The online journal of Luke Dockery

Designed to Break Your Heart: Tom Barlow

Hartford Dark Blues, 1875

This is a first post in a series introduced here

In the early days of professional baseball, in the 1870s and 1880s and even on into the 20th century, baseball was a hard game for hard men.

Protective equipment was rare, the travel was difficult, the wages were decent but by no means extravagant, and job security didn’t exist. College-educated professional ballplayers were rare; for many, a job in the big leagues was a ticket out of the coal mines. Players tended to brawl and misbehave, both on and off the field.

Tom Barlow was a catcher and sometime shortstop for the Brooklyn Atlantics and Hartford Dark Blues in the early 1870s. He is credited as being the originator of the bunt, and had his best season in 1872, when he hit .310, and caught all of his team’s games, a feat which has only been accomplished eight times (and not since 1945).

In 1874, while playing for Hartford, Barlow sustained an injury while catching for Cherokee Fisher, renowned as a devastating fastball pitcher. In a letter to the Boston Times on September 16, 1877, Barlow described the incident:

“It was on the 10th of August, 1874, that there was a match game of baseball in Chicago between the White Stockings of that city and the Hartfords of Hartford, now of Brooklyn. 

I was catcher for the Hartfords, and Fisher was pitching. He is a lightning pitcher, and very few could catch for him. On that occasion he delivered as wicked a ball as ever left his hands, and it went through my grasp like an express train, striking me with full force in the side. 

I fell insensible to the ground, but was quickly picked up, placed in a carriage, and driven to my hotel. The doctor who attended me gave a hypodermic injection of morphine, but I had rather died behind the bat then [sic] have had that first dose. 

My injury was only temporary, but from taking prescriptions of morphine during my illness, the habit grew on me, and I am now powerless in its grasp. My morphine pleasure has cost me eight dollars a day, at least. 

I was once catcher for the Mutuals, also for the Atlantics, but no one would think it to look at me now.”

Barlow was 22 years old the day he was injured behind the plate. He disappears from historical records after 1880; details of his later life and date of death are unknown.

I first became aware of the story of Tom Barlow through Ken Burns’ PBS documentary Baseball. Other details for this post were gleaned from Wikipedia and Bleacher Report.


  1. Mark

    When I first started reading your post, I thought, “I’ll have to ask Luke if he’s seen Ken Burns’ film.” You beat me to the question.

  2. Luke


    Yes! I am a HUGE fan of Burns’ film—I think it should be required viewing for all Americans on the 4th of July! (Except it’s really long, so it might have to be spread out over several days.)

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