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 Portland.
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.
Adept at 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 Willamette’s, 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 first.
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 twenty-one.
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.”
In 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 twenty-three.
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 of Portland.
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 him.
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 Coney Island.
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 save catcher.
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.”
Things were 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 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.
Although Tom 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 leagues.
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 Tacks Parrott.
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 diamond.”
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 games.
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 United States.)
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 over.
Thomas was married twice and had eight children. He married the former Sarah Edwards in Portland on January 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.
After 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 and the director of SABR Baseball Biography Project.