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Worcester County’s First Major League Baseball Player
Written By: Newt Weaver
*Click images below to view larger versions.
John Besson
“Brewery Jack” Taylor
 
    Every once in a while even a respected historian or experienced biographer can be led astray. Information can become suspect when contemporary researchers, particularly journalists and reporters, are sending questionnaires out to distant relatives who barely recall when and where the person of interest was born and grew up. This is especially true when investigating someone who lived in the nineteenth century. Occasionally the subject would be identified as being born in a city where he grew up. This assumption, once the error has been corrected, can often end up being hundreds of miles apart from the town where he was actually born.
    Such is the case of John Besson Taylor who happened to be a major league baseball pitcher.  Since the first Baseball Encyclopedia was published by the Macmillan Company in 1969, called the “Mac” for short, until just a few years ago, “Brewery Jack” Taylor was listed as being born in West New Brighton, Staten Island, New York. Even his death notice in local newspapers incorrectly listed him as being born in Staten Island. This information was apparently gleaned from his death certificate. However, due to the skilled efforts of one Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) member we now know the real facts.
    Thanks to baseball historian Peter Mancuso, Taylor actually hailed from the Sandy Hill area, what is now referred to as Stockton, Maryland. In 1872 the Worcester County election district changed the name from Sandy Hill to Stockton, yet many area folks still listed their residency as Sandy Hill years afterward. Stockton/Sandy Hill junction was once noted as a post road and later on as an important train stop for shipping seafood, particularly oysters, clams and fish, some farm produce and livestock north. The railroad ran from Greenbackville, Virginia, to Snow Hill with a spur deviated to Hursley Station near Stockton. It lies roughly nine miles southeast of Snow Hill, Maryland…the government seat of Worcester County and the birth place of Negro League All-Star and National Baseball Hall of Fame third baseman William “Judy” Johnson.
    Adding insult to injury, “Brewery Jack” Taylor’s playing career was in some instances confused with another baseball pitcher, John W. Taylor, also known as “The Brakeman”.  Some previous reporters and earlier statisticians have erroneously combined these athletes accomplishments as they both pitched in the National League throughout the 1898 and 1899 seasons, and both were on the St. Louis club rosters with “Brewery Jack” in 1898 and “The Brakeman” in 1904-06.  Even their pictures have been mistakenly identified.
    It’s easy to understand how Jack Besson Taylor’s place of birth was misleading. He was born on May 23, 1873 to John P. Taylor and Phoebe Ann DePew. According to investigator Peter Mancuso, these families had been residents of Staten Island since the mid Eighteenth Century. Taylor was a waterman turned farmer then back to waterman. He had bought a house in the Sandy Hill area of Worcester County in 1871 near an oyster bed not far from George Island Landing where ocean-going vessels occasionally docked. Today the area is practically abandoned and can be located on old Maryland Route 12 and East Route 366.
    Taylor was here on the Eastern Shore to gather oysters from the Chincoteague Bay.  Oysters were in big demand following the Civil War, and the newly built railroad running from Stockton to Wilmington, Philadelphia, and points in New Jersey all the way north to New York, made for easy shipping. Watermen from the northern states came down to these areas to take advantage of this lucrative opportunity. The stress and demands of being a waterman took its toll. Unfortunately, John P. Taylor suffered a fatal heart attack in the spring of 1874. Worcester County records indicate that his property was probated later that same year.
    In the earlier part of 1875, Phoebe Ann DePew Taylor had gathered the family, including two-year-old John Besson Taylor, his older brothers George, Walter, Mathew, and sister Marietta, and moved back to Staten Island to the home of her late husband’s parents near New Springfield. According to Mancuso’s well documented report, the New York State Census of 1875 and the 1880 Federal Census of Staten Island indicated that “Brewery Jack” Taylor was born in Maryland. By late 1880, Phoebe Taylor had relocated to West New Brighton, Staten Island.
    With Mancuso’s latest discovery, Jack Besson Taylor becomes not only the first native from Worcester County to play in the majors, but is also the first native of the Delmarva Peninsula to pitch in the majors with Alva Burton Burris and National Baseball Hall of Famer Victor Gazaway Willis (Delaware Peach) following in his footsteps a few years later.
    Taylor began playing baseball at a young age in and around the area known as West New Brighton, a section of Staten Island. This area is a haven for youngsters eager to learn the game of baseball. Spending the summers of 1886-87 watching the major league New York Metropolitans of the American Association, whose home park was called the St. Georges Grounds located in Staten Island, teen-aged Jack, along with several of his ball-tossing neighbors including Jack Sharrott, George Sharrott, George A. “Tuck” Turner and Jack Cronin, dreamed of playing in ballparks and stadiums when they all grew up. However, it didn’t take Jack Taylor very long to achieve that goal.
    Sixteen-year-old Jack Taylor got his first taste of organized baseball performing for the Chase Base Ball Club in 1889 joining neighborhood pal Jack Sharrott as an amateur. Sharrott later went on to pitch for the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies of the National League. Taylor also played for the competitive Pilgrim Club. Both clubs were located in West Brighton, Staten Island. The next year he played for the highly touted  Staten Island Corinthians. On this team, he would be playing alongside of switch-hitting friend “Tuck” Turner, who later on in 1894 playing for the Phillies of the National League, hit an amazing .418 in 347 at bats. In his six years of playing major league baseball, the switch-hitter sustained a batting average of .320. The 1890 Corinthians team won 22 consecutive games garnering attention from the professional leagues.
    In early 1891, Jack Taylor was assigned to Lebanon, Penn. The Lebanon Cedars belonged to the loosely-organized Eastern Championship Assoc. This was Taylor’s first professional contract. His minor league pitching debut occurred on April 28, 1891, as he defeated the Troy Trojans of Troy, N.Y., by a 15-1 thumping. At six-foot one and 195 pounds, Taylor was the biggest fellow on the team. His shortstop was Monte Cross who later went on to a 15-year career in the majors. Eighteen-year-old Taylor also had veteran ex-major leaguer Doc Bushong working as his catcher and mentor.  Taylor, in the second week of July with a 5-14 won/lost record, was suddenly traded without media explanation to the Troy Trojans, a team he soundly beat in his debut for Lebanon. He finished the year with a 9-17 record and went 4-3 for the Trojans with an  0.91 earned run average. The big right-hander was a victim of very low run support and occasional bad fielding as his combined two-team earned run average was a meager 1.58 in 200.0 innings pitched.  
    Despite losing nearly twice as many games as he won, Taylor found himself pitching a second game of a double-header donning a New York Giants uniform. On September 16, 1891, “Brewery Jack” debuted as a Major League pitcher. Once again he was victim of no run support as he lost 2-0 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He stingily gave up just one earned run…a home run to future Hall of Fame player Jake Beckley along with only four scattered hits. Unbelievably Taylor would never again be found pitching for the Giants. Was he just a hard luck pitcher or was there something else that drove the Giants to release the young player?
    Jack Taylor was a bit discouraged but wanted to continue his playing professionally if not for the National League Giants maybe some other team in the New York area. In the late spring of 1892, he got his wish by signing with the Minor League Albany Senators of the newly created and advanced Eastern League. Just turning 19, Jack was the youngest pitcher on the Albany team. He started 28 games and completed 25 of them while tying for club leadership with four shutouts. His earned run average was just over two runs a game at 2.28. The fast ball throwing Taylor’s strike out per innings pitched was 1.83 leading all pitchers on the club. He finished the year with the Senators winning 14 games and losing 13. Washington D.C. native and former major league player Joe Gerhardt managed the Senators and praised young Taylor, especially on his control of his fastball as he had only three wild pitches and walked just 44 batters.
    Gerhardt’s raves were no surprise to future Hall of Fame player and Philadelphia Phillies manager Harry Wright as he picked young Taylor to be one of his season ending starting pitchers. Wright had noticed the strong right-hander in April of 1891 when Taylor’s Lebanon Cedars played his Phillies in a pre-season match. Jack Taylor came on to do a three-inning relief stint allowing just one hit. This was “Brewery Jack’s” second trip to the majors. He started only three games that fall as the season ran its course. He finished two of them with one win and no losses and a 6-6 tie with Brooklyn on October 6, 1892.
    In 1893 there were major changes added to the rule book. These modifications included doing away with the 4-foot by 6.5-foot rectangle known as the pitcher’s box, and replacing it with a 4-inch by 12-inch slab.
    The pitcher’s rear foot must now be in contact with the slab when delivering a pitch.   Also the distance between the pitcher’s slab was increased from 57 feet to 60.5 feet from home plate. Until latter adjustments were implemented, this revision gave a slight advantage to the hitter. Seasonal statistics indicated an increase in runs scored, higher batting averages and a spike in pitchers earned run average. Jack Taylor was not immune as he saw his 1893 earned runs climb to over 4 runs per game.  
    Despite the increased earned run average, Taylor became the ace of the Phillies pitching staff from 1893-1897 as he won 96 games and lost 77 with a winning percentage of .555. This was higher than the club’s five year run of .520. During this span Taylor ranked 5th in the National League for both earned run average of 4.08 as well as  allowing only 1.487 walks and hits per innings pitched in 1894. His 26 wins in 1895 were 4th highest in the league! After the 1897 season Taylor was suddenly traded to the St. Louis club. It seems Taylor began to enjoy the fruits of alcohol and thus the nickname “Brewery Jack” came into play. Even under the influence Taylor, in 1898, with his new club, led the league in games started with 47, in games finished with 42 and innings pitched 397.3. He also led the league in assists with 144 and his range factor was 3.24 most for pitchers.   Unfortunately he also led the league in games lost, 29, and most hits, 465, allowed for the dead last St. Louis Club who were an incredible 63 games out of first place!
    Taylor received some of the heat for the last place team. He was traded the next year to Cincinnati where he went 9-10. He started only 19 games due to illnesses which most likely translated into hangovers or worse. He often complained of severe pains on his right side. Still he managed to pitch two shutouts and only one wild pitch in 180 innings of work.
    Taylor continued to suffer aches and pains during the winter months. On February 7, 1900, “Brewery Jack” Taylor died suddenly after an operation at the Smith Infirmary in Staten Island, New York. The cause of death was kidney failure known as Bright’s Disease possibly brought on by the heavy consumption of alcohol. The Worcester County native was just 26 years old. He left behind a widow with no children.
    John Besson Taylor’s name has been placed in nomination for possible induction into the Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame as the first native of Worcester County to play in the Major Leagues.

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