Emmet Mulvey: Pinch!

 
Every so often, a baseball team is given the rare gift of a player who, no matter what the circumstances, seems to excel just when needed the most. While most of the time that spark burns just for a single game or series, some players can sustain it for longer, earning the eternal thanks of the countless fans who cheered wildly at their clutch heroics. In the majors, Babe Ruth and Christy Mathewson possessed that gift; Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige had it in the Negro Leagues; and in the minor leagues there was “Pinch” Mulvey.

EMMET “PINCH” MULVEY was born on March 21, 1895, in St. Louis, Missouri. Even though many contemporary newspapers record that he was a St. Louis native, my initial foray into Mulvey’s family history proved frustrating as I could find no trace of him prior to when he and a sibling registered for the draft in 1917. However, after a deep dive into archival records I finally discovered that “Mulvey” was actually the name he and several of his brothers used and that the family’s real surname was Mulvihill.

Originally, I thought that the name change was an example of a player using a “baseball name.” This is when a ballplayer either shortens their name to fit in a box score (Cornelius McGillicuddy to Connie Mack), obscure their ethnicity (Francesco Stephano Pezzolo to Ping Bodie), or “Americanizes” his foreign name so it is easier to spell or pronounce (Alois Szymanski to Al Simmons).

However, when I looked into the names “Mulvey” and “Mulvihill,” I discovered that they are actually one and the same. The original Gaelic root of the name is “Ó Maoil Mhichíl,” which translates to “descendant of the devotee of St. Michael.” Over the generations this evolved to “Mulvihill” with one of its many accepted variations being “Mulvey.” Why some of the Mulvihill boys changed it to “Mulvey” is not known, but I would opine that it was because it fit comfortably within the confines of a newspaper box score.

Once that was sorted, I was able to determine that Emmet was the fifth of eight children born to Irish immigrants Michael and Mary Mulvihill. The family resided in St. Louis where Michael worked as a carpenter, and Mary took care of the growing Mulvihill brood.

AT LEAST THREE of the Mulvihill boys played baseball. The oldest, Jim, would turn pro in 1913 with the New Bedford Whalers of the New England League. While Jim worked his way through the lower rungs off the minor leagues, Lorse (I believe his given name was Sarsfield) and Emmet began showing their own skill on the diamond. In 1914 Emmet began playing for a team sponsored by the Manewal-Lange Biscuit Company in the semipro Interstate League.

In the off-season, Mulvey played soccer, a game that was still relatively unfamiliar to most Americans at the time. While the game was popular among Scotch and English-born immigrants in New England, Chicago, and the New York and New Jersey regions, St. Louis was unique because soccer was played among native-born boys. This was due to the St. Louis Catholic Arch Diocese having introduced the game to their church-run athletic programs beginning in the 1880s. Mulvey played the position of “outside left” (now called “left wing”) for the Wabadas, an amateur athletic club whose field was located on St. Louis’s Wabada Avenue and sponsored teams in several different seasonal sports.

In the spring of 1915, Mulvey traveled to Wisconsin where he joined the Superior Red Sox of the Northern League. He failed to make the final cut and returned to St. Louis and the Interstate League where he played for the Wabadas baseball team. On May 15, he was playing left field and went 4 for 7 in a game against the Ben Millers in which the Wabadas scored 27 runs to take advantage of the 22 errors committed by their opponents.

In early June, Mulvey was released by the Wabadas and was quickly snatched up by the East St. Louis Giants of the same league. This broke a league rule in which a player released by a team cannot be signed by another team whose place in the standings is above the team the player was released from. East St. Louis’s manager, “Dare Devil” Dick Slack, already notorious throughout the league as a troublemaker, refused to heed to protests by other teams and put Mulvey in his lineup. Apparently, no other manager wanted to go head-to-head with Dare Devil Dick, and Mulvey finished out the year with the Giants.

Mulvey again played soccer in the winter, this time kicking for a team sponsored by the Naval Reserves. This club was part of the St. Louis Soccer League, a highly competitive loop for the time. However, Mulvey’s soccer season was interrupted by tragedy when both his mother and father were stricken with pneumonia in the first week of 1916. Mary would pass on January 6 and Michael would follow her the next day. The two youngest children, Mary, 15 and Johanna, 10, would be cared for by their elder siblings.

MULVEY DECIDED to give pro ball another chance, and in the spring of 1916 tried out for the Davenport Blue Sox of the Three-I League. Again, he failed to make the final cut and returned to the semipro ranks, this time with the Centralia Braves of the Central Missouri League. It seems that this town 130 miles west of St. Louis was something of a baseball training ground for the Mulvey brothers, as both Jim and Lorse played for the Braves in previous summers. In Centralia, Mulvey was a popular player and recognized as one of the team’s star performers. Besides being a solid hitter, Mulvey attracted attention for his superior defensive skills in the outfield and quickness afoot, the latter no doubt a by-product of his soccer playing.

In the winter, he returned to the Naval Reserves where he helped the club in a tight 4-team race for the St. Louis Soccer League pennant. Though the Reserves flirted with first place early on, they eventually finished in last place. If Mulvey harbored any disappointment at a last place finish, it must have been soothed by his being courted by Detroit Tigers scout Charley Barrett. Barrett recommended the 22-year-old to the Fort Worth Panthers of the Class B (today’s Single A) Texas League. Although he made a good showing in the spring exhibition games and newspapers called him ”one of the fastest men on the club,” Fort Worth farmed him out to the McAlester Miners of the Class D (today’s Rookie League level) Western Association.

It was with the Miners that Mulvey began to shine and demonstrate the traits that made him a successful ballplayer. He was dependable and durable, playing nearly every game in every season he spent in the game. He wasn’t a power hitter, but instead punched line drives just over the infield – and what didn’t fall for a hit was usually enough to advance a fast runner. He was notably fast on his feet, which made him a threat on both the bases and in the outfield. He had a great arm, so what he didn’t catch he got back to the infield fast and accurate enough to make a difference. And he was quiet – so quiet one newspaper claimed “Mulvey is as quiet a ball player as ever wore a uniform.” In short, he was a completely reliable guy who kept his mouth shut and let his skills do the talking – a manager’s dream player.

In the April 24 game against Tulsa, Mulvey was 5 for 6 with a pair of doubles and a month later he was recalled by Fort Worth. He got into six games but didn’t fare very well and he was turn over outright to McAlister when a more seasoned outfielder became available. More comfortable at the Class D level, Mulvey hit .320 to win the league batting championship as McAlister took the 1917 Western Association pennant.

NOW THINGS GET a little convoluted in Mulvey’s career. America had been involved in World War I since April 1917, and the country was rapidly changing to concentrate on the war effort. Baseball had been losing players at all levels to the draft and many minor leagues folded. Mulvey found that McAlister had sold his contract to St. Joseph of the Western League (the Western ASSOCIATION that McAlister played in was Class D level and the Western LEAGUE was of the higher Class A (today’s Double A) level. Mulvey was unhappy with the contract St. Joseph offered him, and after an unsuccessful negotiation, his contract was turned back over to McAlister. The problem was that no one told St. Joseph that the Western Association had folded due to the war and the McAlister Miners no longer existed. This clerical confusion left Emmet Mulvey a free agent.

With most able-bodied men being scooped up by the draft or working defense jobs, ballclubs at all levels were in desperate need of players. Mulvey was the legal guardian of his younger sister Johanna and thus so far exempt from the draft, making him very attractive to his hometown St. Louis Browns. The Brownies signed him to a contract, but realizing he needed more experience, decided to farm him out to the minors. Browns infielder Fritz Maisel liked what he saw in Mulvey and suggested he be sent to his old team, the Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles played in the Class AA (today’s Triple A) International League, just one level below the majors. Mulvey proved he had what it took to belong, leading the league in games played, walks, and outfielder assists. Due to the war, all levels of organized baseball played a shortened season, and Mulvey returned to St. Louis, where family tragedy again awaited him. On October 22, 1918, his older brother Jim Mulvey passed away from the Spanish Flu, one of 670,000 Americans who would perish in the pandemic.

That winter, Mulvey joined the Scullin Steel F.C. soccer team sponsored by the St. Louis steel manufacturer of the same name. Scullin F.C. took the St. Louis Soccer League Championship that inaugural season and would remain a dominant force in that city’s soccer scene for years to come.

With the war over in November 1918, organized baseball returned at all levels. The Browns, now flush with their regulars returning from war service, sent Mulvey to the Salt Lake City Bees of the Pacific Coast League. Like the International League, the PCL was just below the major league level. Mulvey joined hard-hitting veterans Bill Rumler and Harl Maggert to form what was considered the best outfield in the league. Both Rumler and Maggert would later be tossed out of baseball after being accused of throwing games for gamblers during the 1920 season. Though he batted a sub-par .259, his fielding often drew rave reviews. The Centralia Courier wrote, “In the outfield Mulvey has hardly an equal in the league. He goes back on a ball like Tris Speaker and has a wonderful throwing arm.” And the Salt Lake Telegram quoted an East Coast correspondent who deemed Mulvey a “fielding fool” and the only thing keeping hm out of the big leagues was his “lack of pepper.”

Mulvey returned to St. Louis for the winter and helped Scullin F.C. make the National Challenge Cup for the first time. Called the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup today, this elimination tournament brought together the best soccer clubs and crowned the champion with the Dewer Cup trophy. Scullin F.C. made the third round of the tourney before being defeated. This was quite a feat since they were competing against the bigger steel and ship building sponsored teams from the East Coast that employed veteran players from Europe.

IN THE SPRING of 1920, the Browns decided that Mulvey would benefit from a lower level of ball and sent him to the Mobile Bears of the Class A (today’s Double A) Southern Association. Here Mulvey found his sweet spot.

The Gulf City had a checkered history with pro baseball. The city joined the Southern Association in 1908 and fielded poor teams that failed to post a winning record until 1913. That season, Mobile dominated the competition from the first week. However, as the team ran further ahead in the standings, fans drifted away, unwilling to pay to see a game that would most likely result in a predictable Mobile victory. The dip in fan participation seemed to sap the enthusiasm on the field, and Mobile ended up finishing a half game behind Atlanta in the pennant race. Since then, baseball hadn’t generated that much excitement, and the team stagnated near the bottom of the standings going into 1920.

Emmet Mulvey’s arrival in Mobile in 1920 was considered a harbinger of better times for Gulf City baseball. Bears manager Bob Coleman told sportswriters “wait until you see this Mulvey we have for the outfield. He is a left-hand hitter, and when I say hitter, I mean one who can belt the ball close to .300.” and further called Mulvey a, “nimble limbed speedster.”

In his first game of the 1920 season, Mulvey showed that he had found some of the “pepper” the Salt Lake Telegram claimed he lacked the year before. After whiffing on a called strike in his very first at bat, Mulvey got tossed out of the contest by home plate umpire Harry Johnson. He came back and played in more games that season than any other Bear and hit .285 while swiping a career high 25 bases. The big club in St. Louis took notice and called Mulvey up to the majors at the end of the season, though he did not get into a game with the Browns.

That off season, Mulvey returned to Scullin F.C. as they took the St. Louis Soccer League crown and advanced to the National Challenge Cup final. In front of 8,000 fans, Scullin F.C. was defeated 4-2 by Brooklyn’s Robbins Dry Dock team, runner up for the cup the previous year.

Returning to Mobile, Mulvey improved to .315 in 1921 and led Mobile in hits, batting average, at bats and outfield assists. His performance was deemed noteworthy enough that E.V. O’Connor of the Sporting News opined that “Mulvey will either go to a National or American League club and he should bring a fancy price. Mulvey has had a big year.” and “Mulvey is a great ballplayer and deserves promotion.”

MEANWHILE, BACK IN St. Louis, Mulvey and the Scullin F.C. cruised to the top of the local standing and advanced to the National Challenge Cup tourney for the third consecutive year. Scullin F.C. easily beat their competition whose aging foreign-born players were no match for the St. Louis team that could draw from a continuous flow of local youths brought up playing soccer. In the final, Scullin F.C. drew the Todd Shipyard team from Brooklyn. Todd Shipyards were formed from the best players off the Robbins Dry Dock team that beat Scullin the previous year and another New York-area club. Again, it was the youth of the St. Louis club that gave them a noticeable advantage against the older veterans of the Todd team as Scullin F.C. won, 3-2.

As the National Challenge Cup tourney lasted until the final game on March 19, Mulvey reported late to spring training. This may have been the reason, despite the high praise in the Sporting News the previous fall, Mulvey did not receive even a tryout with a major league club.

THE MOBILE TEAM Mulvey joined in the spring of 1922 was under new management. A fresh ownership group took control and brought in former big leaguer Bert Niehoff to manage and play second base. Mulvey was the lone starter from 1921 that remained a Bear as the team received a complete infusion of fresh talent.

Almost immediately, the team displayed a spark that had been missing since Mulvey came aboard in 1920. Though sometimes criticised for being too slow on the basepaths, the Bears fielded a hard-hitting lineup with 6 of the 8 starters hitting .295 or better. An even better improvement was the team’s pitching: starters Lefty Fuhr, Charlie Fulton, Dutch Henry, and Jesse Sigmon won 72 of Mobile‘s 96 victories that summer. But the most important ingredient that made the Mobile Bears so effective that year was not something that could be tallied up and distilled into a statistic found in a record book.

All season long the team displayed a “never say die” attitude which made for some exciting late inning baseball. The pennant race was tight going into August with Memphis clinging to a 3-game lead over second place Mobile. Unlike 1913, when Mobile fans abandoned the team because of complacency, the Gulf City faithful packed League Park to revel in what one newspaper called the Bears’ “gameness and unbeatable spirit.”

According to an article in the August 25 Birmingham News, “Baseball enthusiasm also reached a more substantial form Thursday when a prominent Mobilian, who did not care to have his name published, gave a check for $500 to head a fund for the Mobile players provided they win the 1922 pennant for the city of Mobile.”

The undisputed catalyst for the Bears’ exciting play was center fielder Emmet Mulvey. As happens in rare instances, everything Mulvey did in 1922 broke his way. Time after time he came to bat when the chips were down and came through with a timely hit or RBI that put Mobile up higher in the standings. By early June, fans had bestowed a nickname on him: “Pinch.” He was especially dominant during the final pennant drive beginning with a series against Memphis on August 19. A loss that day put Mobile four games behind Memphis. The next day Mobile won with Mulvey going 1 for 4. Mulvey’s bat came alive in the last game of the series as he hit a pair of doubles to put Mobile one game behind Memphis.

Mobile moved on to Atlanta for a four-game series. Mobile copped the first game in 10 innings to put them even with Memphis. In the next day’s double header, the first game went to extra innings and was won with Mulvey’s RBI single in the 10th. Mobile lost the second game to put them a game back of Memphis.

In the first inning of the Sunday game to close out the series, Mulvey banged out a first inning triple that scored two runs, which was all Mobile needed to beat Atlanta and pull two games ahead of Memphis in the standings.

And so it went for the remainer of the season. Mobile burned hot, at one point winning nine straight. On September 11, Mulvey went 3-5 as Mobile shutout New Orleans to clinch their first Southern Association pennant. They’d wrap up the season four games over a deflated Memphis team. During that final stretch of 17 games, Mulvey batted a robust .324 in timely hits that demonstrated why the fans had nicknamed him “Pinch.”

MOBILE WAS ECSTATIC over their first championship, but the year was not over. In the enthusiasm over the return of real baseball after WWI ended, several post-season “Little World Series” sprang up that pitted the champs of various minor leagues against the winners of rival leagues. The Southern Association pennant winner played the champion of the Texas League in the “Dixie Series.” 1922’s winner was the Fort Worth Panthers, who were in the middle of winning five consecutive pennants that would get them recognized as one of the best minor league teams of all-time.

To no one’s surprise, Fort Worth took the first pair of games, outscoring Mobile 12 runs to 1. Game 3 was tied 2-2 in the 8th when Mulvey, who had been hitless thus far in the series, came through with a sacrifice fly that put Bert Niehoff in position to score when the next Mobile batter singled. The Bears held on to win the game, 3-2.

Game 4 was a frustrating 6-6 tie after the game was called in the 10th due to darkness. Mobile evened the series 2-all by taking Game 5 in 10 innings, 5-4. Now Mulvey’s bat heated up again. He was 2-3 with a stolen base in Mobile’s 8-2 win that made the series 3-2 in their favor.

The sixth game was all Emmet Mulvey. With the game knotted at 1-1 going into the top of the 9th, 24 game winner Joe Pate got a quick first out. Bert Niehoff followed that with a walk. That brought up Mulvey. As he did so many times that summer, the 27-year-old came through when it was most needed, taking Pate to deep left field with an RBI single. Mobile starter Oscar Fuhr put Fort Worth down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 9th to seal the Bears Dixie Series victory.

Over 10,000 fans met the Bears train when it arrived back in Mobile and carried the players away on their cheering shoulders. However, there remained one last battle for the Bears to win.

It had been decided that the winner of the Dixie Series would advance to the new West-South Series and play the winner of the Western League. By now it was the last days of September, and Mobile’s players were worn out by the pennant drive and come from behind win in the Dixie Series. Now they had to turn around on two days rest and travel to Tulsa for the West-South Series. The worn-out Bears were no match for the Western League champs, only managing to win Game 3 before bowing out in five games.

Nonetheless, 1922 had breathed a new life into baseball in Mobile. It was reported that over 125,000 fans paid to see the Bears play at League Park, with fans refusing to leave until the game was over thanks to “Pinch” Mulvey’s late inning heroics. As Pinch himself said it, the Bears were “never beaten until the last man was out.” Mulvey’s heroics had been noticed by the scouts, and it was reported that his contract had been snatched up by Brooklyn.

THAT WINTER, Mulvey returned to Scullin F.C. where they repeated their championship of the St. Louis Soccer League and advanced to the National Challenge Cup. While Scullin F.C. made the final, it was without the services of Mulvey, who had to leave and report to spring training. Scullin tied the Paterson club in the finals, and another game was planned to settle the Cup. Unfortunately, Scullin F.C. could not afford to send their players back to the east coast for another game, and several of their players had to report for baseball spring training. Paterson refused to compromise and was controversially awarded the Dewer Cup by forfeit.

Off the field, Mulvey took time out to start a family. He met Indiana-born Lillian Kunz, better known as Lucille, and the couple made their home in Mobile.

Meanwhile, Mulvey did not end up in a Brooklyn uniform that spring. He remained in Mobile where he was revered as a hero by the grateful fans. He would play the next three seasons with them, never batting below .300. August 16, 1925, was proclaimed “Mulvey Day” at League Park. Fans purchased a baseball card tag from vendors and the proceeds were given to Mulvey. He pocketed $262 bucks and a gold watch before winning that afternoon’s game with a bases loaded sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth.

Now 31 years old, Mulvey was traded to the Louisville Colonels of the Class AA American Association, one step below the majors. He was hitting at a .356 clip when he chipped a bone in his foot sliding into second base. Louisville sent him back to the Southern Association, this time with Little Rock, where he finished up the year with a .323 average. Mobile reacquired his contract but immediately dealt him to New Orleans where he began the season before becoming a spare part, swapped between mid-level minor league teams as a dependable replacement when a veteran outfielder got hurt.

He floated from New Orleans to Dallas to San Antonio and finally Omaha. Mobile gave Pinch one last shot in the spring of 1930, but he retired for good after he failed make the Bears’ opening day roster.

THOUGH PINCH MULVEY did not make it to the majors, he was a solid .300 hitter in the top two levels of the minor leagues and became one of those rare players who could be relied on when the team needed it most. Mulvey is a guy who proves that not all the greats of the game wore a big-league jersey.

After leaving baseball, Mulvey made his home in Mobile. He and Lucille raised their son Emmet, Jr., born in 1928, on a farm outside the city. Emmet Mulvey passed away in 1986 at the age of 91. He’s remembered today through his great baseball nickname of “Pinch” and his enshrinement in the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame.

* * *

This story was one that had been regularly requested for three years (!) by one of the Booklet Subscribers. I usually try to get to requests sooner than three years, but I ran into some problems researching Pinch Mulvey.

After doing a quick search for information, I contacted my friend Brian who runs the excellent Diamondsinthedusk.com website. Brian is as good a researcher there is, and a guy like Pinch Mulvey is exactly the kind of player he likes to feature on his site. I contacted him, and sure enough, he had amassed a file on Mulvey for a future story. Brian generously offered me his research, and from this I was able to create the framework of Mulvey’s baseball career. But I still needed more to complete Mulvey’s story.

The main roadblock was the lack of info on his background, which I wrote about at the beginning of this piece. I didn’t feel I could properly tell Mulvey’s story without an understanding of his origins, so I put his file on the back burner until I could find more. I was noodling around on Ancestry.com one day when I decided to cross check Mulvey’s 1917 draft registration address with a 1910 census record and that’s how I found the Mulvihill to Mulvey connection.

So let’s score this a triple play kind of story – from the original Booklet Subscriber’s request to Brian at Diamondsinthedusk.com to yours truly and Ancestry.com…

* * *

This story is Number 67 in a series of collectible booklets

Each of the hand-numbered and signed 4 ¼” x 5 1/2″ booklets feature an 8 to 24 page story along with a colored art card attached to the inside back cover. These mini-books can be bought individually, thematically or collected as a never-ending set. In addition to the individual booklets, I envision there being themed sets, such as the series I did on Minor League Home Run Champions. You can order a Subscription to Season 6 as well. A year subscription includes a guaranteed regular 12 issues at a discounted price, plus at least one extra Subscriber Special Issue. Each subscription will begin with Booklet Number 066 and will be active through December of 2024. Booklets 1-65 can be purchased as a group, too.

 

 

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