Just weeks into the 1892 season, National League president Nick Young declared the newly expanded league, which absorbed four franchises from the defunct American Association and included the only scheduled split-season in major league history, an unqualified success.
The schedule, which called for the first half to end on July 15, and the second in later October, necessitated starting league play two weeks earlier than 1891 resulting in a large number of early season games being played in inclement weather.
Young spoke to a reporter named Max Ihmsen, who usually covered politics for The Pittsburgh Dispatch, about the state of game
“(T)here is no doubt of the overwhelming success of the new deal. Considering the wretched weather that prevailed everywhere during April the showing, both financially and as to skill displayed, has been remarkable. Everyone is making money, and I look for the most successful season ever known in the history of the game. The reconciliation of the clashing interests, a reconciliation effected during the past winter, has been the salvation of the sport…This year there is every prospect of each club quitting a big winner. Never before have such games, as are now being put up, been seen.”
Young said an April 19 doubleheader in Chicago, which brought in $4,000 accounted for the league’s highest single-day gate receipts of the season so far.
As for the pennant race Young said:
“The contest is going to be the hottest in the history of baseball. Everybody is ‘out for blood,’ and at the close of the season I anticipate seeing a tie for every place up to fourth or fifth. A difference of 10 or 15 games between the highest and lowest clubs will reflect no discredit on the lowest club…All the clubs are in good shape and I expect quite a number of absolutely errorless games will be recorded before the season closes.”
Young got nearly everything wrong.
At the close of the season, Ernest J. “Ernie” Lanigan said in The Philadelphia Record that only two teams (Cleveland and Pittsburgh) operated in the black. He said their profits were less than $20,000 combined while “ten clubs have lost in the neighborhood of $150,000.”
O.P. Caylor said in The New York Herald the league’s financial state was a “disaster more astonishing than any which have preceded it and knocks the hot air out of President Nick Young’s prosperity balloon, which went sailing up so grandly.”
At a June meeting in New York team owners agreed to cut rosters from 15 to 13, and the salaries for the remaining thirteen players were cut (as much as 40 percent). At the same time, they increased to 12 ½ percent the 10 percent of gate receipts each club was assessed to pay off the debt incurred to buy out the American association franchises that were not absorbed into the league.
Caylor said salaries would continue to fall and “This is the year when the owners of huge blocks of baseball stock are not classed with the Vanderbilts, Goulds, Astors, and Rockefellers. Every one of the holders has been ‘touched’ heavily, more or less, by the financial disappointments of the year.”
The Baltimore Sun put it more succinctly:
“The season has been a failure financially.”
The Boston Beaneaters won the first half (52-22) over the Brooklyn Grooms (51-26), after the June roster and salary reductions, the Cleveland Spiders (fifth place with a 40-33 record in the first half) won the second half (53-23) over the Beaneaters (50-26).
Initially, Boston owner Arthur Soden said his team would not meet Cleveland in a post-season series as a result of charges in Boston that his team tanked the second half. He told Caylor:
“You cannot make a large number of our patrons believe that the Boston club has not purposely lost the last championship for the sake of making money out of a series of finals. That belief has hurt us to the extent of thousands of dollars during the last half of the season, and unless it be removed will hurt us equally as much next season. The only way we can remove the wrong impression is by refusing to play.”
Caylor said at the October owners meeting “the rest of the league took up the case and literally forced the Boston club to play…Boston’s refusal to play would do more harm to the interests of the League at large than the Bostons could possibly suffer by the playing of the games.”
The split schedule and the resulting longer season were dropped for 1893.
Max Ihmsen, the reporter Nick Young spoke with, became city editor of The New York Journal, a William Randolph Hearst paper, in 1895. Ihmsen went on to manage Hearst’s unsuccessful campaigns for mayor of New York City and governor of New York; he was also the Hearst-backed candidate for Sheriff of New York County in 1907, a race he lost to the Tammany Hall-backed candidate.
Ihmsen later became the managing editor of another Hearst paper, The Los Angeles Examiner. He died in 1921.