Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

The life of John Kinley Tener (1863-1946), governor of Pennsylvania from 1911 to 1915, is a remarkable success story in the annals of Pennsylvania­ – and American – history. Tener was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, on July 25, 1863, to Susan Wallis Tener and George Evans Tener. A month after his father’s death in May 1872, his family immigrated to Pittsburgh. In August, Susan Tener died shortly after giving birth to Tener’s youngest sister. His oldest brother, George, eighteen years old at the time, took charge of keeping ten orphaned siblings together.

John K. Tener claimed that he and his six brothers began playing baseball “the second day after our arrival in Pittsburgh from the north of Ireland.” Later in life, he said, “If I had possessed a good National League baseball when I first played on the sand lots, I would have been prouder than when I was elected to Congress or became Governor of Pennsylvania.”

Upon completing his education in Pittsburgh’s public schools, Tener began working in local manufacturing plants He grew tall, reaching six feet, four inches, and weighing between 180 and 200 pounds in his prime. He honed himself into a fine athlete and played amateur baseball from 1878 to 1884.

In 1885, Tener was signed to play for the Alleghenys of Pittsburgh in the American Association, a major league on par with the National League, from 1882 through 1891. He only appeared with the Alleghenys in a pre-season contest against the National League’s Buffalo Bisons. He played first base and collected one hit in three attempts against Buffalo’s Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher, James Francis “Pud” Galvin (1856-1902). Tener’s one error, a bad throw to the catcher, allowed the only run of the game to score. Disliked by some of his teammates, the Alleghenys released Tener one month later.

On May 25, 1885, the Baltimore [Orioles] Baseball Club of the American Association signed the right-handed Tener as a pitching prospect. “Tener has developed into a phenomenal pitcher,” the Baltimore American reported, “as good as any in the country.” Baltimore was having major problems, but manager William Harrison “Billie” Barnie (1853- 1900) used his new player sparingly. Tener was scheduled to pitch against the Nationals of Washington, a non-American Association team, but was inserted, instead, in right field. He had one hit in three times at bat; made two put outs; and committed one error. In June, Tener’s three outfield errors cost his team a game against Cincinnati. The team released him with only four official at-bats, no hits, and without giving him a chance to pitch. Baltimore went on to finish the season in last place.

Tener next played minor league ball for Haverhill, Massachusetts, in the Eastern New England League. His Haverhill debut on June 17,1885, was successful as he tallied three hits in six at-bats while driving in three runs. He was released by Haverhill on July 11 for poor hitting. He had predicted his release four days earlier in a letter to his brother Will. “The stock holders are a very peculiar set of men who know absolutely nothing about ball & of course think they know it all,” he wrote. “It would not surprise me to find on waking up some of these fine days that I had been fired or released … All I can do is to play good ball & act like a gentleman.

Tener remained in Haverhill, likely because of a budding romance with local resident Har­riet Jeannette Day, whom he married on October 30, 1889. In early August, he was called to fill in for an injured Lawrence, Massachusetts, first baseman, but he was hitless in three times at bat. Two days later, he returned to the Haverhill team as a pitcher. Although he hurled a respectable seven wins and three losses with a sterling earned run average (ERA) of 1.06, his batting average was only .203. Haverhill finished the 1885 season in third place in the league.

From 1886 through 1888, Tener pitched for regional independent clubs around Pittsburgh while pursuing business opportunities. A one-hit shutout pitched by Tener in a semi-professional game in August 1888 caught the attention of Adrian C. “Cap” Anson (1852-1922), player and manager of the National League’s Chicago White Stockings. Anson, desperately seeking pitching talent, was impressed with Tener’s “speed and physique” and offered him a contract. “When the longed-for day arrived,” recalled Tener, “and I was given an actual black and white contract by the old Chicago [club], my chief aim in life was reached. Anything I may have done since that time has been purely incidental.”

Chicago used Tener as its starting pitcher on his second day with the team. The White Stockings, in the heat of a pennant race, began the day in second place, six and one-half games behind New York. Tener’s first pitching assignment began inauspiciously as he was beaten soundly by the last place Indianapolis Hoosiers, 14–0, although Chicago’s fielding was atrocious as the team committed nine errors. Tener hit three batters, tossed three wild pitches, committed two errors, and struck out twice. Concerned that Anson would immediately dismiss him, he was surprised when Anson told the press, “I’m perfectly satisfied with Tener’s pitching and fielding … His support was bad.” Tener’s performance improved dramatically. Five days later, Tener beat the Detroit Wolverines, giving up only one earned run and committing one error, while hitting a single and a double.

Tener extended his winning streak to four straight games by first beating Hall of Fame pitchers Charles “Old Hoss” Radboum (1853-1897) of the Boston Beaneaters, and Michael “Mickey” Welch (1859-1941) of the New York Giants. Tener out-dueled Welch again on Septem­ber 13, giving up only one earned run. Anson clearly trusted Tener to pitch big games during the latter stages of the 1888 pennant race. It turned out to be a banner season for Tener as he helped the Chicago club finish in second place in the National League. He also established a rapport with Albert Goodwill Spalding (1850-1915), owner of the White Stock­ings, who swiftly engaged Tener to be his secretary for a post-season tour of Australia.

During Chicago’s final road trip of the 1888 season, Tener pitched the second game against the Boston Beaneaters, hurling a shutout while out-pitching Radboum for the second time. It was a bitterly cold day in Boston; while fans wore winter coats and gloves, Tener pitched his first major league shutout, giving up only four hits. A Chicago newspaper reported, “In the last inning he pitched some wonderful curves … It was a wonderful exhibition of pitching.

Chicago next took on the first-­place New York Giants in a three-­game series in early October. The White Stockings lost the first game three-to-nothing. Tener pitched the second must-win game for the White Stockings. He gave up only four hits and struck out four batters, but the Giants scored the game’s only run in the fifth inning when Tener threw a wild pitch with the bases loaded. Unfortunately, Tener’s team.mates only managed one hit, as the Giants clinched the pennant for 1888 before a crowd of forty-one hundred spectators.

The Chicago club next visited the Dis­trict of Columbia for a series against the Washington Nationals. Tener described a special visit to the White House for a meeting with President Grover Cleveland. “We called upon the President today and were each presented to ‘his nibs’ by Con­gressman [Frank] Lawler of Chicago,” he recounted. “Anson had quite a long talk with ‘Grover’ during which he promised to give the club a letter endorsing us as the best representatives of the national game, to the Australian people … we consider his good luck as we went out in the afternoon and beat Washington badly.” Tener earned his final victory of the 1888 season that day. With seven wins, including one shutout, and five losses for the 1888 National League season, he managed a respectable 2.74 ERA, although Tener’s batting average was only .196.

Tener was one of two Chicago pitchers who participated in a world tour during the winter of 1888-1889. The Chicago squad played exhibition games during the tour against the All Americas, which con­sisted of National League and American Association star players. The two most famous players on the tour were Hall of Famers John Montgomery Ward (1860-1925), born in Bellefonte, Centre County, with the All Americas, and Tener’s teammate, “Cap” Anson. Ward had pitched an eighteen-inning shutout in 1882, a record in major league baseball that remains unbroken.

Spalding, founder of A.G. Spalding & Brothers Sporting Goods in 1876, sponsored and promoted the tour, throughout which the players enjoyed the best accommodations available. Spalding considered the tour not only as an opportunity to advance the game of baseball, but to extend his sporting goods business into new markets. Initially, the promotional tour was booked only in Australia and New Zealand, but Spalding was encouraged to expand it to other countries.

“Will be a great day in Chicago for baseball tomorrow,” Tener wrote about the start of the tour, “big parade of both teams in carriages drawn by four horses each, decorated in great style … players will wear new uniforms that are fine as silk, think I am to pitch and if day is fine will have big crowd.”

The first game of the world tour was played on October 20, 1888, in Chica­go, as Tener relieved Spalding, the starting pitch­er. The Chicago nine defeated the All America squad eleven-to six before a crowd of fifteen hundred. After the game, the forty­-member touring party boarded their luxurious railroad coaches – festooned with banners exclaiming “Spalding’s Australian Baseball Tour” – for points west. They played baseball in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Omaha, Hastings, Denver, Colorado Springs, Salt Lake City, Stockton, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Enjoying the “good fellowship” and “pleasure” of the trip, Tener wrote, “So great has been the effect of this feeling and so much have the players become interested in the trip, that you could not pay any of them to turn back.”

In mid-November, two thousand peo­ple gathered at a San Francisco dock to see ten players from each team board the ship Alameda for Hawaii. Tener shared one of the finest staterooms with Spald­ing, while most other tour members slept three to a room.

The world tour, covering thirty-two thousand miles, featured a total of fifty-three baseball games in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon, Egypt, Italy, France, England, Scotland, and Ireland. Tener pitched in twenty-two of the games, while filling in other positions in other contests. He and fellow touring players also challenged local teams and took part in a number of cricket matches. For six months, the tour succeeded in bringing baseball to the attention of many foreign nations as well attracting greater publicity and popularity in the United States.

The tour included Clarence Duval, a young African American who served as the mascot for the White Stockings. Unusual team mascots were commonplace at the time and Duval, who danced and entertained the players during travel delays, led the team onto the field during exhibitions dressed in a drum major uniform and twirling a baton. Also touring was the flamboyant “Professor” George Bartholo­mew who ascended into the clouds in a hot air balloon and performed gymnastics on a parachute bar while slowly descending to the ground. Having previously broken nearly every bone in his body and gouging out an eye, Bartholomew injured his leg in Australia during the tour when he landed on a rooftop.

Hundreds of fans welcomed the returning players in New York, on April 6, 1889, after which they embarked on the last leg of the tour – a two week exhibition schedule through various eastern and mid-western cities. Although Spalding’s expenses exceeded gate receipts by about five thousand dollars, he never doubted the tour’s success.

During the 1889 season, Tener again pitched for the Chicago White Stockings. He had a mediocre fifteen wins and fifteen losses, and the White Stockings finished the campaign in third place. On the plus side, Tener out-dueled three Baseball Hall of Fame pitchers – ­Radbourn, once, Amos Rusie (1871-1942), once, and John Clarkson (1861-1909), three times. Tener enjoyed a relatively good year with the bat, by pitchers’ standards, with an average of .273.

In autumn 1889, players rejected baseball’s reserve rule binding them indefinitely to a specific team and to a salary classification. The National Brotherhood of Ball Players revolted against these unilateral owners’ rules and formed the rival Players’ League in direct competition to the National League. Tener defected from the White Stockings and jumped to the Pittsburgh Players’ League Club, the Burghers, for the following season. The Burghers finished in sixth place in the new league, twenty and one-half games out of first place.

Tener served as secretary for the Players’ League but the fiscal failure of the league after only one season disheartened him. With his poor pitching record of three wins and eleven losses and a horrendous ERA of 7.31, he decided it was time to quit baseball. His final major league career pitching record included twenty-five wins, thirty-one losses, a 4.30 ERA, and a batting average of .239.

After the 1890 baseball season ended, Tener turned his attention away from the diamond and toward commerce and banking. He moved to Charleroi, Wash­ington County, south of Pittsburgh, where he joined the First National Bank of Charleroi (which opened in 1891) as cashier. By 1898, he became president of the bank He also helped organize the Charleroi Savings and Trust Company, serving as its secretary and treasurer. Regardless of his business success, Tener could not completely abandon baseball. In 1898, he managed an independent team in Charleroi, and he and his brother Wallace were both small shareholders in the National League’s Pittsburgh Pirates club until 1901.

John Kinley Tener first tasted the allure of politics when the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks elected him grand treasurer in 1904 and grand exalted ruler four years later. He launched his public political career in 1908, when he successfully ran as a Republican for the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania’s for­mer Twenty-fourth Congressional District which included Beaver, Lawrence, and Washington Counties. He defeated seven­-term incumbent Ernest F. Acheson (1855-1917) in the Republican primary election and won the general election by defeating Democrat Charles H. Akens. While serving in the House of Representatives from 1909 to 1911, Tener organized the first congressional baseball game. The game is still an annual charity event in Washington, D.C., a Republican lawmakers take on their Democratic rivals.

Delegates to the State Republican Convention, held in Harrisburg in June 1910 unanimously nominated Tener as their candidate for governor. The powerful political machine driven by career politician United States Senator Boies Penrose (1860-1921) put forth Tener’s name after days of speculation by the press that Penrose had made up his mind well before the convention. Penrose denied the allegation, publicly stating that any candidate would be brought before the convention only as the result of “the crystallization of sentiment.” For his dubious pronouncement, political cartoonists mocked Penrose mercilessly.

Judge J. Franklin Taylor of Washington County introduced Tener’s nomination for governor, referring to him as “Honest John.” Pennsylvania’s other U.S. Senator George Tener Oliver (1848-1919), like Tener; a native of County Tyrone, Ireland, publicly endorsed Tener. “The story of Mr. Tener’s early struggles,” said Oliv­er, “and his final success is an inspiration to the young … opportunities in this country for advancement against great odds are as open and as numerous as ever in our history.” The Republican Party desperately needed a candidate of unimpeachable reputation after scandals were unearthed during Samuel W. Penny­packer’s and Edwin S. Stuart’s administrations. “Honest John” Kinley Tener fit the bill.

Tener closed his gubernatorial campaign with a mass meeting on a street corner in Monogahela on the eve of the election. “No man honestly can say that I have robbed him of a dollar,” he said. He also refuted accusations that he felt contempt for African Americans. “I look to the man,” he said, “not the color. No matter what he is, a Negro, a white man, a poor man or a millionaire, if he is upright and honorable I shall be glad to be his friend.” The accusations may have stemmed from his close association with baseball teammate “Cap” Anson, notorious for his racist views.

Pennsylvanians elected “Popular John” – as Tener was also known – to the governor’s office on November 8, 1910. He won a multi-party race by 33,487 votes over the Keystone Party candidate, William H. Berry, a former state treasurer, and by more than 286,000 votes over Democratic State Senator Webster Grim. Tener carried only eighteen of sixty-seven counties, but these included Philadelphia and Allegheny. popular for his role in exposing the State Capitol graft scandal, Berry became tainted after the Democratic Party alleged that he used his office as state treasurer to further his personal finances. He refused to respond to the charges.

Tener was the only foreign-born individual elected governor of Pennsylvania since the American Revolution; he became a United States Citizen on October, 4, 1884, in Allegheny County. He was also the only governor of Pennsylvania who had been a professional baseball player. And the sport was never far from his thoughts.

While witnessing Tener signing a bill into law, the leader of the bill’s proponents remarked, “Your action today will prove to be the high spot of your inspiring career.” Tener responded, “No, this isn’t the biggest act of my career. I would have you know, gentlemen, I once shutout Boston.” Alexander Lee, the head butler of the Executive Mansion during Tener’s administration, recalled an occasion when the governor attended a benefit baseball game between teams from Harrisburg and Steelton. “The Governor, unable to resist the old urge, wound up…pitching the Harrisburg team to a 10-0 shut-out victory.

The Tener administration’s accomplishments included the construction of the Lincoln Highway, among other roadway improvements. An “early progressive,” Tener was the first Pennsylvania governor to officially support women’s suffrage. He is also given credit for establishing the State Board of Education; instituting workers compensations laws; creating the State Board of Censors; strengthening game conservation laws; regulating insurance and public utility industries; and establishing both the Department of Labor and Industry and the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, forerunner of the present-day Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. He also vigorously supported higher education throughout the commonwealth. At the end of his term, the governor left the commonwealth free of debt.

Unpretentious and self-made, Tener possessed no formal education past high school, with the exception of one business college course. He declined all honorary degrees, citing that “too many of such degrees…are give to men who are not fairly entitled to them.”

Tener’s active involvement with major league baseball resurfaced late in 1913 when offered the presidency of the National League. League owners, convince that Tener would lend prestige and honor to the office, presented him with a four-year contract for twenty-five thousand dollars yearly. Baseball Magazine heartily endorsed the National League’s selection. “Governor Tener…is a great man – a leader, a diplomat, and a statesman – and he surly knows baseball… a type of athlete seldom seem nowadays…He could hit terrifically; he was an able outfielder, and he could play first in A1 fashion…In all probability, there never was and never again will be as colossal an athlete as John Tener – and to this day he is a glorious figure of a man, in fine condition, scaling maybe 270 pounds…HE will be the the boss is he takes the reins, and kickers will do well to seek the cyclone shelter.”

While serving as governor, Tenr declined a salary as league president. I mean to be fair to every man connected with the league,” he said. “I want the players as well as the magnates to understand that if they have any grievances that I shall welcome their coming to me. I mean to see to it that justice it dealt out to every one. And above all else, I want it to be understood…I mean to be president in deed as well as in name.”

Tener held the league presidency until 1918, a tumultuous time in the senior circuit’s history. A third major league, the Federal League, challenged the American and National Leagues for supremacy in 1914 and 1915. Tener helped to negotiate the breakup of the Federal League after the 1915 season. “Certainly the National League, under President Tener, has been welded into perfect harmony unknown in all its previous career,” opined F. C. Lane, a popular sportswriter of the day.

Tener helped bolster the national pastime during World War I, remarking in May 1918, “Tis is a war of democracy against bureaucracy. And I tell you that baseball is the very watchword of democracy. There is no other sport or business or anything under heaven which exerts the leveling influence that baseball does. Neither the public school nor the church can approach it … England is a democratic country, but it Jacks the finishing touch of baseball.” Tener also asserted, “Simply because what baseball produces is intangible, I do not think it can be called non-essential or not productive.

On August 6, 1918, Tener resigned as president of the National League after owners refused to back him in a serious dispute between the National League’s Boston Braves and the Philadelphia Ath­letics of the American League over the contractual rights of pitcher Scott Perry (1891-1959). Following his resignation, Tener’ s only official association with professional baseball occurred in the 1930s as he served as a director of the Philadel­phia Phillies Baseball Club. He returned to Charleroi and his business interests, among them banking, the insurance firm of Tener, Lowry and Company, and the publishing of a local newspaper. Because of his character and reputation, Tener was again entered in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 1926. He did not seek the nomination and finished third without campaigning at all.

Twice a widower and having no chil­dren, Tener lived the latter years of his life with one of his nieces, Roberta Tener Johns, in the Pittsburgh area. John Kinley Tener died May 19, 1946 at age eighty-two in Pittsburgh, after suffering a heart attack on May 1. His interest in baseball continued until his final days, as he and his niece regularly attended Pittsburgh Pirates games. Governor Edward Martin called Tener, “one of the most highly regarded and most widely loved Governors in the history of the Commonwealth.”

At the turn of the twentieth century, it was unheard of for a former professional ballplayer to become a respected politician. Tener’s era was unlike the present when so many former professional athletes have parlayed their sports celebrity into positions of political import. Many people of Tener’s generation considered baseball players to be uncouth and uncivilized. John Kinley Tener’s reflection, in 1918, on his career in professional baseball serves as the last word on the subject. “I have made more progress because of those years spent in baseball than I could reasonably have expected to make had I spent that time in any other pursuit.”


For Further Reading

Gallagher, Robert C. “John Tener’s Brilliant Career.” The Baseball Research Journal, 1990. Cleveland: Society for American Base­ball Research, 1990.

Greene, Le Roy. Shelter For His Excellency. Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1951.

Levine, Peter. A.G. Spalding and the Rise of Baseball. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Palmer, Harry Clay. Sights Around the World with the Base Ball Boys. Philadelphia: Edgewood Publishing Company, 1892.

Seymour, Harold. Baseball: The Golden Age. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.


Richard C. Saylor is an associate archivist for the Pennsylvania State Archives and has worked in various professional positions for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission since 1991. A graduate of Elizabeth­town College and The Pennsylvania State University, he is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. He has authored a number of articles about military history, sports history, and film censorship. His article entitled “Banned in Pennsylvania!” appeared in the Summer 1999 edition of Penn­sylvania Heritage.