The Only Nolan

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The Only Nolan.jpg

Edward Sylvester Nolan

  • Bats Left, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 8", Weight 171 lb.

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Biographical Information[edit]

"The only Nolan, with the Columbus (O.) team in '77, was one of the first men to use a fast out-curve." - Tim Murnane, quoted in Sporting Life in 1892

The Only Nolan, also called Ed Nolan, was an eccentric 19th-Century pitcher who appeared for five different major league teams in five different seasons.

Early life, career, and eccentricities[edit]

There was uncertainty for a long time about Nolan's date and place of birth. It was suspected that he was born in Canada, from where his family moved to Paterson, NJ when he was still young. However, other sources listed him as being born in Paterson, with different dates being provided by different sources. It took some time to confirm that he was in fact born in Trenton, ON in 1855. What is certain is that he got his star with the Olympic Club of Paterson in the mid-1870s, a top semi-professional team at the time.

He was the # 1 pitcher on the major league Indianapolis Blues of the National League in 1878 at the age of 20. His catcher was the 22-year-old Silver Flint, who went on to a long career.

It is said he was suspended twice during the 1878 season, once for visiting a whorehouse when he had told the team he was going to be visiting his brother. He was blacklisted from the league.

He was not in the major leagues from 1879-1880. In 1881, he was pitching for the Cleveland Blues of the National League. He told the team he was going to a funeral, but instead went drinking, which got him kicked off the team.

Showing up again in 1883, with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the National League, he lost the seven games he pitched, and then, after he was fined $10 for something, went on a drinking spree and put it on the team's tab. He was fined $100 by the team, and suspended for the rest of the season.

Nolan went back to Paterson, where he ran a saloon. Then, a team in Wilmington, Delaware, being formed for the Eastern League in 1884, decided to take a chance on him - apparently because they wanted a player like Nolan with major league experience as a draw for potential fans. Nolan had some big wins for the Wilmington team, which won the Eastern League title although the team lost money. But the season wasn't over yet. The new Union Association, formed in 1884, had a team in Philadelphia that dropped out. The Association wanted another team to take over, and Wilmington wasn't too far away. In addition, the Wilmington team, fresh off a good Eastern League season that hadn't brought in the money, was looking for greener pastures, and the Association might be it. So Wilmington joined up.

One day in a game against the Boston team, Nolan caused a Boston outfielder to muff a fly by yelling "look out for the fence", although there was no fence nearby. He was fined $10, and when he gave lip to the umpire, the fine went up to $150.

On September 15th, Wilmington was supposed to play a home game against Kansas City, but there were too few fans in the stands. Wilmington didn't play the game, and disbanded then and there after playing only 18 games in the Union Association.

Nolan pitched a few games the next year, 1885, with the Philadelphia Quakers of the National League, posting a record of 1-5, but fought with the manager Harry Wright.

Oddly enough for a fellow that seemed to constantly flout authority, Nolan became a policeman after his baseball days, in his hometown of Paterson. He died there, in 1913, at the age of 56. He also served as an umpire in two NL games in 1881.

One fan commemorated Nolan's time on the 1883 Pittsburgh Alleghenys by manufacturing a line of T-shirts remembering Nolan, Buttercup Dickerson, and the Alleghenies as "The Hardest Drinking Team of All Time".

Origin of the nickname[edit]

When the Sporting News wrote an article in 2001 about the best baseball nicknames of all time, The Only Nolan was one of the top five. Pickles Dillhoefer was named # 1. One book claims that Nolan was called "The Only" because he would demand to be the only pitcher employed by the teams on which he played.

Although I have never seen the origin of this "unique" baseball nickname documented anywhere, the timing of Nolan's career (1880s) indicates that the nickname would almost certainly have invoked the name of "The Only Leon" - the stage name of Francis Leon, the country's most famous practitioner of the now (thankfully) forgotten "art form" of drag queen minstrelsy. The Only Leon dressed like a woman and put on black face from about 1850 through the end of the century - so although obscure now, the nickname would have certainly resonated in the 1880s. One can only wonder what, exactly, Ed Nolan looked like.

"The Only" was a common term during Nolan's time, applied to anyone who excelled at something, although it must be noted that "The Only" Nolan compiled a lifetime record of 23 wins and 52 losses.

Another theory is that Ed Nolan was called "The Only" because he was something of an egotist.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 1 (1878)
  • 300 Innings Pitched Seasons: 1 (1878)

Further Reading[edit]

  • "Not the Only Nolan", in Bill Carle, ed.: Biographical Research Committee Report, SABR, January/February 2013, p. 3.
  • John Zinn: "A Stepping Stone to the Majors: The Olympic Base Ball Club of Paterson, 1874-76", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 52 Number 1 (Spring 2023), pp. 86-95.

Related Sites[edit]