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Art Irwin, Polygamist

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  • Art Irwin, Polygamist

    Arthur Albert Irwin Jr.

    Art Irwin was born on February 14, 1858 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He was the oldest child of Arthur A. and Elizabeth Irwin. Arthur Sr., a blacksmith, was born in Ireland in 1826, later moving to Canada where he met and married Elizabeth, a Canadian born circa 1829.

    While living in Toronto, the Irwins had Arthur Jr., Rebecca, born circa 1860, John born July 21, 1861 and William, circa 1862. The family then moved to Boston in 1862. In Boston the Irwins gave birth to James, circa 1865, Charles, circa 1867, Richard, circa 1870, Mary, circa 1872, and Ida, circa 1874. Charles was not listed in the 1880 Census suggesting that he may have passed away young.

    Most sources cite the family moving when Art was fifteen years old (about 1873), but that would be inaccurate. Multiple (3) U.S. Census references clearly state that they immigrated in 1862 (part of the confusion may be a Census reference to naturalization which occurred in 1872). To further confirm my findings, the family is listed as residing in Boston in the 1870 U.S. Census.

    An interesting note here is that Arthur Jr. is listed multiple times in the 1880, 1900 and 1910 U.S. Censuses. In 1880 he is benignly found residing with his family in Boston and as a boarder with some teammates in Worcester, Massachusetts. The reason for the multiple listings in 1900 and 1910 will be examined later.


    Irwin attended public schools in Boston. At about age fifteen in 1873, he started playing amateur baseball in and around the Boston area. There is no indication that he played semi-pro ball, but it would be more likely that he did rather than not – as he stemmed from a large family where any cash would be welcomed and semi-pro opportunities surely existed.

    Irwin was of average height and build for the era, 5’8.5” and 160 lbs. He threw righthanded and batted left. Indications suggest that he always played the infield, particularly the left side.

    In 1879 shortstop Irwin was “discovered” by Worcester (of the minor league National Association) manager Frank Bancroft. Irwin and pitcher Lee Richmond, captain of the Brown University club, joined the club in late May. Their professional debut occurred on June 2 in an exhibition game against the National League Chicago White Stockings. Richmond no-hit the club through the seven full innings that were played.

    Worcester finished the year strong and gained an invitation to ascend to the National League for the 1880 season; thus, Irwin was headed to the majors. First, Bancroft took his club, Irwin included, on an exhibition tour of Cuba. They were the first American club to do so. Irwin would later return to Cuba after the 1886 season for another tour with Philadelphia ballplayers.

    Irwin’s major league playing career:
    1880-82 Worcester
    1883-85 Providence
    1886-89 Philadelphia
    1889 Washington
    1890 Boston – Players League
    1891 Boston – American Association
    1894 Philadelphia

    Irwin’s brother John also played major league baseball, mainly as a third baseman. He joined Art for a cup of coffee with Worcester in 1882. He then hooked up with his hometown entry in the Union Association in 1884, before finding work with major league clubs from 1886-91. John Irwin achieved the rare feat of playing in all four of the major leagues of the 19th century: National League, Union Association, American Association and Players League.

    Arthur also managed in the majors for:
    1889 Washington
    1891 Boston, American Association
    1892 Washington
    1894-95 Philadelphia
    1896 New York
    1898-99 Washington

    In 1893 Irwin managed the University of Pennsylvania baseball team. He would manage there on a permanent basis from 1900-03 and in 1908, as well. He also coached on a part-time basis there and at Harvard University many other years.

    In 1897 and ’98 Irwin managed (and owned a % of) Toronto in the Eastern League. Near the end of the 1898 season Irwin traded some of his best players to the Washington Senators. He was called before Eastern League officials to account for himself, as there was a strict policy against the “farming” of players. No action was taken against Irwin; although, it was certainly fishy when he was announced as the manager of the Senators in early September.

    Throughout his career, Irwin was interested in the economic potential of other sports. He took part in efforts to establish professional leagues in soccer and “roller polo.” Some have confused his soccer relationship with football. Baseball magnates tried to establish the nation’s first professional association football league in 1894. Irwin was a part of this but it was what we refer to today as soccer not football.

    He also put effort into helping rugby catch on in the northeast United States. At Harvard in 1893 Irwin unveiled an invention which became the first football (actual football) scoreboard when it was used on November 30, 1893 in a game at Harvard. Similar scoreboards would be used throughout the northeast at stadiums, theaters and such for decades to come. When Irwin died in 1921, he was still collecting royalties on this invention. Those royalties, $1,500 a year, would be at the center of a family dispute after his passing.

    Irwin gained national fame for his coaching work at the University of Pennsylvania. In April 1894 his college team defeated the National League Phillies, his major league squad. In 1895 he published a successful baseball training manual titled “Practical Ball Playing.” In light of this recognition as a top baseball coach and teacher, Japanese authorities approached Irwin in 1911 offering him $15,000 if he would come to Japan and help train their ball clubs for three years. He turned them down.

    At Penn Irwin met football trainer Will Bryan who utilized steam boxes and then rub downs to help keep his players in shape. Irwin brought the steam box to baseball in 1894. Irwin also became involved in the manufacture of baseball gloves and other equipment.

    After he left the majors, Irwin coached at Penn from 1900-03. In 1901 he took part in the National league’s unsuccessful attempt to revive the old American Association – an attempt to block the up surging American League. Irwin was to own and operate the Boston entry.

    In July 1902 Irwin was added to the umpire roster of the National League, working 49 games through the end of the year. He did not garner favorable press for his exploits as an umpire. Several remarks were made in the newspapers highlighting his ineptitude behind the plate and on the bases and the fact that he had put on considerable weight since leaving the majors as an active player. In those 49 games he ejected ten men.

    He managed (and probably owned a % of some of the clubs):
    1903 Providence of the Eastern League
    1904 Toronto of the Eastern League
    1905 Kansas City of the American Association
    1906-07 Altoona, PA of the Tri-State League

    In 1908 Irwin was a part of Al Lawson’s outlaw Union League which lasted from March to June. He managed and operated the Washington club.

    At the end of 1908, Irwin hooked up with New York Highlanders’ owner Frank Farrell. Clark Griffith had just left the team, having run all on-the-field aspects for the club since it moved to New York in 1903. Farrell, not a career baseball man, needed men around him that were. He hired Irwin as one of his three main scouts. Irwin would travel the country seeking talent and help oversee operations during spring training. He also became a close advisor to Farrell and would accompany him on business trips and to baseball meetings. Irwin was referred to, at various times, as the club’s scout or business manager. He remained with the club until Farrell sold the franchise to Jacob Ruppert and T.L. Huston at the turn of 1915.

    He managed (and probably owned a % of some of the clubs):
    1915-16 Lewiston of the New England League (1/3 owner)
    1917 Toronto of the International League
    1918-20 Rochester of the International League
    1921 Hartford of the Eastern League

    Irwin was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.


    In June 1921 Irwin was suffering abdominal trouble. He was taken to a hospital in Hartford, Connecticut on June 21. He was found to have cancer and given a bleak outlook. The doctors expected him to die (and probably painfully) within a short time (perhaps weeks). He refused major surgery which would perhaps grant him a few extra months.

    Irwin gave up his job as Hartford’s manager and left the hospital around July 4th. He took care of some business in Hartford with his wife May and then went home with her to their New York apartment. During this time he sold his royalties in the scoreboard business for $2,000. He gave May $1,500 and mailed the other $500 to Boston in a letter that cryptically stated, “God bless you all. P.S. The bills were terribly heavy.” The letter is noteworthy in the fact that he had never talked in such a manner and his addressee had never received that much money from him before. The addressee was his other wife Elizabeth.

    On July 14 Irwin left New York on the steam ship Calvin Austin bound for Boston. He was headed for his hometown and his first wife. During the trip, friends said that Irwin was depressed and talking about ending his life – stating that he was, “Going home to die.” He also discussed his medical issues and the fact that doctors had a bleak outlook. The ship arrived in Boston on July 16 but Irwin was nowhere to be found. His clothes and luggage were in his stateroom, but it was assumed that he jumped overboard at some point, committing suicide and dying in the Atlantic Ocean.


    As noted, Irwin grew up in Boston. Circa 1883 he married a local girl named Elizabeth, born circa 1858, often called Lizzie. The couple had four children: Arthur H. (called Herbert) in 1884; Alice in February 1886; Edna in May 1889. A fourth child was born but died young.


    While in Philadelphia as manager from 1894-95, Irwin met a local lady named May, thirteen years his younger. They were married some time between 1894 and 1896. The couple had one child in June 1897 named Harold.


    In the 1900 and 1910 U.S. Censuses Irwin is listed as living separate lives with both families. Neither family knew about the other family. Neither wife knew about the other wife. None of Irwin’s friends or business associates seemed to know about the two wives either.

    After so many years (hard to determine when), Irwin pulled away from his Boston family. He lived primarily with May. Irwin and May moved to Manhattan, probably while Irwin was employed by the Highlanders. They are listed as residing there in the 1910 and 1920 U.S. Censuses (residing in Philadelphia for 1900 Census).

    Irwin would make infrequent trips to Boston to be with Elizabeth and their children. Elizabeth is listed as residing with her daughter Edna (Harris) and family in the 1920 Census. Irwin also sent very little money to his Boston family (hence his reference in the letter, “The bills were terribly heavy.”). By 1920, Elizabeth was near destitute.

    The families did not know about each other until visiting Irwin in the hospital in June 1921. It became public immediately after Irwin’s death. Irwin’s New York son Harold visited the hospital and found out he had a brother. New York wife May stated that the only family she knew of Arthur’s was his brothers Richard and John. Whether those two knew of May is unclear. Boston wife Elizabeth was stoic upon hearing the news, taking comfort in the fact that he was headed to her at the time of his death.

    Irwin’s Boston son Herbert was particularly bitter over the fact that Irwin had provided financially for his New York family but often ignored his Boston family. It also became clear to Herbert why his father continually slipped up during his infrequent visits by calling him “Harold.” Herbert went on the offensive after his father’s death seeking financial benefits for his mother. (In the matter of the royalties and that Irwin supposedly had a good deal of insurance.)
    Last edited by Brian McKenna; 04-10-2008, 02:13 PM.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Brian McKenna View Post

    In 1893 Irwin managed the University of Pennsylvania baseball team.

    Irwin gained national fame for his coaching work at the University of Pennsylvania. In April 1894 his college team defeated the National League Phillies, his major league squad.

    While in Philadelphia as manager from 1894-95, Irwin met a local lady named May, thirteen years his younger. They were married some time between 1894 and 1896.
    Fascinating and highly informative post, Brian. This is great stuff. Providing these tremendously well researched and written biographies you do really brings the history of the game to life. Thank you so much.

    From the dates above, it appears Irwin was coaching at Penn when the great Zane Grey was on the varsity baseball team. Extra interesting, because Zane Grey - a great player, writer & fisherman (best in the world) - also had a reputation for seeing more than one woman at a time - at Penn and throughout his life.

    Any info on if and how their lives intersected?

    Again, thanks for these tremendous biographies, Brian.


    • #3
      Found this on Pearl Gray/Zane Grey:

      Arthur Irwin—whom Gray affectionately fictionalized as “Worry Arthurs” in The Young Pitcher
      Dedication of Zane Grey's Shortstop, 1909
      ...To Arthur Irwin, My Coach and Teacher...


      • #4
        I had no idea, Brian. I'm going to have to read it. It sounds great.

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