Friday, December 14, 2007

What I Actually Meant To Say

I've had a long week that involved too much work, too little sleep, and probably one too many trips to the local pub. When I sat down to post yesterday, I had no clue what I was going to write about and ended up posting what seems in retrospect a relatively incoherent piece on Chippy McGarr. Oh well, not every post can be a Light In August. So let's see if I can pull it together long enough to make some sense out of all of this.

The Browns juggernaut had another successful season on the field in 1887, cruising to their third straight pennant. They were led by the outstanding pitching of Bob Caruthers, Dave Foutz, and Silver King. At the plate, Tip O'Neil had his best season, winning the triple crown and leading the AA in just about every major offensive category. Caruthers and Foutz, who played 61 and 65 games in the field respectively, were the second and third best hitters on the team.

While the Browns cruised to the pennant, their on-field success did not translate into financial success for Chris Von der Ahe. With the loss of the Pittsburgh club to the National League after the 1886 season, attendance (and revenue) was down across the AA in 1887. The lack of a competitive pennant race also had a depressing effect on attendance in St. Louis. The profitable Sunday games were threatened due to the activities of Sabbatarians who controlled the State Legislature in Missouri. The World Series versus Detroit did not generate the revenues anticipated. And as revenue was declining, Von der Ahe's expenses, in the form of player salaries, were increasing. While the Browns were certainly still a profitable operation, Von der Ahe, who relied on his baseball profits to fund his other business interests, was feeling the squeeze.

As a result of this downturn in his economic situation, Von der Ahe explored numerous options. Speculation was ripe that the Browns would follow the Alleganhys into the League (in exchange for a $25,000 bonus). Other rumours making the rounds in 1887 were that Von der Ahe would sell the Browns to Joseph Pulitzer for $100,000, move the club to New York, or buy a controlling interest in the Philadelphia Association club and transfer some of the abundant talent on the Browns to his new team in order to make the AA a more competitive venture.

While Von der Ahe certainly explored all of these options, in the end rather than take any radical steps he simply chose to cut expenses and raise revenue the "old fashioned" way-by selling his players. According to Jon David Cash, Von der Ahe "traveled to the East and traded away the rights to five valuable players from his championship team. For a total of $18,750, he sold to the Brooklyn Trolley-Dodgers the services of Albert 'Doc' Bushong and the two men who had served as a pitcher-right fielder tandem for the Browns, Dave Foutz and Bob Caruthers. In Philadelphia, Von der Ahe arranged another transaction, sending shortstop Bill Gleason and center fielder Curt Welch to the Athletics for catcher John 'Jocko' Milligan, shortstop James 'Chippy' McGarr, center fielder Fred Mann, and an additional eight thousand dollars." These transactions not only helped to address Von der Ahe's financial situation but it also strengthened Philadelphia and Brooklyn, making for a (theoretically) more competitive league.

As to Chippy McGarr and Lou Sockalexis, McGarr was born, raised, and lived in Worchester, Massachusetts, home of the College of Holy Cross. It seems that in the offseasons while McGarr was playing with Cleveland, he helped coach the Holy Cross baseball team. Sockalexis was the star athlete at Holy Cross and McGarr, recognizing his talent, pressed Cleveland manager Patsy Tebeau to sign Sockalexis. Tebeau had Jesse Burkett, another Cleveland player and Worchester native, confirm McGarr's scouting report. After Burkett also told Tebeau to sign Sockalexis, Tebeau spent almost a year trying to sign the player to a contract. After a complicated courtship that involved Sockalexis disappearing for a time and then enrolling at Notre Dame, Cleveland finally signed Sockalexis for the 1897 season.

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