Opening Day—1890

24 Mar

The New York Sun said the Players League had won the battle:

“The local Brotherhood team have scored first blood, first knockdown, and have in general the best of the initial clash between the Players’ and the National League in this city.  While the latter were prepared for defeat, they had not anticipated such an overwhelming victory for the seceders as at least 3 to 1 in attendance.  They did not believe the Brotherhood would get 2 to 1, and so the result was rather staggering.  The admirers of the players are jubilant over the good attendance, and one of the partisans tersely said: ‘The League? Why they’re not in it and might as well give it up.  Let’s have another drink on the boys.’”

Fans streamed into the “grounds on Eighth Avenue” (the Brotherhood Ballpark was built next door to the Polo Grounds) and by the time the first Players’ League pitch was thrown in New York, 12,013 were on hand, while only 4,644 paid to see the National League.  The Players League team was composed mostly of players who had been with the National League Champion Giants in 1889–both teams were called the New York Giants in 1890.

Many of the members of the 1889 Giants jumped to the Players League in 1890

Many of the members of the 1889 Giants jumped to the Players League in 1890

The Sun said it would be “invidious to draw comparisons between the class that attended the League game and that which patronized the Brotherhood;” then went on to draw comparisons.

“But after a few moments’ study of the crowd surging down the elevated railway stairs an acute observer could quite easily have foretold which grounds each spectator or party was bound for.  Not but what there were plenty of well-dressed men and women in the immense crowd that wended their way toward Brotherhood Park, but rather in the excited holiday air the Players; sympathizers were.”

The Brotherhood crowd consisted of “urchins and young men,” while the National League crowd included “exquisitely dressed representatives of the fair sex.”

The two ballparks

The two ballparks

Although the field had been completed for weeks and was “in beautiful condition,” the Brotherhood Ballpark (what would become the final incarnation of the Polo Grounds) was “in an unfinished state,” and carpenters continued to work on the grand stand and lower tier seats as fans entered the park:

“The clubhouse was also only half built, and a huge banner with the words “World’s Champions” was spread across the front of it, as if to hide the unfinished part.  Flags and gay bunting were lavishly spread over the stand, but as one crushed spectator aptly put it: ‘They’d done a good sight better to build seats.’”

Despite the unfinished ballpark, the Brotherhood game was met with much fanfare:

“A cause of great enthusiasm and cheering in Brotherhood Park was the frequent arrival of tally-ho coaches, some of which were gaily decorated and bore appropriate inscriptions…Precisely at 3 o’clock the Players’ Philadelphia Club marched from the club house , preceded by the sixty-ninth Regiment Band.  They received a royal welcome to which the courteously doffed their caps.”

The New York team and Manager Buck Ewing then took the field:

“Such cheering, such yelling, as they neared the stand!  People threw up their hats and went crazy…as they broke ranks the dog on the club house porch broke into a prolonged howl.”

The crowd for the National League was more subdued, but The Sun quoted “one stalwart young man, whose face has been a familiar sight for years at the ball games,” who said the Brotherhood would “have the best of it for the first two weeks.  But wait.”

Both New York Giants teams lost their first game of the 1890 season, each to the Philadelphia franchise in their respective leagues.

The Players League lost the war.

The League outdrew the National League and American Association (PL-980,877, AA-803,200 and NL-776,042—the numbers are estimates and there is ample evidence that everyone lied about attendance figures during the year), but the Brotherhood lost an estimated $125,000 on top of more than $200,000 of debt incurred in building new ballparks.

The National League lost even more—some estimates as high as $500,000.

Although no contemporaneous details survive, the accepted story is that Albert Spalding was able to convince the Players League investors that their financial situation was worse than the National League’s.  Rather than a compromise, Spalding was able to negotiate an unconditional surrender.

The Players League would not have a second Opening Day.

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