Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A brief biography of Frank Hubert Moffett (1873-1935)

Frank Moffett started his involvement with the game of baseball when he was 15 and continued it until his death at age 62.

Frank Hubert Moffett was born on March 15th, 1873, the fifth child of John T. Moffett and Sarah "Sally" C. McDowell. Various census records show that he was either born in Georgia or in Tennessee. Not much is known of his childhood years, but he was living with his family in Knoxville in 1880, according to the 1880 Census, and he attended the Hampden-Sydney school on Knoxville's Gay Street in 1888.

That same year an F. Moffett joined a Knoxville base ball club (along with a C. Moffett, probably his older brother Charlie) called the W. Ramages.

In 1891 Frank Moffett is described in The Evening Sentinel as something of a cylconic pitcher of local practice, pitching and winning against the Shamrocks of Cincinnati. He ventured into football that year, being listed as the right end for the first organized football game in Knoxville, played at the Lake Ottosee (Chilhowee Park) field on May 15, 1891, against a team from Maryville. In November of 1891, the newly organized Knoxville Athletic Club football team played a football game against a team from Harriman, and Moffett was listed in the local newspaper report as starting at right tackle for the Knoxville team. However, the newspaper report of the result of that game do not include Moffett's name as having played, but later that year, The Journal reported that a new local football team called the Rushers had been organized, with Moffett the newly elected team captain.

In 1892 a local team called the DeHarts did organize a team, and Frank Moffett pitched for that aggregation when they defeated a team from Harriman, in a game played at the old Asylum Street grounds.

The first mention of Moffett as a manager of a Knoxville baseball team was in 1893, when he was the player-manager for the Reds baseball team. The Reds, a professional team, had played in the 1870's and 1880's, but the 1891 team had been short-lived, the team disbanded early in the season, and no team had been organized in 1892. The 1893 team was organized after Moffett and a Mr. Jobe were unsuccessful in establishing a new league including Knoxville and teams from Tennessee and North Carolina. The Southern Railway denied use of the Asylum (Western) Street park that spring and Moffett secured permission to use the old playing field near the corner of University avenue and Asylum for that season. After a couple of early season victories against a team from Athens, the Reds took on a superior team from Sioux City, in Knoxville, and dropped all three games, as Moffett discovered in his early baseball career that he would be often saddled with Knoxville teams that were mediocre at best, and with local fans who as often as not didn't attend the games, either in large numbers or with regularity.

After initially announcing that the Reds would play their home games in 1894 at the Lake Ottosee (Chilhowee Park) field, Moffett accepted an offer to pay off the team's outstanding debts from the 1893 season if he would move the team to a field in Smithwood, near Fountain City. The fences and grandstand were removed to the new site, and the Reds opened the season at the new facility in June, 1894, in a series with Chattanooga. Moffett's Reds played most of their games that season at the Smithwood field, and while the initial crowds were encouraging, fans soon were becoming increasingly reluctant to make the trip to Fountain City to watch games. By season's end attendance had dwindled considerably.

The Southern Railway made the Asylum Street site available once again in 1895, through an agreement with the company's vice president, W. H. Baldwin, Jr. Frank Moffett moved the team back to the old field nearer the city, and at his recommendation the field was renamed Baldwin Park. Attendance-wise, Moffett achieved better success at Baldwin Park than he had achieved at the Fountain City park, as the team averaged around four hundred spectators in 1895, after early season admonitions to local fans that their previous excuse for not attending games at the distant Smithwood diamond was no longer valid. The unwillingness of local fans to attend games at the Fountain City park continued to be obvious in the spring of 1895, when a paltry one hundred and fifty spectators watched an exhibition game at that site played by the professional Pittsburgh team. By this time the Knoxville team was now referred to as the Indians. At Baldwin Park, Moffett used various gimmicks to draw fans to games that year, such as hiring an African-American man to carry a sign and ring a cowbell while walking down Gay street, promoting local games played by the Indians. Following that season, Moffett announced that Knoxville would not be in the Southern Association in 1896, as had been hoped, the primary reason being that league's mandatory $1,200 per month salary for players.

In 1896, crowds were initially acceptable, but soon attendance dropped and Moffett reported again that he was losing money. The Journal chimed in, admonishing locals and saying that the team deserved at least four times the usual patronage at games. It didn't help Moffett's cause when he was accused of attempting to lure players from the Maysville, Kentucky team to play for his Knoxville nine. But Moffett pushed on, continuing promotional antics that once included playing a Cherokee Indian named Lloyd Owl at every position on the team in one game, before Owl -- who reportedly possessed only minimal talent, and had come to Knoxville thinking the Indians were a team of actual American Indians -- was sent packing back to his home in North Carolina. Most contests in 1896 were played at Baldwin Park in Knoxville, but even without the travel expenses Moffett reported that he was still losing money, and attendance had dwindled to the point that The Journal reported there were more players than fans at the park when the final game of the season was played.

Turning down an offer to manage the Asheville, North Carolina team in 1897, Moffett traveled to Nashville to meet with others to create a new Southeastern League, including Knoxville, Chattanooga, Asheville, Atlanta, and Columbus. The league was established, but poor attendance doomed the league from the start, as Chattanooga soon dropped out and the league folded. Moffett kept the Indians together that year, playing games against teams including Louisville, Asheville, Maysville, and other cities, although attendance continued to be sparse, usually drawing no more than two hundred fans to games, and one game attracting a paltry thirty spectators. Moffett continued innovative moves that season, including designating a section of bleachers for African American spectators, but to little avail. For the season, Moffett again lost money, and said if attendance did not get better he would be unable to field a team in 1898.

Moffett again fielded a team in 1898, but they played a very limited schedule against teams such as an Army team from a camp in Chattanooga and a few games against Johnson City. He threw in the towel, losing money once again, as crowds of fewer than one hundred people showed up for games in Knoxville.

Following a newspaper announcement that Moffett had been appointed as coach of the University of Tennessee baseball team in April, it was apparently an incorrect report, since later that month the coach of that team was W. R. Harrison. Frank Moffett managed a team in Union, South Carolina in 1899. But by September he was back in Knoxville, his South Carolina team having run away with the competition, and finding no opponents had disbanded. Knoxville had no professional team in 1899, although Moffett did organize a team to play one game at Baldwin Park on October 12 against an "All Professional" team that consisted of former Knoxville Reds players, a team The Journal described as "Knoxville favorites, when baseball was in its palmest days in this city."

In 1900, we find Frank Moffett as a baseball manager in Rome, Georgia, according to the 1900 Census. He has four baseball players with him, William Brummer, Harold Cribbins, Trent Moore, and Fred Allen, all in their mid twenties. Cribbins and Allen played for the Selma (Alabama) Christians in the Southern Association the following year.

In 1901 Moffett was coaching a team in Anderson, South Carolina, playing teams from Piedmont, Pelzer, Clemson College, Augusta, Asheville, Darlington, Marion, and Florence. Later that summer he tried to move the team to Rome, Georgia.

In 1902 professional baseball returned to Knoxville. Moffett again organized an independent Knoxville team called the Indians. They played against a variety of teams, including a Portsmouth, Ohio team managed by Branch Rickey at Baldwin Park.

In 1903 Frank Moffett became the third baseball coach at the University of Tennessee, where he took the team to an 8-10 record, playing teams from Emory and Henry, Alabama, Carson-Newman, Georgia Tech, Sewannee, and Wofford. After the college season was over in May, he fielded a local team but it operated on shaky ground, with poor attendance, and he was reportedly considering an offer to manage the team at Bristol. The team remained in Knoxville, but despite attempts to increase attendance by making every Tuesday Ladies Day, with free admission for those of the fairer sex, attendance was not much better, and in a series against a team from Louisville, Kentucky in late June a local newspaper reported that the gate receipts were "about ten dollars." Frank Moffett then took the Louisville team to Bristol to play that city's team rather than continuing to lose money in Knoxville. He returned to Knoxville and said he would divide the Knoxville team and fill some positions with members of the UT team and local players. Moffett persisted, and in September his team again played a series of games in Knoxville against the team from Portsmouth, Ohio. Following that game, The Journal and Tribune reported "the bottom has dropped out of the sport evidently, and no matter how high class ball is played, it is a miracle when more than two hundred people are present to enjoy the game." Following a trip to Columbus, Georgia, the team returned to Knoxville for a scheduled series against the same Portsmouth team, but small crowds convinced Moffett to again cease operations for the year. The team did play one final game in Knoxville, on Labor Day, a contest against a local aggregation.

Moffett returned to the University of Tennessee and lead the Vols to a 9-5 season in 1904. Again, after the season was over, he assembled a team to compete in the Tennessee - Alabama League. By early July, Knoxville was leading the standings. But the league was on shaky ground, two teams dropped out reducing the number of teams from eight to six, and by July the league had folded. In July, Knoxville played a series of games against a team from Cincinnati. Moffett was reportedly offered the job to manage the Decatur team, but instead he went to Brevard, North Carolina to manage a newly established team in that city. The Knoxville team continued to play following Moffett's departure. Games were then being played at the Chilhowee Park field, and in late August Knoxville played games against Moffett's Brevard team at that site. Moffett then returned to Knoxville with his team, called the Independents, playing a five game series against the Portsmouth, Ohio team, at Chilhowee Park. Following that series, he again said he had lost money bringing teams to Knoxville and the season was over.

Another spring, another UT team. 1905 was a losing year for the Vol batsmen, going 3-5. He then managed the Knoxville team that played in the short-lived Tennessee-Alabama-Georgia League (TAG), a short-lived league. The teams were Knoxville, Huntsville, Sheffield, Rome, Chattanooga, and Dalton. Knoxville's first game was played against Chattanooga, in that city, on May 30, but by June 12 Knoxville had dropped out of the league and Moffett had relocated his Redskins team to Chattanooga. A local newspaper writer in Knoxville summed up Moffett's annual plight as follows :
"about this time every summer Moffett almost invariably folds his tent, packs up his bats, and steals away where he can make expenses for the team ... this sort of thing has happened almost as long as the oldest inhabitant can remember ... Moffett's annual move is caused by the lukewarm support accorded the good teams which he always makes up for his home town. The attendance runs anywhere from fifty to two hundred persons, a probable average of one hundred and fifty. Baseball teams can't be paid and managers can't make money on such propositions as this ... "  
By July, Moffett had relocated in Asheville, where the team was called the "Knoxville - Asheville" team. Attendance was good at Riverside Park, and a series was scheduled in Knoxville the following week. Returning to Knoxville, the team again was being called the Knoxville Indians, and continued to play against various competition in Knoxville into September.

Knoxville's Indians continued in 1906, with Frank Moffett as the manager, playing their home games at Chilhowee Park. Attendance was better at the east Knoxville site, with attendance averaging more than six hundred spectators. That year, opponents included teams from Memphis, Asheville, Johnson City, Cincinnati, Dayton, Chattanooga, and occasionally against local teams.

The Orange and White beckoned to Moffett again in 1907. The college season was more robust and he took his UT team to a 17-10 record. Moffett began the 1907 season as manager of a newly organized independent team in Chattanooga. But despite winning seventeen of their first eighteen games, crowds continued to diminish; he sold the team to Darlington, South Carolina, and went to that city as the team's manager.

Moffett returned to UT in 1908 and guided the Vols to a 16-3 record. He filled his summer as the manager of Knoxvilles independent team in 1908. Again the team's name was the Independents. Their home games continued to be played at Chilhowee Park, and their opponents included teams from Chattanooga, Athens, Lexington, Harriman, Nebraska, and Tuscaloosa.

Coaching the Volunteers was becoming a regular job for Moffett. In 1909 he lead them to an 18-5-1 record. Although organized professional baseball continued in Knoxville halfway through the summer of 1909, Moffett did not coach the team when Knoxville's Indians replaced the Charleston Sea Gulls in the class C South Atlantic (Sally) League, on July 3, 1909. The new manager was Steve Griffin. Newspapers referred to the team as the Orphans. He continued to manage another local team, still known as the Knoxville Independents, a team that was competing only against local teams that year. At the end of October Sarah Moffett, his mother, died in Knoxville.

1910 brought another winning season to the University of Tennessee. Moffett and his team posted an 11-7 record. Professionally Knoxville left the South Atlantic League and joined the Class D Southeastern League in 1910. Once again, Frank Moffett was the team manager, and Knoxville won the league championship with a record of 50-30. The team was called the Appalachians, and their home games were still being played at the Chilhowee Park field. The 1910 Census has him living in Knoxville with an occupation of baseball coach. He's living with his father, two brothers, Charles and Hugh, one of his sisters, Mary, and her husband, Eugene Armistead, at 302 Walnut St.

Moffett continued as a manager in 1911, as Knoxville joined the Class D Appalachian League. That year, following a mid-season slump, they moved the site of their home games from Chilhowee Park to Brewer's Park, in a section of what originally had been the site of the Old Fair Grounds. At the new venue, the team improved dramatically and by season's end they barely lost the pennant to Johnson City. His Knoxville team finished with a 58-38 record, just a 1-½ games out of first place.

The team returned to the Appalachian League and to Chilhowee Park in 1912, as manager Moffett led them to another second place finish, again barely losing the championship, this time to Bristol. The Knoxville Reds finished with a 56-46 record, 2 games behind the Bristol Boosters.

Frank Moffett continued as the Knoxville manager in 1913. Johnson City won the first half and Knoxville took the second half, the Appalachian League season now split into two halves. In the playoff games, Knoxville won two of the first three games played in Knoxville, then refused to go to Johnson City to play the remaining games, forfeiting the title to Johnson City.

The 1914 Appy League season was abbreviated and the Reds were in last place on June 1. Attendance in Knoxville had been miserable. Moffett resigned and went to Bristol in an attempt to reorganize the team in that city. His attempt failed and the league folded in mid-June.

Knoxville did not field a team in 1915, despite the attempts of Moffett and others to establish a Class C League consisting of teams from East Tennessee and Virginia.

The year of 1916 started on a somber note as Moffett's father passed away on January 27.

Moffett resumed the coach of the University of Tennessee baseball team in 1918, going 8-2. While he was coaching at UT he also was a wrestling promoter, bringing together wrestlers with names like Sula Hevonpaa, the big Finn and Albert Bauer, champion of Switzerland to meet in a finish match.

The next year saw him in the same position, going 5-7-1. That was his last year coaching for UT. During his eight year tenure at UT he compiled a 90-47-1 record. The .656 Winning Percentage is the highest among UT coaches with more than one year coaching experience while in Knoxville.

Knoxville had no professional team in 1920. Frank Moffett managed a team in Alcoa, playing in an amateur league consisting of area teams. Games were played at Chilhowee Park. Moffett's Alcoa team was soon winning virtually every game it played and the league was nearly disbanded when other club owners accused Moffett of signing his players to professional contracts in other states. The season did continue, but it was divided into two halves. The 1920 Census shows that Frank was living with his brother-in-law, Eugene Armistead and his family, including brothers Charles and Hugh. They are still in Knoxville, residing at 520 W. Vine Ave.

Moffett's attempts to secure a spot for Knoxville in the Southern Association for the 1922 season were unsuccessful, but he returned as Knoxville's manager that year. The Pioneers finished that season in fifth place in the Appalachian League, with a 59-61 record, 8 games out.

He continued as manager in 1923, leading the Pioneers to the Class D Appalachian League title, with a record of 66-38, 11-½ games ahead of second place Bristol.

Moffett then managed Knoxville to the Appy League championship in 1924, as the Pioneers again defeated the Bristol State Liners, this time in a playoff series, 4 games to 1.

For the 1925 season, Moffett stayed in the Appy League, heading the Kingsport Indians, guiding them to third place finish with a 20-22 record, 7 games out of first place.

Moffett returned to Knoxville as manager of the Smokies team for the 1926 season, helping Knoxville climb out of the basement from their previous year, but only by one rung on the ladder. They finished the season with a 68-79, and 29-½ games out of first. At season's end, The Knoxville News reported that Moffett had announced that he would never attempt to run a baseball team from the bleachers. The rules prohibited Moffett from being on the bench with the players when he had as many as 14 men under contract. As long has he was allowed to be with the players, the records will show that the Smokies were playing better than .500 ball. But when he was banished to the stands they began to skid.

The 1930 Census shows that Frank Moffett was still living with Eugene and Mary Armistead, along with brothers Charles and Hugh. By this time they were living on Magnolia Avenue, just a few blocks from the Chilhowee Park baseball field. His occupation was listed as a baseball scout. Moffett, with John Bernard of Greeneville, tried to revive the Appalachian League, but were unsuccessful.

In 1934 Moffett piloted a strong Pennington Gap. Virginia, team in the Lonesome Pine League for one season.

The last team that Frank Moffett coached was the Lincoln Memorial University baseball team in 1935.

During his time as a scout, Moffett sent several local players to the majors, including Billy Meyer (Athletics), Nick Cullop (Yankees), Tommy Bridges, Johnny Stone, and Dale Alexander (all Tigers).

According to his death certificate Frank Moffett died in Knoxville on August 2, 1935, at the age of sixty-two, the cause of death being adenocarcinoma of the esophagus and pneumonia. He was buried with other family members in Old Gray Cemetery just two days later.

His World War I registration card lists his occupation as a booking agent, based out of Ritter's Cigar Store on Gay Street in Knoxville. He was of medium height and stout build, with blue eyes and brown hair.

His obituary lists his place of birth as Jefferson City, Tennessee. It also states that he spent several years playing major league baseball for Boston. I have not found any other documentation that supports this.

Sources include: Ronald Allen's unpublished notes about Frank Moffett, newspapers from ChroniclingAmerica, GenealogyBank, ProQuest, and other sites, various baseball guide books (UT's Baseball Record Book, Spalding Guides, and Reach Guides, Smokies Media Guide), Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, yearbooks, city directories, census records, draft registration forms, and death records from Ancestry,,, FindAGrave, and the Calvin M. McClung Collection of the Knox County Public Library.

This biography of Frank Moffett was presented at the SABR Day meeting of the East Tennessee Chapter of SABR on January 27, 2018.  It is still a work in progress.  It could still use some editing and sourcing.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Frank Moffett's Club Rules for 1897

As published in The Knoxville Daily Journal on Sunday, April 11, 1897, here are the Club Rules as set forth by Frank H. Moffett, manager of the Knoxville team, the Indians, part of the Southeastern League that year.

Club Rules

First - The players of the Knoxville Base Ball Club shall be amenable under these rules to the club manager at all times as regards discipline and good behavior.

Second - Every member of the team shall report to the captain promptly for practice on the field or at the club house at such times and frequently as the manager may deem it necessary and no excuse of absence or dilatoriness on such occasions shall be taken unless it be for sickness or inability.

Third - The player, unless ordered differently by the manager, shall appear on the field on the days when games are to be played until the tap of the gong at which time the whole nine shall come on the field in full uniform.

Fourth - No profane or obscene language shall be used on the field or in public by a player in uniform.

Fifth - Gambling in any form among the players is positively forbidden.

Sixth - Drunkenness, association with prostitutes or men known to gamble or bet on games will cause immediate expulsion.

Seventh - At home and away from home every player must report at the hotel at 11 p.m., and retire to his room for the night.  No player shall lie abed after eight o'clock in the morning when absent on trips unless he be sick or disabled.

Eighth - On days when games are to be played no player shall smoke a cigar or cigarette or pipe after two o'clock p.m., nor shall he smoke at any time after the game unless he has removed all of his playing uniform.

Ninth - Every player is required to respect the uniform of the club and shall see that said uniform be not disgraced.  No member of the team while dressed will be allowed to sit in the grand stand.

Tenth - The captain shall have the control and playing of the men in charge while on the field during the game and at practice without interference from anyone except the manager and in case of latter only in changing the men.  To the captain every player is required to render implicit obedience when directed while at play.  The manager shall have the arrangement of the nine in every game and shall be absolute in declaring what player shall or shall not play.

Eleventh - All salaries will be paid by the manager on the 1st. and 15th., days of of each month, and no player shall be allowed to ask the manager for an advance or any amount of salary before it is due.

Twelfth - No pass from a player to the ground will be honored and all players are prohibited from asking that such passes be given to any one on their account.

Thirteenth - While absent on trips, while on the cards, the players must conduct themselves in a gently manner.  Upon arrival at hotels they will quietly place their satchels in an obscure place and look upon the register for their rooms and then have their baggage sent there immediately.  The manager will be very strict in regard to behavior in and about the hotel and corridors and rooms and table.

Fourteenth - Each and every player must give his strict attention to all orders issued by the manager and guying among the players on and off the field is positively prohibited.

Fifteenth - The manager shall for every violation of these rules inflict upon the offending player a fine of five to ten dollars and such fine will be deducted from the player's salary at the end of each pay day.

Sixteenth - The captain is as much responsible to the provisions of these rules as any of the other players.