Monday, May 12, 2008

We Did Not Lose Money On Base Ball

Base ball and horse racing does not mix. Chris Von der Ahe, president of the St. Louis Browns, has found this out, and he has decided to give up the management of his turf enterprise. The chief of "Der Browns" reached this conclusion last Wednesday, when he declared off the races at Sportsman's Park, and leased the grounds, privileges and everything else inside the inclosure to another man, one Louis Cella, a bookmaker. From now on the most talked-of man in sporting circles will confine his efforts to base ball and to his "shoot the chutes" and other summer resort enterprises. The race track will not be a dead weight on the St. Louis chief. On the contrary, if the new losses are successful in drawing people to the park and getting enough bookmakers to draw on, they will pay Chris a rental of $1000 a week.

It is said that Von der Ahe is in very poor health and has been greatly discouraged over his misfortunes, but those who were aware of the facts do not express surprise that he should lose money in some of his ventures. It is said that he will devote his attention to base ball, and the lovers of the national game hope he will. If he had worked half as hard to get together a good base ball team as he has to establish a "dinky merry-go-round," St. Louis would now have a permanent winning club.
-From Sporting Life, January 2, 1897

The directors of the St. Louis Base Ball Club held an informal meeting Wednesday night. Secretary Muckenfuss made his annual report, which showed that the horse racing was conducted at a big loss. Muckenfuss, when seen said: "I will not say the exact amount of the loss, but it was over $50,000. We did not lose money on base ball."
-From Sporting Life, January 16, 1897

I don't know about you but a loss in excess of $50,000 in 1897 seems like a great deal of money.

Calculated simply for inflation, it comes out to around 1.2 million dollars. As a relative share of GDP, it's forty-three million dollars. There are other ways to calculate the value that puts the number somewhere in between those two extremes but either way it's a lot of money.

Von der Ahe, at this point, is in a downward spiral that would not end until he lost control of the Browns in the fall of 1898. He's involved in a myriad of lawsuits, his team is struggling on the field and at the gate, he'll be arrested in the Baldwin case, his ballpark will burn down, he'll default on the bonds he used to finance the new ballpark, the club will be placed in receivership, and the Robisons will step in to take over the club. And on top of all that he would be involved in a very messy, very public divorce in a day and age when that was still scandalous.

Von der Ahe's fall is a fascinating tale and one of the things that makes it so intriguing is that it played out in the public eye. Week in and week out, Sporting Life and The Sporting News were filled with news of the latest Von der Ahe trouble. It certainly makes for interesting reading.

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