The First Lefty

The 1865 Atlantic

The 1865 Atlantic

The man in the middle of the bottom row is Thomas Jefferson Pratt. He was the primary pitcher for the 1865 Atlantic. He seems to be unique in baseball in that he is the first ever left-handed pitcher.

Before I give you any information on Tom Pratt I need to comment on the sentence just above with another one of my caveats. At least twice I found reference to Pratt being left-handed. Both times the quote appears to be taken from another source that is not referenced in any type note so I’m not sure from whence comes the idea he was left-handed. His Baseball Reference.com page says he threw right-handed. Someone is wrong, but I don’t know who. But I’m not sure how much it matters in 1860s baseball. It is an era when pitchers stood 45 feet away and tossed underhanded without snapping their wrist. It’s obvious, from things you read about the era, that some pitchers had figured out how to get around the restrictions with speed (Jim Creighton) and movement (Candy Cummings) already becoming part of the hurler’s technique. The comments on both Creighton and Cummings indicate how unusual they were so it seems that most pitchers merely tossed the ball toward home and relied on the batter missing it or the fielders catching and throwing it, things which both righty and lefty pitchers can do about equally well. All of which is meant to tell you that it may not have mattered Pratt was left-handed (although there is some evidence he’d figured out a curve). All of that is meant to tell you that the title of this article may be wrong. Be advised.

Tom Pratt was born 24 January 1844 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He was, as with a number of his contemporaries, a cricketer who moved from cricket to baseball. As with most other players he moved from position to position and team to team with some regularity. Starting in Philadelphia with the Athletic, the premier team in the city, he hooked on with the Atlantic in the early 1863 and settled in as their primary pitcher. He was good enough to lead them to a number of pennants, including the one in 1865 which led to the picture above. He wasn’t exactly a professional, but got a job with the City of Brooklyn that paid relatively well for the era, didn’t include much actual work, and left plenty of time to play ball. The job for playing concept was very common for the era and helped keep many players amateurs in the strictest sense of the word (and professionals in a true sense). He seems to have “worked” in the city Works Department, but I’ve been unable to determine his exact job (which makes the pay for play concept even more likely).

In 1864 he went 18-0 for the Atlantic, 13-0 in 1865. These are National Association of Base Ball Players games. He won many more playing outside the official Association. In 1866 he went to the Athletic (his original team) for the beginning of the season, but ended up back with the Atlantic for the latter part of the season. In 1867 he tried it in Philadelphia again, this time with the Quaker City team. The 1868 season saw him back with the Atlantic. It’s evident he’s moving a lot, but it’s also clear that he’s getting a higher paying job with the city when he does so.

In 1870 he moved to Philadelphia and began play for the Athletic. He remained there for the season. When the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed in 1871, he got into one game for the Athletic. He played first and got six at bats in his one game. The six at bats in a single game is still a record, although it’s since been tied. He went two for six, both singles, scored two runs, and had an RBI. It was his only professional game. He had three errors in 14 chances at first. It was the end of his playing career. Best estimates give him a 80-19 win-loss record as a pitcher.

He then moved to umpiring and remained an ump for a number of years (into at least 1886) before retiring from baseball. He made money as an umpire, as a player, as a city worker. It seems he kept much of it. He helped establish Pratt Brothers, a paint and whitewash business that did well. He also married into some money. In 1884 he had enough money to invest in the Union Association, a venture that ultimately failed. His Keystones, the UA team in Philly, did poorly, he lost a lot of money, but his business remained a success, as did a skating rink he opened, and he was able to continue living comfortably.

Tom Pratt died 28 September 1908 in Philadelphia.

Pratt's grave from "Find a Grave"

Pratt’s grave from “Find a Grave”

 

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6 Responses to “The First Lefty”

  1. Miller Says:

    I don’t care if the title is wrong. Good stuff!

  2. Gary Trujillo Says:

    Great stuff v.

  3. Precious Sanders Says:

    The Atlantic. The Athletic. I’m curious as to why they didn’t pluralize these names. Great write-up!

  4. Steve Myers Says:

    So pitchers have Creighton and Cummings to thank for Tommy John surgery?

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