A trophy presented to the 1886 American Association Champions was created as a peace-offering to heal bitter feelings in the wake of one of professional baseball’s early controversies.
Erastus Wiman was a former Canadian journalist who had become a railroad, ferry and entertainment magnate on Staten Island. Wiman, who promoted Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and a circus at his Staten Island Amusement Company, wanted to add baseball, at the adjacent St. George Cricket Grounds, to the entertainment offerings on the island in order to increase commuter traffic.
In December of 1885 he purchased the American Association New York Metropolitans from John Day for $25,000; Day also owned the New York Giants in the National League.
The other American Association owners claimed the sale was merely a scheme to take the Mets out of Manhattan and thus weaken the Association, and immediately expelled the team and began making arrangements to assign the team’s players to other organizations.
Wiman went to court in Philadelphia and was granted an injunction. His new players stood with him and agreed not to seek contracts with other teams until the issue was resolved, and George F. Williams, the general manager of his company, accused American Association owners of being the schemers, telling The New York Times:
“The real motive was a scheme on the part of Charles Byrne, of the Brooklyn club. He knew that a strong club on Staten Island would lessen the attendance at Washington Park, in Brooklyn, and besides this he was anxious to secure two of players (first baseman Dave) Orr and (outfielder James “Chief”) Roseman…the only way in which to gain his point was to act in concert with others who are also anxious to get the services of some of our men.”
Later in the month, Judge Martin Russell Thayer ruled that there was no merit to the American Associations’ expulsion of the Mets, The Times said:
“(Thayer) sent the ‘Mets’ all the way around the bases, and landed them safely home in the association, there to stay as long as the organization holds together as an aggregation of baseball clubs.”
Despite the victory in court, bad feelings between Wiman and the other owners remained throughout the winter and spring.
In April Wiman announced that he had ordered a trophy, described by The Sporting Life as “solid silver, 26 inches high, representing a batsman in position to bat a pitched ball. The whole will be enclosed in plate glass case.”
Various reports put the trophy’s value between $1,000 and $2,000.
According to a wire service article that ran in several papers across the country, Wiman ordered the trophy for two reasons:
“(F)irst, to show that he had no ill feelings towards the members of the association because of the bitter legal fight which he encountered on entering it, and second, as a stimulant to extraordinary exertion by the various clubs in order that they might possess so valuable a work of art.”
Wiman’s Metropolitans would never have any hope of winning his trophy. They finished in 7th place in 1886 and 1887, never drew well on Staten Island, and disbanded at the end of the ’87 season.
Brooklyn’s Charles Byrne got the last laugh; he purchased the team’s remaining assets to protect his territorial control and acquired seven Mets players, including Orr, Darby O’Brien and Paul Radford, who helped lead the team to a second place finish in 1888. O’Brien, Brooklyn’s captain, would lead the team to a championship in 1889
Wiman would quickly fall upon hard times. By 1893, the man who was reputed to have been worth between $2 and $3 million, was nearly broke. In 1894, he was arrested for forgery and embezzlement, and according to The Times “was locked up in the tombs (NYC’s House of Detention).” Wiman was found guilty, but the conviction was reversed.
The Times said that despite attempts to start businesses “He never recovered his ability to engage successfully in business after these reverses…and he died a poor man”
There are no references to the trophy after an 1886 mention in The Sporting Life that it was presented to the St. Louis Browns.