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Roger Breshnahan, Hall of Fame catcher

Roger Philip Bresnahan was born June 11, 1879 in Toledo, Ohio. At a young age, he was nicknamed the Duke of Tralee, referring to his ancestral roots in Tralee, Ireland. At the age of 18, he was picked up by the Washington Senators, and played a few games at the end of the 1897 season. When he asked for a pay increase to stay with the team, they quickly cut the impetuous youngster. Roger then signed with the Chicago Cubs and spent two years working around the minors, switching positions constantly. Once again he came up for a cup of coffee at the end of the 1900 season. With the formation of the American League in 1901, Roger was picked up by John McGraw and the Baltimore Orioles on the recommendation of McGraw's friend, pitching extraordinaire Christy Mathewson. The Duke of Tralee and Little Napoleon became fast friends. After a strong season and a half with the Orioles, McGraw left to coach the New York Giants. He naturally took his friend with him.

New York was already suffering a glut of catchers, so Roger shifted to centerfield. In 1903, his first full season with the club, he batted .350 and smacked 5 home runs (good enough for 7th in the league in the deadball era.) In 1904 he stole 34 bases and showed great discipline at the plate. The following year he moved back to his original position of catcher, and batted .302 in 87 games. He and the Giants also went to their first World Series, where he batted .312 and caught 4 shutout games to help lead his team to the championship trophy.

Although Roger is most known for catching, he was adept at every position on the field - he actually started his career as a pitcher with a tremendous fastball. Roger was a smart hitter and a speedster, and frequently laid down bunts which he beat out for infield singles. He also helped innovate the catcher position, coming up with a number of signals to help fielders shift properly in certain situations. He was also an outspoken and relentless player on the field, baiting umpires and opponents with reckless abandon. He was frequently ejected from games and fined for his efforts, but his fire never diminished. In fact, his vitriol from behind the plate was so much that in 1911 a new rule was added allowing umpires to eject players for heckling opponents too much - a rule added almost especially for him.

Despite Roger's on-the-field heroics and brash heckling, he is best known for his contributions to the equipment of baseball. Throughout his career he made a number of improvements to help protect batters and fielders. Among his inventions were a rudimentary batting helmet (after a nasty beaning in 1907 put him in the hospital for 2 weeks), shin guards and a padded mask for catchers, and some early forms of elbow pads. When they were first created, people often scoffed at his attempts to protect himself, calling them ungentlemanly and against the spirit of the game. Roger ignored them, and within a few years his inventions had become the norm around the league.

In 1909, Roger was shipped off to the St. Louis Cardinals. Although he was only 29 and still a decent batter and fielder, the wear and tear on catchers in the early 20th century was gut-wrenching, and he was already on the steady decline. Still, as a manager and clubhouse leader he was highly coveted, and the Cardinals gave up a number of players to get him. From 1909 to 1911, Roger played about 80 games a season, and primarily served as the gametime manager. He also made a number of good trades, and by 1911 had taken the cellar-dwelling Cards to a respectable 75-74 record. Everything seemed on the up.

Unfortunately, the team sunk back into their losing ways in 1912. Owner Schuyler Britton had awarded Roger with a fat 5-year contract at the end of the 1911 season, and she had expected results. When they didn't come, she criticized Roger, who somewhat disdainfully pushed back. For his efforts, he was fired midway through the season. Roger felt that the firing was unwarranted, and took Mrs. Britton to court for the remainder of his contract salary.

Although the team refused to pay, they released him after the waiver wire and he signed on with the Chicago Cubs - this time, wisely refusing to manage. He spent three years with the Cubbies as a backup catcher, and eventually relented to lead the team to a 4th place finish in 1915. At the age of 35, the Duke of Tralee hung up his glove for good.

After retiring, Roger returned to his hometown of Toledo and bought the local minor league squad the Mud Hens. He also served as manager, and in seven years with the team took them to four league championships. In 1924 he sold the team to become a coach for the New York Giants, and in 1930, took a job coaching with the Detroit Tigers. He finally quit baseball for good in 1931.

In his later years, the Duke became a beer salesman and a strong Democratic party member in Toledo, running for City Commissioner twice. Roger Bresnahan passed away December 9, 1944 in his hometown of Toledo. He was 63 years old. He was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame the following winter.

Career Statistics

YEAR   TEAM    G   AB   R    H  2B 3B HR RBI  SB CS  BB  SO    BA
1897 WSN NL    6   16   1    6   0  0  0   3   0  0   1      .375 
1900 CHC NL    2    2   0    0   0  0  0   0   0  0   0      .000
1901 BLA AL   86  295  40   79   9  9  1  32  10  0  23      .268
1902 BLA AL   65  235  30   64   8  6  4  34  12  0  21      .272
     NYG NL   51  178  16   51   9  3  1  22   6  0  16      .287
     TOT     116  413  46  115  17  9  5  56  18  0  37      .278
1903 NYG NL  113  406  87  142  30  8  4  55  34  0  61      .350
1904 NYG NL  109  402  81  114  22  7  5  33  13  0  58      .284

1905 NYG NL  104  331  58  100  18  3  0  46  11  0  50      .302
1906 NYG NL  124  405  69  114  22  4  0  43  25  0  81      .281
1907 NYG NL  110  328  57   83   9  7  4  38  15  0  61      .253
1908 NYG NL  140  449  70  127  25  3  1  54  14  0  83      .283
1909 STL NL   72  234  27   57   4  1  0  23  11  0  46      .244
1910 STL NL   88  234  35   65  15  3  0  27  13  0  55  17  .278
1911 STL NL   81  227  22   63  17  8  3  41   4  0  45  19  .278
1912 STL NL   48  108   8   36   7  2  1  15   4  0  14   9  .333
1913 CHC NL   69  162  20   37   5  2  1  21   7  0  21  11  .228
1914 CHC NL  101  248  42   69  10  4  0  24  14  0  49  20  .278
1915 CHC NL   77  221  19   45   8  1  1  19  19  3  29  23  .204
     CAREER 1446 4481 682 1252 218 71 26 530 212  3 714  99  .279
* Bold denotes led league.

Hall of Fame Index
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