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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2020:02:12 09:21:00

GEORGE GRANTHAM BAIN/LIBRARY OF CONGRESS ON WIKIMEDIA COMMONS The 130-pound, 5-foot-5 Thomas McMillan of the Oregon section of Pittston had a standout professional baseball career that spanned more than 20 years. Although he played four seasons in the major leagues, he had most of his success in the minor leagues, where he played with 14 teams over 22 seasons.

Before the first wave of Italian immigration to Pittston, the Oregon section, then known as Oregon Heights, was an Irish section. Thomas Law McMillan was born there on April 18, 1888. Nicknamed “Rebel,” he grew up at 162 Tompkins St. He was 5-foot-5 and 130 pounds as an adult. But being small didn’t stop him from developing into a professional baseball short stop.

As a teen, he played for the Oregon Heights Grays. Their home was the “Yankee Green,” at the foot of Swallow Street before construction of the Pittston Armory started on the site in 1906. Sapphire Salon occupies the armory today.

In 1903, the family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where Tommy enrolled in Georgia Tech. Though he was only 15 as a freshman, he was the starting short stop and lead off batter for the Tech baseball team.

In the spring of 1904, Hughey Jennings was the coach of the Cornell University team as well as player-manager for the Baltimore Orioles. Over the Easter break, he brought the Cornell team to Atlanta for a series of games against the Southern League Atlanta Crackers. Jennings, in the midst of a Hall of Fame career, was an idol in Pittston. Alexander McMillan, Tommy’s father, and Jennings were old friends and Alexander invited Jennings to a Tech practice to check out his son.

“Last spring,” the Atlanta Constitution wrote, “he was still arrayed in short trousers and yet his work in practice drew the most favorable comment from Jennings.”

Jennings said, “The youngster is an easy graceful infielder, never fights a grounder but always takes each as it comes. This is always the touch of a natural ball player. There is no effort in his work and yet he gets over the ground and manages to flag just about everything that comes his way.”

After the 1904 collegiate season, Tommy, 16, played 15 games for Augusta in the Sally League

In 1906, Tommy, now 18, and one of the top collegiate short stops in the country, was signed right off the Tech campus by Baton Rogue of the Class D Cotton States League. A tremendous far-ranging fielder and speedy runner, he rose fast and in 1908 he was purchased by the National League Brooklyn Superbas, later to be known as the Dodgers. But Tommy could not hit major league pitching. In 292 major league games in four seasons with Brooklyn, Cincinnati and the Yankees, he batted .209.

Yet he excelled in the high minors, and despite breaking a leg and arm and being hit in the jaw with a pitch, he played for 22 seasons with 14 different teams from Marlin, Texas, to Rochester, New York, retiring at 41. Wherever he went, the sportswriters referred to him as “diminutive” or even “the midget.” With Rochester he played in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre and got to visit friends. He stayed with his Uncle Issac Lovell on his farm in Harding or with Mrs. Thomas Bownie in his old Oregon neighborhood.

His best years were in Mobile and Memphis in the Southern Association. For Memphis in 1921, he batted .322 and was second in the association with 40 doubles.

He retired from baseball and settled in a house he bought on Lake Conway in Florida, from Joe Tinker, of the famous baseball poem “Tinker, to Evers to Chance.” Having served in the Army Air Service in World War I, he worked as a veteran representative for the Florida State Employment Service. He took up oil painting in his 50s and his canvases were displayed by the Belle Vista Chamber of Commerce. Already widowed, he died in 1966 at age 78. He had no children.

 

Sources: Digital archives of the Pittston Gazette, Wilkes-Barre News, Scranton Times-Tribune, Atlanta Journal Constitution and Sporting Life.

 

jsmiles@pittstonprogress.com