Dick Higham

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Richard Higham

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Biographical Information[edit]

Dick Higham played all positions but was principally a catcher/outfielder for 12 years (1869-1880), two before MLB existed (1869-1870), five in the National Association (1871-1875); four in the National League (1876-1878;1880); and three in the minors (1877; 1879-1880).

Early Life[edit]

He was born to innkeepers James and Mary (d. 1871) Higham. James was also a famous cricketer.[1]

On May 13, 1854, together with his mother and brother Frederick, born October 7, 1852, as well as his Aunt Matilda, he arrived in America. His father had arrived on December 2, 1853. His uncle George, with his wife, Sarah, emigrated to America at about the same time. They all resided in Hoboken, NJ. His prowess as a player may be traceable to his father, a famed cricket player with the New York Cricket Club. James also starred for the American All Star Teams that played the Canadian All Stars from 1856 to 1860 as part of the International Series between the two countries. During that time, the American All Stars lost only once to the Canadians.

The brothers set up a business in New York City as tailors, a trade taught to them by their father, Robert Higham. In 1865, they opened a restaurant on East Houston Street called "The Office". It was a most successful establishment in the "English" style, until 1870 when they moved to New York City. It continued in that manner until July 1872 when James suddenly died. Aunt Sarah died in August of the same year. Mary had died in June of 1871. By the age of twenty one, Dick's only remaining family in New York consisted of brother Frederick, Uncle George and Aunt Matilda.

Playing Career[edit]

In the meantime, Dick began playing baseball in 1869 at age 17. He played for New York Empire (1869); and the Morrisania Union (1870) and New York Mutuals (1870); when he broke into Major League Baseball on 1 June 1871 with the New York Mutuals of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. He played for New York (1871), the Baltimore Canaries of the National Association (1872), the New York Mutuals of the National Association (1873-1874), the Chicago White Stockings of the National Association (1875) and the New York Mutuals again, (1875). In 1874, after a slow start for the Mutuals, he became their manager on June 27. The team finished with a .725 winning percentage, reaching first place but losing out to the Boston Red Stockings. At that time, only wins were counted toward the pennant race. Since a number of the teams bested by the Mutuals folded during the season, those games were eliminated from their total count. Higham is one of only a few dozen men who played the full term of baseball's first professional league, the National Association (1871-1875) as well as the first three years of the National League. From 1872-1875 he also served as a substitute umpire in the NA. For part of the 1875 season, he was captain of the Chicago White Stockings, but was expelled from the team for associating with gamblers and throwing games.

In 1876, the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, the progenitor of today's National League, opened for business and Higham signed on with Hartford, who were second to Chicago. The team's owner, Morgan G. Bulkeley, was also the first president of the League. Managed by their third baseman, Bob Ferguson, the Dark Blues went on to finish third in the league with a record of 48-20. Higham was the team's best hitter and led the team in most offensive categories. On May 13, 1876, Higham hit into the first National League Triple play against New York. It was the only bright spot for the Mutuals, who lost 28-3.

In 1877, he was captain of the Syracuse Stars in the inaugural year of the International Association. The IA was a part of the League Alliance with whom the National League had a working relationship providing for, among other things, interleague play.

He moved to the Providence Grays (1878) and on May 4th hit a three-run homer in the home opener, over the cozy left field wall at the South End Grounds.

Higham was with the Albany, NY team of the new National Association in 1879. The luminaries of that city hoped that having a professional team would give it a metropolitan face. But politics and sharp business practices by the team's owners, amid allegations that games were fixed, resulted in a shift of the franchise to Rochester on May 9, where they were nicknamed the Rochester Hop Bitters.

He finished his career with the Troy Trojans (1880), where he played his final MLB game in 1880 at age 26 and settled in Troy, NY afterwards.

Even when he was a hard-hitting outfielder in the National Association and early National League, the English-born Higham was already the subject of rumors that his play was not always on the level. Even though he led the NL in doubles in 1876 and 1878 and in runs scored in 1878, his reputation for shady dealings curtailed his Major League career. He most often batted leadoff. He finished his professional playing career with a lifetime batting average of .307. In an era when the average span of a professional player's career was perhaps six seasons, Higham played for twelve years. By the time of the inauguration of the National League, his playing career was more than half over.

The Storm Clouds Gather[edit]

Despite his questionable past, the National League hired Dick Higham as an umpire in 1881 after his playing days ended, apparently because he had sometimes umpired in the National Association. He had even umpired when his own team was on the field. This was not an uncommon occurrence as the players were the ones best versed in the rules of the game. Like all potential umpires for the National League, he had to be voted on by all the team owners. The League Rules, in 1881, provided that a list of approved umpires be promulgated at the beginning of the season. In addition to being nominated to the list, each successful candidate had to receive the highest number of votes of all persons nominated until twenty-four were appointed. He placed third on the list in 1881.

An umpire was selected from the list at the beginning of the season and assigned to a team as the umpire for its games. He could be moved to other teams later in the season. When the 1881 season opened, Higham was with Providence; he later moved to Detroit, then on to Troy and finished back with Detroit. That first year, he umpired 58 National League games. At the end of the season, a testimonial game was held in his honor.

In 1882, he was voted to the list in the same manner as the year before, placing number eight. Only one of the seven who placed higher on the list was being reappointed. All the rest were newcomers as umpires. He began the second season with Detroit. However, William Thompson, the mayor of Detroit and president of the Detroit Wolverines baseball team, became convinced that Higham was consistently calling close decisions against Detroit. Thompson hired a private detective who turned up a letter that Higham had mailed to a well-known gambler in which he outlined a simple telegram code on how and when to bet. "Buy all the lumber you can!" meant bet on Detroit. No telegram meant to bet against them. Thompson and the other owners confronted Higham and he was banished from baseball.

He was fired from umpiring on June 22, 1882, and on June 24, he became the first and only MLB umpire to be expelled for dishonesty. Higham was banned from baseball and became a bookkeeper at various locations, including Detroit, MI, Kansas City, MO and Chicago, IL. (RTM)

He married Clara M. Learned of Kansas City, KS on September 6, 1888. Their first son, Harold (Harry), was born in December 1889, in Kansas City, MO, where they resided. Their second son, George, was born in April 1896 in Chicago, IL. Dick Higham died at age 53 in St. Luke's Hospital in Chicago on March 18, 1905, from pneumonia complicated by dropsy (Bright's Disease) and is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Chicago.


In any written account of Baseball's early days, Dick Higham's playing prowess and ability to lead teams certainly warrants a word or two along with the rest of early base ball pioneers. However, it is most often as an umpire that he garners unbridled verbiage to this day. He remains the only umpire to be forever disqualified from acting as such in any game of ball participated in by a National League Club. Although nothing is clearly stated in the official League minutes of a hearing held on the matter, it is assumed it had to do with gamblers. 1882 was the first year in which league umpires, as well as players and managers, were barred from betting on games. While he was definitely barred from continuing as an umpire in the National League, suffice it to say that the affair itself and the actions of the League, it can fairly be said, are open to questioning and differing determinations.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • NL Runs Scored Leader (1878)
  • 2-time NL Doubles Leader (1876 & 1878)


  • "Higham began playing professional baseball when it was called Base Ball and it had first become openly professional. Even when he was a hard-hitting outfielder in the National Association and early National League, the English-born Higham was already the subject of rumors that his play was not always on the level". - Frederick Ivor Campbell
  • "He (Dick Higham) is very young, but has been playing base ball and cricket for the last ten years [and] is a very good infielder and heavy batsman." - Henry Chadwick

Further Reading[edit]

  • Larry Gerlach and Harold V. Higham: "Dick Higham", in The National Pastime # 20 (2000), SABR, Cleveland, OH, pp. 20-32.
  • Harold V. Higham and Larry Gerlach: "Dick Higham, Star of Baseball's Early Years" in The National Pastime # 21 (2001), SABR, Cleveland, OH, pp. 72-80.
  • Harold Higham: "Identifying 19th-Century Player Dick Higham... Perhaps!" in The Baseball Research Journal # 31 (2003), SABR, Cleveland, OH, pp. 45-50.


Principal sources for Dick Higham include newspaper obituaries (OB), government records (VA,CM,CW), Sporting Life (SL), Baseball Digest, The Sporting News (TSN), The Sports Encyclopedia:Baseball 2006 by David Neft & Richard Cohen (N&C), old Who's Who in Baseballs (none) (WW), old Baseball Registers (none) (BR), TSN's Daguerreotypes (none) (DAG), The Historical Register, The Baseball Necrology by Bill Lee (BN), Pat Doyle's Professional Ballplayer DataBase(PD), The Baseball Library (BL); various Encyclopediae including The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball by Turkin & Thompson (T&T), MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia (Mac), Total Baseball (TB), The Bill James Historical Abstract (BJ) and The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (LJ); Retrosheet (RS), The Baseball Chronology (BC), Baseball Page (BP), The Baseball Almanac (BA), Baseball Cube (B3), The National Association of Baseball Players (1857-1870) by Marshall D. Wright; Total Baseball 7th ed. (2001); A Biographical Dictionary of Major League Baseball Managers by John C. Skipper; and the Dick Higham File at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum at Cooperstown, NY and obituaries at deadballera.com (DBE) as well as research by Reed Howard (RH), Pat Doyle (PD) and Frank Hamilton (FH).

Related Sites[edit]

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