Brought the League “Discredit throughout the South”

18 Jun

In the final weeks of the 1886 Southern Association season, second place Savannah travelled to Atlanta for a four game series against the league leaders.

Hours before the August 18 game, umpire John McQuade left Atlanta by train.  The Macon Telegraph called the circumstances of his departure “Mysterious.”  The Atlanta team said the umpire left town because he was bribed to throw the game by Isaac G. Haas, owner of Savannah.

The Telegraph said McQuade’s departure was the result of his being followed by a detective hired by Stephen Andrew Ryan, a wealthy Atlanta businessman who was one of the directors of the Atlanta team.

The paper quoted a Detective Jones:

“I was hired by Mr. Steve Ryan to shadow McQuade, and I did so.”

Jones went on to say that he saw the umpire speak with various people, including Haas, Savannah catcher John “Tug” Arundel and Ryan’s brother John, who claimed he tried to convince McQuade to stay and work the game.

Savannah pitcher Hank O’Day said the umpire told him “he had been offered money by Mr. Ryan, of the Atlantas, to stay and umpire the games in Atlantas favor and said that he would not and could not do so.”  Arundel said McQuade had told him he had been offered money by “one of the Atlanta officers.”

After McQuade left, Atlanta installed backup catcher Joe Gunson as umpire.  Atlanta shut out Savannah 2-0, The Constitution said “Gunson gave every close decision against Atlanta…his evident desire to be fair, carried him, frequently, too far.”

Joe Gunson, umpire for a day

Joe Gunson, umpire for a day

Savannah disagreed.   Haas demanded that, as had been done earlier in the year, when an umpire did not arrive in Savannah for a series—the teams selected umpires on alternating days.  Atlanta refused; claiming league rules gave them the right to name the umpire, and chose a former local player named George Whitlock to work the second game.

When Atlanta took the field at 3:30 PM the following day in front of a large crowd, the Savannah team was not present, The Telegraph said:

(Frank) Wells fired nine balls over the plate, which were caught by Gunson, and the umpire gave the game to the Atlanta by a score of 9-0.”

The Constitution said Savannah’s Hass “without cause declined to permit his men to play.”  The Atlanta police also got involved, arriving at the depot before the Savannah team was able to board a train and arresting five members of team, including O’Day and Arundel.

Arrested in Atlanta--Hall of Famer Hank O'Day

Arrested in Atlanta–Hall of Famer Hank O’Day

The Savannah Times said the police attempted to arrest the entire team, “but some of them dodged the officers and got away,” the five players were charged with “disorderly conduct and using profane language,” they were fined between $5 and $10 each and released.

The Times also claimed that Haas, and other Savannah team officers and fans were being “roughly handled,” and “pretty severely abused,” on the streets and in the hotels of Atlanta.

Within days McQuade made a statement under oath “that no Savannah director had endeavored to induce him to leave the city or bribe him in any way.”  McQuade also sent a letter to The Sporting Life and Southern newspapers claiming that Atlanta’s Ryan had tried to bribe him:

“Mr. Ryan, of the Atlanta club, came to me and said: ‘Here Mac, we must have the games; we have got to have them, and will give you one hundred dollars for each game.”

Regardless of the charges, and aided by the forfeited and canceled games, Atlanta won the Southern Association championship.  The season was over, but the allegations were not.

McQuade’s story was given additional credence after the end of the season.  Benjamin F. Young, a former Southern Association umpire, sent a letter to same publications McQuade had, and told a similar story.  Young’s letter implicated another prominent Atlanta citizen:  Henry Woodfin Grady, editor of The Atlanta Constitution, and a long-time supporter of baseball in Georgia.

Young said early in the 1886 season, while in Atlanta, Grady approached him and mentioned the hardship of umpire being responsible for their own travel expenses.  According to Young, Grady claimed he could “fix him up’ and said:

“’I can get passes for you on about every road you’ll have occasion to use.’  Knowing my reputation for honesty and fearing he had said too much, he failed to say ‘why’ he wanted me to take the passes, but it is evident he wanted me to favor Atlanta…Now a good many may say that Grady did not mean tany harm in offering me the passes.  If he had offered me money then of course, it would be a serious matter.  But Grady knew better than to offer me money, so he thought he could come to me in a roundabout way with the passes.”

By the turn of the century, charges such as these would have resulted in an investigation, but in Southern baseball in 1886, it was little more than a ripple.

At the end of season league meeting, the championship was “officially” awarded to Atlanta.

A resolution was introduced by the owners of the Charleston Seagulls which said Atlanta’s “treatment of visiting clubs, and behavior of their players,” had brought the league “discredit throughout the South,” and called for the team to be “censured and reprimanded.”  The resolution was adopted only after Charleston “was induced” to change “Atlanta” to “some club” in the text.

There were consequences; however, interest in baseball waned in Atlanta, and the city would not have another professional team until 1889.

Atlanta manager “Blondie” Purcell earned a return to the big leagues, finishing the 1886 season with the Baltimore Orioles in the American Association.  He played four more years, finishing with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1890.

Blondie Purcell

Blondie Purcell

Umpires McQuade and Young both finished 1886 in the American Association, and appear to have never again been approached with bribes.

Henry Grady, newspaper editor, segregationist, and “Spokesman for the New South,’ died three years later.

Henry Woodfin Grady statue in Atlanta

Henry Woodfin Grady statue in Atlanta

Stephen Ryan’s dry goods business collapsed in 1891, with debts anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million depending on the source, including losing $16,000 on the Bob Fitzsimmons /Jack “Nonpareil” Dempsey fight.  Accused of hiding assets he was jailed for 13 months.  Upon his release he rebuilt his business only to suffer a similar collapse with a year.  He died in Atlanta in 1908.

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4 Responses to “Brought the League “Discredit throughout the South””

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