Sunday, March 2, 2008


I had an interesting thought the other day (I know that's rare but it does happen occasionally).

No one, while writing about the history of St. Louis baseball, has ever explored the idea of there being continuity between the 1875-1877 Brown Stockings and the 1882-present Browns/Perfectos/Cardinals. And in all honesty, the link is rather obvious and just sitting there.

In the fall of 1877, the NL Brown Stocking club collapses for various reasons-the gambling scandals, financial difficulty, the resignation of J.B.C. Lucas as president of the club, etc. A team is formed in 1878, also called the Brown Stockings, made up of a remnant of the Brown Stocking League club and playing their home games at the Grand Avenue Grounds. Organized by the Spink brothers and Ned Cuthbert (who had played with the Brown Stockings in 1875 and 1876), this club included Dickey Pearce, Lip Pike, Mike McGeary, Art Croft and Joe Blong, all members of the 1877 Brown Stockings. Same name, same park, most of the same players-the only difference between the 1877 Brown Stockings and the 1878 Brown Stockings was league affiliation and club officers.

This club, although not affiliated with any league, was a professional team that made road trips and attempted to compete on a national level. While almost certainly most of their competition was local, they did play clubs from Indianapolis, Louisville, and Akron. These Brown Stockings were also remarkably successful on the field. In 1880, they finished 20-1. In 1881, they also lost only one game. The 1881 team included Cuthbert, the Gleason brothers, George Seward, and Jumbo McGinnis, all members of the 1882 AA Brown Stockings.

It was the success of this club, combined with the relationship between Cuthbert and Chris Von der Ahe, that prompted the establishment of the Sportsmans Park & Club Association and the entry of the Brown Stockings into the American Association. Von der Ahe's Association club, then, was nothing more than the "semi-pro" Brown Stockings of 1878-1881.

So if the Interregnum Brown Stockings were nothing more than the remnants of the NA/NL Brown Stockings and the AA Browns were the Interregnum Browns placed in a new league then it's possible to say that rather than there being three distinct Brown Stockings/Browns teams in the 19th century, there was in fact only one team. League affiliation changed, club officials changed, players changed, the nickname changed but there is a continuity that extends from the 1875 Brown Stockings to Von der Ahe's Browns and therefore to the St. Louis Cardinals of today.

While the Cardinals celebrated there centennial in 1992 and most historians mark their beginnings in 1882, I think it's possible to argue that the history of the St. Louis Cardinals actually begins in 1875.


Richard Hershberger said...

When I started researching early baseball, I had a romantic desire to connect the AA Athletics with the original Athletics BBC. I concluded this simply didn't work. I can argue the original club through 1877, or 1878 at the latest. I can argue the AA Athletics to late 1880. 1879 and early 1880 are killers. There always was a team calling itself the "Athletics" but these teams pretty clearly were using an available name with some lingering prestige attached.

What I would want to see with the Brown Stockings would be some information on the organization backing the teams: the front office, in modern terms. The 1875-1877 club was a joint stock company. What was the 1878 club? If shares from 1877 carried over to 1878, you are golden. If not, you enter a gray area. If the joint stock company collapsed and the Spink brothers essentially take over the assets, then you still have an argument. This appears to be what happened with the Mutual BBC of NY, with Cammeyer taking over.

I would also eye with skepticism the connection between the 1881 and 1882 versions. You undoubtedly know more than I on this, but my understanding is that Von der Ahe created his organization (in the "front office" sense) from scratch, using some available local players to build the team.

Jeff Kittel said...

Well, you certainly went right at the weakest part of my argument (and it really was nothing more than that). As I see it, the problem with my argument is the link between the 1877 club and the 1878 one. As you said, the 1877 team was a joint stock club while, according to Spink (and off the top of my head after a few drinks at the pub tonight), the 1878 team was "operating on the co-operative plan." Yes, they have the same name. Yes, they have many of the same players. Yes, they're playing at the same ballpark. Does this make them the same team or franchise? I don't know. In the end, I think it depends on how you define "team" or "franchise." If we apply the strictest definition then I think the answer would have to be that it's not the same franchise.

As to the continuity between the Interregnum Browns and the AA Browns, I think that link is much stronger. And I would never say that I know more about this than you do; I have too much respect for your knowledge about these things. But having said that, Von der Ahe's involvement with the club begins (if I'm thinking clearly) in 1880. Yes, in the end, he does create a new financial organization for the club but that's all he's doing. It's the same club, the same players, the same ballpark (although refurbished), many of the same people (such as Cuthbert and Spink) managing the team, etc. What I think Von der Ahe did was take an already existing entity and, supplying money and vision, turned it into something greater.

In the end, the argument is nothing more than a rhetorical exercise. Do I really believe my own argument (as poorly executed as it was)? Hard to say. I certainly see the holes in it but I think I'm just more surprised that the argument has never been made before than anything else.

Richard Hershberger said...

Don't get too gooey-eyed over my knowledge. Once we agree on the terms of the discussion, this sort of thing comes down to extremely local knowledge. I'll stare down anyone on the topic of baseball in Philadelphia in the late 1870s. Baseball in St. Louis is another matter.

But what are the terms of the discussion? The problem is that there really is no accepted underlying principle for what constitutes continuity. (I would avoid the word "franchise", though, as needlessly confusing the concept of an organization and its right to participate in a league.)

There clearly is *a* connection between the 1877/1878 Brown Stockings. Whether or not it qualifies as "continuity" is really more of a philosphical point. As an illustration of how arbitrary these issues are in general use, we need only look at the NFL Browns.

Jeff Kittel said...

Was I getting all gooey-eyed? Blame it on the beer-Schlafly Brewery here in StL just came out with a nice Scotch Ale that I was enjoying a bit much last night. It's a darn fine beer and perfect for the blustery winter weather we're getting hit with.