Alex McKinnon

First Base
  • Card series: 1880s: Loving Paupers
  • City: Pittsburgh
  • Team: Alleghenys
  • League: National League

Alexander J. McKinnon (1856-1887) was a remarkably talented player who was cut down in his prime by a scourge of the 19th century, typhoid fever. The tragedy was even more poignant inasmuch as McKinnon had endured numerous illnesses in his youth that had prevented him from really beginning what was on its way to a very fine career. As if sickness wasn’t enough of a hardship for young Alex, he was also hindered in the beginning of his pro tenure by league politics and evolving contractual arrangements. He had begun playing for the Syracuse Stars in 1877, staying in NY with Albany/Rochester for the ’79 season before heading west to the San Francisco Athletics of the California League in 1880. This move was precipitated by a squabble that involved William Hulbert of the new National League. Alex was assigned to the Troy Trojans for the 1879 season, but wanted to play for Rochester of the International League. Despite some back-room dealings that should have cleared up the controversy, Hulbert expelled McKinnon. A combination of illness that plagued him lifelong and this contract dispute seems to have led him to make the move west and then drop out of baseball altogether for a few years. Clearly McKinnon’s talent was recognized and Hulbert relented, allowing Alex to be signed for the ’83 season by the Philadelphia Quakers – but the young man was too sick to play. Finally, in 1884, the New York Gothams (not yet the Giants) signed Alex and he began a belated major league tenure that showed tremendous promise. Indeed, in the four short years he played for three NL teams – NY, St. Louis and Pittsburgh – Alex steadily improved his batting average. He hit .272 for the Gothams, jumped to .294 and .301 with the Maroons and was hitting a stunning .365 in 1887 when he was stricken with an ailment he couldn’t lick, typhoid. After his mid-season death, the Alleghenys honored Alex by donning black crepe for the duration of that campaign.

  • McKinnon was not just a good and ever-improving batter, he became a star in the field. He led the NL in fielding percentage in 1885 with a .978 record. This was all the more striking given his difficulty at first base for the Gothams the prior year when he made 53 errors. Clearly this star-in-training was a quick study

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