Monte Ward: Leader, Scholar and Athlete
Monte Ward was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, a town in the scenic north central part of the state, and grew up near there. His family, mostly through his mother’s side, had extensive real estate holdings, so they were financially comfortable. He was enrolled in a private school, Bellefonte Academy, and was described as “quick-witted and bright”. His life was pretty idyllic, but his parents died while he was still young.
At the very young age of 13, he was able to enroll at Penn State University, and did well in school until he was expelled for attacking an upper classman who had been hazing him in a mean-spirited manner. While Ward had been in school, he had maintained and nurtured a love of baseball, even helping to re-organize the Penn State baseball program.
Ward the PitcherAt age 18, Monte Ward’s pitching had drawn the attention of professional scouts. Soon, he signed with the Providence Grays of the National League. He finished his Rookie year with a 22-13 record, with a 1.51 ERA. By his 2nd year, 1879, the Grays won the Pennant, featuring stars such as first baseman Joe Start (the man who first established the defensive protocols for playing the position) and Paul Hines (a defensive stalwart in center field), and Ward. (A note: we call Ward “Monte” today, but in his era, he was called “John”; the nickname “Monte”, which has been in use since the 1920s, came about as a result of a mistake by a researcher.)
Ward had an outstanding year in 1879, going 47-19, with a 2.15 ERA, and 239 Ks. His durability was amazing, too, chalking up 587 innings. In 1880, on June 17th, Ward pitched the 2nd perfect game in Major League history. He won 5-0 over future Hall of Fame pitcher James “Pud” Galvin and the Buffalo Bisons, with their stars Hardy Richardson and Joe Hornung. It would be 24 years before another perfect game would occur (tossed by the incomparable Cy Young in 1904), and 84 years until Jim Bunning would throw the next National League perfect game.
On August 17th, 1882, Ward won a 1-0 18-inning complete game shutout against the Detroit Wolverines, who featured the fine catcher Charlie Bennett in their lineup. To this day, it is the longest shutout in Major League history
Ward the ShortstopAt about this time, Ward suffered a severe arm injury while sliding into a base. As he rehabbed the injury, he started playing some center field, starting a career path that would find him becoming one of the great utility players–and shortstops–in the history of the game.
At the end of the 1882 season, the Grays, concerned about Ward’s arm injury, sold him to the National League’s New York Gothams (they became the Giants in 1885). Ward’s arm healed to the point that he could still pitch, but he continued to play outfield positions, especially center field, and he started to fill a need that the New Yorkers had for a shortstop. In 1884, Ward hurt his arm again, also while base-running, and played center field for a while–as a left-hander–while once again rehabbing his right arm! By the 1885 season, Ward had become the full-time shortstop for the Giants. The Giants boasted some of the very finest players, such as pitchers Tim Keefe and Mickey Welch, catcher Buck Ewing, first baseman Roger Connor, and outfielders Jim O’Rourke, George Gore and Mike Tiernan. With Ward as the field general, the Giants were always a formidable opponent.
Ward seemed to have boundless energy. He had been doing college studies in the off-season, and graduated from the Columbia Law School in 1885. He had long been concerned by the one-sided unfairness with which the owners treated the players. So, in 1885, he also formed the “Brotherhood of Professional Ball Players”–its principle objective was to negotiate fair contracts between players and owners, and to overturn what we now call “The Reserve Clause”, which unfairly bound players to one team for life.
Ward the OrganizerDuring this time, Ward helped lead the Giants in 1884 as their player-manager, and as a player to National League pennants in 1888 and 1889. However, there was much dissatisfaction by the players over the manner in which the owners continually strong-armed the players. Ward tried to negotiate with the owners, but the owners were very arrogant, and didn’t take him seriously. So, in 1890, Ward, through his many business contacts, formed the Players League, essentially installing a profit-sharing system for the players–and doing away with the hated “Reserve Clause”.
The National League owners suddenly wished they had taken Ward more seriously–now, over half of their stars were in the Players League. But, nothing that’s too good to be true lasts forever. The Players League only lasted for one season. As it turned out, most of the new owners were under-funded, and the National League owners soon realized it. They spent a lot of money to buy out the new Players League owners, and shut down the new league. An expensive lesson for the NL brass, but they were at least generally successful in getting their players back.
Ward was welcomed back with open arms by the Giants, and now they continued their winning ways. Ward had gotten married in 1887 to the beautiful Broadway actress Helen Dauvray. Remember, she is the one who commissioned the Dauvray Cup–the trophy to be awarded, starting in 1894, for baseball’s “World Championship Series”. She and Ward decided he would retire from baseball and build his New York law practice. He did so, and became a very successful lawyer.
During Ward’s 17 year baseball career, he had one of the top winning percentages as a pitcher, chalked up a 164-103 Won-Lost record, and a 2.10 ERA, 7th best of all time. He had the 11th all-time fewest bases-on-balls-per 9 innings figure as a pitcher. He recorded the lowest on-base-percentage-against for any pitcher in history. Ward’s Ks-to-BBs ratio is an astounding 3.6. In 1880, he recorded a league-leading 8 shutouts. And, his career WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is a miniscule 1.04, third all-time behind only the legendary Addie Joss and Ed Walsh.
As a shortstop, and utility player, he was mostly known for his soft hands while fielding, and his great base stealing and base running. He batted .275, collected 2,104 hits, and stole 540 bases, including a remarkable 111 in 1887. He is the only Major Leaguer to ever win 100 games as a pitcher and collect over 2,000 hits. His WAR (Wins Above Replacement quotient) is amazing. For example, in 1887 his offensive WAR was #1, with 6.5, and his defensive WAR was #1, 2.7. He has the 5th best fielding percentage all time for shortstops.And, his greatest contribution may be the parameters he established for conducting the business of baseball. Many of his principles are still used by players and owners alike, from individual contract negotiations to MLB labor agreements.
As Sam Crane of the “New York Journal” put it, “No player before or after his day on the diamond ever did more to bring the sport to its present high standing and popularity. He was considered the model ballplayer of the (19th) century.”
Ward retired at the age of 34 to pursue his law practice full-time. He then took up golf and became a better-than-scratch golfer. He competed in the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship, and finished 2nd in the North-South Amateur Golf Championship (played at North Carolina’s Pinehurst Country Club), considered equal to a “Major” at that time. He helped form the Long Island Golf Association, and then the New York Golf Association. Later, he became a Director of the Federal (baseball) League, and part owner and business director of the Boston Braves. This article is just a brief summary of his many accomplishments during his illustrious career. In 1925, while on his annual visit to Augusta, Georgia, he caught pneumonia, and passed away. He was 65 years of age.
John Ward was one of the best of the 19th century ball players, and one of the most influential figures in baseball’s progression to becoming the Great American Pastime.
John Montgomery “Monte” Ward–leader, scholar and athletic star!