Born September 1844, died June 1862
Pitcher, Pittonton Deadeyes
Cottontail was, for several years, one of the most successful pitchers of his time. There was little formalization initially in the early loose confederations of leagues that sprung up in the second half of the twentieth century and which would, eventually develop into Major League Baseball. Stats were not kept on individual batting and pitching performance and what little we know about early American baseball often appears in the form of legend.
Johnny Cottontail’s untimely death (and its fantastic nature) inevitably led to the growth of his own personal legend, but so many of the early stories concerning him were at the time independently verified by numerous witnesses (as many of them occurred in plain sight of an entire baseball team), that the amount of truth contained within them is likely to be quite substantial. Coupled with the meteoric rise to fame achieved by a small ball team known as the Deadeyes from Pittenton, Pennsylvania brought about almost single-handedly by Cottontail himself, the facts were assured to be preserved for posterity by almost every major national newspaper.
As the story goes, Cottontail’s entry into semi-professional baseball was as fateful as his death only two years after. At home with his alcoholic widower father, Cottontail was at the receiving end of intense physical beatings almost daily. One afternoon, only days after his 16th birthday, he recovered from one such beating and in anger, threw a large rock at his father with the intent to kill him. The rock missed the old man’s head by only 6 inches but it was thrown with such force that it penetrated the near wall of the small hovel they called home, entered the house and left through the far wall. The father reacted with stunned amazement and more than a little fear and immediately told his son to leave and never come back.
Cottontail complied and somehow (the record is somewhat scant at this part of the story) found his way to Pittenton (50 miles north) and the Deadeyes. Again, he found his way into baseball only through his temper and a preternatural desire to throw things at people who upset him. After some pleading with the player-manager of the Deadeyes, Wat Mothersbough, the 16-year-old was allowed to take on a job as clubhouse manager and bat boy for the Deadeyes, a dirty job for which he was given board and a small storage room in which he could sleep. Several weeks later, in a confrontation with the team’s best hitter, Jed Nox, Cottontail entered into a wager. Cottontail vowed that he could strike Nox out on three pitches. The entire team followed the two to a small field, Dempsey Meadow. The entire time Nox taunted Cottontail with insults about his ungainly height and scrawny body. By the time Cottontail began his wind-up he was so incensed that he threw the ball with all his might at Nox’s head. Fortunately for everyone involved, he missed Nox’s head, but hit the thumb and forefinger on his right hand that grasped the bat. The pitch was so fast that Nox hadn’t even had time to swing. The two fingers were crushed so badly that they fell off several days later.
Despite the loss of their best hitter, Manager Mothersbough and the Deadeyes had seen the birth of greatness and realized it instantly. The next day Johnny Cottontail wore the black and white uniform of the Deadeyes and pitched until the day of his death. Three separate members of his team remember that the entire first year they can remember only two hits being struck against him, despite the fact that he pitched tirelessly, three out of every four games the Deadeyes played. His legacy that year was a series of injured catchers, broken bats and one death (he eventually did hit someone in the head). The Deadeyes won every single game his pitched and began to draw large crowds based on Cottontail’s performance. Abraham Lincoln himself attended at least two of Cottontail’s games.
If Cottontail had remained alive and finished his career, he would undoubtedly have become one of the most successful pitchers ever. Just a few years after his death Major League Baseball began its official existence. But no player was to achieve the notoriety that Cottontail had enjoyed until Joe Jackson and Babe Ruth some 40 years later. After two years of extraordinary pitching Johnny finally met his match. A young player for the Cubs, B.S. Tyner, finally caught up to one of his fastballs and drove it straight into his brain.
“The tragedy of his loss is made ever more acute, knowing that he can never be replaced. He was and will ever be the greatest pitcher that ever lived.”
- Abraham Lincoln, speaking at the Memorial Service for Johnny Cottontail, 1862
---- This story is completely fictional ----