Saturday, February 23, 2008

The First Trade

While the Shomberg/McKinnon deal was the first trade between NL teams, it wasn't the first trade between major league clubs. Looking at David Ball's work on 19th century player transactions, I noticed that the first trade between two major league teams most likely took place on November 12, 1886.

Ball wrote that on that date "(the) St. Louis Browns traded Hugh Nicol to Cincinnati for catcher Jack Boyle and $350. This was the first trade between major league teams, unless the transfer of Tim Keefe and Tom Esterbrook in exchange for two Metropolitans players is considered as such." Since the Keefe and Esterbrook transaction took place between two teams that had the same ownership, at the very least the St. Louis/Cincinnati deal was the first trade between two major league teams with independent management.


David Ball said...

Gus Schmelz, the former Maroon manager recently appointed to the same position with the Reds, negotiated this trade for Cincinnati, and his letters to Cincinnati club president Aaron Stern describing the course of the deal are extant in the collection of Cincinnati club records held by the Cincinnati Historical Archive. What I find interesting is that Schmelz obviously took Von der Ahe perfectly seriously as a baseball man and an able negotiator, not at all the dumb German of popular stories.

The Nov. 13, 1886 edition of TSN reports that Schmelz had come to St. Louis to offer Charlie "Pop" Snyder, a played out catcher Cincinnati wanted to unload, in exchange for Nicol, "but this proposition Mr. Von der Ahe would not entertain for a moment." Von der Ahe subsequently went to Schmelz' home in Columbus, Ohio, and they put the deal through there.

By his own account, Schmelz offered Snyder plus another retread, pitcher George Pechiney, to which Von der Ahe countered by asking for Kid Baldwin, a highly talented young catcher. They compromised on Jack Boyle, a Cincinnati amateur the Reds had picked up in the middle of 1886, plus cash. Schmelz tried to bluff Von der Ahe into raising the amount of the payment, but with Von der Ahe's train about to pull out of the station, Schmelz agreed to Von der Ahe's price.

Von der Ahe must have had an informant in Cincinnati, or else he would never have taken a chance on Boyle, who had so little exposure that no one outside his home city would have known whether he had any potential at all. He proved his value when Doc Bushong got hurt the next year and Boyle stepped in as the club's only catcher. Kid Baldwin had an even better season, but after 1887 alcoholism and other personal problems got the better of him. In the long run, the Reds would have been better off to let Baldwin go and keep Boyle.

Jeff Kittel said...

I actually have a great deal of admiration for Von der Ahe and find the mythololgy surrounding him a bit annoying. He's become the 19th century version of Yogi Berra-a great figure reduced to the level of laughing stock.

I'm not surprised that Schmelz would take him seriously. They probably knew each other from Schmelz' time in StL and, most likely being the son of German immigrants, Schmelz wasn't thrown by the whole dumb German routine.