Sunday, February 24, 2008

And The Maroons Are No More

The agony is over. The National League has met and to-day Indianapolis is a member of that body. Kansas City has been paid $6,000 for her club and franchise. The St. Louis League club has been paid $12,000 for her players and franchise and now all things are lovely. The clans gathered at the Fifth Avenue Hotel on Monday last...

The Indianapolis delegates offered the committee (of John Day, Nick Young, and Al Spalding who were meeting to select an eighth club for the NL) $12,000 for a franchise, and the League then offered the St. Louis club the same sum for its resignation. The St. Louis delegate (W.S. Stromberg) thought the amount too small, but said he would consider it and give an answer on Tuesday at the 10 o'clock session. On Tuesday morning as soon as the meeting was called to order Mr. Stromberg, on behalf of the St. Louis Maroons, accepted the offer of $12,000 made by the Indianapolis men, and arrangements were at once made to transfer the players. It was thought that his price would not suit the St. Louis men, and the delegates were somewhat surprised when, after the articles had been signed Mr. Stomberg remarked: "Why, I would have taken $6,000 for the players. I am perfectly satisfied...

The Maroons have sold their players, but still hold their franchise...

-From The Sporting News, March 12, 1887

A couple of notes:

-It appears that the death of the Maroons was not foreordained. Prior to accepting the League offer, the Maroons had been planning for the 1887 season. They had been fighting in League meetings for the right to play games on Sundays and a compromise had been reached were they would be able to play Sunday games against non-League teams. This was a big victory for the Maroons who were at a competitive disadvantage in St. Louis due to the ban on Sunday games (as well as because of the higher ticket prices they were forced to charge). The team had lost money in 1885 and most likely in 1886 as well (although the sale of Fred Dunlap to Detroit in 1886 probably had them close to breaking even). The team had been arguing for some time that it needed Sunday games and 25 cent ticket prices to compete against the Browns and it appears that the League was beginning to heed their call and offer some relief. In the end, the Maroons were offered a deal that they couldn't refuse. "I would have taken $6,000 for the players," Stromberg said after accepting twice that amount.

-The statement at the end of the article about the Maroons still holding their franchise is interesting. With the acceptance of the League offer, the Maroons were no longer part of the National League. However, at this time, Al Spink was involved in the reorganization of the Western League and The Sporting News was full of news about the WL and the possibilities of placing a team in St. Louis. In later issues of the paper, it was mentioned that the Maroons would likely join the WL. With the end of the St. Louis League club, Spink most likely saw an opportunity to place a WL team in the city under the Maroons name and have them play at the Union Grounds. In the end this never happened and Spink identifies Chris Von der Ahe as the reason. It's ironic that Von der Ahe blocked a St. Louis WL team in 1887 because of his involvement with the Whites the following season. It's unknown if Von der Ahe already had plans to place a "minor league" club in St. Louis or was inspired by Spink to do so. Either way, the city would be a part of the Western League in 1888.

-The transfer of the club's players was a little more complicated than it would appear. While nominally it was a simple transfer from St. Louis to Indianapolis (or Washington, in the case of Billy O'Brien), there were several issues that muddied the waters. The players themselves had some say in the matter. "During the progress of the meeting," The Sporting News wrote, "communication was received from (Jack) Glasscock, (Jerry) Denny, and (Henry) Boyle, who insisted that the Indianapolis club give them a guarantee that they shall receive their salary for one year before they will sign a contract. Indianapolis has a bad reputation among ballplayers. Mr. Newberger said that he did not propose to pay any of his men over $2,000. Glasscock got $3,000 last season, and there are reasons to believe that he, Denny, and Boyle would not sign for the amount stated." The Sporting News also reported a rumor "that the brotherhood of professional base-ball players would take some action in the matter if the demands of the men are not complied with." To further complicate matters, it appears that the League clubs were fighting among themselves for the rights to some of the Maroons. The services of Glasscock and Denny were specifically valued. Washington wanted Glasscock and other teams were making bids for the players that "went up as high as $16,000, but no one was able to secure their services as the league had given them to Indianapolis with the understanding that they must not be sold." Some of the players, while not assigned to League clubs, were "reserved by the league in case some of the other clubs (needed) their services." To top it off, Von der Ahe stepped in and offered $500 for Joe Quinn.


Richard Hershberger said...

The bit about the franchise also caught my eye. I'm not sure exactly how the word is being used here. I have seen this elsewhere in this era. The idea that the right to play in a league had only been established a few years earlier, so perhaps the sporting press had not yet adopted a standard vocabulary.

This also is an interesting example of how we consider franchise continuity. Many modern writers claim continuity between 1882 Troy and 1883 New York on very weak grounds, and between 1882 Worcester and 1883 Philadelphia on even weaker grounds. If we are looking for claims of continuity, 1886 St. Louis and 1887 Indianapolis would seem a much stronger case, with the sale of franchise rights and transfer of players. (Was there any discussion of reserve rights?) Yet so far as I know, no modern writer ascribes any continuity here. How exactly is this different from the 2004 Montreal and 2005 Washington scenario?

Richard Hershberger said...

In the first paragraph, amend that to "The idea that the right to play in a league was a property right..."

Jeff Kittel said...

I know I've seen the reserve lists for 1887 in TSN but I can't remember if this was before or after the account of the sale. I'd have to think that it was before. So most likely the players had been reserved by the Maroons and Kansas City before these transactions took place.

I honestly believe that there's not much more to the talk of "franchise" than Spink trying to set up some sort of legitimacy for a possible "Maroons" club in the Western League. He was definitely pushing the idea of a WL club in St. Louis and using the Maroons name and the Union Grounds would give the club some continuity with the old NL team and a bit of an advantage in the market. The AL used the same strategy 15 years later by naming their St. Louis club the Browns and having them play in a ballpark on Grand Avenue.

David Ball said...

I don't have a great deal more to base this on than gut instinct, but my feeling is that from a relatively early date, perhaps even midsummer 1886, all the talk about the Maroons going on was just posturing to establish a bargaining position to sell out. I have seen a letter written by Jack Glasscock in his old age in which he claims the NL was paying the Maroons' salaries through the last couple of months of the 1886 season. However, the Maroons did reserve players, signed some rookies and made the Shomberg-McKinnon trade.

Indianapolis was given its pick of the Maroons and at least some Kansas City players. They seem to have chosen from a menu, so to speak, that set specific prices on each player, so to speak, and had their choice of which ones they thought worth acquiring. This was the standard way the NL handled such situations at the period -- the League itself bought out the departing club and then reimbursed itself out of the proceeds from the plaeyrs.

So Indianapolis didn't get blanket rights to all the Maroon players as part of its return for a single payment, and in this way it's not entirely the same deal as the Baltimore interests buying out the Browns, say. Whether the Maroons' sales price included some abstract payment for the franchise is difficult to determine, but a very prominent court case involving the AA and the Metropolitan club had determined that a league could drop a club from membership but that they didn't have complete power to act arbitrarily in that way, so a club had some property rights in its franchise.

I don't know, all this franchise continuity business gets so metaphysical I have about given up on worrying about it.

David Ball said...

I should have also said: the Maroons retention of their franchise was a technical matter required to handle the departure of a club from the NL. At this time, neither contract rights nor reserve rights could be transferred directly from one club to another, although all the other NL clubs colluded in allowing the new Indianapoils as good what was as good as ownership rights. Nevertheless, the players could not be placed under Indianapolis' control until they signed contracts with that club.

As a convenient device to account for the men, the departing club -- in this case, the Maroons -- would retain its franchise and with it the rights to the players who had not yet come to terms with the new team (here, Indianapolis). As each one did so, the Maroons would release him and he would sign with his new team. John Kirby was the last player to sign an Indianapolis contract, and after that happened the Maroons' franchise could be abandoned, since no players remained to hold.

I am not sure whether the device was really necessary, but the NL seems to have adhered to it pretty consistently. Providence and/or Buffalo (I can't remember which) remained nominally in the league until after the 1886 season began, although both clubs had announced their intention to sell out the previous fall, they had accepted terms on the sale of their players and the replacment franchises were fully set by early March.

Jeff Kittel said...

Interesting stuff, David. A couple of notes:

-There was an expectation in late August of 1886, after Lucas sold his interest in the club to his brother-in-law, that the Maroons days were numbered. They had sold Dunlap for cash, they were going to lose their ballpark in November, and the new owners had no baseball experience. However, as likely as it was that the team would cease to exist, they were taking active steps to try and improve their situation in St. Louis viz. Sunday ball and ticket prices. While they may indeed have been trying to improve their "sale" price, I think at the very least they were also attempting to improve their situation in St. Louis versus the Browns in anticipation of a possible 1887 season. It may have been a two track strategy-hope for a good buy out price but also try to get Sunday games and twenty-five cent tickets in case they had to play in 1887.

-I think this is the relevant quote from the Glasscock letter: "And that fall when Lucas quit, I could have gone to Boston. Theys offered to give me, the St. Louis club, $7,500 for me. And the league stepped and paid us players. And no clubs buy us. That was done so no club to get us and sell us. That was the way we went to Indianapolis, under those conditions." That does certainly read like the league stepped in late in the 1886 season to stabilize the Maroons' situation.

-In the end, regardless of any machination by the league or the team, the Maroons were not able to compete with the Browns, Sunday baseball, and twenty-five cent tickets. They may have been able to soldier on for another season or so but they would have always been second fiddle to the Browns and it's not clear to me if St. Louis was a big enough market to support multiple teams.