Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Roscoe Coughlin, Bill Sline, Frank Milliken and Walpole Joe

Roscoe Coughlin photo

Joe Morgan is a true New England character. No, I’m not talking about the Hall of Fame second baseman, but rather the former Boston Red Sox manager. Hereabouts in New England when you say “Joe Morgan,” no one thinks the Hall of Famer. Everyone knows you’re talking about Walpole Joe, a local boy from Walpole, Massachusetts who made good.

Joe frequently shows up at SABR meetings in the Boston area. He is always good for a few obscure but interesting stories. About ten years ago I caught his attention by asking him if he knew anything about Roscoe Coughlin. Joe stopped his gabbing in mid-sentence, turned to me and said, “What do you know about him?”

Now, virtually no one on earth knows very much about Roscoe Coughlin. Well, I imagine Carlos Bauer knows a lot since Roscoe pitched for Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco in the California League from 1888-1890 winning 30 games in 1889 and 27 more in 1890. He pitched for a number of years in the Eastern League and Eastern Association and I have his career wins at over 200, though I have misplaced his complete record and am unable to locate it at the moment. Coughlin began and completed his pro career in the New England League, working for Lynn in 1887 and Brockton in 1897.

Coughlin – real first name was William – was born in Walpole, Massachusetts, 62 years before Joe Morgan. Morgan, who holds a degree in history from Boston College, has researched the large number of minor league players who came from Walpole.

Coughlin, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, died in the Old Soldiers Home in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in 1951. Some sources say he was a member of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.

Since our initial contact regarding Coughlin, Joe and I have exchanged information on a number of other local players. One in particular was Bill Sline.

“Spitball Bill” Sline began his career with three straight 20-win seasons – all coming in the New England League. He was 20-9 for Concord in 1905 and then 21-10 and 23-8 the next two seasons playing for Jesse Burkett in Worcester. From 1908 through 1913 Sline hurled for Providence in the Eastern/International League. He won 17 games in 1909, a season split between Providence and the New England League, and 16 games for Chattanooga in 1914 before finishing with a 7-18 season for Manchester in 1915. Like Roscoe Coughlin, Sline started and finished his career in the New England League. While in the New England circuit, Sline authored two no-hitters, a 7-0 contest versus Lowell on June 29, 1909 and a 2-0 game against Fitchburg on June 5, 1915. I have his career mark at 158-141.

Now Sline was a guy that I lacked biographical data on for years. Eventually, and I think Bob Richardson was the one who passed it on to me, it was determined that Sline was from, of all places, Walpole, Massachusetts. At the next opportunity I had to speak with Joe Morgan, I asked if he knew any people in Walpole named Sline. Sure, Joe said, he used to have a female high school math teacher named Sline. As a matter of fact, Joe once needed special tutoring in math and he received it at the teacher’s home. While there, the teacher’s father, an older man in his 60s, used to ask Joe, who was a local star for the high school team, how his game was coming along. So Joe and the old man – Bill Sline – frequently conversed about the game. The old man, born in Walpole on October 4, 1883, never mentioned to Joe that he had played 11 seasons in the minors.

Bill Sline had passed away on November 17, 1956. At Joe’s insistence, I passed along Bill Sline’s career statistical record – I have game by game for every season but his last – to his daughters. On March 9, 1998 they wrote:

Dear Dick –

Thank you for sending the ‘stats’ on our father. We knew he was a pitcher – but we were not born till a few years after he left baseball.

We are having it reproduced for our nephews (two of them).

The younger one will be especially happy as he has always felt cheated as he never knew his grandfather.

Again, thanks for taking the time to do this.


Ellie and Margie Sline

In addition to Coughlin and Sline, Walpole, Massachusetts, has one other minor league 20 game winner that I am aware of – Frank Milliken who turned in a league-leading 20-9 mark for Lowell in the 1933 New England League. Milliken was born in Walpole on July 5, 1906 – 24 years before Joe Morgan – and died on May 11, 1966. His pro career was short and uneventful – just an additional total of 9 wins and 13 losses while pitching in the Eastern league in 1930 and 1931 and then with Lowell and New Bedford in the 1934 Northeastern League.

My favorite Milliken game was played on July 10, 1929 at Fallon field in the Roslindale section of Boston. He was pitching for the Roslindale of the Boston Twilight League and won a 2-0 pitching duel from Bill Jackman and Philadelphia Colored Giants.

By Dick Thompson


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