Eugène Onésime Vadeboncoeur
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 6", Weight 150 lb.
- Debut July 11, 1884
- Final Game July 22, 1884
- Born September 5, 1859 in Louiseville, QC CAN
- Died April 16, 1893 in Sacramento, CA USA
SABR researchers have made extensive efforts to try to track down Gene Vadeboncoeur's career and death. While born in Quebec (and the first player born in the province to play in the major leagues) he moved to Syracuse, NY with his family around 1868. He was a catcher. A 1912 Lawrence, MA newspaper said that he died around 1903, but his death certificate had not been found. He also used the name Eugene F. Vadeboncoeur (with his last name sometimes spelled Vadboncoeur) during his lifetime.
His unusual last name is peculiar to Quebec (it does not exist in France) as it is a typical soldier's nickname which became a last name when its bearer settled in the province at the end of his military service for the King of France some time in the 17th century. It can be translated as "goes with a good heart", or in another words, "the courageous one". These soldiers names usually refer to the bearer's prowess on the battlefield, or more commonly in the gambling dens, drinking establishments, or in courting ladies, other activities that were typical of military life at the time. Its spelling is fairly straightforward in French (although the first "e" is silent, hence its removal in some forms of the name), but in English, it is bound to be butchered in various ways. Which is exactly what happened to Eugene when he moved to the United States.
The mystery was solved in 2018. Eugene was traced to Otsego, MI in the 1880 census, where the young man worked in a chair factory while presumably playing baseball on the side. He soon was hired by a team in nearby Grand Rapids, MI and then in Port Huron, MI, where he was part of a team that dominated the local scene. These were semi-pro teams that payed their better players by arranging employment for them, and after that he jumped to the minor leagues, playing successively in the Northwestern League, the Eastern League, the New England League, the Eastern New England League and the Central League, in addition to his short stint in the National League with the Philadelphia Quakers in 1884. By 1890, he was retired and residing in Pascoag, RI. He moved west shortly after that, according to a contemporary newspaper story, but after that his trail went cold for over a century.
At one point, he was reported as having died in Haverhill, MA in 1935, a factoid that was reprinted in some reference works but was erroneous, as it referred to a namesake who was not a ballplayer and had only moved to the U.S. in the 1880s. One of the few clues that existed was the earlier-cited reference in the Lawrence Tribune that said Vadeboncoeur had died in Providence, RI "about nine years ago". Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen had also looked into the case and been told by a nephew that the ballplayer had died of pneumonia while still an active player. But no obituary was to be found. By looking into possible spelling variations of his last name (Vadeboncouer in this case), SABR researcher Tim Copeland dug out an article that placed him in Denver, CO in 1891, where he was operating a barbershop, and another that said he was undergoing medical treatment there. Given that Denver was often recommended by doctors at the time to treat various respiratory diseases, this jibed well with was what already known. However, no further mention of him could be found in Denver, but in 1892, and man named E.F. Vadebuncaen turns up as a signatory of a petition published in a Sacramento, CA newspaper, and later a Mr. Vadebonconor is listed as a performer in a church Christmas play in that city. In that same church, the First Baptist Church on Ninth Street, on April 19, 1893, his funeral was celebrated, with the cause of death listed as stomach cancer. He had apparently passed away three days earlier according to his obituary on the Sacramento Record-Union, although his listed age was 26 (whereas the ballplayer would have been 33). However, all other details point that this was indeed the ballplayer: for once, his full name was spelled correctly, albeit using the Eugene F. version, without the "Onésime" which he had dropped, and it mentioned his birth in Canada, cemetery records even listing the Province of Quebec. It also mentioned that he had relatives in Syracuse and Blackstone, MA, the latter a town located just outside Providence where the ballplayer had indeed resided.
- "Two Missing Players Found: Eugene Vadeboncoeur", in Bill Carle, ed.: Biographical Research Committee Report, SABR, September/October 2018, pp. 2-3.