Thursday, June 12, 2008

C. Orrick Bishop And The Brown Stockings

Bishop had played amateur baseball while attending Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, and pursuing legal studies in Louisville. His playing career ended when he opened a law practice in St. Louis during 1867, but Bishop remained active in promoting local amateur baseball. This long-time love for the sport persuaded Bishop to accept a major role in the development of the Brown Stockings. Team officials, impressed by his intimate knowledge of the game, appointed him as managing director and entrusted him with recruiting players for the team. Approaching this mission very seriously, Bishop spent a month away from his thriving legal practice to travel the East Coast in search of ballplayers. He focused his efforts in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, cities whose teams had previously traveled to St. Louis.

Bishop signed three players-shortstop Dickey Pearce, right fielder Jack Chapman, and first baseman Herman "Dutch" Dehlman-from the roster of the 1874 Brooklyn Atlantics. While in Brooklyn, Bishop also secured the services of Lipman Pike, who had played the previous season with the Harford Dark Blues...

Bishop discovered the rest of his starting nine in and around Philadelphia...(specifically among) the Easton, Pennsylvania, amateur team...

Bishop had put together a fine team, and the Brown Stockings' shareholders commended him for performing his duty "in a manner highly satisfactory to his confreres in the new venture." But by hiring a starting lineup of ballplayers born in either New York or Pennsylvania, Bishop had risked alienating some sectors of St. Louis society that yearned to see the city represented by homegrown talent.
-From Before They Were Cardinals

I think the interesting question here is who specifically made the decision to bring in the "Atlantic/Easton professionals." While I had always assumed that it was a collective decision by the Brown Stockings board, Jon David Cash makes it sound here as if it was Bishop's decision alone. As managing director, he was tasked by the board to put together the team and he then proceeded to head East to sign the players. Certainly he had the support of the board in this decision to bring in "outsiders" but a great deal of credit must be given to Bishop.

This decision to bring in the Eastern players was a watershed event in the history of St. Louis baseball and had a tremendous impact on the future of the game in St. Louis. I don't think that it's a coincidence that the Brown Stockings' board was made up of several members of the Union Base Ball Club, whose former president was Asa Smith, the visionary and forward-thinking modenizer of the St. Louis game in the 1860's. Certainly Smith had had a tremendous impact on the thinking of his fellow club members who sat on the Brown Stockings' board and I believe that if Smith had been alive in 1875 he would have approved of bringing in the Eastern players.


David Ball said...

I don't know who made the signing decisions or how active a role Bishop took in scouting players, but Alfred Wright, who wrote baseball for the Philadelphia Sunday Mercury, was employed in the role of the St. Louis club's eastern agent (as he himself described it) during the early phase of the 1874/75 offseason. He did the actual work of signing George Bradley and Tom Miller of Easton for the Browns, and perhaps others as well.

Miller signed another contract with Hartford and his rights became a subject of dispute, so Wright wrote about this in some detail in support of St. Louis' position. Later in the fall, Wright was replaced as the club's agent by another eastern newspaperman, but I can't remember who.

Richard Hershberger said...

As for the yearning to see the city represented by homegrown talent, I suspect this was a pious fiction, or at best theoretical ideology with no practical effect.

It is a commonplace in this era that it is better for a team to have local players, but no serious competitor actually tried to accomplish this, and never had. Part of the Athletics rise in the mid-1860s was their recruiting of Al Reach from Brooklyn. That Easton team of 1874 had only one player actually from Easton. And then there was the 1869 Red Stockings. And so on. The presence of non-local players was used as ammution to criticize a team (particularly one that just beat your team) but it wasn't a real factor in personnel decisions.

My guess is that Cash is repeating something he read from a contemporary source, but that doesn't mean it need be taken seriously. I take it as a platitude one would repeat, regretting those outsiders on your team, even if you actually were thrilled to see this much talent on your side.

David Ball said...

But, Richard, you are the one who said it might not have been obvious at this early date that the St. Louis Reds, with cheap local talent, wouldn't be a more attractive draw than the high-priced mercenaries on the Browns. Doesn't that imply there was some sentiment, although doubtless a minority one, in this direction?

The comment I like is the one by a Cincinnati club member when the original Red Stockings disbanded. He said of hiring a team of outside professionals to represent your city. I don't have the precise quote, but it was very close to this -- he said it was "as if an elderly man put on a strict diet by his physician should hire some stout fellow to go around the country attending public dinners."

Jeff Kittel said...

Richard, you're right about Cash quoting a local contemporary source. He goes on to write that "The St. Louis Democrat, for example, observed, 'It will be noticed, and with regret, we think, that there is not one single player from the city on the nine.'" He then notes that one of the reasons the Reds entered the NA was to appeal to that "local sentiment" for home-grown players.

One thing that should be remembered is that St. Louis, in 1875, had no tradition or experience with bringing in "foreign" players. Until the Brown Stockings brought in the Eastern players, St. Louis clubs were made up exclusively of St. Louis players. St. Louis wasn't New York or Philadelphia-this was the "backwater." Going back to 1860, the St. Louis clubs were consistently behind the curve when it came to the mainstream trends. They were late to the game when it came to playing outside competition, traveling, building facilities, rule changes, paying players, and competing for the national championship.

That's why I think that Asa Smith is such an important figure. He's the guy that was pushing St. Louis baseball forward into the mainstream. He's the one who was pushing for the acceptance of the modern trends.

You simply can't compare what's happening in St. Louis to what was going on in the East. It's like comparing the NBA to the European basketball leagues of the 1990's. St. Louis was continuously struggling to catch up with their Eastern brothers and 1875 was the year that they finally caught up and entered the baseball mainstream.

I would have been surprised if their hadn't been any sort of negative reaction to what was a radical departure from previous tradition. It certainly wasn't just the Democrat. The Globe, and William Spink, also took shots at the Browns for bringing in outsiders and I believe that that was what fueled their pro-Reds coverage. What may have seemed common in the East was radical in St. Louis and what may have been platitudes among the metropolitan Easterners was most likely heart-felt among us simple Mid-Westerners.

Of course, the simple Mid-Westerners voted with their pocketbooks and seemed to like their foreign professionals better than their local players. That's perfectly understandable. Everybody loves a winner and the team that Bishop helped put together was the best team in the West in '75 and '76.