Ashland Source has a collaborative content agreement with the Ohio History Connection to share stories across our sites. This story was originally published on Sept. 17, 2018.
Professional ballplayer. World Series winner. Equipment innovator. MLB Manager. Team Owner. Political candidate. Hall of Fame member. These impressive accolades belong to Ohio native and legendary catcher Roger Bresnahan.
Born in 1879 to Irish immigrant parents, Roger made a name for himself playing baseball in the sandlots and school fields around Toledo, Ohio. A great all-around player, Roger entered the big leagues in 1897 as a pitcher for the Washington Senators. A few years later, he would serve as a catcher and utility infielder for the Baltimore Orioles, where he played for Hall of Fame manager John McGraw.
In 1902, Bresnahan moved to the New York Giants along with McGraw. While playing for New York, Roger became the Giants’ everyday catcher and emerged as a baseball star. The New York Giants were one of the best teams during the deadball era – which was the time when Roger played.
The Giants had a star manager in McGraw and star players in Bresnahan, Christy Mathewson and Joe McGinnity. In 1905, the Giants would win a historic World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics. Roger had the highest batting average in the Series, hitting .313.
While playing with the Giants, Bresnahan also left his mark on the game as an innovator. In 1905, Roger was hit by a pitch in his head, leading to a multi-day hospital stay. As a result of the beaning, he created a rudimentary leather batting helmet to protect the side of the head facing the pitcher.
On opening day of 1907, Roger took up his position behind the plate wearing a pair of bulky shin guards – the first MLB catcher to do so. The crowd booed and heckled Roger, as they were not used to catchers wearing much, if any, protective equipment on the body. Fast forward to today and catchers are still wearing shin guards.
Last but not least, Roger thought of a way during the 1908 season to improve on the design of the catcher’s mask by adding leather padding to it. This helped improve comfort and absorb shock from foul tips. Like his shin guards, this was another innovation that stands to this day.
In 1909, Roger was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he served not only as catcher but also as the manager of the team through the 1912 season. In 1913, Roger was traded to the Chicago Cubs, were he caught for two seasons. Like his time with the Cardinals, Roger was named player-manager for the 1915 Cubs. However, the Cubs decided to part ways with Roger following a disappointing season. It would be his last time playing in the big leagues.
In 1916 Bresnahan used his MLB earnings to purchase his hometown Toledo Mud Hens. The Mud Hens had, interestingly, temporarily relocated to Cleveland at the time of the purchase. Roger brought the club back to Swayne Field in Toledo. He would serve as player-manager and owner of the Mud Hens until 1924. Later in the decade and into the early 1930s, Roger would go back to the MLB as a coach for the New York Giants and the Detroit Tigers.
After his baseball career, Roger entered politics and ran for Lucas County Commissioner, but fell short by a small margin of votes. A few months later, he would pass away from a massive heart attack in his Toledo home.
Only one year after his death, Roger received baseball’s highest honor by being elected to the Hall of Fame. To this day he remains a legendary catcher and one of the best baseball players to hail from Ohio.
About the Author
Scott Perry is a passionate baseball fan and the founder of Catchers Home, a website dedicated to baseball and fastpitch softball catchers. Catchers Home provides instructional and educational articles for catchers, as well as reviews of all types of catcher’s gear. You can check out his site over at catchershome.com