HooHaa 9: Sleeper Sullivan

Who is Sleeper Sullivan, you may ask?

Until the other day, I had never heard of Sleeper Sullivan. Turns out he was a professional baseball player in the 1800s.

Before I get into Sleeper Sullivan, however, let me give you a backstory.

If you are a fan of baseball statistics, you’ve likely heard of or have been to the website Baseball-Reference. It’s an amazing tool to be able to look up so many items on the game. Statistics, results and pretty much anything you can think of when it comes to baseball numbers.

Over the years, I’ve sponsored pages — which is a way to give the site money as support and in return, get something on the site for you. A message, a link, whatever.

I’ve had players such as Shane Victorino, Pat Burrell, Tom Brookens and Larry Christenson, among others. One thing about the site is that the page price is based on hits and such. I got lucky the year Cole Hamels was a rookie and nabbed him for $10. I’ve held onto him since, paying no more than $40 one year for him. Last year, he dipped to $30.

He comes up for renewal in late October. If I were to renew now, it would cost me $265, which seems grossly high, especially seeing as I paid $30 for him last October.

Now, I don’t know how it works in regard to pricing. Maybe that’s because it’s an early thing? Who knows. I’ll see come late October how much it’s going to cost me. If it’s $265, I’m going to have to say goodbye to Cole’s page, which is something I had hoped to avoid. I wanted to keep him through his entire career (especially if he stayed with the Phillies). Alas, even if I had a high-paying job, I wouldn’t be paying $265 to sponsor a page. I don’t get many clicks to my blog from Cole’s page, so that would be a terrible investment. Instead, the page will likely be scooped up by one of the larger sites that try and grab team players etc.

Still, I like to give back.

The other night, I had a chat about this with a friend, Jerry. A fellow baseball guy and someone who runs an interesting Hofstra blog over at Defiantly Dutch noted that he sponsors a cheaper player — Hal Manders.I think he said he paid $2 or $5 per year for this fellow.

So I set out in search of a new person to sponsor, just in case Cole prices himself out of my range (hey, I feel like a small-market blog… I can’t afford the big players!)

Thomas Jefferson Sullivan, a catcher and right fielder who was nicknamed “Old Iron Hands,” was born in Ireland in 1859. In my search for info on Sleeper Sullivan, I’ve yet to find out an actual date or town he was born in. A righty thrower and batter, Sullivan stood 5-foot-7 and weighed 175 pounds. He debuted in 1881 and played through 1884.

Sleeper Sullivan

When I found this fellow, I knew I had the person I needed to sponsor — and he was only $5.

But several hours of research has turned up not much on this man. I know that he is listed as dying on Oct. 13, 1909 in St. Louis, Mo., at the age of 50. He’s apparently buried at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. However, when you look at his page on Find A Grave, it shows his date of death as Sept. 25, 1899 in Camden, N.J. I tend to lean with the baseball date as most major baseball sites have that same date, and I would think that someone dying in 1899 in Camden wouldn’t likely be moved to St. Louis to be buried. I could be wrong, but for now, I’d go with the death listed on the baseball sites.

I wanted to request a photo of Sleeper’s grave on Find A Grave, but apparently I can’t. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s listed as “famous” person or something else, but the option isn’t there as it is with other people listed on that site.

So what do we know about Sleeper?

According to Baseball-Reference, he played four seasons in the “majors,” one with the Buffalo Bisons (National League), parts of two with the St. Louis Brown Stockings (American Association) parts of one with the Louisville Eclipse (American Association) and one with the St. Louis Maroons (Union Association).

He played in 97 games, hitting a whopping .184 (64-for-347) with seven doubles and four triples. He finished his big-league career with a zero home runs. He had 15 RBIs for Buffalo in 1881, but RBIs aren’t listed for his other years, so I’m not sure if they were kept as a statistic or not.

He did score 39 runs.

Old Iron Hands pitched in one game as a 25-year-old with the Maroons in 1884. He went 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA, pitching six innings. He gave up six runs (three earned) on 10 hits. He struck out three and walked none.

Of 99 games played in the field, he caught 90 of them. He had 82 errors in 551 chances for a stellar .851 fielding average (I think we know where the Old Iron Hands comes from…). Yes, 82 errors! Now, I realize that these guys didn’t have top-of-the-line gloves, but still…

In 16 chances in the outfield, Ol’ Sleeper had four errors for a .691 fielding percentage. Heck, he even found a way to commit an error in his one game as a pitcher and had a .750 fielding percentage.

Mix it all together and Iron Hands had a career fielding percentage of .847.

During his career, he did appear on some leader boards. He was fourth in games as a catcher in 1882 (51), fourth in putouts as a catcher in 1882 (232), fifth in assists as a catcher in 1882 (46) and third in errors as a catcher in 1882 (53). Oh yeah, he was also second in passed balls that same year with 97!

Not much else seems known about Sleeper Sullivan.

The bullpen part of Baseball-Reference shows a few tidbits about Sullivan:

The Buffalo Express of March 3, 1881, carried an article about Sullivan’s arrival in Buffalo. The article stated he was of medium height and had played ball for four years.

His minor league career ran through 1892, when he played for Rochester, a team on which he and Ed Swartwood both played.

Baseball-Reference has some of his minor league stuff and it looks like he played a little better in the lower levels of professional baseball. In 1887, he played with two teams — Reading and the Danbury Hatters. Combined, he hit .311 (87-for-280) with six doubles and a home run. He didn’t catch, however, in that season. He played shortstop in 60 of 62 games that he played in the field. There are no stats, so we’re not sure how Old Iron Hands did.

There are no stats available, but he also played for the following minor league teams: Lowell Ladies Men (1877), Evansville Red (1877), Lynn Live Oaks/Worcester (1878), Dubuque Red Stockings (1879), New York Metropolitans (1881), Meriden Silvermen (1886), Hartford Dark Blues (1886), New Haven (1889), Wilmington Blue Hens (1890), Newark Little Giants (1890), Lynn (1891), and the Rochester Flour Cities (1892).

The thing I find interesting is how he seemed to average two teams per season. I imagine it’s probably something where one ended and he could go to another? Not sure, but it’s interesting.

I can’t seem to find much more on Sleeper. However, I’m now a proud sponsor of his page on Baseball-Reference. I hope to, at some point this summer, visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library to research a few things. If I get a chance to do that, I’ll look to see if I can do some research on Sleeper Sullivan, too.

Just remember — don’t mess with Old Iron Hands!

See what Sleeper Sullivan has to say, too, as he’s on Twitter!

Sources (click on the source to reach the page): 

Baseball-Reference.com Sleeper Sullivan page

Baseball-Reference.com Bullpen page on Sleeper Sullivan

Baseball-Reference.com minor league page for Sleeper Sullivan

Sleeper Sullivan’s Find A Grave memorial page

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com. This entry is also a part of the HooHaa 9 project.

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Sports writer and live in upstate New York. This place is a spot for me just to throw my thoughts. I'm into writing, photography, travel, softball, geocaching and good beer. And no matter what anyone says, baseball is the greatest game ever invented.

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