Tom Barlow: Baseball’s first drug casualty?

One of the first bits of trouble for the New Haven franchise emerged in late February. Arnold attempted to sign Tom Barlow, a talented, yet troubled catcher and shortstop.

Tom Barlow, catcher for the Atlantics, Dark Blues, and Elm Citys

Tom Barlow

Barlow would have been a fine addition to the roster. He was a better than average offensive player, hitting .290 over the course of his career, and commonly regarded as one of the innovators of the bunt. He caught all his team’s games in 1873, and led the league in stolen bases a year later. He was also considered a fine defender in an era when an unsteady catcher could be a team’s undoing with constant passed balls and poor throwing.

According to the local press, manager Billy Arnold was accused of not acting honorably in his signing of Barlow. “The Barlow matter has been the subject of conversation in base ball circles, the sporting press taking unusual interest in the matter, and seem happy in heaping abuse upon Messrs. Arnold and Douglass [a member of the Elm Citys Board of Directors] for having signed Barlow for the New Havens when he was already signed for the [Brooklyn] Atlantics, which facts Mr. Van Deft of the Atlantics claims those gentlemen knew when they signed him,” the New Haven Daily Palladium reported.

Arnold promptly went back to Brooklyn and spoke with owner Van Deft, trying to make amends. Arnold also tried to seek out his erstwhile catcher, visiting “several of the places where he is generally to be found.”

The Daily Palladium claimed that because of Barlow’s malfeasance, he would be suspended for the season by the leaders of the National Association. It would take some time for this situation to be sorted out, creating tension between Arnold, the Board of Directors, Van Deft and league leadership.

Barlow’s situation was not simply a case of flagrant disregard for a contract, common enough at the time when players routinely jumped contracts for a better deal.

Barlow had suffered a serious injury while playing for the Hartford Dark Blues in 1874. He had been struck in the side by a fastball from pitcher Cherokee Fisher, a hurler noted for his speed.

Cherokee Fisher of the Hartford Dark Blues

Cherokee Fisher

In the 1870s, players played barehanded and without padding of any sort. Injuries as a result of errant throws were common. Doug Allison, a catcher in the National Association, was first reported to use a glove to nurse an injury in 1870. The first glove used in the way we understand them would be used this season, 1875, by a St. Louis outfielder/first baseman named Charlie Waitt. Waitt used flesh colored gloves, trying to mitigate the amount of aspersions on his manhood he would receive as a result of his innovation.

Doug Allison's mangled hands after years of pro ball

Doug Allison’s mangled hands after years of pro ball

Barlow’s treatment led to additional problems that would end up destroying his baseball career. In a sad letter to the Boston Times written in 1877, Barlow claims that he was given a shot of morphine by a doctor treating that injury. He quickly became severely addicted to the drug, spending as much as $8 a day to feed the habit.

He played his last two professional baseball games (one for New Haven) in 1875 at the age of 23, possibly baseball’s first drug casualty. “I’d rather have died behind the bat than having that first dose,” he said.

Nothing more is known about his life or how he died.

David Archdianoco goes into the Barlow story in tremendous detail here: http://www.efqreview.com/NewFiles/v21n1/onhistoricalground.html
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