Historical Markers
John K. Tener Historical Marker
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John K. Tener

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
6th and Fallowfield Sts., Charleroi

Dedication Date:
September 1, 1999

Behind the Marker

ohn Tener in his Chicago White Sox uniform
John Tener in his Chicago White Sox uniform, 1889.
John Tener was a big man. At 6-foot-4, he was the tallest major leaguer of his era. But he wasn't just a ball player. Indeed, he seemed to use his physical magnitude less to intimidate from the mound than to house his many public personae. In addition to pitching for the Chicago White Stockings of the National League and the Pittsburgh Burghers of the short-lived Players League, Tener was an accomplished accountant, a successful banker, an influential businessman, a member of Congress, the governor of Pennsylvania, the president of the National League, and a director of the Philadelphia Phillies. "Mr. Tener," wrote Alfred H. Spink in his classic The National Game, shortly after Tener was elected governor in 1910, "has climbed higher than any other baseball player."
John Tener stands with a crowd in 1915
John Tener stands with a crowd in 1915

Given his beginnings, it was an improbable climb. John Kinley Tener was born in Ireland in 1863. After his father died when he was nine years old, his mother soon moved John and his nine brothers and sisters to Pittsburgh to be closer to relatives. Like so many immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Tener would find in baseball a direct route into the heart of his new country. He took to the game and the game took to him.

From the beginning, Tener understood that he couldn't play baseball forever. A good student in Pittsburgh's public schools, he apprenticed in his late teens with local businesses as a clerk and then as an accountant. These skills not only enhanced his baseball livelihood but also paved the way for his many successful career paths after baseball. In 1888, Tener's crafty curve and an unorthodox delivery won him a shot at the Majors with the Chicago White Sox. He enjoyed a good first season with White Stockings, though at 7-5, it was nothing special. An invitation to join a team of National Leaguers on a post-season world tour was more a testament to his bookkeeping than his skills on the mound.

While the players were out of the country, the league's owners introduced a system to rank players and pay them accordingly. In protest, New York Giants outfielder markerJohn Montgomery Ward, the outspoken founder of the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players, tried to negotiate this and what he saw as other inequities with the owners. Ward found a capable ally in Tener, who was elected the Brotherhood's secretary in 1889 and also handled its finances.

While labor negotiations continued off the field, Tener put together a respectable 15-15 campaign for the White Stockings in 1889. When negotiations broke down after the end of the season, the players rebelled and, led by Ward with Tener right behind him, formed a league of their own. Tener jumped to the franchise in Pittsburgh. When the league folded after just one season, he retired, with a career mark of 25-31.
Oil on canvas of John Tener wearing a suit.
John K. Tener, Governor of Pennsylvania, 1911-1915.

Now married, Tener settled in Charleroi, his wife's hometown, south of Pittsburgh on the western banks of the Monongahela River. From here, Tener began new careers in banking, business, and politics. Two years after his election to Congress as a Republican in 1908, Tener accept his party's nomination for governor in 1910. It was a good move. State Republicans had been rocked by scandal over construction of the new Capitol building in Harrisburg. Tener's clean image and reputation appealed to his party, and, on Election Day, to the voters.

In his four years as governor, Tener remembered his roots as both an immigrant and a working man. Recognizing that immigrants had no chance to climb the American ladder without good schooling, he began an overhaul of the public education system. He also helped create a state Department of Labor and a commission to oversee public utilities. A vocal champion of women's suffrage, he supported amendment of the state constitution to guarantee women's voting rights.

Tener also managed to leave room in his busy schedule for baseball. While still governor, he became president of the National League, an office he held until 1918. Ever the baseball man, Tener managed to inject the National Pastime into his assessment of the progress of World War I. "This is a war of democracy against bureaucracy," he explained, "and ... baseball is the very watchword of democracy.... England is a democratic country, but it lacks the finishing touch of baseball." After a brief stint in the Department of Commerce under President Warren G. Harding, Tener returned to private life in the Pittsburgh area. In the 1930s, the cross-state Phillies put him on their Board of Directors. He died in 1946.
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