From Mohill to the Majors – The story of Tom Dowse

It might seem implausible now, a Leitrim man playing Major League Baseball, but a trawl through the Archives reveals that this is fact not fantasy. Although it may be fact, it is a rare one, and it seems likely that only one Leitrim native has played in the Majors. The achievement belongs to a man called Thomas Joseph Dowse who was born in Mohill on the 12th August, 1866. It is unlikely that Tom  honed his batting and catching skills on Hyde Street or Glebe Street in his home town. When just shy of his second birthday, Tom and family, like many before and plenty since,crossed the Atlantic to start a new life.

Tom Dowse

Tom Dowse

Tom was the fourth child of William and Sydney Dowse (nee Burgess). At the time of his birth Tom’s father was working as a law clerk.The Dowse family had moved to Leitrim from Cavan. Tom’s paternal grandfather was the English born John Dowse (1788-1869) who worked as a servant to the gentry all his life. John died at Bridge Street, Cootehill and is buried in Drumgoon Church of Ireland graveyard.

Tom’s maternal grandparents Robert and Elizabeth Burgess were of Scottish origins. The Burgess family were also of the servant classes and lived in Crookahatten, Bailieborough, Co. Cavan and this is where Tom’s mother Sydney was born on the 1st February, 1829. William Dowse worked as the groom in the rectory at Glebe House, Baileborough and whilst there he met and married Sydney in 1850.

The Dowse family boarded the Brittania in the port of Derry in the summer of 1868. William and Sydney were accompanied by their children, John (9) Robert (5), Anna (3) and baby Tom. They arrived in New York on the 19th June 1868. They arrived to a country where re-unification after the bitter Civil War was moving apace. In the week of their arrival Arkansas, Alabama, Florida , Louisiana, Georgia, North and South Carolina were all readmitted to the Union.

Within a decade the Dowse family were well established in the city of Albany, Capital of the State of New York. William was working as a Superintendent of Gas Lighters in the City. The eldest son John had by now married and set up his own home. Robert was working as blacksmith and would soon open his own business. Sadly Robert would die in 1898 at the age of 36 of pneumonia. His mother Sydney had passed away the previous year of influenza.

Tom Dowses baseball career was as short as it was unremarkable save for the fact that he shared a record of playing for four different league teams in one season (1892). If the term had not already being invented Tom could surely have laid a justifiable claim to the title of ‘journeyman’. American sports have an obsession with statistics but especially with averages. Unless you go at least 3 decimal places it’s not really a worthwhile statistic at all. Dowses record is as follows;

“he was a catcher/outfielder who played in Major League Baseball from 1890 through 1892. Listed at 5′ 11″, 175 lb, Dowse batted and threw right-handed.

In a three-season career, Dowse was a .197 hitter (116-for-590) with 46 RBI without home runs in 160 games played. Despite his modest numbers, he entered the record books by playing for four different teams in a single season, matching a very uncommon feat set by Harry Wheeler in 1884.

Basically a catcher, Dowse also played every position but third baseman and shortstop during his major-league tenure. He started his career in 1890 with the Cleveland Spiders of the National League, appearing in 40 games for them while hitting a .208 average. That season, he also served as an emergency umpire in three games. In 1891 he played for the Columbus Solons of the American Association and posted career-numbers in average (.224), RBI (22), runs (24), and doubles (7). Dowse returned to the National League in 1892 with the Louisville Colonels, appearing in 41 games for them before moving to the Cincinnati Reds (one),Philadelphia Phillies (16) and Washington Senators (7), hitting .165 in a career-high 65 games. He never appeared in a major league game again.”

Baseball definitely didn’t make Tom Dowse rich but it certainly ensured that he got to see more of the US than just the Hudson Valley where he grew up. In his first season he married Alice Mabel Seaver in Chicago. Alice was also from New York and one can speculate that she and Tom had travelled to the mid-west together. Tom was 24 and Mabel was just 20 at the time of their nupitals. Their only daughter Vivian arrived in July 1893.

Columbus Solons1891

Columbus Solons1891

The family had a nomadic lifestyle initially. In 1900 they were living in Buffalo, New York. In 1910 they were in Denver where Tom was working in Insurance. They seemed to have stayed a considerable time in Colorado before 1925 finds them on the West Coast living in San Diego.

By 1930 Tom and his wife are living in Santa Ana, Orange County where they share their home with their son-in -law Horace Chielero and his young family. Sadly Tom and Mabel’s daughter Vivian had passed away back in Denver. Tom Dowse died on the 14th December 1946 in Riverside, California. He was 80 years old. His wife Alice (Mabel) Sever-Dowse survived him and lived to the ripe old age of 95, passing away in May 1965.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s