The First Pinch Hitter

The 1865 Atlantic

The 1865 Atlantic

It’s 5 May 1871. Catcher Doug Allison has just been injured. Someone needs to replace him in the lineup. The Washington Olympics call on Frank Prescott Norton (the man in the middle of the picture above) to take Allison’s place. When he steps to the plate, Norton becomes the first ever pinch hitter in the history of a professional baseball league. He struck out in what turned out to be his only plate appearance in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the first professional baseball league.

None of that means Norton was the first ever pinch hitter in the history of baseball. There’s evidence that pinch-hitting, usually in case of injury, occurred prior to 1871. But Norton is the first to do it in a professional game.

Frank Norton was born in Port Jefferson, New York  9 June 1845. He got his start in baseball with the Brooklyn Stars, one of the weaker teams in the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1863. He stayed through 1864 earning a reputation as a good center fielder who could also catch. In 1865 he joined the Atlantic helping them to the Association championship. It was his only season with the champs. In 1866 he played with the Excelsior and in ’67 started the season in Boston with the Tri-Mountains. The team wasn’t good enough and the pay wasn’t great in Boston (I’ve been unable to determine where he worked), so he moved south to Washington where a job in Federal government (Interior Department) and a place on the Nationals as a second baseman, shortstop, and catcher awaited. He stayed with the Nationals through at least 1868 (and one place indicates he was there in 1869 also). The job paid well and he retired. He got his one shot in 1871 because he attended a game and was called on in an emergency.

He moved, after 1871, to New York where he became a contractor. He made a lot of money and inherited more (about $500,000 in 1875). After time as an insurance agent and realtor, he retired, apparently as a millionaire, and began splitting time between homes in South Carolina and Greenwich, Connecticut. While at Greenwich on 1 August 1920 he died. He is buried in Suffolk County, New York in the cemetery of the Setauket Presbyterian Church.

Next time you’re watching a game and they call on a pinch hitter. Think kindly of Frank Prescott Norton. He deserves it.

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3 Responses to “The First Pinch Hitter”

  1. Precious Sanders Says:

    I doubt there’s anything keeping track of which ballplayer was the first to chew tobacco or sunflower seeds during a game, but thinking of the first anything gets me wondering about things like that. The first game with Gatorade? The first player to wear cleats?

    • glen715 Says:

      Precious, all kidding aside, it’s possible that the 1969 Seattle Pilots were the first team to drink Gatorade. Throughout Jim Bouton’s then-controversial book, “Ball Four” (at least it was controversial in 1970, when it first came out), he relates, tongue-in-cheek, about his efforts to have the (cheap) Seattle Pilots owner pay for Gatorade for the team. Gatorade was a fairly new product then. I don’t know if they ever GOT the Gatorade, but throughout the book Bouton relates his efforts to have the team pay the tab for them to have it!

      Maybe Bouton’s massively bestselling book gave more free advertising to the relatively new product than any advertising that Gatorade has done in subsequent years!


  2. glen715 Says:

    So this guy Frank Norton paved the way for guys like Smoky Burgess (Pirates), Ed Kranepool (Mets), Jose Morales (Expos), and numerous other prolific pinch-hitters. I’ve probably left out some great ones. I was at a Yankee-White Sox game in, I think it was, 1976, and I remember the pitcher Ken Brett kneeling on the on-deck circle for the Chisox, waiting to pinch-hit. Yes, George’s pitching brother was THAT good of a hitter.


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