Foxboro’s 19th Century Professional Baseball Players: Gorman & Sumner
Spring is in the air! Red Sox pitchers and catcher are in training in Fort Myers, Florida. Did you know that Foxboro’s link to professional baseball predates the 20th Century. My friends Small town baseball was the only game in town!... no football, no basketball and no hockey!
In 1895 aspiring local baseball players Richard Leslie Gorman and Earl Adelbert Sumner awaited letters of interest from the minor league baseball teams of a new Southern League that had been established that year. The previous autumn the Foxboro boys of summer forwarded applications to the teams they wanted to play for. The applications included their skills, experience and stats. If impressed a club would invite them for a try out.
On January 23, 1895, there was much celebration in town when the Foxboro Reporter informed the residents that Gorman and Sumner had signed a contract with the Little Rock, Arkansas, baseball club. The former for that of third base and the latter for the outfield.
Gorman was born in Foxboro, Massachusetts in 1867. His parents Richard and Margaret had emigrated from Ireland. His father was a local teamster and his mother worked as a domestic. His older sisters, Annie Leslie and Catherine Frances were both employed in the local straw hat shop. He was 28 years old when he left Foxboro to play his first year in the Southern League.
Sumner was born in Boston in 1872. His parents Charles and Rachel Sumner relocated to Foxboro. His father was also a teamster and associated himself with Eugene Kirby to establish the Foxboro firm of Sumner and Kirby Stables, located on Cocasset Street. Sumner was 23 years old when he left for Little Rock.
It might never be known for sure how two local boys from Foxboro ended up playing for the Little Rock, Arkansas baseball team. One theory is that in 1894 Gorman and Sumner were teammates on the Foxboro baseball club. The Foxboro and Mansfield rivalry was intense then, long before the high school football came on the scene. The Boston Globe reported on a three game series that was played September 20-22, 1894. The average attendance at these games was 900 spectators. Jimmy Manning, a former Boston National League player who was born in Fall River and minor league manager in Kansas City in 1894, may have helped stock the Little Rock team as a favor to manager Frank Thyne. It is possible that someone connected to the minor-league New England League, like Fred Doe who managed New Bedford in 1895 or Tom Hernon (a New Bedford native that played on Manning's KC team) saw Gorman and Sumner play in the Mansfield series and recommended them to Manning, who told Thyne, who signed them to play.
Gorman played third base for the Little Rock Travelers and Nashville Seraphs that 1895 season. The Travelers opened play in the Southern League, joining Atlanta, Georgia; Chattanooga, Memphis, and Nashville, Tennessee; Evansville, Indiana; Montgomery, Alabama; and New Orleans, Louisiana. The Little Rock team only played 72 games that year and disbanded in July after just seventy-two games of the 137-game season. The team had a losing record, and fan support was poor. Little Rock finished with a 25–47 record and a .347 winning percentage.
Soon after Gorman signed and finished out the season playing for the Nashville Seraphs. The team played its home games at Athletic Park, which would later come to be known as Sulphur Dell. With a distance of 262 feet to the right field wall, it was a notorious hitter's park. In their first and only season of play the Seraphs were managed by George Stallings, who also played as an infielder. Stallings previously managed the Nashville Tigers and would eventually manage the 1914 Boston Braves to a World Series championship. The Seraphs opened up the season with a 17-10 loss against the Evansville Blackbirds.
It is likely that Gorman played in the renown “Glove Game”, on August 10, 1895 , with the Atlanta Crackers. Towards the end of the season, Nashville was in third place behind Evansville and the Atlanta. The race for the Southern League championship, determined by winning percentage, heated up following a disputed call during an August 10 contest at Athletic Park versus Atlanta. Nashville was trailing 8-10 in their last at-bat in the ninth inning. They scored a run and still had men on first and second with their catcher at-bat. He hit a high foul fly back toward the grandstand. As Atlanta's catcher attempted to get under the ball, his foot slipped causing him to miss it. While reaching for the ball, a boy in the stands threw a glove or cap past his head. The umpire ruled this as interference and called batter out, resulting in a 9-10 Seraphs loss. This incident would come to be known as the "Glove Game.
"Following the defeat, Nashville went on a 20-game winning streak, moving them into first place with only a few games left to play. Nashville stood at 65-35 (.650), Evansville, 61-33 (.649), and Atlanta was third at 62-34 (.646). The last day of scheduled play was September 2, but Atlanta played an additional game the following day. The win by Atlanta moved them into a tie with the Seraphs for first place with the same .670 winning percentage.According to Marshall Wright's book, The Southern Association in Baseball 1885-1961, Richard L. Gorman played in 66 games. He had 290 at bats, scored 51 runs, and had 90 hits as a combination of stats between the two teams. Earl Sumner played in 26 games. He had 105 at bats, scored 14 runs, and had 33 hits for Little Rock.
The Nashville Seraphs did not return to play in 1896. That season Richard Gorman played for Montgomery Grays (Alabama). He played mostly at 3rd base, but a few games at short and second as well. His 1896 record was 94 games, 377 at bats, 82 runs, 112 hits, 11 doubles, 3 triples, no HR, 23 stolen bases and a .297 batting average. The 1896 Montgomery Grays finished 6.5 games behind the New Orleans Pelicans for first place. Montgomery star Ed Deady led the Southern League in hits (154) and tied for the league-lead with 371 batting average. Ace pitcher Winford Kellum finished the season 21-5.
There are no photographs of Gorman and Sumner in uniform. However, there is a collection of prints in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. that includes 1909 Little Rock, Nashville and Montgomery baseball players including Harry Sentz, Bill Bernhard and Archie Persons. The uniforms shown in the attached prints are very similar to those worn by Gorman and Sumner.