John Anthony “Jack” Flynn (1883-1935), the legendary coach of baseball at Providence College, will be inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame tomorrow. Participating in the ceremony on behalf of Providence College, which dropped baseball in 1999, is Bob Bellemore, a Friar baseball and hockey great, and my former teammate.
Jack Flynn was raised in South Providence when it was an Irish immigrant ghetto. As a boy he lived very near the slaughterhouses where the neighborhood dogs went to feast on the scraps. That practice gave Jack’s area the derisive name “Dogtown.”
Jack and his brothers, Bill and Ed, were also scrappy. They fought to achieve a status better than the one they inherited. All three brothers used their intellects and athletic prowess to earn a college education at Holy Cross in Worcester. Bill and Ed had more academic skill than Jack, but he excelled as an athlete. All three brothers will now experience the honor of induction.
Bill Flynn became Gov. William S. Flynn in 1923. Ed became Chief Justice Edmund W. Flynn in 1935 via the Bloodless Revolution and achieved the longest tenure of any chief justice in Rhode Island history.
Jack chose baseball, the glamorous National Pastime, as his ticket to success. He played for the powerful St. Michael’s Parish team, where he was mentored by the legendary Tim O’Neil, the man whose organizational skills would one day inspire the creation of the American Legion baseball program. Jack’s teammate at St. Michael’s and at Holy Cross was Andy Coakley, who would lead the National League in won-loss percentage in 1905 as he pitched Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics to the pennant.
Jack took longer to get to the major leagues than Andy. He was 26 when the Pittsburgh Pirates purchased him for $4,000 from St. Paul of the American Association. In 1910, playing alongside the great Honus Wagner, Jack, a right-handed batter, hit a respectable .274 and played in 96 games. An injury cut his playing time and his performance in 1911. He was traded to the Washington Senators. After 20 games, he was sent back to the minors, where he played for another several years.
Jack’s complete major league batting average of .249 would not earn him a spot in Cooperstown or in the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. Like his friend and teammate Andy Coakley, who became the dean of collegiate baseball coaches during a 36-year tenure at Columbia University, Flynn earned his Rhode Island Hall of Fame honors with his phenomenal success as the coach of baseball at Providence College.
P.C. opened in 1919 and fielded its first baseball team on April 20, 1920, a squad consisting entirely of freshmen. By 1924, the Friars had a senior team and a new seasoned coach — Jack Flynn. That year was eventful. On June 7, 1924, Flynn’s fledgling Friars made their first contribution to national baseball lore by registering a 1-0 victory over Brown at Andrews Field in a 20-inning pitchers’ duel — still the longest college game ever played.
During Jack Flynn’s tenure, P.C. won three Eastern Regional baseball championships — in 1928, 1931, and 1932 — with Flynn compiling a coaching record of 147-55-2 against collegiate competition. His .725 winning percentage over his 10 seasons as a coach (1924-25, and 1927-34) was outstanding, especially for a new college and a new program against top-flight competition.
In 1932, when the Friars won their third Eastern crown with a record of 15-2, their star was future Red Sox catcher George “Birdie” Tebbets. On May 24, the Boston Red Sox came to Hendricken Field for an exhibition game. Going into the last half of the ninth inning, Boston led the tenacious Friars, 8-4. Aided by Red Sox errors, P.C. rallied for five runs and a 9-8 victory — the kind of amazing comeback of which legends are made.
The next time the Red Sox appeared at Hendricken Field — on June 1, 1936 — the mood was not joyful but somber. The Sox, led by the amazing Jimmie Foxx, came not only to play but to pay tribute to Jack Flynn, who had died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the start of the 1935 season at 51. This contest began after newly installed Chief Justice Edmund Flynn threw out the first ball. Without Jack Flynn at the helm, the Friars lost this rematch.
(Dr.) Patrick T. Conley