Friday, January 27, 2012

Cinders O'Brien: Flame on!

[Editor's Note: Please excuse the absence, as I went on a bit of a scouting trip for three weeks to find a liquor store that was easy to rob more players about whom to post. -Ossee]

"I shall strike down my opponent and make ashes of him."

Nineteenth Century hurler John F. "Cinders" O'Brien once told this to my imagination, which was at the time working on a dinosaur ranch as a fighter pilot and freelance sheriff. O'Brien promptly burned the ranch and my imagination, which is why I started a blog.

O'Brien, a fiery competitor, earned his nickname by burning down stadiums in which he lost ballgames. As he played in Cleveland, this naturally meant that Cinders constantly set stadiums ablaze. From 1888 to 1890, O'Brien led the league each year in arson.

He moved to Boston in 1891, where he played for the Boston Reds, winners of the American Association title. Boston skipper Arthur "Doc" Irwin managed to keep Cinders in check all season by having O'Brien instead focus on improving his pregrame preparations. However, when the AA folded at season's end, Cinders set ablaze the Congress Street Grounds with a roaring inferno fueled by the team's collected, gin-soaked uniforms and his own boiling rage.

The only remaining professional team in town, the Boston Beaneaters, already featured a budding arsonist in Charlie Ganzel and so needed not the services of John O'Brien in 1892.

O'Brien traveled west to see if the Spiders once again needed a worker of flames. But before he reached Cleveland, Cinders fell ill with pneumonia. He lay bedridden for months before dying at the age of 24.

Sources say that his last act was to send a simple telegram to his last manager, Doc Irwin: "I have been struck down and shall return to ashes myself."

Irwin, enjoying a fine cigar at the time in his new office for the Washington Senators, accidentally lit the telegram ablaze. In the following frenzy, Irwin knocked over an oil lamp and ignited a conflagration that burned down part of Boundary Field.

To date, this is the only recorded instance of posthumous arson and the second incident of arson-by-telegram.

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