John “Cannon Ball” Shaffer

John “Cannon Ball” Shaffer, Lock Haven

Parking just inside the entrance to Lock Haven’s Highland Cemetery, I stepped out into the humidity of late August and stared at the hill before me. The cemetery, which is located on the hillside behind Lock Haven University, is the resting place of many of Lock Haven’s – and Clinton County’s – notable people.

“I thought you said this was going to be an easy trip” Mike said as he joined me. We both stared at the hillside before us and I knew it was definitely going to be a long hike to the top of the cemetery.

“Maybe we should have brought climbing gear?” Mike suggested as we looked at the stone-covered hillside. Armed with a set of handwritten directions, Mike and I started our journey to visit some of the notable people who slumber on this sacred piece of ground.

However, before we tackled the hill, our attention was drawn to an informational board near the parking area. The board showed a map of the cemetery, marking the various sections within it and showing the roadways with a dotted line for the grassy roadways that could be walked on, but were closed to vehicular traffic.

Beneath the map was a brief history of Highland Cemetery. Consisting of fifty acres, Highland Cemetery was founded in 1862 by Philip Price, who donated the land for a burial ground. Looking at Linn’s History of Centre and Clinton Counties, the Highland Cemetery Association was formed in May 1861. The following year, officers were elected and the first twenty-three acres were donated by Price. He also records the first burial in these sacred grounds was a child of Joseph Quiggle on October 19, 1862.

We finished reading the brief history of the cemetery before turning our attention again to those buried on the peaceful hillside. Thankfully, the first grave on our journey was only a couple yards from the entrance to Highland Cemetery. Walking along the grassy road to the left, I scanned the stones, pausing at the set of steps to the section to reread my instructions. We scaled the set of stairs and paused to scan the stones. I noticed the small marker and headed towards it – it proved to be the first person on our visit.

John Shaffer is a name largely forgotten, but in the early years of baseball, he pitched for two seasons in the Major Leagues.

John Shaffer was born February 18, 1864 to George and Sarah Shaffer in Lock Haven. He was a right-handed pitcher, but it is not recorded if he batted right-handed or left-handed.

Shaffer made his first appearance playing professional baseball with the Atlanta Atlantans of the Southern League in the spring of 1886. His appearances on the mound resulted in twenty-four wins and eleven losses. It was during his time with Atlanta that Shaffer earned the nickname “Cannon Ball” due to his excellent pitching that propelled Atlanta to win the pendant in the Southern League.

Impressed with his stats, Shaffer made his first Major League appearance on September 13, 1886 with the New York Metropolitans of the American League. Shaffer’s first outing was in New York against the St. Louis Browns with a 6-3 win.

Shaffer showed potential with his 1886 season. He had five wins, three losses that year, with thirty-six strike-outs, ending the season with an ERA of 1.96 and having pitched one game that was a shutout.

At the end of the 1886 season, Shaffer returned to Lock Haven, where he worked in a grocery store. New York offered him a $2000 contract for 1887, but Shaffer turned it down, saying it was too low and would continue working his $8 a day job. New York came back with a $3000 offer for the season, which Shaffer accepted. Shaffer’s willingness to keep his position working in a grocery store earned him the nickname of “Grocer Boy.”

However, the 1886 season was not to be repeated. In the thirteen games he pitched for the New York Metropolitans in 1887, Shaffer only had two wins, allowed 148 hits, walked fifty-three batters, and ended his season with an ERA of 6.19.

Due to his unimpressive start to the 1887 season, Shaffer made his last appearance in the Major Leagues on June 30, 1887, with a 15-4 loss to Baltimore. He would be sent to the Jersey City Skeeters for the remainder of the season.

In his two seasons in the Major Leagues, Shaffer pitched in twenty-one games with seven wins and fourteen losses with fifty-eight strike-outs. Interestingly, all twenty-one games Shaffer pitched were complete games – that is he pitched the entire game with no relief.

Note: There has been some debate to what happened to Shaffer’s 1887 season. Some believe he had injured himself while others believe that due to his working at the local grocery store he just failed to get into shape. While those things may be part of it, the rule changes implemented that year may have also affected his 1887 season. That year, batters struck by the ball were awarded first base and a consistent strike zone was established as being between the shoulders and knees of the batter.

The following year he bounced among three different minor league teams: the Birmingham Maroons, the Omaha Omahogs/Lambs, and the Evansville Hoosiers. Note: It does not appear he was pitching during the 1888 season. If he was, I was unable to find any pitching stats for that season.

While records from this time period are often incomplete, it is known that Shaffer played in the Minor League system in 1895 for Salem of the New England Association and also made appearances the same year for Portland of the New England League. In 1897, Shaffer again shows up as playing for the Milton Poets of the Central Pennsylvania League. While records show he played those seasons, it is not clear if he pitched or played outfield because the official statistics for those years are incomplete.

After leaving the minors, Shaffer went to work at the Demorest Sewing Machine Company in Williamsport. While here, he would coach the company baseball team and would make appearances as both a pitcher and left-fielder.

On November 21, 1929, John “Cannon Ball” Shaffer died at his home in Endicott, New York, of an extended illness. Shaffer was sixty-two years old at the time of his passing and was survived by his wife, Sarah.

We finished paying our respects to the early baseball player who appeared in the 1886 and 1887 seasons and left him resting on the hillside overlooking Lock Haven. Stepping away from Shaffer’s resting place, I pointed out another nearby monument to Mike and we carefully made our way across the hillside to a memorial standing near the main steps of Highland Cemetery.

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