Billy Sullivan (sullibi03)

From BR Bullpen


William Joseph Sullivan Sr.

BR page

Biographical information[edit]


Despite being a notoriously poor hitter, Billy Sullivan is generally regarded as one of the best defensive catchers of the Deadball Era.

Sullivan was born on a farm near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, the son of Irish immigrants. He was an infielder while in high school, until filling in for the team's regular catcher because of an injury and attracting the attention of talent scouts. He played for semi-pro teams for a time before landing his first professional job with the Cedar Rapids Bunnies of the Western Association in 1898. He then played for Grand Rapids in 1899 before joining the Boston Beaneaters a few months later. He caught 66 games for the 1900 Beaneaters and hit uncharacteristically well, slugging 8 home runs, the fifth highest total in the National League.

In 1901, Sullivan jumped to the Chicago White Sox of the new American League and was the catcher in the circuit's first game, collecting a pair of hits in an 8-2 Chicago victory over the Cleveland Blues on April 24. He batted only .245 that season, but would never again top .229, hitting as low as .162 in a full season and having an average below .200 five times. Between 1901 and 1911, the Sox never finished lower than fourth with Sullivan as their starting catcher and won two pennants, in 1901 and 1906. During the two seasons in which he missed significant playing time because of injuries, in 1903 and 1910, the team finished more than 30 games out of first place.


Sullivan is perhaps most famous for going hitless during the 1906 World Series, finishing 0 for 21 with 9 strikeouts. In spite of this lack of production, he played every inning of the Series as the White Sox beat their cross-town rivals the Chicago Cubs in six games.

In 1909, Sullivan succeeded Fielder Jones as the Sox manager, leading the team for one season to a 78-74 record before turning the reins to Hugh Duffy in 1910. In 1912, he began to lose playing time to another defensive whiz, Ray Schalk. He was a coach for the White Sox in 1913 and 1914 under manager Nixey Callahan, but then was released by team owner Charles Comiskey in February 1915. He joined the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association for a season as a player-coach, hitting .215 in 105 games as the team won the pennant, and then was a coach with the Detroit Tigers in 1916, also playing in one game.

Sullivan batted only .213 lifetime, the second-lowest batting average for a player with over 3000 at-bats (the lowest average belongs to Bill Bergen, a contemporary catcher). Worse, Sullivan did not draw walks and had little power or speed. As poor as his offense was, his defense was outstanding: he was reckoned to have the best throwing arm in the American League and his ability to work with pitchers was second-to-none. During his career, he led the AL in fielding four times.

Sullivan retired to run a nut farm in Newberg, Oregon after the 1916 season. His old friend and teammate Fielder Jones had settled in the area and was also in the business. He lived in Oregon for the remainder of his life and died there in 1965, a few days short of his 90th birthday.

Sullivan's son Billy Sullivan Jr. played in the majors from 1931 to 1943. When Billy Jr. played in the 1940 World Series for Detroit, the Sullivans became the first father-son pair to have played in the World Series.

Notable Achievement[edit]

Preceded by
Fielder Jones
Chicago White Sox Manager
Succeeded by
Hugh Duffy

Year-By-Year Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs
1909 Chicago White Sox American League 78-74 4th Chicago White Sox

Further Reading[edit]

  • Trey Strecker: "William Joseph Sullivan", in David Jones, ed.: Deadball Stars of the American League, SABR, Potomac Books, Inc., Dulles, VA, 2006, pp. 483-484.

Related Sites[edit]