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Nov 21

Billy Barnie

With Davey Johnson’s selection as Manager of the Year this a good time to reflect back on the District’s first National League manager. Like Johnson he had strong roots in Baltimore.

With Born in New York, three years after the half century mark, Billy or “Bald Billy” as he was called is usually associated with Baltimore where he was a fixture for many years. Although small in stature he played behind the bat and when physical ailments curtailed his playing career, Billy made the shifted over full time to the bench. It was here that is talents as a manager and organizer came to the forefront.

In 1885, Barnie was in his third year as manager of the Association Baltimore nine. Barnie’s Orioles finished a dismal 8th with a record of 41-68. Earlier in the season he had declined an invitation from Michael Scanlon, manager of the Eastern League Washington Nationals. The refusal caused a dustup in the papers in Baltimore and the District with the charge that Barnie was afraid to play the Nationals. Certainly there was bad blood between Barnie and Scanlon since, it was alleged, Barnie had cast the deciding vote to keep Washington out of the Association. At the end of the season the two teams did meet and that series will be discussed at a later date.

With the collapse of the American Association after the 1891 season, Barnie was out of a job. The Philadelphia Press said this about Barnie in 1891, “Poor Billy Barnie. He is to the ball writers what the tariff is to the economists. It is doubtful if anybody is dammed with more than the bald-headed band master of the Baltimore Bucks and it is doubtful if anybody deserves it less.”

To the surprise of some Billy Barnie is signed to be the manager for the Washington Nationals, the first National League Club in the District’s history. Barnie is a fan favorite in Washington and dubbed, “The Hustler from Hustlerville.” One fan states, “We’ll have a team now which will knock the stuffin’ out of Baltimore.” The fans also hope the Wagner’s will bring some of the talent from Philadelphia, where they had owned the Association Club with them.

J Earl Wagner gets married in January and announces he will retire from baseball and will run the families meat packing business in Philadelphia. George Wagner will assume control over baseball operations in Washington. George it will later be written, only comes to the District to cause trouble.”

The Nationals head south for spring training, a rarity during the Wagner years. During their time south the Wagner brothers circulate rumors that Manager Billy Barnie will be fired and replaced by Arthur Irwin.

On 16 April, after a 6 to 5 loss at home to the New York Giants. Billy Barnie is fired for talking back to George Wagner. George had asked Barnie to resign and he said, no! With Billy Barnie gone the Wagner brothers sign Arthur Irwin. The firing of Billy Barnie is met with a large howl from the fans who like Barnie and dislike Irwin.

Sporting Life adds the following, “He started the spring of 1892 as manager of the Washington team, but could not get along with the Wagner brothers, and soon resigned and finished the season partly as league umpire and partly as manager of the Ft. Wayne team. In 1893-94 he managed the Louisville Club with success. In the fall of 1894 he took part in the memorable attempt to reorganize the American Association, and was foolishly blacklisted by the League, only to be soon reinstated, however. In 1895 Barnie managed the Scranton team of the Eastern League. In 1897 he was manager of the Brooklyn team. In 1898 he organized the Hartford Club for the Eastern League, of which club Barnie remained the part owner and manager up to the day of his death.”

Barnie died in 1900, at the age of 47. It was a tragic loss for a well respected player and manager. The Sporting Life had this to say about Billy Barnie,”Strictly Honorable in all of his dealings with his fellow-men. There was a standing remark that, like the lamented Harry Wright, Barnie was too good for professional base ball and too honest for his own good. Considering the caliber of many of the unscrupulous men who have fastened and fattened on base ball to the exclusion of more loyal, more liberal and more honest man this was in a measure true. But there was compensation better than dollars and cents in the universal respect which Barnie, like Harry Wright, enjoyed in the base ball world. Barnie was “always a staunch and loyal American Association man and a consistent hater of the “diplomatic,” unscrupulous and tyrannical old League. He was active in every move to re-establish the Association and had he lived he would have been a big factor in the new Association, which will, no doubt, take the field next spring. What a pity that poor Billy could, not live just long enough to see the fruition of his ardent hopes and labors!

His early death would have implications for baseball in Washington. In 1901 the National League was under assault by one but two leagues. If Barnie had lived he would have been a key factor in putting an Association team in Baltimore, maybe even getting John McGraw to join him. If so it might have helped Thomas C. Noyes in Washington who did not have the support of Ban Johnson. But that is a story for another day.