Many of the family photos I inherited after my parents died remain a mystery.
But there’s one that explains my family’s apparent genetic addiction to sports in general, baseball in particular.
For years I’ve been in possession of a photograph of the 1900 St. Cecilia’s baseball team that won the City of Syracuse championship. There’s a rip in the photo, and the heavy paper border has been torn and damaged over the decades. But almost 115 years later, the clarity of the image by photographer P.S. Ryder is excellent.
One of the team members is my maternal grandfather, Joe Dempsey. He was about 20 when the photo was taken, and he’s easy to pick out because he strongly resembles my late uncle Jim Dempsey. The photo found its way to my home after the deaths of my uncle in 1991, my aunt in 1997 and my mom in 2006. A faded “Dempsey” is written in script on the back.
At the urging of fellow blogger Charles Moore, I’ve been trying to find out more about the photo and my grandfather. Charles is a genealogical sleuth and writes about his remarkable discoveries via public records and other research.
Charles wrote a post recently about his family’s ties to baseball through the generations, and I immediately thought of this photo. I offered to send Charles a copy and he replied, quite kindly, that he’d rather read a blog post about it. So I started asking around.
My sister uncovered a writeup in a 1900 Syracuse newspaper about the city championship. The article was written in a stream of consciousness style that was virtually impossible to decipher — and not as entertaining as the classified ads on the same page, including: “Prominent railroad man, 42 years old, fine looking, worth $35,000, desires attractive, loyal wife.”
Syracuse baseball historian Ron Gersbacher was more help. In a 2012 blog post he mentioned “the St. Cecilia’s nine” that was the city’s best in 1900, and named 11 players on the roster, including my grandfather.
Gersbacher wrote that 3,500 fans paid 25 cents each to watch St. Cecilia’s defeat the Shamrocks, a team from the predominantly Irish neighborhood of Tipperary Hill, for the city championship.
As much as the baseball lore intrigues me, I’m more interested in my ancestry. I’ve been encouraged to subscribe to web-based genealogy services, and will do so when I can devote more time to it.
As for my grandfather Joe Dempsey the ballplayer, I never met him. He became a chemist and died before I was born. My other grandfather died of complications from prostate surgery — in 1928, when my father was 18. (He’s a story for another day.) I only knew one grandmother, and she died when I was 8.
Despite those gaps, and the lack of a deep understanding of who my grandparents were, the family love of baseball endures as a common thread. My mom and dad were fans, and the game was a big part of our upbringing. I’ve since corrupted my three sons, who inherited the McKeever loyalty to the Boston Red Sox — while growing up in Yankees’ country.
I’ll find out more about my grandfather and other ancestors, so that the family history isn’t such a mystery — to me, to my sons and to the next generation of Sox fans.