Roger Bresnahan

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Roger Philip Bresnahan
(The Duke Of Tralee)

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1945

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Biographical Information[edit]


"Roger Bresnahan was the manager of the Cubs when I joined them in 1915. The old Giant catcher from way back -- the guy who caught Mathewson and Marquard and all the rest of them, the man who invented shin guards back in 1908 or so. How about that? Hard to believe they ever caught without shin guards, isn't it? But he was the first to ever wear them. Mr. Bresnahan helped me a great deal. He more or less showed me the ropes and taught me how to catch. He was still catching then, though not too much... Except for Bresnahan, nobody paid any attention to me." - Bob O'Farrell, to Lawrence Ritter, The Glory of Their Times.

Known for his fiery nature, Roger Bresnahan was one of the top catchers in baseball in the first decade of the 1900s and a key member of the New York Giants club that won the 1905 World Series.

Bresnahan began his career playing for a team in Lima, Ohio, and was an eighteen-year-old pitcher for the Washington Senators in 1897, going 4-0 with a 3.95 ERA in 6 appearances. He failed to come to agreement on a salary the following season - he asked for $2,400 and the team offered $2,000 - and as a result was released. After playing with the Toledo Mud Hens for a time, he returned to the majors with the Chicago Orphans in 1900, appearing in two games as a catcher, having been converted to a position player in the meantime. He spent the next season and a half with the Baltimore Orioles in the new American League, splitting time between the outfield and behind the plate, where he spelled Wilbert Robinson and generally served as the team's leadoff hitter.

Midway through the 1902 campaign, Bresnahan, pitcher Joe McGinnity, and manager John McGraw jumped from the Orioles to the New York Giants of the National League, the club with which he would have his greatest seasons. He hit .350 and stole 34 bases with the team in 1903 and was a member of the 1905 world champs. In the 1905 World Series, he caught a record four shutouts (three by Christy Mathewson) while batting .313. At first, he played all over the field for the Giants as Frank Bowerman was the starting catcher, but he eventually displaced him.

After the 1908 season, Bresnahan was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, whom he was also given the opportunity to manage. The Cardinals gave up a lot to acquire him, their best pitcher - Bugs Raymond - and their best position player - Red Murray. It was a terrible ball club, and the Cardinals finished in the second division each of his four years at the helm, but improved in his first three years. He saw only part-time duty on the field as his playing skills were in decline. He was let go after getting into a spat with owner Helen Robison Britton; he found out that using the sort of colorful language with which he used to bait umpires was not so well received when directed at a lady from high society. He was in a protracted legal battle to recover the salary due him for the remainder of his contract and, eventually, reached a settlement that provided with about half of what he was owed: $20,000. He was then sold to the Chicago Cubs, whom he also managed in 1915, his final season as both a big league player and skipper.

Bresnahan returned to his hometown and purchased the Toledo Iron Men (later known as the Mud Hens) in 1916. He appointed himself president of the franchise until he left in 1925, and also served as manager, coach, and player. He later was a Giants coach (under skipper John McGraw) from 1925 to 1928 and a member of the Detroit Tigers staff in 1930 and 1931, being forced to put on a uniform again when the Great Depression wiped out his life's savings, which were mainly in the form of stocks. He later dabbled in politics, winning the Democratic Party nomination for a position as county commissioner, but losing the general election by a tiny margin in 1944. He would likely have run for office again, but he died of a heart attack shortly thereafter in 1944. He was one of many figures whose profile was raised in the eyes of Hall of Fame voters when they died. He received a strong vote total from the BBWAA in 1945 Hall of Fame Election, when they failed to elect anyone because there were so many qualified candidates on the ballot that none could attract enough votes to gain election. In reaction, what would later become the Veterans Committee ushered in 10 players into the Hall immediately after that failed vote, including Bresnahan, to compensate for the fact the writers had been able to elect just one player since 1939.


Painting showing Christy Mathewson pitching, Roger Bresnahan is the catcher. Bresnahan is tagging out the Philadelphia Athletics runner while Manager John McGraw, far right, looks on

Bresnahan is credited with inventing shin guards and was the first catcher to use them, while he was playing for the Giants. He denied being the inventor, saying he had only adapted the shin guards that were already in use by cricket players, but he popularized them. He improved the catcher's mask by introducing padding and also developed a leather batting helmet in 1908 after he was severely injured by a beaning on a pitch by Andy Coakley.

Bresnahan was nicknamed "The Duke of Tralee" because he told people he was born in Tralee, Ireland. In reality, it was his parents who were from there, and he was born and died in Toledo, Ohio. He is the only Toledoan to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. He was also the first catcher elected to Cooperstown and he was also highlighted in Heroes Behind the Mask as one of the top catchers of all-time.

In 1901, Bresnahan lost a game as a pitcher. He was the last bonafide catcher to lose a game until Jamie Burke in 2008.

His great-nephew is David Bresnahan.

Notable Achievements[edit]

Preceded by
John McCloskey
St. Louis Cardinals Manager
Succeeded by
Miller Huggins
Preceded by
Hank O'Day
Chicago Cubs Manager
Succeeded by
Joe Tinker

Year-By-Year Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs Notes
1909 St. Louis Cardinals National League 54-98 7th St. Louis Cardinals
1910 St. Louis Cardinals National League 63-90 7th St. Louis Cardinals
1911 St. Louis Cardinals National League 75-74 5th St. Louis Cardinals
1912 St. Louis Cardinals National League 63-90 6th St. Louis Cardinals
1915 Chicago Cubs National League 73-80 4th Chicago Cubs
1916 Toledo Iron Men American Association 76-86 6th none
1917 Toledo Iron Men American Association 57-95 8th none
1918 Toledo Iron Men American Association 23-54 8th none League suspended operations on July 21
1919 Toledo Mud Hens American Association 37-44 7th none replaced Rollie Zeider (22-47) on July 15
1920 Toledo Mud Hens American Association 87-78 3rd none
1922 Toledo Mud Hens American Association 0-2 -- none replaced Fred Luderus (3-19) on May 12/
replaced by Al Wickland (15-3) on May 26

Further Reading[edit]

  • David L. Fleitz: "Roger Bresnahan", in Ghosts in the Gallery at Cooperstown: Sixteen Little-Known Members of the Hall of Fame, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2004, pp. 32-46. ISBN 978-0-7864-1749-0

Related Sites[edit]