James J. Cavanagh
- Bats Unknown, Throws Unknown
- Debut September 11, 1872
- Final Game September 19, 1872
- Born 1850 in Scotland
- Died October 14, 1890 in Brooklyn, NY USA
James Cavanagh was slid in 5 games for the Brooklyn Eckfords in September 1872, hitting .261 for a team which hit .225. He made 4 errors, but the team had a fielding percentage under .800. Jim had 4 hits in his debut game, going 4-for-6, putting him in rarefied company.
However, only his last name had made it onto official records and he was listed in encyclopedias simply as Kavanaugh. Even that spelling was uncertain. There has (through 2019) never been another Kavanaugh in the majors, and while there have been numerous Kavanaughs in the minors, none were known to have played around 1872. No major league players named Kavanagh were known to have played then either. In the early years of baseball, organized leagues were a rarity, and the Eckfords were known to pick up many of their players from the semipro Burnsides club of Brooklyn. The team was well enough known that its games were covered in papers like the Brooklyn Eagle, where present-day researchers found mention of James Cavanagh, whose tenure with the team is consistent with his major league record. Further research confirmed that the Burnsides' Cavanaugh was the major league player.
He was born in Scotland but his family moved to the New York City area when he was just 2 years old. His mother, Lavinia, was widowed early and ran a candy store before returning to live with her grown son. The ballplayer was a deputy sheriff in his day job, and an enforcer for a local political boss, Albert Daggett. The two apparently had a falling out and, by 1883, James had gone into another line of business as a liquor salesman. He was described as a "large, powerfully-built man" who was also a boxer at one time. He later served as the captain of the race track police, according to his obituary published in the Brooklyn Times-Union. He died of consumption in 1890, a few years after his wife, leaving five children behind.