Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Record Of Which They May Well Be Proud

In November of 1875, as the St. Louis Red Stockings were wrapping up their season, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, a notorious pro-Reds paper, provided a look back on the season. While modern reference material have the Reds finishing at 4-15, the Globe reported that the Reds had played 18 championship games with a record of 4-14. Sadly, they did not give the Reds' record in non-NA games.

The article reported that the Reds planed to hold a meeting on November 8th at the Laclede Hotel in St. Louis, with the intention "to place a Centennial nine in the field, composed entirely of home talent..." The Globe was well aware of the machinations that were taking place leading to the end of the NA and the birth of the NL. They believed that, when reorganized, the Reds would be the class of "the second tier" of teams, those left out of the NL.

As to the season just past, the Globe stated that "the Red Stockings made a record of which they may well be proud. The nine, with the exception of Sweasy, the veteran who 'coached' them during the early part of the season, was made up of St. Louis players...had they been properly treated by the leading clubs, they would have stood better at the close of the season..." The Globe had complained all season about the way the Reds had been treated by the Eastern powers as well as by Chicago and the Brown Stockings.

Their main point of contention was that the powers would not schedule games with the Reds. They believed that the Reds should have gotten agreements about the schedule in the early part of the season and thought it a mistake to begin the season without scheduling commitments from Eastern teams. The Globe also had some unkind words about the Brown Stockings and their refusal to schedule more than two games with the Reds.

This is an interesting take on events being that most modern accounts of the 1875 season state that the Reds never had any intention of going on an Eastern road trip and they existed as a Western co-op team simply to give Eastern teams another opponent in the West. This contemporary account by the Globe contradicts that interpretation. The Globe states that the Reds would have gone East in 1875 if they could have scheduled the games. Essentially, the Globe's position was that the Eastern teams ignored the Reds and didn't want them in their parks.

The Globe also believed that it would have been better for all involved if the Reds had remained an amateur club. "Each amateur organization is allowed one professional for training purposes, and, had the boys not entered for the whip pennant, they would have been the champion amateur club of the country. St. Louis can, without a doubt, get together a finer team of non-professionals than any other city in the Union."

The Globe believed, given the competitive nature of the Reds' games against the "clubs of first class" and their winning record against the NA's second division, that if the Reds had consolidated the amateur talent in St. Louis for the purpose of competing for the amateur championship rather than the professional championship then the Reds would have been the best amateur team in the country. Regardless of whether this is true or not, I think this reflects the heavy bias in St. Louis in favour of amateur baseball.


Richard Hershberger said...

I doubt that the Globe knew in any detail about the upcoming NL. It was kept quiet, and the meeting of the western clubs wasn't until December. I suspect that the Globe and the Reds leaders had figured out they couldn't compete on the top level, and this is the context of the discussion.

Generally, the NA clubs fell into two categories: salaried and co-op. The salaried clubs usually were joint stock companies, with capital raised in advance. The co-op clubs had little or no capital.

So how would co-op clubs finance road tours? By starting the season at home and raising enough money to cover expenses. In the meantime, the salaried clubs (which were invariably the stronger teams) had a positive incentive to play one another, since these would be better draws at the gate. They would play co-op clubs when convenient games presented themselves, but they tended not to be willing to go out of their way for these games.

The whole situation was untenable for everybody. The salaried clubs were essentially being asked to perform charity. While their finances were better than the co-ops, they weren't so good that this was plausible. The NL was formed largely to solve this problem.

It is not merely modern accounts that accuse the Reds of never intending to travel east. You can find this in end-of-season wrap-ups. My guess is that the Reds organization mostly didn't think things through, having instead a business plan that relied on everything being a roaring success from the very start.

The upshot is that the Globe was clearly correct that the Reds would have been better off as a strong amateur club, rather than a weak professional organization.

Jeff Kittel said...

I wouldn't sell the Globe short. They had outstanding baseball coverage (even the Brooklyn Eagle complimented them on it) and while they may not have known exactly what was going to happen, they did know something was afoot. While I agree that they probably didn't know all the details of the plan, they did know that something was happening and that it involved the big clubs re-organizing the league and ditching the dead wood. They knew more than the Reds who were planning on competing for the championship again in 1876.

While I can't say for certain why the Reds didn't go East, and I agree that the consensus is that they never had plans to do so, a couple of things lead me to agree with the Globes analysis. First would probably be my own bias for the Reds. Second, the lack of games with the Browns certainly points to some kind of conflict. Third, I'm not certain that money was a problem. They had raised over $12,000 in stock, which seems to me to be a goodly amount. They had decent attendence even with the horrible weather in St. Louis in May of 1875. Fourth, the Globe states that they wanted to go East but some teams wouldn't schedule them. Most likely, it was a combination of some teams refusing to schedule them and not being able to work out the financial details with others. Finally, they did make a trip South later that summer to play some games. I think that if all the details could have been worked out, the Reds would have went East in 1875.

I's also beginning to question the Reds co-op status. Their financial situation is not exactly clear. One would have to assume that Charlie Sweasy had a contract. I don't think he would have come to St. Louis without one. In 1876, we have the details of Art Croft's contract with the Reds in which he's drawing a salary. If he was playing on a contract in 1876, it's possible that he may have had one in 1875. Also, based on the hue and cry over Joe Blong's departure from the club, one intrepretation would be that Blong had jumped a contract. Add this to the $12,000 raised in stock and that doesn't sound like a co-op team to me.

If the Reds were financially stable, why wouldn't they go East? Let's say that they could've gotten some games in Philly, New York, and Boston-why wouldn't they go? One possiblity is decension in the ranks and that the team was falling apart. It's been mentioned in modern sources that the Reds' players refused to make a road trip. That's very possible. The team was most likely divided. Their was a corp group of guys who had been with the Reds for some time (Blong, McSorely, Dillon, etc), a young catcher (Flint) brought in from another St. Louis club, a sub (Ellick) brought in at the eleventh hour, and, most importantly, a captain (Sweasy) brought in from the outside at the last minute who had a reputation for being a pain in the butt. Also, you have several members of that corp group who are throwing games. So I think pne of the most likely reasons that the Reds didn't go East and ended their pursuit of the championship in early July is that the team simply ripped itself apart.

Richard Hershberger said...

There is some reason to suspect that some co-op clubs were actually mixed, with the captain salaried. I suspect that the 1873 Resolutes of Elizabeth paid Doug Allison a salary, but this is mostly because I don't know otherwise why he would have taken the position.

The Reds having $12,000 in the bank is suggestive of more financial strength than your typical co-op. Are details of the organization known? That is, were there dues-paying members who elected the club's officers? If so, how does this relate to selling stock? I wonder if this "stock" weren't actually notes conveying debt; that is, what we would call "bonds" today.

What is the evidence for throwing of games? I believe generally that this was talked about more than it actually occurred, with any error or passed ball raising suspicions. And, to be blunt, where is the market for a 4-15 team to throw games?

Jeff Kittel said...

I'm still looking into the organizational structure of the Reds club. I know Tom McNeary was running both the team and the Compton Ave. Ballpark until his death. He was usual refered to as Secretary McNeary. Andy Blong was the Reds representative to the NA in 1875 and was refered to as President. Andy Blong played for the club up through the 74 season and was listed on the Reds roster as late as March of 75. Whether or not Blong was actually involved in the running of the club or merely represented the club at the NA convention is unknown. I'm going to do more research on McNeary and hopefully that will shed some light on this.

As to the financial side, it seems that the Reds would hold a series of meetings in the offseason at which they would sell "stock"-the phrases actually used was "taking stock" and "subscriptions of stock". The meetings were usually held at the Laclede Hotel in St. Louis and were a combination of social gathering, business meeting, and fundraiser. These meetings were open to the public and supporters of the Reds were encouraged to attend (and pony up some money). The club certainly had a solid financial foundation in 75-the players were all paid regularly and the Globe described their financial situation as "flurishing."

Most of the allegations of game fixing were made against Joe Blong. Blong, the club's pitcher, bolted the team in late June of 75 for the Covington Stars and then bolted the Stars for Indianapolis. The Globe stated that he was kicked off both the Reds and the Stars for fixing and the Brooklyn Eagle makes similiar accusations. I have a source, that I can't remember off the top of my head, that also says that Trick McSorely was kicked off the Reds for fixing. Blong, McSorely, and Packy Dillon all left the Reds, joined the Stars, left the Stars, and joined Indianapolis en mass. They also showed up together in November of 75 in St. Louis, playing for a picked nine against the Reds. So Blong and McSorely are accussed fixers and Dillon is moving with them from team to team (and in my mind, on weak evidence, guilty by association). It is possible that Blong and the rest were merely jumping their contracts, the Globe was casting aspersions on their character, and the Eagle picked up the Globe's account.

However, Blong, when he was with the Brown Stocking in 1877, was named by both Chicago and St. Louis gamblers as part of a conspiracy to fix games. Both he and several of his teammates, according to the Eagle, were blacklisted (along with Devlin and the Louisville guys in the scandal that helped bring down both the Brown Stockings and the Grays). So Blong was accused of fixing in 75, named by gamblers in 77, and blacklisted by Organized Baseball.

Your question about who would gamble on a 4-15 team is well taken (and funny). But I know a lot of people who like to gamble on sports (and a few with a gambling problem) and they'll take action on anything.

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