Oregon & Portland's
|The Brothers PARROTT
By Mark Armour
Special to Oregon Stadium
Through the 2003 season there have been
108 men who were born in Oregon who played major league baseball, including
three who debuted in 2003: Bo Hart, Matt Diaz, and Kevin Gregg. However, the
only two Oregonians to play in the 19th Century, the only two from the Pacific
Northwest, in fact, were the Parrott brothers, Jiggs and Tom, hailing from East
Their father, Thomas H. Parrott, emigrated from England in
1857 to Yamhill County, where he married the former Eliza Ann Rhodes in 1861.
Thomas and Ann had eight children-one daughter and seven sons, several of whom
played organized baseball. Thomas was trained as a shoemaker in England, but
eventually opened a music store in Portland, adjacent to the family home on the
corner of Union Avenue and East Ash Street. In 1890, Thomas built a very large
home on East Fifteenth and East Couch, a building that burned down in 1968.
Thomas was one of the leaders in his East Portland community.
several instruments, especially the violin and piano, Thomas composed his own
music and organized the East Portland Brass Band. Music was a part of the
Parrott children's education from a young age, and many of them played in bands
for much of their lives. In 1881 the East Portland Band won a contest for the
best brass band in the state of Oregon, and were given a gold medal and
$125.00, donated by the firm of Mellis Brothers to the winner. The elder Thomas
conducted the band, while his sons Henry, Dode, Tom and Jiggs and a few cousins
made up more than half its members.
Thomas William Parrott, the third child, was born
April 10, 1868, and was followed by Walter, known his whole life as "Jiggs" on
July 14, 1871 The two boys played organized ball in the Portland sandlots at a
young age. In 1888 the Willamettes, a top-flight amateur team named after the
river that divided Portland and East Portland, was assembled. Tom was the
team's ace pitcher, Jiggs the third baseman, and Dode (the second son) played
The Pacific Northwest League, the first professional circuit in
the region, was organized in 1890, and Tom and Jiggs were important members of
the Portland team. Jiggs was the regular third baseman and hit .268, second
best on his team. Tom was the team's best starting pitcher, finishing 15-25 for
a team with a record of 28-67, and also its third leading batter (.253),
playing the outfield occasionally. Tom was impressed enough with his own
talents to leave the team in August in a demand for more salary. Tom actually
got the raise, but soon after returning he refused to pitch unless certain
teammates were not playing behind him. The team's manager, Harris, suspended
Tom, but when the team's fans demanded that their local hero return to action,
the club's officials reinstated him. Harris resigned.
A healthy 5'-10"
and 155 pounds, Jiggs had a reputation as a superior defensive player and as a
quiet, unassuming gentleman. Tom was always a bit of a rogue, and had a much
more "colorful" career. In 1891, Jiggs and Tom remained in Portland and helped
lead the team to the league championship. The Sporting News dutifully
proclaimed Tom Parrott to have "one of the strongest pitching arms in the
league." At the conclusion of Portland's season, Tom joined the Sacramento club
of the California League, playing the outfield for 18 games that fall.
For the 1892 season, Jiggs Parrott joined the
Minneapolis team of the Western League. The local correspondent for The
Sporting News was suitably impressed: "Parrott has the build of a
successful third baseman. He is tall and spare in flesh. He has been in a
gymnasium all winter." His gym work paid off, as he hit .323 in 38 games and
played a stellar third base. The Sporting News reported that he "fully
merits all the words of commendation bestowed on him by the baseball writers on
the coast," and later called him "the best third baseman in the league when
every thing is considered." In mid-season the league folded, but Parrott signed
on with the Chicago Cubs of the National League. He was just
Manager Cap Anson immediately handed him the starting third
base job, shifting incumbent Bill Dahlen to shortstop. He also hit second in
the lineup, after center fielder Jimmy Ryan, and in front of Dahlen and Anson.
The writers were not as impressed. After his very first game, in which he
struck out twice and made two errors, the Chicago correspondent for The
Sporting News wrote that "Parrott's actions are the least taking to the
eye," but admitted that "it is unfair to judge him on his work in one game."
Although he began to field his position well, he was overmatched by big-league
pitching, hitting just .201.
The following April, in discussing the
upcoming 1893 season, The Sporting News said that Jiggs Parrott "is
somewhat of an erratic player. There are times when he plays good ball, but
just when good steady play is necessary, he is very liable to get a case of
'rattles.'" Eventually, his defense began to attract better reviews. In June,
the same writer said his "work at third base is little less than brilliant." An
article in the same paper said "he is a clever fielder, a good batter and base
runner, and promises to attain high rank as a professional player." The
Sporting Life, after his death, wrote: "although the critics roasted him
unmercifully, Anson took a liking to the well-behaved young man."
mid-1893 Jiggs was briefly joined on the Colts by his brother, Tom (see below).
Demoted to the seventh spot in the batting order, Jiggs improved his hitting,
raising his batting average to .245, but changes to the pitching mound and
distance (to the modern 60'-6") caused the league batting average to rise from
.245 to .280.
In 1894, Jiggs shifted to second base to make room on the
Colts for Charlie Irwin, and hit .248 in a league that hit .309. The
Sporting News regularly blasted Jiggs' play, at bat and in the field, and
chastised Anson for continuing to play him: "It is true that [Anson] holds
Parrot in high esteem and insists that 'Jiggs' is a great infielder, hence a
suffering public may confidently expect to witness still further attempts of
'Jiggs' to hold down the second base bag." He made 49 errors in 123 games at
second base, but his fielding percentage and total chances per game were higher
than the league average for his position (as they had been at third base the
previous two seasons).
In 1895 the Colts bought Ace Stewart from Sioux
City and made him their second baseman, relegating Jiggs Parrott to a utility
role. Anson defended the retention of Parrott: "I realize that 'Jiggs' is not
popular with the Chicago crowds, so we will play him in games abroad only."
This did not appease The Sporting News writer, who responded: "The local
scribes and fans thought we had buried the lanky 'Jigglets,' so far as Chicago
was concerned, but he bobs up serenely." In the event, he played just three
games before drawing his release, thus ending his major league career at age
Jiggs soon caught on with Rockford of the Western
Association, and hit .351 in 26 games as their third baseman. In 1896, he
played for Grand Rapids and Columbus of the Western League, hitting a combined
.306 in 89 games.
When Jiggs showed up to play for Columbus again in
the spring of 1897, it was noted that his physical condition had deteriorated.
He was given a trial, but soon released. He managed to catch on with Dubuque of
the Western Association, playing just 15 games before returning to his hometown
In the fall of 1897 Jiggs went to Phoenix in hopes of
regaining his health. He died there on April 14, 1898, of what was called
"oedema of the lungs" or "consumption," but which is now more commonly known as
tuberculosis. The Arizona Gazette noted: "The deceased came to Phoenix
with his bicycle and athletic costumes, but was never able to use them. He is
described as being a fine young man, and his early death is to be regretted."
The (Portland) Oregonian concurred about Parrott's character: "He did not
dissipate, and kept himself free from every vice. His work was always
conscientious and thorough."
His funeral was thus described in The
Oregonian: "the largest private funeral that has occurred on the East Side
[of Portland] for many years. Mr. Parrott was not a member of any fraternal
organization, and hence the great gathering of friends from all portions of
Portland and from the country, was a tribute to his memory and worth as a young
man." Appropriately, a large band of local musicians accompanied a large crowd
and the casket from his parents' home to Lone Fir Cemetery, where his body was
laid to rest. His parents and all seven siblings survived
Tom Parrott was Jiggs' older brother by more than
three years, but he got to the majors a year later. Tom returned to the Pacific
Northwest League in 1892, but this time he split the season between Tacoma and
Seattle, pitching and playing second base. Before one early season game, the
Seattle team staged a "field day" during which Tom made a big impression. He
won the 100-yard dash easily, then threw a baseball 131 yards 2 feet, the
latter just short of the reported record, set in 1872 by John Hatfield in New
York. In early August, the league agreed to end its season and disband, with
Parrott's Seattle squad the circuit's champion. Tom caught on as a pitcher for
Philipsburg of the Montana State League for the remainder of their season.
With no professional leagues in the northwest in 1893, Tom Parrott
traveled diagonally across the country to hook up with Birmingham of the
Southern League. The local Sporting News correspondent was enthusiastic:
"Parrott is a fine pitcher, a smashing good hitter, and above all a kicker. He
plays ball for his side from the time the bell rings."
Tom was pitching
and hitting (.346) well in June 1893 when his contract was sold to the
Cincinnati Reds of the National League. At essentially the same time, Parrott,
claiming that Birmingham had allowed him to make a deal for himself, signed
with the Chicago Colts, who already employed his younger brother Jiggs.
National League president Nic Young ultimately resolved the dispute in favor of
Cincinnati, but not before Parrott pitched four games for Chicago. His debut
for the Colts was on June 18, and he was awarded to the Reds on the 29th. His
pitching was unimpressive in Chicago (0-3, 6.67), but solid in Cincinnati
(10-7, 4.09). After the season The Sporting News reported: "There is no
probability of Cincinnati allowing Parrott to drift away. At times he has
pitched great enough ball to warrant the belief that he was well worth the
fight that Cincinnati made to get him."
Throughout his baseball career
he received a lot of attention for his musicianship. He still played the cornet
in his father's orchestra in Portland during the off-season, but also regularly
played clubs during the season both at home and on the road. The Sporting
News often mentioned his upcoming concerts at locations like New York's
Parrott was the Reds' opening day pitcher in 1894, and
gained the victory over Chicago in large part due to his own home run. By May,
The Sporting News could report: "Tom Parrott has Cincinnati patrons at
his feet. His work this season has been gilt edged. He is liable to win out any
game he pitches with the bat
Altogether the Reds made its best catch in
three seasons when it captured Tom Parrott." He finished 17-19 in 41 games, and
hit .323 in 229 at bats, getting playing time at every position on the diamond
By this time he had acquired his unusual nickname: "Tacky"
(or "Tacks"). The reason for this is unknown, but likely stems from his
occasionally outrageous, even clownish, behavior. He kept this handle his whole
life, well beyond the end of his baseball days.
By 1894, his first full
season in the big leagues, Parrott began to suffer arm troubles that ultimately
shortened his pitching career. In fact, he had at least two disputes with
Charles Comiskey, the Reds' manager, related to his inability to pitch, each of
which led to his suspension from the team. In each case Parrott claimed he was
unable to pitch and was suspended. The Sporting News opined: "It does
not seem to be square treatment though, to lame a man up by overwork and then
suspend him for not being able to do his duty. The Cincinnati management are
hard task masters."
Tom had one of his most memorable days on September
28, 1894, when he connected for the cycle in a game against the New York
Giants. The very next day was memorable for less positive reasons. Due to pitch
the first game of a double-header, Parrott reported for duty midway through the
game. Pitching the second game instead, Parrott was about the start the second
inning when, responding to a bit of encouragement from Arlie Latham, the Reds'
third baseman and captain, Parrott got in a heated argument with Latham,
ultimately refusing to pitch further. He was ordered off the field and
suspended for the duration of the season. The local Sporting News
correspondent was fed up: "Parrott has been kindly treated by the patrons of
the game in this city, and very often he did not deserve it. He wanted to be
known as a clown, and in this role he was a dismal failure."
patched up soon enough, and Parrott was back with the Reds the next spring.
The Sporting News was able to report, from spring training in Mobile:
"Tom Parrott, after playing 'The Heart Bowed Down' upon his cornet in a
touching manner, stepped into the band wagon. The gentleman from Oregon signed
his contract after two hours debate."
In 1895 Parrott's arm troubles
continued, and by mid-summer he often spoke of the end of his pitching days. In
any event, he pitched 41 games, 31 of them starts, and finished 11-18, 5.47. He
also played first base and the outfield, and led the team with a .343 batting
average in 201 at bats. For the latter accomplishment he earned a gold medal
from a local merchant. Nonetheless, after the season he was dealt, with Arlie
Latham, Morgan Murphy, and Ed McFarland, to the St. Louis Browns, for Heine
Peitz and Red Ehret.
The Browns had been a fairly hapless bunch since
joining the NL in 1892. The Sporting News took a cynical view of the
pairing of Tom Parrott with the Browns' enigmatic owner, Chris Von der Ahe, as
this amazing diatribe attests: "Everybody know that 'Tacky Tom' is 'some
pumpkins' as a cornetist and some folks say that if you would search the world
over, you could not find a better bugler for a race track
What would Tom
care if he were knocked out of the box in the afternoon, if he could at
nighttime call the horses to the post? Chris has announced that he will run an
electric light track in 1896. There will be a high old time if Tom's wheels
begin to revolve the wrong way while Chris is raising a row with his boys. It
is said that the Oregonian is not predisposed toward the Germans anyhow and
nothing rouses his ire more than a roast in the Dutch dialect. It may be Chris
and he will not have any trouble, but the chances are that Parrott will not
play the season out in St. Louis."
In the event, Parrott did play the
full season for the Browns. St. Louis moved him more or less full-time to the
outfield (he pitched in seven contests) and Parrott hit .291 (highest on the
team) and socked 7 home runs and 12 triples among his hits. Parrott also was
the lead cornetist in Von de Ahe's brass band that entertained at the owner's
horse track. It was a disastrous season for the Browns, who finished 40-90 and
went through five managers, including Von der Ahe himself.
had had another respectable season, his major league career was over. This was
likely his own decision, as he still had a lot of baseball left. Because of his
abiding twin loves of baseball and adventure, Parrott spent the next eleven
years wandering around the country playing ball. Just where he would play would
be dictated by where the money was, including for his ability to play music.
Parrott played the 1897 season for St. Paul and Minneapolis of the
Western League, hitting .290 in 128 games at first base and the outfield, and
returned to Minneapolis for 1898. He spent much of the winter of 1898-99
playing center field for an unaffiliated Seattle team that played a series of
games in California. Unfortunately, the team ran out of funds in early 1899,
and a benefit game was arranged to allow the Seattle club to be able to afford
to get back home.
Parrott still held a reputation as a "dandy," as
demonstrated by this anecdote from the January 7, 1899, Sporting News:
"'Tacks' was compelled by the club edict to part with his Andy Gilligans. He is
the first player of recent years to try and play ball with Asa Brainerd
attachments." The column is referring to Parrott's long sideburns, a few
decades out of common style.
He did not play organized ball in 1899,
instead remaining in Portland, playing music and baseball and helping his
family after his father's death. For 1900 he signed to play with Denver of a
newly organized Western League (the former circuit having transformed into the
American League for 1900), also securing an engagement with a dance hall
orchestra for the evenings. In mid-summer he was transferred to the Pueblo
Indians club in the same league, where he occasionally took a turn on the mound
along with his work at first and the outfield (.311 in 91 games). After the
season, the Pueblo club folded.
In 1901, Parrott returned to the
Southern League after eight years, this time playing for Nashville. The
Volunteers won a controversial championship, aided when several late season
games at Little Rock were awarded to Nashville when the hosts did not supply
adequate police protection. Parrott had an excellent season, .335 in 120 games,
leading to speculation that his season might earn him another shot at the major
leagues, though he was nearing 34 and was several years removed from the big
The Sporting News continued to rely on Parrott for good
copy. He gave the readership this wisdom in its September 21, 1901 issue: "If
ball players on which age creeps apace wish to arrive at the secret of Ponce de
Leon possessed by me they must abandon Gambrianus, Bacchus, Boozus and Venus
[referring to gambling, wine, booze and love] and stick to plenty of
Appolonarius and Morpheus [sunshine and rest]. I played in the highlands of
Colorado, in Pueblo, last season, where the diamonds are very near the sun, and
I read the remedy for perpetual youth in the Garden of the Gods." So speaketh
In 1902 Parrott jumped the Nashville club, accepting a
larger offer to play for Milwaukee (American Association), but secured his
release after just 28 games. He first agreed to return to Nashville, but
suddenly took a better offer with San Francisco of the independent California
League (which would become the Pacific Coast League the next season). He played
centerfield for San Francisco, and The Sporting News correspondent
claimed "he has made some of the most startling catches ever seen on the local
In January 1903, Parrott saw fit to write to The Sporting
News to wish baseball fans a "happy New Year." He was back in Portland and
in great shape ("fit to put on the uniform with the gladiators"), weighing a
solid 190 pounds. His music was now a full-time job, but "nevertheless, I will
toe the mark when the bell rings and be ready to play ball for whoever pays me
the most mezuma."
Nashville finally offered him the most "mezuma", so he
returned south for the start of the 1903 season. After just 27 games (.294), he
returned to Portland and hooked on with the local team in the Pacific National
League. The Portland club was facing new competition from the invasion of the
Pacific Coast League to the city, and it soon was forced to move to Salt Lake
City. Parrott was an excellent player for the club, hitting .357 in 87
In 1904, Parrott was back in Nashville, but his decreased
effectiveness at bat soon got him shipped to Little Rock and then Atlanta, and
he managed just an aggregate .229 in 50 games before drawing his release. No
longer having the leverage he had once enjoyed, Parrott finished the season
with Monroe (Louisiana) of the Cotton States League (.236 over 165 at bats).
Parrott blamed his poor showing on working too hard the previous off-season
instead of resting up. He vowed that his 1905 team would "find your old friend
fresh as a daisy and as fast as any 8-year-old."
He returned to
the Cotton States League for 1905, playing for Greenville and Meridian (both in
Mississippi) and hitting .249 in 278 at bats. The league ended its season on
July 31 because of an epidemic of yellow fever that swept through New Orleans
and the Mississippi delta that summer. (It was the last such epidemic in the
Parrott went on to play in the South Texas League (for
San Antonio and Galveston) in 1906, and the Texas League (Houston) in 1907,
before leaving finally organized baseball behind. Playing mainly first base, he
hit just .234 and .235 in the two seasons. After 18 years in professional ball,
and more than 20 teams, Parrott's nomadic baseball career was
Thomas was married twice and had eight children. He married the
former Sarah Edwards in Portland on Jaunary 20, 1898, but Sarah died during
childbirth soon after. He later married the former Frances Fannie West on June
28, 1909, in Galveston. They had seven children at the time of Frances' death
in 1922; local families adopted several of the younger children.
his baseball days, Thomas made his living as a musician, living mainly in
Galveston and Houston. He was also a member of the fire department for a time.
A few years after his second wife's passing, he moved back to Oregon to
live with a cousin in Yamhill County, south of Portland. After a long illness,
Parrott died on January 1, 1932 at the age of 63. His obituary honored him as
"Tacks" Parrott, an old musician from Portland, who had gone east and made it
big on the baseball diamond.
Mark Armour is a baseball researcher and
writer who lives in Corvallis, OR. He is the co-author of Paths to Glory (www.pathstoglory.com) and
the director of SABR's Baseball Biography Project. You can contact him at