12 Things You Should Know About Matt Kilroy, The “Little Whirlwind”

On May 5, 2021, Baltimore Orioles twirler John Means tossed the first Orioles one-pitcher, no-hitter since Jim Palmer in 1969.

Embed from Getty Images

But, you have to go all the way back to 1886 to get to the very first Baltimore Orioles no-hitter.

Matt Kilroy

Before I tell you 12 things you should know about Matt Kilroy, the 1886 pitcher who did that, let’s get any dreamy-eyed 1886 nonsense out of the way.

Forever ago.

There are no “good old days.” You might think you missed out on something special, but you didn’t.

1886 was lousy. It was unsafe. It was unsanitary. And, the average lifespan in the United States was 39.

Albert Pujols, 41. Nelson Cruz, 40. Yadier Molina, 38. You get my point.

It was tuberculosis that probably got you. Or, rabid mad dogs in New York City. Or, a horse fell on you or a carriage ran over you. Or a bridge or building collapsed on you. Or your entire town burned down with you in it.

Or, you were a child, which was extremely dangerous. As John Graunt, the 17th-century founder of demography sweetly put it: “Being a child was to forever be on the brink of death.”

You think wearing a mask for a year was a bother?

Stop your whimpering.

Try living through the recurring epidemics of cholera, typhoid, typhus, scarlet fever, smallpox, and yellow fever that mowed down Baltimore, Boston, Memphis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, over and over and over between 1865 and 1873.

And, if you did live through the latest epidemic – and you probably didn’t, but if you did –  chances are, unless you were awfully rich, you lived in a house with no hot water, no shower, and – this is important – no toilet.

If you think the most important room in your house is your man cave, you are wrong. It is your bathroom. And, you should go in there right now, get down on your knees, and thank the modern gods for installing one in your house.

Good Things That Happened in 1886

Sure, some good things happened in 1886. Coca-Cola was invented. And, a carriage’y looking thing was built that would evolve into the first automobile.

circa 1909

This concludes the Good Things That Happened in 1886 portion of our story.

Now To Baseball

Public Domain, courtesy of the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

Before we get too deep into Matt Kilroy’s extraordinary 1886, let’s catch up on a few baseball rules of the day.

Seven balls for a walk. Foul ball? Not a strike. But, if a fielder catches a foul on a bounce, it’s an out. Batters can request a low or high pitch.

There’s no pitching mound, just a flat “pitching box” that is 50 feet from home plate. (A pitching mound, exactly 60 feet 6 inches from home, won’t be instituted until 1893.)

And, pitchers are just getting the hang of throwing overhand (something they are first allowed to do in 1884 and 1885).

Let’s just say, you’d definitely recognize a game in 1886 as baseball.  But, like watching the 2021 Orioles throw a no-hitter, it would seem a bit weird.

I hope I’ve dissuaded you from making moony eyes over 1886. And, if I have, you may proceed.

Here are 12 things you should know about Matt Kilroy who, in 1886, threw the first no-hitter for the Baltimore Orioles.

1) Matt Kilroy was born in 1866 in Philadelphia. His father was an Irish immigrant, his mother’s parents Irish immigrants. Kilroy was the 7th of 13 children (we’ll circle back to all those siblings shortly). With the exception of his seasons playing baseball, Kilroy would live his entire life in the same Philadelphia neighborhood he was born in.

2) He was a lefty pitching prodigy. “When but 14 years old,” The Boston Globe later reported, “he astonished the amateurs in Philadelphia by his wonderful command over the ball.” By 1884, just 18, he was pitching professionally in Newark of the Eastern League.

3) In 1885, Kilroy was playing for the Augusta, Georgia “Augustas” in the inaugural season of the Southern League, the first professional baseball league in the South. He quickly became the team’s “star” with pitches that routinely “paralyzed” and “puzzled” opponents.

Augusta had a strong season, hot on the heels of league-leading Atlanta as the season wound down to its final games, including an Augusta-Atlanta makeup game. To avoid playing Augusta, facing Kilroy, and potentially losing their league lead, Atlanta announced that they were disbanding immediately. Both Atlanta and Augusta claimed the pennant. They were still arguing about it the following spring.  Seriously.

4) How good was Kilroy? Let’s ask Ted Sullivan, 1885 manager of Augusta’s Memphis rivals: “I am mashed on little Kilroy, Augusta’s phenomenal pitcher, and whether I manage a club in the north, south, east, or west, professional or amateur, I will have Kilroy, cost what it may. That boy has a great future before him in the diamond.” (Memphis Avalanche, 9/19/1885)

Kilroy was, The Philadelphia Inquirer later noted, a “little whirlwind.”

5) The Baltimore Orioles, of the major league American Association, scooped Kilroy up in 1886.

Kilroy was quickly dubbed the “phenomenal kid,” or simply “the kid,” known for his strikeouts and an exceptional ability to pick off base runners. He was 20.

The 1886 Orioles, like their 2021 namesakes, were not very good. (I’m being kind.) The 1886 Orioles would finish their season 48-83, dead last in the American Association and 41 games back of pennant-winning St. Louis. Kilroy, who went 29-34, was the only bright spot on a hopelessly lousy team.

6) Kilroy’s big league career began on April 17, 1886, Opening Day, at Oriole Park.

The Baltimore Sun, 4/17/1886

Ladies Free!

Public Domain

Baltimore Orioles Opening Day Program, 1886

(That’s Matt.)

Kilroy gave up two singles and one run (unearned) in a 4-1 win over the Brooklyn Grays (today’s Dodgers).

The next week, on April 26, in his hometown of Philadelphia, he one-hit the Athletics.  As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported: “It was a most good humored assemblage, and as Kilroy mowed down one after another of the local batters on strikes, he was lustily applauded.”

7) Kilroy threw a no-hitter, the only one of his career, on Wednesday, October 6, 1886 in a game against the Alleghenys in Pittsburgh.

On Tuesday, October 5, Kilroy pitches the second game of a double-header against Pittsburgh. The game is called in a 3-3 tie in the sixth, due to darkness.

He tosses his no-hitter the next day.

The Baltimore Sun, 10/7/1886

The Louisville Courier-Journal, 10/7/1886

The Pittsburgh Daily Post, 10/7/1886

A grounder, fumbled by Orioles third baseman Jumbo Davis in the 6th, was ruled an error by the “official” scorer in Pittsburgh. Some newspaper accounts deemed it a hit, but, remember, 1886 had no MLB-TV, no slo-mo, no replays, and, anyway, I’m nearly done with this story and I’m not rewriting it now.

Kilroy strikes out 11, including striking out the side “in rapid succession” in the 9th, the Pittsburgh Daily Post reported.

(Kilroy’s next start? In Cincinnati on October 8, Kilroy gives up 10 runs in four innings and winds up playing centerfield for the remainder of the game in a 14-8 loss.)

8) In 1886, Kilroy struck out 513 batters – a single-season major league record that still stands. (Well, it still stands if you include 19th-century statistics along with the modern era, which some people do, but most people don’t. You do you.)

Modern Day Comparison: Kilroy’s 513 Ks in 1886 are 130 more than Nolan Ryan’s 383 in 1973.

(Bonus Fun Fact: Kilroy’s 61 wild pitches in 1886 also led the league.)

9) Phenom or not, Kilroy’s catchers disliked catching him. His primary catcher in 1886, Chris Fulmer, demanded more money from the Orioles the following spring, arguing that his increase in passed balls was due to the difficulties of catching Kilroy’s peculiar curves and that he required days off for recuperation following games. (These were the days when catchers’ masks were rudimentary and gloves were generally fingerless and unpadded. Catchers would protect themselves by positioning themselves well back of the batter.)

Yikes!

Fulmer didn’t get the raise, but was promised that the Orioles would sign additional catchers, allowing more time for recuperating after a Kilroy start.

Kilroy also regularly aggravated umpires and was often called for balks when he would step out of the pitcher’s box when throwing.

10) Kilroy’s 1887 was good, too. To curb strikeouts, the league rules were changed to require four strikes for a K. Kilroy’s strikeouts declined (to 217), but he led the league in wins (46) and innings pitched (589.1). While his stats declined over the years as he suffered through injuries, he stayed with the Orioles through 1889, and played for a handful of other teams through 1898.

Public Domain

1889 Orioles. (I think that’s Kilroy … front row, second from the left.)

Public Domain

1890 Boston Reds (That looks like Kilroy … back row, second from left.)

11) Back to all those siblings.

In January 1889, Matt Kilroy and his brothers formed an indoor baseball team in Philadelphia for a game against a team of local professional players. The Kilroys— in batting order: Mike, Will, Burt, John, Matt, Pete, Charles, and Henry – were joined by a player named Johnson, from the professionals’ team, when brother Frank failed to show for the game. “One of us had to stay home and mind the babies,” Matt explained.

Brother Mike – who spent the 1888 season with Matt on the Orioles – pitched, while Matt played shortstop.

The Philadelphia Times, 1/13/1889

More than 500 fans turned out to watch the game at the State Fair grounds. The Kilroys lost to the pros, 11-0, striking out 21 times. Their sole hit – a single by Will.

One of the best box scores ever.

12) After baseball, Kilroy opened a “taproom,” – conveniently renamed a “restaurant” during Prohibition – next to Shibe Park on the corner of 20th and Lehigh in Philadelphia. He became close with Athletics manager/owner Connie Mack and became part of Mack’s “kitchen cabinet.” Kilroy’s nurturing and coaching is credited with helping make future Hall of Fame pitchers Chief Bender and Eddie Plank stars.

It’s said that after retiring from playing, he never missed a Philadelphia A’s home game, always leaving his taproom/restaurant just in time for first pitch.

The Baltimore Sun, 10/4/1953

An older Matt Kilroy.

Kilroy had six children. His son, Elmer, was elected a state representative in the 1930s and served as Speaker of the Pennsylvania House in 1941. Matt Kilroy died in 1940, following a long illness. He was 73.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/4/1917

Wait! Wait! One More! …

13) In 1933, Philadelphia papers report that Matt Kilroy has a kitten named Bing – named for A’s outfielder Bing Miller who gave him the cat. The stories note that Kilroy has taught Bing the cat to jump and catch a baseball in its paws.

Public Domain

Bing Miller. Outfielder. Not cat.

Mookie Wilson-Betts. Cat. Not outfielder.

There. I think that about covers things.

18 thoughts on “12 Things You Should Know About Matt Kilroy, The “Little Whirlwind”

  1. The Team Kilroy box score worries me. It seems Henry plays 1st and records not one putout (the “p” in the box score). Yikes.
    Great job as always, Bloggess.
    v

    • Thank you, v! I had to go into the box score and enlarge it to see. It looks like Henry wasn’t entirely hopeless. If you enlarge the score — which I did here: https://baseballzen9.files.wordpress.com/2021/06/henry-9.jpg — it looks like Henry had 9 putouts in the game.

      (When Matt left baseball in 1898, he said he was going to start Kilroy’s Killers — a brother barnstorming team. I couldn’t confirm that he ever did … and based on that box score, it’s probably better that he didn’t.)

        • Thank you, thank you! I so enjoyed reading this. I smiled all the way through it. I have to.wonder if there was any family connection to the slogan “Kilroy was here.” And just as an aside, my Uncle George’s farmhouse in 1949 had no hot water, no shower, and no toilet.
          Nevertheless, his wife turned out fantastic meals on a stove fired by wood and corn cobs. Staying there as a city kid was a real adventure.

  2. You have successfully disavowed any notion I might have had of the 1880’s being the good old days. Imagine how different Matt Kilroy’s life would have been with a multi-million dollar signing bonus at age 17.

  3. And I thought it was bad that the Yankees once tanked a division lead so they didn’t have to face Cliff Lee in the playoffs … at least they didn’t fold! LOL

    Awesome as always!

    • Thank you, Bill!

      You know, I’ve always thought there was a little weirdness during the men’s college basketball season this spring when some teams (I won’t name names, but … Virginia Tech … oops, did I just say that?) were disinclined to play any covid-related makeup games toward the end of the season for fear of (I’m just guessing here) hurting their post-season placement.

  4. Loved this… Rube Waddell’s family (dad, uncles, cousins) would tour the area around Pittsburgh in the mid-1890s and play other local amateur teams, but this was before Rube was famous (he was a teen)…

    • Thanks, Paul! The Waddell’s … how cool! When Matt Kilroy left the major leagues in 1898 he said he was going to start a family barnstorming team in Philadelphia — he called them the Kilroy Killers (his brothers and one nephew). I’m not sure anything ever came of it … but maybe in some little corner of Pennsylvania the Kilroy Killers took on Rube Waddell’s family barnstorming team!

  5. Pingback: The week gone by — June 13 – A Silly Place

  6. “Moooooookie.” said like a Ferengi bartender saying “Mooooooogie”. I’m forever free associating.

    Children, especially toddlers, are suicide machines. I have no clue how any of us get out of childhood. Add the every day dangers of 1886…woof. It boggles the mind.

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