Sullivan was born in Ireland in 1859 and was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He started his professional baseball career in 1877, when he played for two teams: the New England League's Lowell Ladies Men and the League Alliance's Evansville Red. Sullivan then moved to the International Association in 1878 and the Northwestern League in 1879.
In 1881, Sullivan joined the National League's Buffalo Bisons and made his major league debut on May 3. Sullivan was the Bison's second-string catcher. In 35 games, he batted .190 with 15 runs batted in. After the season, Sullivan jumped to the American Association's St. Louis Brown Stockings, where he played in 1882 and part of 1883. He was the team's starting catcher in 1882, playing in 51 games, but he had the lowest batting average (.190) and OPS+ (39) of the team's regulars. He also ranked second in the league in passed balls, with 97. The following season, Sullivan played eight games for St. Louis and one game for the Louisville Eclipse, with a batting average of .207. In 1884, he played two games for the Union Association's St. Louis Maroons. Sullivan last appeared in a major league game on May 29 of that year.
By 1886, Sullivan had moved back to the eastern part of the country. He spent that year playing in the Eastern League for the Meriden Silvermen and Hartford Dark Blues, and in 1887, he played for the Eastern League's Danbury Hatters and the Pennsylvania State Association's Reading franchise. His primary position for Danbury and Reading was shortstop. Sullivan then played in the Atlantic Association in 1889 and 1890; the New England League in 1891; and the Eastern League in 1892 before ending his professional baseball career.
Sullivan earned the nickname "Sleeper" because of his unfamiliarity with Pullman sleeper cars in an era when baseball teams traveled by train. He died in St. Louis in 1909 and was buried in Calvary Cemetery.
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