a season – and lost 20 games in a season four times. Healy played for the St. Louis Maroons (1885-86), Indianapolis Hoosiers (1887-88), Washington Nationals (1889), Chicago White Stockings (1889), Toledo Maumees (1890), Baltimore Orioles (1891-92) and Louisville Colonels (1892).

John J. Healy was born on October 27, 1866, in Cairo, Ill. That is where the “Egyptian” nickname came from, even if the natives there pronounce it “Ka-ro” like the corn syrup and not “Kai-ro” like the city in Egypt. Healy was also called “Long John,” as he was 6’2” and pretty thin.

There is a Healey family living in Cairo in 1870 that seems to match up with John Healy, in spite of the extra “e”. Thomas Healey, 55, was working as a drayman. He and his 46-year-old wife, listed as “B” (possibly standing for Bridget), were both Irish immigrants. John, listed as 5 years old, was the youngest of three children. There were two older sisters, Kate was 11 and Bridget was 14. It’s difficult to say that it is his family, but it’s the closest possibility.

The early details of Healy’s playing career are murky at best. He came into St. Louis in 1885 to try out for the St. Louis Maroons. The Maroons had started in 1884 as the dominant team of the Union Association. When the UA folded after a year, the Maroons were invited to join the National League. They finished 1885 with a 36-72 record, so they clearly did not adjust to the NL well. With that kind of record, it’s no wonder that the team would bring in pitchers from wherever they could find them for tryouts.

Healy must have made a good impression quickly. The September 11, 1885, edition of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reports his signing, and his primary attributes were that he was 18 years old and 6 feet tall. “[Manager Fred] Dunlop gave him a good trial yesterday morning, pronounced him the most promising young pitcher he had faced this season, and recommended his engagement,” the paper stated. Within a week’s time, he was not Healy the rookie pitcher; the papers referred to him as “Healy, the Egyptian.” His 1-7 record and 3.00 ERA isn’t that impressive, but young players with talent always create hope on otherwise hopeless teams. He did create some buzz because of his hitting – or lack thereof. Healy was hitless until he finally knocked a single during a 5-1 loss to New York on October 7. “The crowd arose en masse and cheered to the echo,” reported the Globe-Democrat. That hit left him with an .042 average on the year.

Healy returned to the Maroons in 1886 as a much improved pitcher, with better control and a better fastball. Despite the 17-23 record, he struck out 213 batters and allowed 315 hits in 353.2 innings. The Maroons as a team won 43 games and was one of the poorer-hitting teams in the National League. The team was sold to John T. Brush, who moved them to Indiana and renamed them the Indianapolis Hoosiers. Healy stayed with the Hoosiers, but the change of scenery didn’t make the team any better in 1887. They finished in dead last with 37 wins and 89 losses (and 1 tie). Healy went 12-29, leading the National League in both losses and home runs allowed (24). He walked more batters (198) than he struck out (75) and had an ERA of 5.17. After the season, Healy wrote to manager Horace Fogel that he would refuse to return to the Hoosiers and would instead return home to Cairo and work in a pharmacy. The letter didn’t carry much weight, because Fogel had already departed the team. And when baseball started up again, Healy was back in Indianapolis.

Healy had a marginally better year in 1888, though his 12-24 record gave him three straight seasons of 20 losses. His ERA dropped to 3.89, and he gave up fewer baserunners per inning. He also brought his batting average up above .200 after three seasons of languishing closer to .100. In one May game against Pittsburgh, he beat the Allegheneys 11-6 and knocked in a couple of the runs himself with a single and double.

Somewhere in the photo is Egyptian Healy posing on the Sphinx during Spalding’s world tour. Source: Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

After the season, Healy joined baseball magnate Albert Spalding’s worldwide tour. Two teams – the Chicago White Stockings and a group of All-Stars, traveled throughout the western United States before departing to Honolulu, Cairo (Egypt, not Healy’s hometown in Illinois), Rome, Monte Carlo, Paris, London, Glasgow and Dublin – to name just a few of the stops. He was roughed up by the White Stocking in Colorado Springs but got his revenge in Salt Lake City. “Eight men struck out, and the entire team was at his mercy,” wrote special correspondent John Montgomery Ward. “Of the five hits made several would have been fielded but for the slippery ground.” I couldn’t find a recap of all the games, but it seems incredibly unlikely that Spalding would have had his tour play a game in Egypt and not have the man nicknamed “The Egyptian” pitch.

During the oceanic voyage portion of the tour, Healy saw a whale or two and stayed up all night to see the equator. “The fun became uproarious when Healy walked the deck after the lights were put out to see the ‘darned thing,’” wrote Ward. “He has the joke on us boys now. He swears he met the equator and shook hands with him!”

Healy also discovered that sea travel had its downside. “As a rule, the invalids hurried off to their cabins at the first symptom of [seasickness]. But one did not, and he furnished the four or five people on deck with all the fun there was on board during the first night of the voyage. It was Long John Healy of the Hoosier Club. His attenuated form was suspended over the taffrail, while Captain Anson and the other friends urged him to ‘line her out again,’ or asked for a ‘three-bagger.’ In the intervals of rest suggestions of cod liver oil and the like were offered as remedies to the long, starchless figure that seemed to be absorbed in a profound study of the dark blue waters.”

Upon his return stateside in 1889, Healy was sent to the Washington Nationals and looked forward to a new start with a new team. However, he once again was stuck with a poor-hitting ballclub that gave him little support, and his record was a terrible 1-11. Not all of that can be blamed on a lack of run support, as Healy had a WHIP of 1.752 and an inflated ERA of 6.24. Washington was eager to get rid of him, and Cap Anson acquired him for the White Stockings in July. He had seen Healy pitch all around the world over the offseason and had faith in the young pitcher. Healy pitched a little better in 5 starts, winning one of them and dropping the other 4 to end the year with a 2-15 record.

Healy moved to the American Association in 1890, originally signing with a team in Kansas City. However, the team abandoned the AA and affiliated with an independent league, so Nealy refused to play for them. His contract was sold to the Toledo Maumees in their only season as a professional club, and Healy himself got half of the $500 transaction price. The Egyptian gets credit for being the best player in Maumees history by WAR, as he was worth 7.5 Wins Above Replacement per Baseball Reference in 1890. He started 46 games and completed 44 of them and had a 22-21 record with a 2.89 ERA. It was his only 20-win season and his only season above a .500 winning percentage. He also reached career highs with innings pitched with 389 and strikeouts with 225. The light-hitting pitcher even batted .218 with 7 doubles, 4 triples and a home run, along with 7 stolen bases.

The writer who covered the Toledo-Baltimore game for The Baltimore Sun on September 3 was left in awe of the pitcher. “The hearts of the home players sank suddenly down into their shoes after gigantic Healy had tossed a few curved balls over the place with the speed of an African simoon (a strong dusty wind), and they behaved like a flock of scared sheep all through the game,” the account read. “The Egyptian struck out twelve men altogether, which would be a great record against a team composed of men who had a mite of courage.”

Healy, upon his return home to Cairo, was given a hero’s welcome, with a brass band, vocal choir and a public reception to welcome him home. “Healy will spend the winter with his mother, for whom he dutifully provides,” the news report stated.

After Toledo folded, Healy stayed in the American Association to play for the Baltimore Orioles. There were reports that he would jump back to the National League, but he indignantly denied it. “There is no excuse for it, for if a contract does not suit a man he should not sign it,” he declared. “I signed to play in Baltimore because their terms were satisfactory to me, and now that I have signed there I certainly would not break my contract.” This apparently did not apply when he refused to play for Kansas City a few years prior.

As it happened often in the 1800s, pitchers who threw an inordinate amount of innings had it come back to haunt them. Some were able to put together four or five great seasons before those pitches took their toll. Healy, though, may have felt the effects of his 1890 season pretty quickly. He missed a significant time away from the Orioles in ‘91, recuperating from a sore arm. In his absence, Orioles manager Billy Barnie pitched Sadie McMahon to the tune of 61 appearances and 503 innings pitched. Bert Cunningham and Kid Madden also helped to carry the pitching load. Healy was limited to 23 games, all but one of which were starts, and he had an 8-10 record and a 3.75 ERA.

Over the offseason, Healy, 23, married Miss Maggie Griffin, 21, of St. Louis. They first met when he was a pitcher for the St. Louis Maroons, which could have meant 1886, when he was 19 and she was 17. They moved back to his home in Cairo.

This clipping shows the All-American team of Spalding’s tour. I believe John Healy is the tall player in the back row, center. Source: Ancestry.

The Orioles moved to the National League in 1891 when the American Association dissolved. The team went through three managers, settling on Ned Hanlon. He decided the team had too many pitchers and released Healy. The pitcher hadn’t done much to help his cause, with a 3-6 record and 4.74 ERA in 8 starts. The Louisville Colonels signed him, and he made his debut on July 3, shutting down St. Louis 4-2. He only pitched one more game for Louisville, in a losing effort. In August, he announced that he had taken a position in St. Louis and would not pitch any more that season. He never pitched in the majors again.

In 8 seasons, Healy had a 78-136 record. He made 222 starts in 227 career appearances and completed 208 of those games, throwing 5 shutouts. He struck out 822 batters while walking 599. He also hit .174 with 6 home runs and 54 RBIs. Baseball Reference lists his career WAR at 6.9 – 8.9 if you take away his offense.

Healy spent a couple of years pitching for a ballclub in Erie, Pa. In October of 1893, he put together a team made up of some St. Louis residents, like Perry Werden, Ted Breitenstein and Joe Quinn.

Healy’s final professional games came with the Minneapolis Millers. He had a record of 17-13 and a 4.98 ERA in 1895, allowing an astounding 414 hits in just 260 innings pitched. He frequently gave up more than 20 hits in a game. Millers teammate Bill Kuehne wrote a letter that was printed in The Buffalo Enquirer defending Healy’s performance. “His splendid pitching put the Millers on the race at the start, and when he was injured, we struck the toboggan. He won his first 7 games, 4 of them in a week. He was injured in the groin and was laid off for a month and a half…” he wrote. “The size of the Minneapolis grounds handicaps a pitcher, as many foul flies which a catcher should get and high hits to right field frequently develop into home runs… No one takes better care of himself than the “Egyptian” and he’s always ready to do overwork. He is a good pitcher in any company.”

The Millers eventually cut Healy in 1896. No pitching stats are available, but the breaking point might have been a game he started against the St. Paul Saints on July 5. The Saints clobbered Healy and a few other pitchers for a score of 41-8! Healy was released, and he eventually made his way back to St. Louis to join the police department. He was one of several ex-ballplayers on the force, and they made for a pretty fierce amateur baseball team.

By all accounts, Healy was good at his job and rose up the ranks to become a detective. Along the way, he was also said to have sent a few local prospects to professional clubs, acting as an informal scout. Sadly, Healy had contracted consumption (tuberculosis), and the rigors of his job took a toll on his health. He was forced to retire in 1898 and spend some time in Nebraska to recuperate. He returned to a desk job in St. Louis, but there was no recovery from the “dread disease.” John Healy died on March 16, 1899 at his home at 2615 Bacon St. in St. Louis after a year’s illness. He was 32 years old and left behind his wife and two children. He was smart with his money and left them in a good financial position after his death.

“His death will be regretted all over the land; by the players, especially those who knew him as a comrade, and by the public generally, who had admired him as the professional artist he was,” wrote the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Naturally, many baseball writers remembered his role in Spalding’s world tour and recalled how The Egyptian was once played ball in the shadows of the Pyramids.

John Healy is buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.

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