Photos from the Scranton Republican.
Festus Higgins was born in Scranton, Pa on December 27, 1891. He died in Scranton on October 4, 1924 just shy of his 33rd birthday. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. P.J. Higgins. His dad was the Chief Deputy Recorder of Deeds for Lackawanna County.
He started his pitching career in the amateur leagues in Minooka, Pa. Minooka is now part of Scranton but at the time it was a separate town. Festus pitched for the Minooka Blues, an amateur team that had 5 of its players reach the Majors, including Finners Quinlan, Steve O’Neil, Chick Shorten, “Minooka ” Mike McNally and Jimmy O’Neil. Festus was a right-handed pitcher and batter. Festus pitched for Saint Joseph’s in the Old Catholic Temperance League. He was quite successful. In 1908, he had an accident playing baseball. He was struck in the side of the head with a pitched ball during a game against Carbondale. He was revived during the game but collapsed after the game and slipped into an unconscious state. Dr. Harper attended to him and thought he was improving and would recover. (July 21, 1908 p. 5 Scranton Republican) This would affect his pitching and his health the rest of his life. Festus suffered from “weak spells” and had to retire from baseball and pitching a few times but he always came back to it.
In 1911, Festus’s brother Peter was killed in an auto accident. Peter loss was felt by the community. Festy went to college in 1911 at Eastern College in Manassas, Virgina. ( The Washington Post April 28, 1910 p 8) He stayed long enough to pitch Eastern to a 2-1 win over Catholic Univesity. (Eastern College was only a college from 1902-1920) By the summer of 1911, Festy was pitching for the Adrian Yeggs and the Saginaw Crazy Cats of the South Michigan League. This was a Class C league. He won 15 games between the 2 teams.
The Scranton Miners of the New York State League secured Festy for the 1912 season. The Miners were managed by former MLB home run champ Buck Freeman. Festus pitched and would often play first base on his days off. He hit .205. Festy pitched in 25 games and won 8 games while losing 9.
In 1913, Festy bought his release from the Scranton Miners. He had asked for a raise and it was not given ( Scranton Tribune-Republican April 24,1913 p 8). This decision brought Festus bad press in the local papers. He is listed on the roster of the Utica Utes of the New York State League. They were managed by Minooka’s own Mike O’Neil. He played with several players from his hometown including Mike McNally, Mike O’Neil and Avoca’s Jim Mullen. He was given his release by manager Mike O’Neil on July 30th. He had won only 5 of his 15 starts. (Scranton Truth July 30, 1913 p 8)
Higgins was a member of the Binghamton Bingos managed by Jack Calhoun. On May1, 1914 Festus Higgins pitched a no-hitter as a member of the Binghamton Bingos against Utica. He would have had a perfect game if not for his own error. His counterpart, Frank Oberlin threw a one hitter but lost the game on a walk, a sacrifice by Festus, a throwing error and then a sacrifice fly. This all occurred in the bottom of the ninth inning. On July 20, 1914, Festus limited the local Scranton team to 3 hits in a 4-0 defeat. He also had a triple in the game. (Scranton Republican July 21, 1914 p 8).
In 1915, Festy was again on the Scranton Miners. He won 15 games and lost 11. He also played first base in 46 games, he batted .263 . He also pitched in a later September exhibition against the New York Yankee. Former Scranton Miner Wally Pipp played for the Yankees as well as former Miner pitcher, Ensign Cotrell. The Yankees were managed by “Wild Bill” Donovan and won the game 1-0.
In January of 1916, Festus had an operation that he hoped would alleviate some of the pressure from his accident years prior. The operation was on his skull and was performed by Dr. Kane of Minooka and Dr. Gilpin of Philadelphia. He retired during the season due to “weak” spells. He pitched sporadically in 1916 and 1917 for the Scranton franchise. In 1916 he won 5 games and lost 8, in 1917 he won only 1 game and lost 6.
In 1918 and 1919 , Festy would pitch for the Binghamton Bingoes of the International League. He was a very successful pitcher in 1918 winning 15 games while losing only 4 games. In 1919, he won 16 games while losing 9 games. (Baseball reference.com)
On October 18, 1919 The All Professionals beat the All Inter-County 9, 2-0 Babe Ruth played for the Inter-County team. The All-Professional team included Chick Shorten, Mike McNally, Steve O’Neil, Jimmy O’Neil and Festus Higgins played RF. The game was played for the Jewish relief fund. Ruth was traveling to New York the next day.
On October 19,1919 Festy pitched in a benefit game for former teammate, Thomas “Finners” Quinlan. Quinlan had lost an eye and a leg in France during the war, The game matched the Minooka Blues against the Scranton Pros. Playing for the Blues were Steve O’Neil, Jimmy O’Neil, Mike McNally, Chick Shorten, Tom Walsh and Jimmy Walsh. Honest Ed Murphy of the Chicago White Sox was the star for the pros. “Smoky” Joe Wood former star pitcher for the Red Sox played OF for the pros. The Minooka Blues won the game 7-6 before 5,000 fans.
Thomas “Finners” Quinlan
In 1920, Festy pitched briefly with the Akron Buckeyes of the International League. He won 2 games and lost 1. He was a teammate of Jim Thorpe this season. baseballreference.com)
On October 21,1921 Festus was on the mound as a team from Scranton took on the “outlaw” Babe Ruth all-stars featuring several players from the World Champion New York Yankees. Festy won the game 8-6, struck out 10 batters and also blasted a triple to deep center field and a double.(Scranton Republican October 22, 1921 p 20) This was the last game on Babe Ruth’s barnstorming tour. Judge Landis, commissioner of baseball, had a famous standoff with Ruth over post season Barnstorming tours.
Festy pitched most of 1922 for the Scranton Inter-County team managed by Jack Connors. This was a semi-pro club and was not affiliated with any minor league. On September 6th, 1922 , Festus pitched for the Scranton team against the Chicago Cubs. Two thousand fans attended the game and Festus was never better. He walked none and struck out 4, only 2 of the runs against him were earned. He also had 2 hits and scored 2 runs. Cub first baseman Ray Grimes has to leave the game after he is spiked in the third inning by Higgins. The Scranton team won the game 6-5.
Also in 1921, Festus played CF for the Scranton team against the Philadelphia A’s. The A’s won the game 4-3, Festus went 1-4. (Scranton Republican October 13, 1921 p 13)
Festy also played in many of the Scranton teams other games in 1922. Festy played first base against the Brooklyn Royal Giants (Negro team), an excellent traveling team, on August 23, 1922. He played 1b and doubled in a 2-1 victory by Scranton. He also played CF against the Harrisburg Colored Giants, an eastern independent barnstorming team, in August. Scranton won 4-3.
In 1923, Festus was the ” property” of the Newark Franchise. There is not a record of him playing for Newark. He was secured by Scranton on a 15 day trial and hurt his wrist. He never effective and was released in June of 1923. (Scranton Republican June 18, 1923 p 12).
In 1924, Festus pitched for Avoca in the Pittston Suburban League. This was an amateur league but many of the players were paid.
Festy died in Scranton on October 4, 1924 just shy of his 33rd birthday. The paper said he was a good friend of Bucky Harris. Listed as honorary Pallbearers were Charlies Shorten, Mike McNally, and Steve O’Neil. All were former teammates of Festy and in 1924 all were in the big leagues. Festy is buried in St. Joseph’s cemetery in Minooka. (Scranton Republican October 8, 1924 p 19) A scholarship was established in his name at St.Thomas College (currently the University of Scranton) .