Folly resident honors grandfather, professional baseball pioneer
By Lorne Chambers | Editor
For former Folly Beach City Councilman Charles McCarty, having a headstone placed on his grandfather’s grave is something that he has been working towards for decades. But it’s more than just a piece of granite, it’s giving one of the original boys of summer his rightful place in baseball antiquity.
For more than a century, Andrew “Andy” Leonard, one of the first-ever professional baseball players in the country, lay in an unmarked grave in a grassy field in Boston. But this month, McCarty and his wife are traveling to the New Calvary Cemetery in his hometown of Boston for a dedication ceremony that will include 8-10 of the 21 living survivors of Andy Leonard, most of whom still live in or around the Boston area.
Thanks largely to the efforts of McCarty, a brand new monument will be consecrated as the Society of American Baseball Research will hold a dedication ceremony for Leonard, who was nicknamed the “King of Leftfield.”
Born in Ireleand in 1846, Leonard moved to the United States when he was just 2 years old. He signed with the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869, baseball’s first professional team.
Two years later in 1871, after the Red Stockings disbanded, Leonard signed a contract with the Washington Olympics. He later went on to sign with the Boston Red Stockings, where he helped lead them to six pennants in seven seasons.
For decades, McCarty, who is now 83 years old, held a couple of his grandfather’s signed professional baseball contracts, which are among the oldest known in existence, along with a some other memorabilia he and his sister had since they were children growing up in Boston.
Last year McCarty was finally willing to part with these cherished collectors items and sold them at the Heritage’s Platinum Night Auction at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion in New York City. The items yielded enough at the auction that after paying Uncle Sam, McCarty was able to help pay for a significant headstone and marker honoring his grandfather.
On the back of the headstone is an inscription, along with the official logo of Major League Baseball. The inscription reads: “Irish-born survivor off the ‘Great Hunger.’ Star outfielder for the first professional baseball team, the undefeated Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869. His batting, base running and fielding feats aided Boston’s ‘Dynasty’ teams in winning six league pennants 1872 to 1878.”
“Job number one on the bucket list is complete,” says McCarty. “This is a big moment for me. If the lightning hit me today, the fact that I saw [the headstone] in the ground, I’ll be OK.” But that doesn’t mean the story is over. In fact, the story of Andy Leonard is just being written … literally.
With the grave marker in place, McCarty is now preparing to write a book about his grandfather. During this process, McCarty unearthed a lot of information about his grandfather, his family, and the early days of professional baseball. “I learned a lot about Andy the ballplayer, but also Andy the father and grandfather we never had,” he says. Leonard died in 1903 long-before McCarty was born. “I’ve de-mythed some of Andy,” says McCarty. “I don’t care if it sells or not, I just want it to be useful to the family,” says McCarty about his literary undertaking.
While in Boston this month, McCarty is going to take the opportunity to do more research for his book. “After the ceremony we’re looking to possibly get together as a group at a good sports bar in Boston and get deep into some antidotes,” says McCarty, who plans on taking some quick side trips to Rockland, Maine and New Jersey to talk with other family members and see what else he can uncover.
Once back home on Folly Beach, where he and his wife have lived for more than 20 years, McCarty will sit down at his computer and begin to write the story of Andy Leonard.
The memorabilia given to him by his Uncle John, Andy’s son, when he was still a youngster in Beantown, may be long gone. But McCarty can take comfort in that it, and his efforts, helped play a part in honoring his grandfather and preserving baseball history, which is also part of American history. But it’s also part of Irish history.
Although he never met him, McCarty need only to stroll a few blocks down the street from his home on East Cooper Avenue to be reminded of his grandfather. Against the back wall, inside St. James Gate Irish Pub, hangs a plaque honoring the first Irish-born professional baseball player — Andy Leonard. To this day, in the Irish Baseball League, the annual most valuable player award is named “The ‘Andy Leonard’ League MVP award.”