Tag Archives: Players League

The Wealthiest Ballplayers, 1894

19 Sep

In 1894, major leaguer turned sportswriter, Sam Crane wrote about the wealthiest players in baseball in The New York Press:

(Cap) Anson is probably the wealthiest ball-player on the diamond today.  His wealth has been estimated anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000.  It is, without doubt, nearer the latter sum than the former.”

"Cap" Anson

“Cap” Anson

Anson’s fortune would be long gone, due to a series of poor investments and other financial setbacks, by the time he died in 1922.

“From the time he joined the Chicago club he has enjoyed a big salary.  In his nearly 20 years’ connection with the club he has acted as manager and captain since the retirement as a player of A.G. Spalding in 1877.  Anson, of course received extra salary as manager, and has also been a stockholder in the club…He has been fortunate, too, in real estate transactions in the “Windy City,” under the tutelage of Mr. Spalding, and could retire from active participation in the game without worrying as to where his next meal was coming from.”

The men who Crane said were the second and third wealthiest players managed to keep their fortunes.

Jim O’Rourke is thought to come next to Anson in point of wealth.  Jim came out as a professional player about the same time as Anson.  He did not get a large salary at first with the Bostons, which club he joined in 1873.  He remained with the team until 1878, when he went to Providence.  Jim was young and giddy when he came from Bridgeport to Boston, in 1873, and did not settle down into the staid, saving player he now is…He was a ‘sporty’ boy then, and liked to associate with lovers of the manly art.  Patsy Sheppard was his particular friend in the ‘Hub,’ and James made the boxer’s hotel his home for some time.  When he went to Providence in 1879 Jim began to think of saving his money, and from that time on his ‘roll’ began to increase.

Jim O'Rourke

Jim O’Rourke

Dan Brouthers has received big salaries only since 1886, when he, as one of the famous ‘big four,’ was bought by Detroit from Buffalo.  But since then he has pulled the magnates’ legs and socked away the ‘stuff.’  He has been situated so that he has been able to make the magnates ‘pony up’ to the limit, and Dan had no mercy.  He said he was out for the ‘long green,’ and he got it.  When the Boston club bought Brouthers, (Abram “Hardy”) Richardson, (Charlie) Bennett, (Charles “Pretzels”) Getzein and (Charlie) Ganzell, Dan grasped the opportunity and got a big bonus and also a big salary.  He made the Detroit club give up a big slice of the purchase money before he would agree to be sold.

Dan Brouthers

Dan Brouthers

“The Brotherhood war, when Dan jumped to the Boston Players league was another favorable opportunity for him, and he grasped it and the boodle with his accustomed avidity.  Dan has planted his wealth in brick houses in Wappingers Falls (NY), and can lie back at his ease with his 30,000 ‘plunks’ and laugh at the magnates.  It is this feeling of contentment that has made Dan almost too independent and has affected his playing lately (Brouthers appeared in just 77 games in 1893, but hit .337, and hit .347 in 123 games in 1894).  Dan is what ballplayers call ‘hard paper,’ which was a most distinguishing characteristic of every one of the ‘big four.’”

Detroit’s “Big Four” consisted of Brouthers, “Hardy” Richardson, James “Deacon” White and Jack Rowe.

“Hardy Richardson was not so awful bad, but Jim White and Jack Rowe took the whole bake shop for being ‘hard papes.’  They have both been known to start on a three weeks’ trip with 80 cents each, and on their return Jim would ask Jack, ‘How much have you spent?’  Jack would reply:  “I haven’t kept run of every little thing, but I’ve got 67 cents left.’   Jim would remark gleefully: ‘Why, I’m three cents ahead of you; I’ve got 70 cents.’  And Pullman car porters are blamed for kicking when a ball club boards their car!  Jack and Jim would sleep in their shoes for fear they would have to pay for a shine.  The only money they spent was for stamps in sending home papers, which they borrowed from the other players.  They are both well off now, however, and can afford to laugh at the players who used to guy them.”

Deacon White

Deacon White

(Charles) Comiskey has been fortunate in getting big money since 1883.  (Chris) Von der Ahe appreciated the great Captain’s worth and paid him more and more every year.  The Brotherhood business enabled him to make a most advantageous contract, and as manager and Captain of the Chicagos he received $7,000 salary besides a big bonus.  His contract with Mr. (John T.) Brush to play and manage in Cincinnati called for $23,000 for three years and $3,000 in cash.  This was made in 1891 and runs this year (1894).  Comiskey has his money invested in Chicago real estate, which is paying him a good income at the present time.

(John “Bid”) McPhee, (William “Buck”) Ewing, (Harry) Stovey, (Paul) Radford, (Ned) Hanlon, (Jack) Glasscock, (Tim)Keefe, (Charles “Chief”) Zimmer, (Charlie) Buffington, (Charlie) Bennett, and (Fred) Pfeffer are players who are worth from $10,000 to $15,000, which has all been made by playing ball.  There are only a few more players who have much in the ‘stocking.’”

“There will be Cliques”

30 Jun

William Ingraham “W.I.” Harris was one of the most important baseball writers of the 19th Century, but like Charles Emmett Van Loan three decades later, he died young and is mostly forgotten today.

He was sports editor for The New York Press, which was billed as “The aggressive Republican newspaper of New York,” and The New York Star.  The Sporting Life said of Harris:

“He feels strongly in any given direction and talks earnestly. One cannot be long in his presence without being convinced of his unswerving honesty and sincerity.”

He was, along with Ren Mulford Jr. of The Cincinnati Times-Star, an outspoken critic of the Players League, and said he agreed with Mulford’s assessment that the appearance of the Brotherhood, and the resulting “baseball war” was “a campaign for the preservation of baseball law on one side and its destruction on the other.”

William Ingraham Harris

William Ingraham Harris

Harris was also considered the best prognosticators among contemporary baseball writers, and before the 1890 season began he said:

 “For the past two years I have had the satisfaction of naming the champions of both major associations before a championship game had been played…and last season (in the National league), with the exception of Pittsburgh and Cleveland, I located the exact position at the finish.”

He said he would not attempt to handicap the results of the three leagues in 1890:

“The writer who ventures to make predictions as to the results of the championship fight in any one of the many leagues at this stage of affairs takes an enormous risk on masticating a pretty tough crow later on.”

But, said Harris, he was “willing to take my chances on giving one tip,” before the beginning of the season.  The “tip” went against the conventional wisdom, in fact, it went against what the entire baseball world considered a certainty; the fate of the club The Chicago Tribune called “The greatest team ever organized.

“(I) shall not undertake to pick any winners this year until the season has been well started.  I propose, however, to nominate one team that will not win a pennant, and that is the Chicago Brotherhood team.  In making this assertion I am bucking against general sentiment, or rather general belief.  The consensus of opinion is the other way.  There is no doubt that on paper the Chicago Brotherhood team is in many respects one of the greatest aggregations of baseball stars ever got together, but there are some potent reasons against its success.“

Harris was critical of the team’s catchers and pitchers:

(Conrad “Dell”) Darling never was a first class catcher and never will be.  (Charles “Duke”) Farrell is a strong hitter, and at times a most brilliant catcher, but he is not a steady or remarkably heady catcher.  Boyle is a good one, but he isn’t in it with such good men as (William “Buck”) Ewing, (Jack) Clements, (Charlie) Bennett, (Charlie) Ganzel, (George “Doggie’) Miller, (Connie) Mack, (Michael “King”) Kelly, (John “Jocko”) Milligan, (Paul) Cook and (Cornelius “Con”) Daily.  On catchers the team is all right on quantity, but short in quality.

“As to pitchers, (Mark) Baldwin, in 1887 and 1889, was a star In 1888 he was not to be depended on.  Baldwin doesn’t take care of himself as he should in the winter time.  As a pitcher he ranks among those who may be great at any time, but who keep you guessing on the dates.

(Charles “Silver”) King, in condition, is a ‘tip topper.’  He was a failure in the League once before, and in the world’s Series against New York didn’t astonish people to any extent.”

He dismissed the other two pitchers, Frank Dwyer and Charlie Bartson as a “medium man” and “unknown quantity,” and said “Unless strengthened in the battery department, and probably not then, this team will not land first.”

He conceded that “The outfield and infield are well-nigh perfect.”  But, there was a bigger problem than the weak pitching and catching; Harris predicted tension between second baseman Fred Pfeffer, who had raised $20,000 for the creation of the Players League, recruited most of his Chicago White Stockings teammates to jump to the Brotherhood, and was one of the club’s directors, and team captain and first baseman Charles Comiskey:

“(T)he Comiskey-Pfeffer or the Pfeffer-Comiskey combination.  By the way, which is it?  The answer to this will have quite a bearing on the general result…There will be cliques.  Germany and Ireland will be at war in less than a month.  The public may not know, but the lack of harmony will be there and will have its effect.  Comiskey is a great baseball captain.  At least he was in the American Association.  His methods are well-known.  He was supreme at St. Louis.  Everything went.  The men had no respect for (owner Chris) von der Ahe.  They feared Comiskey.  At Chicago Comiskey will find some men who have just escaped from the rule of a greater captain than himself, perhaps a harder task master.  They have reveled all winter over the prospect of freedom from that restraint, proper and effective though it was.  They are stockholders—yes magnates—now.  Will they swallow Comiskey’s manners on the field and in the dressing room?  As Charlie Reed sings, ‘Well, I guess not.’ (Reed was a famous minstrel performer in the 1880s and 18890s)

“Comiskey must change his methods.  He will have to gag himself; he will have to, figuratively, kiss the baseball blarney stone; he will have to be cheerful, under protest; and, above all, if harmony be his objective point he will have to please Director Pfeffer.  He may not try to do these things; he probably won’t.  Comiskey will have his way.  He always has had it.  He can only rule by practically despotic methods.”

Fred Pfeffer

Fred Pfeffer

Harris correctly concluded that Brooklyn, New York, and probably Boston (the eventual champions) would finish ahead of Chicago.  At season’s end, The Chicago Times summed up how prescient Harris had been about the fourth place team in the Players League:

“The outside world cannot fully realize the bitter disappointment felt here over the poor showing made by Comiskey’s team during the season just closed.  Surely it was strongest aggregation of players ever collected in one club, but its lack of success was mainly from two causes—lack of discipline and the miserable condition of certain members of the club.

“There has been absolutely no discipline in the team, and some of the men paid as much attention to Comiskey’s orders as they would to a call from some church congregation.  An order to sacrifice was met with a smile of scorn, and the ball was hammered down to an infielder, who made an easy double play.”

Harris died the following summer on July 7, at age 33, of tuberculosis.  The Boston Globe, the first paper he worked for, said:

“Being of a most observing nature, a ready thinker and as it were, a lightening calculator, he managed to foretell many of the leading baseball events of the year weeks ahead…Mr. Harris was without exaggeration, one of the brightest of his class, a ready and graceful writer and a hard worker.”

W.I. Harris (#5), as a member of the New York Reporters Baseball Club at the Polo Ground in 1889.

W.I. Harris (#5), as a member of the New York Reporters Baseball Club at the Polo Ground in 1889.

“I am thoroughly Disgusted with the Business”

12 May

Robert Vavasour “Bob” Ferguson shares claim, with Brooklyn Atlantics teammate Jack Chapman, to the nickname “Death to Flying Things,” although it will likely never be resolved which had the name attached to him first.

Bob Ferguson

Bob Ferguson

What is clear is that Ferguson was an important figure in 19th Century baseball –a player, manager, umpire and executive, and the game’s first switch hitter.

Ferguson was, given the reputation’s of 19th Century  umpires, uniquely popular.

The St. Louis Republican said he was “about the most brilliant of any…He never allowed his word to be questioned and was the most successful umpire in that regard ever in the profession”

The Louisville Post said “Ferguson plays no favorite from the time he calls play.  He sees all men alike and tries to do justice to them.”

The Sporting Life said he was “The only umpire who can satisfy New York audiences.”

In May of 1886 Ferguson resigned from the American Association’s umpire staff to manage the New York Metropolitans, until May of 1887, when he was let go by New York and returned to the association staff.  The Philadelphia Times said his services were so sought after that he was offered “$1200 for the remainder of the season.  This is much in excess of the regular umpire’s salary, but (the Cleveland Blues, Brooklyn Grays and St. Louis Browns) have agreed to stand the additional expense if Ferguson will accept the position.”

Even when criticizing Ferguson for possessing “a whole barrel full of that commodity known as mulishnessThe Cincinnati Enquirer said, “There is no disputing his honesty.”

Intractability was the one major criticism of his work, but Ferguson thought it an asset.  Shortly after returning as an umpire in 1887 The Washington Evening Star said during a game between New York and Philadelphia, a runner starting from second base, noticing Ferguson’s back turned after a passed ball cut third base and scored easily.  Ferguson was alleged to have said:

“I felt morally certain that he did not go to third base, as he scored almost as soon as the base runner who was on third at the time.  But before I could do anything in the matter the crowd began to hoot and I declined to change my decision.  Let an umpire be overcome just once by the players or the crowd and he never will be acknowledged afterward.”

But, despite the respect he sought and received, on and off the field, in 1888 Ferguson told  a reporter for The New York Mail and Express—which said Ferguson was noted for his “bluntness and firmness” as a player– how he really felt about being an umpire:

 “I did not choose it; that is to say, I did not seek it very earnestly.  I had been active on the ball field for so many years that I knew it would be only a question of a short time when my efficiency as a player would be impaired to the extent of my being forced to retire, and the position of umpire being possible for me to obtain and in fact offered to me, I accepted it that I might surely be able to continue upon the field, where I have spent most, and in a general way the happiest years of my life.

“How do I like it?  I do not like it at all.  An umpire, not withstanding newspaper talk regarding his being master of the field, is practically a slave to the whims of players.  He does not, as is generally supposed, go upon a field, and upon the slightest provocation fine a player to any amount simply because that man does not act in accordance with his ideas.  He is not there for that purpose.  He is simply the representative of the officers of the association in which he happens to be employed.

“I give all clubs, whether weak or strong, an equal chance.  The position of an umpire is one that no self respecting man can hold long without wondering whatever possessed him to accept it, and wishing to be free from it.

“But everyone has to earn a livelihood, and I am endeavoring to earn mine, but I will say I am thoroughly disgusted with the business and will welcome the day when I can say: ‘Robert, you are free; your slavery days are over; you can now enjoy the fruits of your labor.’  Don’t misquote me now and say that I am disgusted with the national game, for it would be utterly untrue.  I am fond of baseball, as my many years on the diamond will attest; but to be a player, which position I loved, is one thing; to be an umpire is another.”

Ferguson remained in the American Association through 1889, then joined the Players League as an umpire in 1890, and returned to the American Association for the 1891 season, his last; The Sporting Life said “the Association soured on him” because “his expense bill” was much larger than any other umpire.”

Ferguson tried to get a position with the National League in 1892, but according to The Chicago Tribune he “does not seem to be much sought after.”

Ferguson retired to Brooklyn where he died in 1894 at the age of 49.

Oliver Perry Caylor said in The New York Herald said he was “an umpire of recognized fairness and merit…His honesty was always above suspicion, and scandal never breathed a word against his upright life professionally.”

“There is a Constant fear that Someday the Men will Decline to go on the field.”

31 Mar

The St. Louis Maroons were a big league franchise for just three seasons.  After winning the inaugural (and only) Union Association championship in 1884, the team was absorbed into the National League and was a dismal 36-72 in 1885, and 43-79 in 1886.

The club disbanded after the ’86 season and throughout the winter there was speculation about whether the franchise would end up in Kansas City (where local businessmen were looking to replace the Cowboys, who also went broke after the ’86 season) and Indianapolis.

The deal was finalized on March 8 when the franchise and nine players were sold to Indianapolis.  The Indianapolis News announced on the front page:

The Base Ball Deal

It Is Finally Completed

The story said:

“There is general rejoicing about the city over the certainty of having a league baseball club here.”

The team would be called the Hoosiers, and play at the Seventh Street Grounds, a ballpark owned by local businessman John Tomlinson Brush.

John T. Brush

John T. Brush

Brush was the driving financial force behind the deal and had been involved in local baseball in Indianapolis for several years, first having financed and organized a local amateur league in the city in order to promote his business—the When Store, and later the When Clothing Company—he was also an investor in the short-lived 1884 incarnation of the Hoosiers who struggled through one twelfth-place (29-78) season in the American Association.

The Hoosiers first year was unsuccessful and chaotic.

The first manager was George Walter “Watch” Burnham, who had been a National League umpire for 41 games in 1883 and one in 1886.  His role in the effort to acquire the franchise, his selection as manager, and the manner in which he acquired his nickname, gave some pause about the seriousness of the Indianapolis operation.

"Watch" Burnham

“Watch” Burnham

The Chicago Tribune said:

“The promoter of the Indianapolis movement is George W. Burnham, known as “Watch” Burnham.  At Cleveland, in 1883, while acting as a league umpire, he endeavored to establish himself in the public esteem by buying a watch, having ‘Presented to George W. Burnham by his friend and admirers’ inscribed on it, then having it sent out to him on the field during the progress of the game.  It is not surprising that some of the league people are suspicious of the Hoosier effort.”

Brush was not the team’s original president, that duty fell to a local attorney named Louis Newberger who spent his entire two-month tenure in the position complaining that he had no time to run the team; Brush took over as president in late May.

The Hoosiers limped to a 6-22 start—no doubt aided by 22 straight road games from May 5 through May 30.  Burnham resigned once, just five games into the season, but returned a few days later.  By mid May, as the team struggled through their endless road trip, The Chicago Tribune said a mutiny was expected:

“The dissatisfaction on the part of the players with Burnham, the manager, amounts almost to insubordination and there is a constant fear that someday the men will decline to go on the field.”

The Tribune said Burnham had fined “the entire team,” and Captain Jack Glasscock “said he would be black-listed before he would play again under the management of Burnham, but was finally prevailed upon to do so.”

Jack Glasscock

Jack Glasscock

Upon the team’s return to Indianapolis Burnham was replaced with team secretary Fred Thomas.  Thomas, like Burnham, had no professional experience as a player or manager, and his tenure was not much more successful.  The club lost 18 of 29 games with him at the helm.

The team’s third manager also had no previous professional experience.  Horace Fogel was a sportswriter for The Philadelphia Press when he was tapped to be the third manager.  The Indianapolis News said hopefully:

“Mr. Horace Fogel, the new manager, is a good-looking young man, and makes a favorable impression on a stranger.  He is evidently very anxious to make the club a winner.”

The same July day The News opined on Fogel the paper also noted that maintenance of the ballpark had also angered some fans:

“Very unwisely the management had the chairs in the gallery varnished recently and yesterday several ladies had their dresses ruined.”

Things were no better under Fogel.  The Hoosiers went 20-49 under their third manager, and finished their inaugural season in eighth place with a 37-89 record.

The News said:

“Staring out under unfavorable circumstances…with inefficient management throughout the season, and many more defeats than victories, the club nevertheless, was accorded a generous support.”

The 1888 season became a matter of civic pride for the team’s ownership, local businesses and the newspaper.

In January it was announced that the Hoosiers would have a manager with at least some experience.  Harrison “Harry” Spence had played and managed in, among others, the Eastern, Northwestern and New England Leagues.  The News said of the new manager:

“A number of ball players of various clubs, who know Harry Spence…speak very highly of him.  Sam Thompson says he is a thorough gentleman, well liked by the players, and a fine manager.”

The News said the success of the Hoosiers was necessary for the future Indianapolis:

“Business and professional men are all interested in it, for, aside from the pleasure they derive from witnessing the games, they recognize the fact that the club is of great benefit in advertising the enterprise and prosperity of the city.”

The paper organized a campaign called “Boom for Baseball.”  Sixty-eight local businessmen “representing the leading establishments in the city,” donated their advertising space back to the newspaper “for the purpose of setting forth the advantages that will accrue to the city, from the maintenance of a National League Baseball Club here.”

Brush told the paper:

“We want at least five hundred subscribers for season tickets, and with this as a guarantee, we can get the money we want.  If any such player as (Fred) Pfeffer or (Larry) Twitchell can be bought we can and will buy him, and we can get the club in first-class shape for opening the season.”

Season tickets were sold for $25 each, and Brush said “We will have a grandstand that will be a beauty, with all the latest improvements, so that there will not be one uncomfortable seat in it.  Then we will have a space set aside for carriages and a special department for ladies and their escorts.”

88indy4 88indy2

Some of the advertisements from Indianapolis' "Baseball Boom"  campaign

Some of the advertisements from The Indianapolis’ News’ “Baseball Boom” campaign

Most importantly, Brush assured the people of Indianapolis that they “would have a ballclub here that nobody would be ashamed of.”

He was wrong.

While not as bad as 1887, the Hoosiers got off to a 2-11 start, and struggled to a 50-85 seventh place finish, 36 games behind the champion New York Giants.

By 1889 Indianapolis had all but given up.  The team nearly went under before the season started.  In January a headline in The News said:

The Ball Club Gone

With debts of more than $5,000, the paper said Brush would “surrender the franchise” to the league.  Brush was able to raise enough capital to keep the club operating for one more sub .500 season (59-75), and another seventh place finish.  The only highlights for Indianapolis in 1889 was the arrival of 18-year-old Indiana native Amos Rusie, who posted a 12-10 record, and Jack Glasscock who hit .352, for the Hoosiers.

The team was dropped after the 1889 season, but not because of money.  The National League bought out Brush’s Hoosiers and the Washington Nationals.  Brush received a reported $67,000 for the team, he also received stock in the New York Giants as payment for former Hoosier players.  One year earlier when The News reported that Brush was on the verge of losing the team, the paper claimed “the franchise is now worth $15,500 cash.”  While that figure might have been low there was no doubt that Brush did well on the deal.  A year later he was president and majority stock holder of the Cincinnati Reds.

Indianapolis would only be a major league city one more time; in 1914 the Hoosiers were champions of the Federal League, but were relocated the following season, becoming the Newark Peppers.

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.

“Show yourself a man, Borchers, and Leave Boozing to the Weak Fools”

10 Feb

After defeating the Boston Beaneaters and “Old Hoss” Radbourn in his major league debut, George Borchers returned to the mound five days later in Chicago and beat the Philadelphia Quakers and William “Kid” Gleason 7 to 4.

With two wins in two starts the 19-year-old Borchers was, according to The New York Evening World, one of the most sought after players in the National League:

“There are several league clubs who would like to get hold of Borchers, the latest Chicago wonder, the only thing in the way of his acquisition is the $10,000 (the White Stockings were asking).”

Chicago probably should have sold Borchers while there was interest.  He injured his arm sometime in June, missed most of July, and according to White Stockings Manager “Cap” Anson “lacks the heart to stand heavy punishment.”

George Borchers

George Borchers

After his fast start, Borchers was just 4-4 in 10 starts when Chicago released him and Chicago’s other 19-year-old “phenom” Willard “Grasshopper” Mains (1-1 in 2 games) on September 6.

The Chicago Tribune said Borchers was on his way to Cincinnati to play for the Red Stockings, “he has plenty on speed and good curves, and it will not be surprising if he makes a success in the American Association.”

After the Cincinnati deal failed to materialize, Borchers accepted $100 in advance money to join the Stockton franchise in the California League.  After receiving the money he never showed up in Stockton.

No less a figure than the “Father of Baseball,” Henry Chadwick held out hope that Borchers would eventually be a successful pitcher:

“There is a chance that a first-class pitcher, who played in the Chicago team last season, is going to reform the bad habits which led to his release by Captain Anson in August (sic) last. I refer to Borchers.   (John Montgomery) Ward told me that Borchers was a very promising pitcher, and had he kept himself straight be would undoubtedly have made his mark. I learn that be is going to try and recover his lost ground, and if be shows the possession of the moral courage to reform, and the intelligence to keep temperate, he will yet find his way to fame and fortune. Show yourself a man, Borchers, and leave boozing to the weak fools of the fraternity who indulge in it at the cost of a fair name and of pecuniary independence.”

Borchers didn’t appear ready to “reform.”  Between the 1888 and ’89 season, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, he signed a contract to play for the Canton Nadjys in the Tri-State League, receiving $100 in advance money and also signed a contract with that Kansas City Cowboys in the American Association, receiving a $300 advance.

In February of ’89 Borchers was awarded to Canton.  Kansas City offered to purchase his contract.  Canton Manager William Harrington said in The Sporting Life that “Borchers will play in Canton or not at all.”

Borchers left for California.

Upon arriving in Sacramento Borchers was arrested as a result of the Stockton contract.  The Los Angeles Herald said:

“George Borchers, the well-known baseball player, was arrested this afternoon on a warrant from Stockton, charging him with having received money by false pretenses.”

Borchers pleaded guilty and paid a fine in March.  In April he attempted to sign with the Sacramento Altas.  The San Jose Evening News said:

“Sacramento being in need of a pitcher, induced Borchers to agree to play there and asked the Stockton Club to allow him to do so.  This President Campbell (of Stockton) refused and the league directors have sustained the action.”

The California League ruled Borchers ineligible for the season.

With too much time on his hands, Borchers couldn’t stay out of trouble.  The Associated Press reported on June 27:

“Shortly after 11 o’clock tonight a barn belonging to Mrs. Borchers, mother of George Borchers, the well-known baseball pitcher, was destroyed by fire, causing a loss of nearly $1000.  When the Fire Department arrived on the scene George Borchers tried to prevent the firemen from fighting the flames.  He was drunk and very boisterous.  Finally Chief Engineer O’Meara ordered his arrest.  When two officers took him in custody he fought desperately, and had to be handcuffed and placed in a wagon before he could be got to prison.”

The story said Borchers, who “has been loafing about town (Sacramento) for several months, drinking heavily” had made threats that he’d burn down the barn because his mother would not give him any more money.  Mrs. Borchers had “recently expended a large sum of money to get him out of trouble at Stockton.”

Whether his mother paid his way out of this or not is unknown, but the charges against Borchers went away, and he spent the remainder of the 1889 baseball season pitching for a semi-pro team in Merced, California.

He returned to the California League on March 23, 1890 when he pitched for Stockton in the season opener against the Haverlys at San Francisco’s Haight Street Grounds.  Borchers and Stockton lost 11 to 5.

His time in the league would be short.

In Early May he began complaining of a sore arm; The San Francisco Call said that “Borchers is known to have received an offer from the New York Brotherhood (Players League) Club and the Stockton directors think he’s playing for his release.”

On May 11 Borchers, according to The Sacramento Bee arrived at the ballpark in Stockton, on horseback and “extremely drunk.”  Catcher/Manager Mike DePangher sent Borchers home.  Borchers instead went on a bender that ended the following evening in a Stockton restaurant where he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

The Call said:

“If he took this means to sever his connection with the Stockton Club and join the Brotherhood, he not only brought disgrace in more sense than one upon himself, but has probably ruined his chance of an Eastern engagement.”

Borchers was fined $10 in court, the Stockton club fined him $100 and suspended him for the remainder of the season and sold his contract to Portland in the Pacific Northwest League–but not before the Sacramento Senators attempted to use him in a game.  The Call said Stockton protested:

“(Sacramento) Manager (George) Ziegler thought it best not to play him.  When George was informed that he was not to play he good-naturedly said:  ‘All right, old man,’ and then added, ‘One suspension, one release, all in two weeks.’”

George Ziegler

George Ziegler

On June 1 he won his first start for Portland, beating Spokane 7 to 6.  The Oregonian said “Borchers pitched a splendid game for the Portlands.”

Borchers split the remainder of the season between Portland and Spokane, compiling a 14-14 record with a 1.44 ERA.  When the Pacific Northwest League season ended Borchers returned home to play in the California League again; The Sacramento Record-Union printed a letter from his manager at Spokane, William “Kid” Peeples:

“Borchers has been pitching ball out of sight, and has not tasted a drop of liquor while up north.  He says he is going to stay straight, and finish the season with the Sacramentos.  He will have all the California boys guessing, as he did here.”

The San Francisco Call said Borchers was “a dismal disappointment” after he lost his first two starts for the second place Senators—both losses were against the league-leading San Francisco Haverlys.  San Francisco Manager Mike Finn filed a protest with the league, claiming Borchers should be declared ineligible because he was still on the reserve list of the Spokane club.

Mike Finn, manager, San Francisco Haverlys

Mike Finn, manager, San Francisco Haverlys

In his third start Borchers allowed Stockton to score three runs in the first inning on five walks and a wild pitch, but settled down and won 7 to 6. He beat Stockton again three days later, 15 to 10. The Record-Union criticized all four of his performances and said he had reverted to “his old ways.”

The 21-year-old finished the 1890 season with a 2-2 record for the second place Senators; San Francisco won the championship.  At the end of the season the California League upheld Finn’s protest over Borchers and fined Sacramento $500.

The rest of the George Borchers story on Wednesday.

“By-By, Baby Anson”

26 Dec

On August 20, 1888 Adrian Constantine “Cap” Anson and his Chicago White Stockings were set to begin a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Chicago was in second place, six and a half games behind the New York Giants.

Anson’s club had been in first place for most of the season, but  relinquished the lead to the Giants after dropping eight of nine games at the end of July.

After sweeping two games from the Giants in New York earlier that week, Anson said he had just improved his team by signing pitcher John Tener, who was playing for the East End Athletic Club in Pittsburgh, for a reported $2500 for the remainder of the season.   He also spoke to a reporter from The New York Times:

“Mr. Anson is inclined to think that New York will ‘take a tumble,’ and if it occurs soon the Giants’ chances of closing the season at the top of the pile are woefully thin.”

Another New York paper, The World, was determined to not let Anson forget his prediction.

Three days after he made the comment, The World said Anson and Giants Manager Jim Mutrie had bet a $100 suit on the National League race, and:

“(Anson) has been busily engaged in predicting a tumble for the Giants. Jim says that tumble is not coming.”

Within a week the White Stockings had dropped to eight games behind the Giants.  The World said:

“Anson’s prophecies much resemble the boomerang.  He swore Mutrie’s men would take a tumble, and his own men are fast getting there themselves.”

The paper also taunted Anson with a front-page cartoon:

 anson18880

The taunting continued.  After Chicago lost 14 to 0 to the Indianapolis Hoosiers on August 31:

“Did Brother Anson notice anything falling in Indianapolis yesterday?”

Another front-page cartoon on September 6:

anson18881

A week later, after the Colts took three straight from the Giants in Chicago, and cut the New York lead to five and a half games, The World attributed it to “Two new men for Anson’s team;” umpires Phil Powers and Charles Daniels.   The Giants managed win the fourth game of the series 7 to 3; the paper said Giant pitcher Tim Keefe was “too much for Anson and the umpires.”

Chicago never got within six and a half games again.  On September 27 the Giants shut out the Washington Nationals, putting New York nine games ahead of the idle White Stockings.  The World declared the race over on the next day’s front page:

anson1888

All was finally forgiven on October 10.  The Giants had won the pennant, and Anson, on an off day before his club’s final two games of the season in Philadelphia, came to the Polo Grounds and met with Mutrie:

“(Anson) gave Mutrie a check for $100, in payment for the suit of clothes won by the latter.  The two then clasped hands over a similar bet for the next season—that is, each betting his club would beat the other out..  Anson then cordially congratulated his successful rival upon the winning of the pennant, and stated his belief that New York would surely win the World’s Championship.”

The Giants beat Charlie Comiskey’s American Association champion St. Louis Browns six games to four.

Anson’s White Stockings won five National League championships between 1880 and 1886, he managed Chicago for another decade after the 1888 season; he never won another pennant.

Tener, the pitcher signed by Chicago in August posted a 7-5 record with a 2.74 ERA.  He played one more season in Chicago and finished his career in 1890 with the Pittsburgh Burghers in the Player’s League.  Tener later became a member of the United States Congress (1909-1911) and Governor of Pennsylvania (1911-1915), and served as President of the National League.

Mutrie’s Giants repeated as champions in 1889 (and he presumably claimed another $100 suit from Anson), he managed the team through the 1891 season.

“Hilariously and Shockingly Drunk”

11 Dec

The Philadelphia Athletics were in second place, two games behind the St. Louis Browns in the American association pennant race in June of 1889; but The Philadelphia Times said the team was underachieving, and blamed it on drinking:

“Watch your men, Manager (Bill) Sharsig.

“It is a matter of notorious publicity that a portion of the best players on the Athletic Base Ball Club are not living up to their contracts.  They drink, carouse and make exhibitions of drunkenness that are disgusting the people who so liberally contribute to the support of the national game, and unless the management put an immediate stop to such proceedings the club will be certain to finish the season with a balance on the wrong side of the ledger.”

The paper said because it was “unjust to criticize the club as a whole” they would name the guilty parties:

“It is an open secret that (Denny) Lyons, (Curt) Welch, (Mike) Mattimore, (Henry) Larkin, (Harry) Stovey and sometimes (Frank) Fennelly and (Lou) Bierbauer are frequently in a beastly state of intoxication, and it is easy to prove when and where they have recently been seen so in public places.”

The Times singled out Welch, who was out of the lineup because Sharsig said he was ill:

“Sick he may be, and those who saw him in company with Lyons last Tuesday morning at the early hour of 3 O’clock wonder that he is not laid up.  That model pair were sitting on the curbstone on the South Penn Square side of the City Hall, hilariously and shockingly drunk.

“Saloon-keeper Irwin, who keeps on Juniper Street, told a friend that Welch and another ballplayer became so vulgarly and obscenely boisterous in his place on Monday night that he had to order them out.”

Curt Welch

Curt Welch

The Times said the Athletics loss on June 16—they were defeated 9 to 5 by the Browns—“was largely due to errors made by Welch, Stovey, Larkin and Lyons, all of whom showed traces of their Saturday night’s outing.”

The team’s activities were not limited to Philadelphia, from “every city on the circuit came stories of debauches and sprees,” involving the Athletics:

Chris von der Ahe, of the champion Browns, is responsible for the statement that on the last trip made by the Athletics to St. Louis six of the players became so drunk and noisy in the big Anheuser-Busch saloon that the proprietor had to have then ejected, and a ballplayer on another club that chanced to meet the Athletics in East St. Louis said yesterday that he never saw so many drunken men on one team and that their unseemly conduct was the subject of general talk around the depot.  From Baltimore and Brooklyn come well authenticated stories of boisterous sprees and hilarious conduct in public places.”

The Times said even the most famous umpire of the era, “Honest John” Gaffney, “whom a ballplayer has no truer friend,” commented on the state of the Athletics:

“He says that he has repeatedly seen some of them come up to bat so drunk that they could hardly stand.”

John Gaffney

John Gaffney

The paper said Sharsig, “an exceedingly clever gentleman,” had completely lost control of the team:

“The ballplayers all like him and avow their willingness to do for him whatever he asks, but he is apparently unable to keep them sober even at home and when away they are absolutely beyond his control.  He does not believe in imposing fines…Stovey, Welch and Larkin know that it would be hard to fill their places and laugh at threatened dismissal.”

The Athletics lost six straight games after the story appeared, and 16 of their next 22.  They ended the season in third place with a record of 75-58.

Manager Bill Sharsig

Manager Bill Sharsig

Mattimore was released in August.  Larkin, Bierbauer and Stovey jumped to the Players League after the season ended, and Fennelly was sold to the Brooklyn Gladiators.

Sharsig’s 1890 team led the American Association until July 17, then faded badly and finished in eighth place.  There was no mention in the Philadelphia press about whether drunkenness contributed to the 1890 collapse.

“The Great Baseball Question has been what will Capt. Comiskey do next Season”

3 Dec

In January of 1890 The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said what was on the minds of every baseball executive, writer, and fan:  “The great baseball question has been what will Capt. Comiskey do next Season”

For weeks there was speculation about whether Charles Comiskey, captain and manager of the St. Louis Browns, would remain in the American Association or join the Players’ National League of Professional Baseball Clubs (Players League), the league borne out of baseball’s first union the Brotherhood of Professional Base-Ball Players.

Charles Comiskey, against slang in baseball stories.

Charles Comiskey

On January 15, in a letter to The Sporting News, Comiskey announced his decision:

“During the past few weeks many interviews have appeared with me in different newspapers of the country relative to my having signed a contract with the St. Louis and Chicago Brotherhood clubs.  Up to this writing I am mind and fancy free.  But before Saturday night, January 18, I will have signed a contract to play at first base for the Chicago Brotherhood team.  I take this step for the reason that I am in sympathy with the Brotherhood.

“I believe its aims are for the best welfare and interest of the professional players.  I believe that if the players do not this time stand true to their colors and maintain their organization they will from this day forward be at the mercy of the corporations who have been running the game, who drafted the reserve rule and give birth to the obnoxious classification system.

“I have taken all the chances of success and failure into consideration, and I believe that if the players stand true to themselves they will score the grandest success ever achieved in the baseball world.

“But besides having the welfare of the players at heart I have other reasons for wanting to play in Chicago.  My parents and all my relatives reside there, and the all the property I own is located in the city.  I was raised there and have a natural liking for the place.  But, outside of all these reasons, my relations with the management of the St. Louis club have, during the past year been so unpleasant I do not care to renew them.  I have many friends in St. Louis, and for their sake I hate to leave here, but the other reasons out-balance this friendship, so I will cast my lines with the Chicago club.

“This is the first letter I have written on the subject which seems to have interested the baseball world throughout the whole of the present winter.

“Yours respectfully, Chas. Comiskey”

A week before the season began The Chicago Tribune said Comiskey’s new club “on paper, is the greatest team ever organized.”   Despite the hype, Comiskey’s Chicago Pirates finished in fourth place.  The Players League lasted only one season and dissolved in November of 1890.

Comiskey’s backing of the Brotherhood against “the corporations who have been running the game” would probably have come as a surprise to many of those who played for him when he owned the Chicago White Sox.  Arnold “Chick” Gandil, banned from baseball for his role in the 1919 Black Sox scandal said of Comiskey in a 1956 article in “Sports Illustrated:”

“ He was a sarcastic, belittling man who was the tightest owner in baseball. If a player objected to his miserly terms, Comiskey told him: “You can take it or leave it.” Under baseball’s slave laws, what could a fellow do but take it? I recall only one act of generosity on Comiskey’s part. After we won the World Series in 1917, he splurged with a case of champagne.”

Chick Gandil

Chick Gandil

Davy Force

28 Oct

David W. “Davy” Force was a popular figure in 19th Century baseball.  Francis Richter, founder and editor of The Sporting Life said the five-foot four-inch Force was, along with George Wright ”the two greatest shortstops of the early days of baseball.”  Nick Young, National League president, told Ren Mulford Jr. of The Cincinnati Enquirer that Force was second only to Wright as the greatest.

Davy Force

Davy Force

Force played in the National Association and National League from 1871 to 1886, and finished his professional career in the Western Association with the Sioux City Corn Huskers.

He remained popular, and well-known enough that multiple newspapers reported in 1890 that the former player “sided with the Brotherhood,” and supported the Players League; he even made news that year for growing a beard:  “Force has raised a crop of whiskers as long as himself. “

So when it was reported on Christmas Eve of 1896 that Force had shot and killed a man—a former ballplayer no less–in a San Francisco bar and then fled, the news was reported in papers across the country.

The Louisville Courier Journal:

Ball Player Kills Another

The Cincinnati Enquirer:

Old Cincinnati Ball Player Kills a Man in Frisco

The Salt Lake City Tribune:

Baseball Player Shoots Another Without Warning

The Chicago Tribune:

Police now on Lookout for Force

The Baltimore Sun:

‘Davy’ Force Wanted for Killing a Man

Towns where Force had been a popular player were quick to distance themselves.  The Sioux City Journal said that while fans “took a sort of paternal and patronizing interest” in Force when he played in Sioux City “the Golden Gate murder is quite another story…If he has been leading a wild, reckless life, possibly discouragements and vicissitudes have made a different man of him.”

The victim, Joseph Manning, was described as “an ex-ballplayer,” and in various articles was conflated with former big leaguers Jim Manning and Tim Manning.

Once it was determined Manning was not Jim or Tim, no one seemed to know anything about him.

Seven days after the murder, Abraham Mills, former National League president, issued a statement:

“I have known Davy Force almost continuously since I engaged him in 1867 to play in the Olympic Base Ball Club of Washington.  For the last seven years he has been in the employ of the company for which I am an officer, (The Otis Elevator Company) and is a steady, hard-working man, and I fully believe his statement that he never knew a Joseph Manning, and that he has never had any serious difficulty with or made any assault of any kind upon any ballplayer, either during or since his professional career.”

Mills’ statement was printed in only a fraction of the newspapers that reported the shooting.

The accusations faded, and by the time Force died in 1918 there was no mention of the case of mistaken identity in the ballplayer’s obituary.

Who exactly Joseph Manning was, and whether he was actually a professional baseball player, remains a mystery; as does the identity of the “Davy Force” who killed him in San Francisco.