Saturday, September 29, 2007

George Munson

George Munson was a prominent baseball man in the late 19th century. A sports writer, the secretary and manager of the St. Louis Browns during their championship run, and an entrepreneur, Munson was described by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as “more nearly an institution than an individual…”

Munson was born in Iowa in 1861 and entered Cornell University in 1876. According to the Cornell Alumni News, Munson took “an optional course and did not graduate.” Leaving the university in 1879, he moved to St. Louis and took a job as a sports writer with the St. Louis Republican where he worked with David Reid.

In 1885, Reid was working for the Post-Dispatch and had taken a job as secretary of the St. Louis Browns. In the late afternoon on May 1st, Reid became ill and went to the house of his friend Munson to lie down. He never recovered and died the next evening at the age of 37. Munson replaced his friend as secretary and manager of Chris Von der Ahe’s Browns.

Described by the Post-Dispatch as “the business head of the organization,” Munson would see the Browns to four consecutive championships from 1885 to 1888. He was involved in every facet of the team from player procurement to selling advertising space on the outfield wall.

In October of 1887, according to the New York Times, Munson was in New York to arrange games at Washington Park in Brooklyn and at the Polo Grounds between the Browns and their NL champion opponents, Detroit, as part of the “world’s championship” series. When asked how he felt about his team’s chances after they had dropped two of the first three games, Munson said, “Will our boys win? Well, to prove what I think about the matter I have a well filled wallet that I am willing to risk on the result.” Regardless of Munson’s confidence, the Browns lost the fifteen game series ten games to five.

Munson had a rather tumultuous relationship with Von der Ahe, which given the character of Der Boss President is not exactly surprising. The Post-Dispatch wrote that Munson and Von der Ahe “were estimated to have quarreled four times a day-that is, (Von der Ahe) did the quarrelling and…Munson did the work.” Von der Ahe certainly did admire and appreciate the work that Munson did for the Browns, at least after Munson had moved on. Der Boss never found another employee who could compare to Munson and referred to him, simply, as “the best”.

Munson was elected as the first president of the Base Ball Reporters Association of America. The group was formed in 1897, according to Harold Seymour in Baseball: The Early Years, “for the purpose of bringing about a standard method of scoring games and to advance the interests of baseball through the press.”

In 1890, Munson had had enough of Von der Ahe’s drama and left the Browns to work with the new Players League. The New York Times reported in January of 1890 that “George Munson, late Secretary of the Browns, is busy getting things in shape for a Brotherhood ball club in St. Louis. He said today that he had $50,000 subscribed. He is negotiating with the Players League, and seems confident that St. Louis will be admitted to the circuit.” When his plans for a St. Louis team in the Players League fell through, Munson went to Chicago and took a job as secretary for the PL’s Pirates, who were managed by his old friend Charles Comiskey and had several other former Browns on the roster. In May of 1890, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, he was involved in a failed attempt to transfer either the Pittsburgh or Cleveland NL team to St. Louis.

In 1891, Munson was the editor of Reach’s Official American Association Base Ball Guide and was involved in raising stock for an American Association team in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that year that Munson was working for the Cincinnati team as secretary and was a stockholder in the club. He also went back to work that year as a press agent and advisor for Von der Ahe, whom he would continue to work for until 1894.

It was in his capacity as advisor to Von der Ahe that Munson was involved in one of the more bizarre incidents in baseball history. According to the New York Times, in March of 1891, Munson, Von der Ahe, Von der Ahe’s attorney Walter McEntire, and Al Spink “called upon Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Thomas Estep to swear out a warrant, charging conspiracy” against Mark Baldwin. Baldwin, a big league pitcher with the Pittsburgh NL club, had been hired by the League to get AA players to jump their contracts and sign with NL clubs. Baldwin had targeted Browns ace Silver King and Columbus player Jack O’Connor, both of whom were living in St. Louis. While Estep saw “no ground for a criminal warrant”, Baldwin was eventually arrested and jailed on bribery charges. In The Beer & Whiskey League, David Nemec writes that “Von der Ahe then pulled strings to have the case delayed so that Baldwin would be detained indefinitely in St. Louis and would be unable to continue his poaching for the League.” “Baldwin,” according to Seymour, “did not like being thrown into a jail infested with cockroaches and bedbugs, and retaliated against Von der Ahe’s harassment with a suit for $20,000, charging false arrest and malicious prosecution. Four years later a jury awarded him $5,000.” The only good thing to come of this mess was that Pittsburgh, Baldwin’s employer, gained a permanent nickname. Because of their poaching of AA players, the Pittsburg National League Baseball Club would forever be known as the Pirates.

In the mid 1890’s, Munson was involved in attempts to sell the Browns. As Von der Ahe’s financial and personal life deteriorated into tragedy, Munson was unable to broker a deal that would save Der Boss’s empire. By 1894, the two parted ways for the final time.

After his time with the Browns, Munson was involved in numerous entrepreneurial ventures. The Post-Dispatch wrote that “…Munson dabbled in skating rinks, racetracks, theaters, newspapers, theater programs, dog shows, horse shows, and nearly every other variety of enterprise calculated to attract public attention. Most of his adventures were successful.”

Munson died of pneumonia on March 8, 1908, leaving behind a wife, Lizzie, and two children, Porter and Daisy. His obituary in the Post-Dispatch was rather glowing. “He knew more people than any other one man in St. Louis ,” it said, “and was known by more…When the question of how a broken-down baseball player or any other member of the fraternity was to be taken care of in life or in death came up, George Munson was the man relied on to get the necessary contributions. In every public charity he was always a busy figure.”

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