That time Providence Grays shortstop Joe Mulvey got shot by a crazed fan

One time, many years ago, I found an article that stated rap group The Lox was hip hop’s The Velvet Underground. The internet won that day.

The Lox
Velvet Underground

To be fair Jadakiss is at the very least hip hop’s Doug Yule.

Another time, I found a website that contained 1910 vintage fat jokes about my favorite president William Howard Taft. The internet won that day.

A sampling:

“Taft is the politest man in Washington; the other day he gave up his seat in a street-car to three ladies.”

Joke sold.

I’ve long been fascinated by Taft. From the rumors that he got stuck in his bathtub on his inauguration day in 1909, to the ill-fated Billy Possum, a failed attempt to match the popularity of the Teddy Bear, named after his friend and rival former president Theodore Roosevelt.

For a brief period you could celebrate your devotion to President Taft, by going to the store and buying your child one of these:

Who needs the cuddly Teddy Bear, when you can have a horrifying Billy Possum

In 1912, President Taft was running for re-election as a Republican. Former President Roosevelt, who was also a Republican decided to run again. He created his own party, The Progressive Party, and he ran against Taft. This caused a massive rift in the Republican Party and was seen by some as Roosevelt’s betrayal of his former friend, Taft.

The reason I bring all this up, is because of an odd piece of trivia about Roosevelt’s campaign that I heard many years ago.

On October 14, 1912, Theodore Roosevelt began a campaign speech in Milwaukee with the following lines:

“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot.”

He then proceeded to speak for 90 minutes.

And then on November 5, 1912, he lost the election.

World’s punchiest headline

Because in 1912, you could be an former president running for president. And you could be one of the most famous men in America. And you could get shot by a crazed assailant. And then you could deliver a 90 minute speech without missing a beat. And you could affirm the depths of your manliness, determination, and inner-strength to the world. And then 3 weeks later, you could lose the election by a landslide.

That brings me to the strange events of June 27, 1883.

The Providence Grays of the National League were at home in Providence, and about to face the Philadelphia Phillies.

Cliff Carroll waiting eternally for the ball to drop

Before the game, Grays’ outfielder Cliff Carroll sprayed a Providence fan named Thomas J. “Jimmy” Murphy with a hose. According to reports, Murphy was a bit of an eccentric, some even said he was “off” mentally. He was prone to showing up to Grays’ practices, working out with the club, and imagined himself to be a great baseball player.

The Grays’ players were alternately amused and annoyed by Murphy’s antics. They made Murphy the target of frequent practical jokes.

When Carroll “thoroughly drenched” Murphy with the hose, it was meant to be a joke. Hopefully, he said “I’m joking” afterwards to soften the blow.

In modern terms, the Grays could be seen as bullying a mentally ill man. But back then, it was all for laffs.

But Jimmy didn’t find it funny. Jimmy was pissed. Jimmy’s gonna get you, Carroll! Jimmy holds grudges. Jimmy likes his chicken spicy.

Murphy quickly left the baseball grounds and returned later in the afternoon with a gun. He waited outside the players’ exit for Cliff Carroll. When the perpetrator of the prank came in his sights, Murphy pointed his gun and fired.

Murphy’s aim was off and instead of hitting his intended target, his bullet hit Grays’ back-up shortstop Joe Mulvey in the right shoulder. Murphy fled the scene, managing to escape the clutches of the police, an angry crowd, and Grays’ second baseman Jack Farrell. He was arrested later that evening and charged the following day.

What about Mulvey, you ask?

According to reports, the bullet from Murphy’s gun grazed Mulvey’s right shoulder, leaving a painful, but not dangerous wound. A later report indicated that the wound was entirely superficial.

The Providence Evening Post reported that “Mr. Mulvey quietly walked to his home on Crary Street, congratulating himself upon his narrow escape.”

The erratic Jimmy Murphy was in court the following day, though it is not clear if he was ever convicted of the crime of shooting Joe Mulvey.

When he was led out of the courtroom, he spotted his intended victim Carroll in the courtroom and blustered:

“I will get even with you yet, I’ll break your head if I ever get out again.”

At the time he was shot, Joe Mulvey was in his first major league season. He was a Providence native, getting his feet wet in the major leagues’ with the first-place Providence Grays.

He was the backup shortstop to Canadian Arthur Irwin, one of baseball’s most famous players, the first player to use a baseball glove, and probable future BaseballObscura subject. (short version: Irwin lived a double life with two separate families, and he committed suicide by jumping off a steamship).

Joe Mulvey keeping a close eye on the ball

With just a couple of major league games under his belt, the shooting brought Mulvey some national attention for his brush with death. Because it was 1883, he was in the line up the next day for an exhibition game against the Woonsocket Comets. He went 2 for 5.

Five days later, he was sold to the last-place Philadelphia Phillies.

Because in 1883, you could be a promising young rookie ballplayer. And you could be playing for your hometown team. And you could get shot by a crazed fan. And you could walk home without medical attention. And you could be in the line up the next day. And then you could get sold to the worst team in baseball five days later.

Because whether you are Joe Mulvey in 1883, Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, The Lox in 1998, or a human alive in 2017, the world quickly forgets.

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