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Win Mercer, 1903 Suicide

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  • Win Mercer, 1903 Suicide

    George Barclay Mercer

    George Mercer was born on June 20, 1874 in Chester, West Virginia. His family moved around quite a bit during his youth, finally settling in East Liverpool, Ohio across the Ohio River from Chester. The Mercer family had five sons. (Unfortunately, I could not definitively locate Mercer in any Census or other document at

    He earned the nickname “Winner” – shortened to “Winnie” or “Win” - for his many victories as a teenager while playing baseball as an amateur or semi-pro in and around East Liverpool. Few reporters knew his legal name. At various times they referred to him as William or Winifred.

    Mercer, like many in East Liverpool, worked as a potter in his youth.


    In 1893 Mercer began his professional career with Fall River, Massachusetts of the New England League. He also played for Dover, New Hampshire of the same league that season; in all, he posted a 20-13 record.

    Washington of the National League purchased Mercer’s contract in September or October 1893 after Senators’ manager Gus Schmelz watched him pitch. Mercer quickly became a fan favorite, especially with the ladies. Washington management slotted Mercer to start on Tuesdays and Fridays, the designated Ladies’ Days. He supposedly caused a riot in 1897 when he was tossed out of a game on Ladies’ Day. Sportswriter Fred Lieb would later claim that Mercer was among the best looking guys in the majors (Though it must be noted that Lieb was only 14 years old at the time of Mercer’s passing.)

    Mercer’s major league debut occurred on April 21, 1894.

    Major league career:
    1894-99 Washington – NL
    1900 New York – NL
    1901 Washington – AL
    1902 Detroit – AL

    Mercer also played amateur and semi-pro games in and around East Liverpool during the off-seasons. Mercer, at 5’7” and 140 lbs., was predominantly a righthanded pitcher but he was also a valuable utility player:

    Games played:
    Pitcher – 334
    Third Base – 90
    Outfield – 75
    Shortstop – 39
    First Base – 8
    Second Base – 5

    Mercer remained with the Senators until the National League contracted after the 1899 season, cutting Washington and three other franchises. Senators’ owner J. Earl Wagner sold Mercer to the New York Giants on January 10, 1900. The Giants had been pursuing the pitcher since at least 1897.

    On October 27, 1900 Mercer was one of 22 New York Giant and Brooklyn Dodger players who took off to play an exhibition tour in Havana. The trip was a financial flop. Half the men returned home on November 17. Mercer was among the contingent that returned to the States on the 30th.

    After returning home, Mercer jumped to the upstart American league, signing with the New Washington franchise on March 23, 1901. His return trip to D.C. didn’t go as planned. He was released for ineffective in mid July, but returned to the team and finished the year.

    After the 1901 season, Mercer signed on as treasurer of John McGraw’s barnstorming tour that would end up on the Pacific Coast in January. McGraw hurt his leg and couldn’t play, so he was replaced as tour manager by Nap Lajoie. Joe Cantillon acted as the advance man, scheduling venues and initiating marketing from town to town. The players included:
    Bill Bernhard
    George Carey
    Harry Davis
    Ned Garvin
    Charley Irwin
    Rube Waddell

    Winning only nine games in 1901, Mercer wasn’t pursued heavily by the Senators. Since there wasn’t a reserve clause in the American League at the time, he was free to negotiate his own deal. On January 26, 1902 Mercer agreed to terms with Detroit Tigers’ owner Sam Angus.

    On June 23, 1902 Mercer asked for his release from the Tigers; he had been offered the manager’s job with Los Angeles in the California League. The Tigers renegotiated his contract though and promised him the captaincy of the club in 1903, perhaps even the manager’s position.

    As soon as the season ended, Mercer was named manager of the Tigers at a salary of $3,800. Again, he went barnstorming.

    After the experience of 1901, Nap Lajoie decided to put together another tour at the end of ’02; in fact, he was calling his new group the Lajoie Baseball Touring Company. In 1902 it would be managed by old St. Louis star Tip O’Neill who had plans on taking the trip as far as Hawaii. That idea was soon abandoned when they couldn’t come to terms with Honolulu officials.

    Once again, Mercer was slated as treasurer. The group planned to tour from Chicago in mid October, ending up in San Francisco some time in January. Lajoie may or may not have been with the tour at the onset. He was doing some vaudeville skits with George Carey some time in October. However, in December Lajoie came down with pleurisy.

    The teams were headlined by the following:

    George Carey
    Monte Cross
    Harry Davis
    Dick Harley
    Fielder Jones
    Addie Joss
    Bobby Wallace

    Jake Beckley
    Jack Chesbro
    Sam Crawford
    Willie Keeler
    Jess Tannehill

    During the tour Mercer was corresponding with Reds’ president Garry Herrmann about signing with the club for 1903.


    The tour wound up in California in January, the last 3-game series in San Francisco. The boys then planned on heading back to Chicago and then dispersing. The teams played 77 games with the All-Americans winning 41 of them.

    Mercer stayed with the men at the Langham Hotel in San Francisco. On the evening of January 12 he left his hotel and registered at a shabby hotel near the docks named the Occidental Hotel. For some reason, he registered as George Murray from Philadelphia. Mercer was assigned Room #215.

    Some time in the morning, the night watchman was alerted to a gas smell coming from Room #215. He kicked the door in to find Mercer dressed in his night clothes lying on the bed. Around his head, Mercer had wrapped his coat and vest. Underneath, a rubber hose was lodged in his mouth leading to the gas jet. The ballplayer was dead of an apparent suicide.

    The watchman found a note that read, “Tell Mr. Van Horn of the Langham Hotel that Winnie Mercer has taken his life.”

    Notes were also found (either at the Occidental or the Langham) addressed to Tip O’Neill, Mercer’s mother and his fiancĂ©e Martha Porter. Porter, 23, was the oldest daughter of East Liverpool residents Sandy and Sarah Porter.

    The note to O’Neill read, “You will find two sacks of money in the safe: also $63 in my trouser pockets.”

    The note to Mrs. Mercer read:

    “Dear Darling Mother: I do not want to break your heart, but I am afraid I will by the act I am about to commit. I think I am doing the right thing, dear mother, so please forgive me. Women have gotten the best of me, but I forgive them; and even though they are my downfall, God bless them. Well, dear mother, I must say good-bye forever. Please forgive me, dear mother and brothers. I love you all and am sorry to leave you. Again I say good-bye to mother, Howard, Ross, Clifford, Hazel (brother), Robert and all my deal uncles, aunts and cousins. From Winnie”

    In one note that he supposedly (couldn’t locate the source) left behind Mercer is quoted as saying, “A word to friends: beware of women and a game of chance.”

    Mercer’s family and friends back in East Liverpool took the news hard. They didn’t believe he had committed suicide and asked the San Francisco police to further investigate. The family claimed that Mercer had recently been assaulted by someone trying to steal $8,000 from him. They also didn’t believe that the notes were written in his hand. His mother had also never received a letter from him signed “Winnie.”

    The examined the letter and determined that indeed Mercer did pen them. They also located the druggist that sold Mercer the rubber hose. Thus, they determined the death was a suicide.

    The ballplayers in San Francisco played a benefit game for Mercer’s mother before returning home. Bill Lange and Jim Corbett volunteered to play as well.

    Mercer’s body was shipped to East Liverpool on January 15, accompanied by Dick Harley and Addie Joss. It arrived on the 19th. On the 20th over 6,000 mourners viewed the body. The funeral was held the following day as 3,000 people packed the First Presbyterian Church. Another 1,000+ waited outside in the winter rain. George Mercer was interred at Riverview Cemetery in East Liverpool.

    Many over the years have offered reasons for Mercer’s suicide. Here are some of them:


    Mercer had pulmonary troubles since his youth. Near the end of Mercer’s life it was said that he became depressed after trying numerous failed treatments to help his pulmonary difficulties. Teammate George Carey said that Mercer was suffering from a headache for the day or two prior to his suicide, but that he noticed no significant problems.

    Suffering from varioloid, a mild form of smallpox, in November-December 1895, Mercer was feared to be on his death bed. Local officials removed him from his home and placed him in quarantine at the local “Pest House” for three weeks at the end of December.


    Mercer noted in his letters that women played a predominant role in his melancholy. Ms. Porter though denied having any significant problems in their relationship. However, due to the baseball season and the exhibition tour, Mercer hadn’t spent any significant time at home for nearly ten months prior to his death.


    Mercer was said to be a gambling man. He would be one of the last to throw in the towel. A story out of the 1901-02 exhibition tour describes Mercer as being nearly mesmerized by a craps game, sticking with the game (though losing) well after his friends had departed. Other stories suggest that he also was a big fan of the horse races. In fact, one story states that he lost a significant amount of money at California race tracks in early January 1903.


    One of the more distasteful accusations states that Mercer lost so much money gambling that he, as treasurer, stole from the exhibition tour’s accounts. This is refuted by Dick Harley who states that the players did quite well on the tour, each pocketing $550-$600. He even claimed that the day of his suicide Mercer went around and gave each man $30.

    Rumors circulated in the major newspapers and the Sporting News that Mercer pilfered somewhere between $3,000 and $8,000 from his fellow ballplayers. No player went on record saying such. The letter left to O’Neill describing “two sacks” of money would also suggest otherwise.
    Last edited by Brian McKenna; 04-26-2008, 06:55 PM.

  • #2
    Another great read! I knew Win had left behind a suicide note, but this was the first time I've ever actually seen what was written.

    "Hey Mr. McGraw! Can I pitch to-day?"


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