I’m calling this the curious case of John McGuinness.
He who appeared to be a cigar packer in his later years, following a short professional baseball career. He, who born in Ireland sometime in 1957, came to the United States at some point, played baseball and later lived in Binghamton, New York.
He died in 1916, pending where you look. Finding information on him, outside of his baseball statistics, has proven to be quite difficult.
McGuinness is the next draftee on the HooHaa 9, a team made up of obscure baseball players from the 1800s and the early 1900s.
I came across him when searching for players to sponsor on Baseball-Reference.com. I did a search for Irish-born players and came across him. To make it better, he had the name McGuinness. I couldn’t go wrong with someone who had “Guinness” as part of their name, could I?
Further, he was buried in St. Patrick Cemetery in Johnson City, which isn’t too far from me.
But McGuinness became more than a quick research topic for me. He’s become a bit of an obsession. There’s no telling when he was born in 1857. Heck, he might have been born in 1856. Or 1858. When did he come across the big pond to the states? It’s a tough thing to pin down as the name “John McGuinness” was a more-than-common name in that time period (as I’ve discovered with my research).
Here are some of the things I do know:
He died in Binghamton on Dec. 19, 1916. He was interred at St. Patrick’s on Dec. 23, which happened to be 10 days after his daughter, Elizabeth, was buried.
The family plot also contains a Mrs. J.J. McGuinness, who was buried on Dec. 22, 1902. Also buried there is Robert E. McGuinness, who was buried on Aug. 1, 1935. He’s the lone member of the family with a headstone, though there appears to be remnants of others at the plot. According to the obituary for John J. McGuinness, Robert is his son.
Some notes have put Elizabeth as his wife, but according to an obituary, it is, indeed, his daughter. This does seem to have a bit of confusion, however, as the owner/director (Robert L. McDevitt) of the funeral home that handled the McGuinness bodies sent this as part of a letter to baseball historian Bill Haber on Jan. 21, 1980:
Our records indicated that subject individual was born (1857) in Ireland — died December 19, 1916 (9:45 p.m.) at his residence, 5 River Terrace, Binghamton, New York. The record of his baseball career was not required and not requested y us. Additionally, Mr. McGuinness was pre-deceased by his wife (Elizabeth P. McGuinness) on Dec. 10., 1916.
Further, the letter goes on to state that the funeral arrangements were made by “their” daughter, Mrs. Frank J. (Mary H.) Mangan. Mrs. Mangan died March 23, 1953, in Syracuse.
McDevitt, however, was going based on records at the funeral home. Though he states that the records are extremely well kept, there might not have been a full connection between Elizabeth and John in the records.
Haber also contacted the Binghamton Public Library and received a letter back on October 31, 1979, which gave him the obituary of McGuinness.
JOHN J. MC GUINNESS died last night at 10 o’clock at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Frank Mangan, 5 River Terrace, after a week’s illness. His daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth McGuinness, died one week ago. He is survived by his daughter, Mrs. Frank J. Mangan; one son, R. Emmitt McGuinness, and a sister, Miss Anna McGuinness of Brooklyn. Mr. McGuinness was formerly a well known athlete and played first base on the old Cricket baseball team. He was a member of the Kingston Council of the Knights of Columbus, the Elks of Kingston and of Branch 74 of the C.K. of A. The funeral will be held Friday morning at the home at 9:30 o’clock at 10 o’clock at St. Patrick’s Church. Burial will be at St. Patrick’s Cemetery.
This would somewhat go a little more on par with city guides from that time period. The 1899 Williams’ Binghamton City Guide shows John, Emma M. Mrs. (possibly his wife) and Mary all living at 134 Front St.
This fact comes into an interesting play in the The Anthony Publishing Co.’s Standard City Directory of Binghamton 1893-1894. John J. McGinnis – a cigar packer — is listed at 99 Clinton. On the opposite page, a Mrs. J J McGuinness — a sales lady — is also listed at 99 Clinton.
The reality is that when dealing with records from the 1800s and early 1900s, a lot of items can be hard to figure out.
So let’s take a closer peek at John J. McGuinness. …
Born in 1857 (maybe), McGuinness, obviously, came across the ocean at some point. He eventually landed in the Binghamton, NY area. Though it’s not fully known when. I have uncovered some Binghamton city directories from the early 1880s and he’s listed there as a cigar packer. I’m quite sure these are him considering his occupation, on his death certificate, show him being a cigar packer.
Before delving into his baseball career, however, it’s interesting to figure this out — when was he born.
Thanks to items on ancestry.com, I came across the 1900 Federal Census for Broome County and came across John McGuinness. I am thinking, with all the other things that I found, that this is the right John McGuinness as “Emma” is listed as his wife, his daughters include Bissi (Elizabeth?) and Mary and a son Robert E.
The interesting part?
He’s listed as being born in March of 1856. AND he’s listed as a cigar packer!
The confusing part continues, however, as his name is noted as “Mcginness.” The handwriting on the census list is hard to read, so it can easily be construed as something else. It’s quite an interesting peek, though, and might be the first true piece of info that shows when Mr. McGuinness may have really been born.
Don’t think it gets easier, however.
In the 1910 census, John is now listed as an estimated birth year of 1860. But he’s in the same household with Robert and Elizabeth, who are listed as brother and sister. Also in the house are Frank and Mary Mangan and their kids. This would seem to show their family tree as it seems to be pretty much on par with the obituary.
Going back a bit more, the US Census in 1880 shows a McGuinness family in Norwich, with John (about 1859 birth year) as the son. In 1880, John is listed as 21 on the census report. That could be the same person as it’s near Binghamton and the age differential could be about right, considering it seems like John might have been born anywhere from 1856-1860.
IF this is the same one, then his father would have been James. The only major issue here is that John and his sister on this report are both listed as being born in the United States. And, his sister is Jennie. There is a blank spot, as if room for another, but nothing is seen.
Finally, looking at the 1870 census, this same household is in Norwich. There is James and Mary (the parents) and then Jane, Ann and John. With the writing in the 1880 census, Jane/Jennie/Janie could definitely be confused. The age gap here goes on the 1859 birth year sort of thing for John, however. Ann is listed as age 16.
Again, however, the kids are listed as being born in New York.
There are some dots that connect that make me believe that this is a possible match. On John’s death certificate, his mother is listed as Mary, with the maiden name of Cassidy.
Life in baseball
He played three years in the “Major Leagues,” — 1875, 1879 and 1884. It also appears he played some minor league ball in the missing years, but just one — Utica in 1879 — shows any statistics.
Mainly a first baseman throughout his career, it isn’t known if McGuinness threw or bat left- or right-handed. He’s listed as being 5-foot-10, 150 pounds.
He made his debut in the big leagues in 1876, playing one game for the New York Mutuals of the National League. He went 0-for-4 in the game. The team finished in sixth place in the league that year with a 21-35 record.
He returned to the majors in 1879, playing for the Syracuse Stars, also of the National League. The team finished 22-48 that season and McGuinness played in 12 games, finishing 15-for-51 (.294) with seven runs scored, a double, triple and four RBIs. He struck out six times
His fielding was so-so as he had a .928 fielding percentage. He had 125 chances and had 113 putouts, three assists, nine errors and was part of eight double-plays.
McGuinness played his final major league season in 1884 with the Philadelphia Keystones of the Union Association. The team went 21-46 and placed eighth in the league. McGuinness saw a lot more playing time, appearing in 53 games.
The long season appeared to have taken a toll on McGuinness as his batting average was a paltry .236 (52-for-220). He eight doubles, a triple and five walks. No strikeouts were apparently recorded, however.
He played 48 games at first base that season and had a fielding percentage of .959. In 586 chances, he had 550 putouts, 12 assists, 24 errors and took part in 19 double plays. The games played at first, putouts and assists were each ranked fifth in the league.
His minor league playing days included stints with Binghamton Cricket of the League Alliance (1877), Utica of the International Association (1878), the Utica Pent Ups of the National Association (1879) and the Binghamton Bingoes of the New York State League (1885). He also served as manager of the 1879 Utica team.
For that Utica team, which is the only year in the minors where his statistics were kept, he hit 28-for-91 (.308) with 17 runs. Those numbers might have been what got him to Syracuse that same season.
After baseball, it appears that McGuinness settled into his life as a cigar packer in Binghamton. According to the various city guides, he seemed to move around from year to year.
He was at the home of his daughter when he died, if I am reading his death certificate right. The writing is hard to read, but it appears he died of pneumonia, though there is a secondary thing mentioned. It’s something with his heart, though I can’t read the first word (it starts with P).
It’s likely that many of the connections with John McGuinness will never be confirmed. The Hall of Fame has a letter on file from John Mangan, dated January 30, 1980. In it, Mangan said that he would have been 5 when McGuinness died and that Mary Mangan would have been an aunt by marriage.
He notes that he spoke with Frank J. Mangan, who would have been a grandson to McGuinness, and neither of them had any strong recollection of McGuinness. At this point (so more than 30 years ago), he said he believed there were several children of McGuinness’ son, Emmett. However, they did not know where they were located.
Robert E. McGuinness was buried in the family plot on August 1, 1935 according to the cemetery records. His headstone shows he was born in 1890. In the 1900 census, he’s shown as being born in October of 1887, but being 11 years old. As we’ve seen, these dates can be very hard to pin down in some cases.
But, either way, Robert E. (Emmett) would have had to had children before 1935. That would put them in their 80s or 90s now, if they are still alive. There is a chance that maybe a great-grandchild of John McGuinness is still alive and maybe they would be able to fill in a few details. Who can tell as they likely would have been born after Robert had already died, as his death came at a young age.
This case is definitely curious. If anyone out there has more info, drop me a comment or e-mail me. I’d be interested to hear more. More than likely, however, a lot of these lines will never be completed, though that’s what makes research like this fun and interesting.
To see the closeups of the documents in this blog post, you can click on them. You can see everything I have by checking out the baseball research set I have on my blog’s Flickr account.
Files from the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, including letters and death certificate.
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