Thursday, October 11, 2007

Don't Mess With The Reds

Al Spink, in the National Game, tells an interesting story about the St. Louis Red Stockings.

According to Spink, the Reds made a trip to Chicago in 1874 to play a few games. On the train trip home, Andy Blong was carrying a large amount of cash with him-the Reds' share of the gate receipts from the games they had just played. Blong, during the long ride back to St. Louis, met several gentlemen who engaged him in a game of three card monte. During this "game", Blong proceeded to loss all of the Reds' money.

Going back to the train car where the Reds' players were, Blong told them what had just happened to him and the money. Taking their bats, the Reds went to the car where the grifters were operating and, blocking the entrance and exit, threatened to beat the men to death unless they got the money back.

"The monte men," wrote Spink, "gave up willingly and the St. Louis boys came home with money in their pockets and much richer in experience than when they started."

This story is interesting for several reasons. First, it sheds some light on Andy Blong's role with the Reds. Spink identifies Blong, who would represent the Reds at the NA's convention in 1875, as the team's "manager" and is another source that puts Blong in the Reds management structure. Second, the story certainly adds some color to our knowledge about the players on the Reds. Several of the 1875 Reds, such as Packy Dillon, Joe Blong, Trick McSorley, Pidge Morgan, and Billy Redmon, were playing for the team in 1874. This story tells us more than a little about the character of these men. Lastly, the story raises questions about the status of the team. Prior to 1875, St. Louis was supposedly a bastion of amateur baseball. The Reds are normally described as a local amateur team that "went pro" in 1875. Spink's statement that the players "came home with money in their pockets" is the first hint I've ever come across that contradicts this conventional wisdom.


Richard Hershberger said...

I expect you know this, but "manager" in this era means business manager. The team captain was in charge of the play on the field. A few people served in both capacities (e.g. Harry Wright and Bob Ferguson) but it was more normal that they were seperate, often with the manager being a non-player.

As for the Reds' amateur status in 1874, during the NA period "amateur" and "professional" were terms of art only loosely connected to money. A "professional" team was by definition a member of the National Association, and therefore competing for the championship. Any club not in the NA was by definition amateur, but all the top competitive clubs charged admission and compensated their players. There was a small class of clubs that were strictly amateur on ideological grounds. The Knickerbockers were the most prominent example. The Olympics of Philadelphia from 1872 onwards are another example. These strictly amateur clubs didn't tour, even to play one another. I suspect that their members were not of a class that could easily afford to leave their businesses for long.

So even apart from the Blong story, there is no question in my mind that a prominent St. Louis club travelling to Chicago for games was paid. I would be astonished if this were not the case.

Jeff Kittel said...

Where Andy Blong fits in with the Reds intrests me quite a bit. Certainly, he was involved in the business management of the club. The sources have him handling money, acting as a club representative, and described as the club's president. He also was a baseball player and was playing on the field in 1874. I don't have any sources that name him as captain of the team at any point, although it wouldn't surprise me if he captained the team at some point in his career.

The amateur/professional thing you mentioned kind of surprised me-although I guess it really shouldn't have. One of themes that I've been trying to explore in my research is the transition in StL baseball from amateurism to professionalism. For me, 1874/75 was a line of demarcation. Based on what you're saying and, coincidentally, a source I found today that said that the Union club was paying players in 1871, I'm going to have to adjust my thinking.

This seems to be fairly muddied water, although it's probably the result of a 21st century perspective. You mentioned something a few days ago about avoiding the term "semi-professional". Are we at the point now where it's best to avoid "amateur" and "professional" as well?

If the terms amateur, semi-pro, and professional (as we currantly think of them) don't work or are not accurate when trying to categorize baseball teams of this era then we need a new terminology. Do you know of anyone that's done work on how we should classify teams/players of the era? It would certainly make for an interesting paper.

Richard Hershberger said...

The way to determine when players began to be paid is to figure out when a St. Louis ballpark was first enclosed. A fence is necessary before a club can charge admission, and largely pointless if no admission is being charged. Of course charging admission does not necessarily imply that individual players are being paid, but this usually follows pretty closely.

As for use of "amateur" and "professional", I don't advocate abandoning these terms, as they were widespread at the time and mostly used consistently. The trick is to understand that they were used in ways different than we do today, and you need to keep this in mind to correctly interpret texts.

As for who has written on the subject, the only I know is, well, me. I have published a piece on co-op clubs and the reasons for the creation of the National League (largely to keep the co-ops out). My conceptual breakthrough was when I looked at the professional 1873 Resolutes of Elizabeth, N.J. and the amateur 1874 Eastons of Easton, Pa. The two look virtually identical, with the amateur Eastons probably being the better team. I realized that the co-ops in the NA had more in common with the stronger amateur co-ops than with salaried clubs like the Bostons. Then I looked at who else's payers were paid, and realized that it was nearly every team that could draw a paying crowd.

You should be aware of the 1874 Eastons if only because several of their players were with the St. Louis Browns in 1875.

I would be happy to snail mail you a copy of the article. I actually don't have an electronic copy of the final published form, and I prefer not to spread various versions of it. You can email me at rrhersh [at] yahoo.

I know I have mentioned this before, but you should consider SABR. The 19th century committee has a very high quality email list. I am the only who has published specifically on this (believe it or not, the 1870s is a particularly obscure decades) but I am not the only one interested in it. I think you would fit in well with the group, and find the discussions productive.