Today, professional baseballs known for its big-name home run hitters. More than a century ago, The National League was known for its own ‘iron men.’ Michael “Mike” Dorgan was one of these and in 1900 was selected as Syracuse’s greatest baseball player of the1800s.
Playing for teams all over the Northeast, including the New York Gothams and the Clippers of Webster, Massachusetts, Dorgan became one of the game’s best players. He was brought to Syracuse during the winter of 1875-76. Syracuse wanted to field a professional club and compete on a national level against Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, and New York. Dorgan’s first objective was to teach pitcher Henry McCormick, 1998 Hall of Famer inductee, to perfect the new curved pitch. The two worked together through the winter obtaining 100% accuracy by hurling at the string strike zone, which they hung in their lower James Street loft.
Aside from teaching the curved pitch to teammates, Mike caught and played shortsthop. “Ironman” Mike never wore a mask, mitt, or chest protector. Spectators would often see tears in his eyes as pitchers sent their best stuff hurling at lightening speeds.
Highlights of his career include being the first Syracusan to play in the National League, finishing third in the NL in hitting (1885), and playing left field in a 16-inning contest between the Stars and St. Louis Browns on May 1,1877 in what was called by sports writers as “the greatest baseball game ever played.”
Despite his incredible endurance behind the plate and his outstanding fielding ability, a career-ending injury occurred when he went over a fence to make a game-saving catch. This injury effectively ended his playing career. “Iron Man” Mike returned to Syracuse for three more years, finishing his major league career with 715 games, 802 hits, 112 doubles, and a .274 batting average. In 1909, Mike went to St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Conn. for an operation to repair his badly injured knee. Following the operation, complications set in and this baseball great passed away on April 26, 1909.
Ninety years later, his career is still an inspiration to us all. Albert Spaulding (Hall of Famer) states, “In his day Mike Dorgan had few equals as a ball player. In fact I always considered him the greatest man on the ball field that ever donned a uniform.”
Dorgan is buried in St. Agnes Cemetery in Syracuse in his family’s plot. Ninety feet away lies the remains of Mike’s battery mate, room-mate and friend, Henry McCormick. Ninety feet-the distance between bases on a baseball diamond: another bit of irony shared by two great players and friends, now united on final time as members of the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame.