Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ted Sullivan

Born in Ireland in 1851, Timothy Paul Sullivan came to the United States when he was about 10. He got the baseball bug while studying at St. Mary’s College in Kansas, where Comiskey was his roommate. Thus began a lifelong personal and professional friendship between Sullivan and “The Old Roman.” A few years later, the friends married sisters from Dubuque.

For most of 1883, Sullivan managed the St. Louis Browns, who lost the American Association title to the Philadelphia Athletics by just one game. (Comiskey managed 19 games that season.) The next year, Sullivan won 35 of 39 games with the St. Louis Maroons of the Union Association before taking over the lowly Kansas City Unions (13-46). After a couple of years managing in the Texas League, which he helped create, Sullivan in 1888 managed the Washington Senators, then of the National League.

Sullivan’s greatest contributions to the game were as a scout and an administrator. He briefly owned the minor-league franchise in Clinton, Iowa (Northern Association). In addition to serving as Comiskey’s confidante and aide, he helped establish several minor leagues, including the Northwestern, Southern, Atlantic Association and Texas.
The above comes from Brian Cooper's piece on the 1879 games between Dubuque and Chicago.

T.P. Sullivan, Writer and Dramatist. That is what he calls himself; to others he is known as the "Scout" of the Chicago White Sox, the man to whom Comiskey goes for advice in so far as the worth of this, that or the other professional player is concerned.

To me he is today and always has been plain Ted Sullivan, the best judge of a ball player in America, the man of widest vision in the baseball world, who predicted much for the National game years ago, and whose predictions have all come true...

Sullivan early proved the worth that was in him and proved it at a time when real players were scarce, when club discipline was a thing unknown and when the conduct of the so-called professionals often tried the soul of the best and most patient of managers.

Built on the lines of McGraw and Ward, with a face and eyes that beam intelligence, and a head which reflects nothing so much as the wide awake, go-ahead and aggressive spirit of the owner, Sullivan is a marked figure in any gathering. His long experience in the baseball world, his travel and brisk acquaintance have added to his natural fund of Irish wit and make him delightful as a raconteur. No man in the baseball world, indeed, can compare with Sullivan as a story teller...

Ted Sullivan and Charles Comiskey grew up together. In their boyhood days they went to school together at St. Mary's, Kansas College and, Sullivan being the elder, a born wit and a leader in sport, even then Comiskey received his first real lessons from him. That was in the early seventies.

When they left school Sullivan and Comiskey went to Dubuque, Iowa, Sullivan to accept the news agency of all the roads running out of Dubuque to Chicago, and Comiskey to act as his assistant in that line. Later, Sioux City, Iowa and LaCrosse, Wis., were added to Sullivan's territory.

But while acting in this capacity Ted's mind still ran often to baseball and almost alone and unaided, he organized the first minor baseball league ever known, its roster including the cities of Dubuque and Davenport, Iowa, Rockford, Ill., and Omaha, Neb.

It was in this league that Sullivan first showed his skill in picking players for in its playing teams were men like Charles Radbourne, Charles Comiskey, "Bid" McPhee, Jim Whitney, Jack and Dave Rowe, Tom Loftus, the Gleason brothers, Jack and Billy; and many others, who subsequently shone as stars in the major leagues and nearly all of whom owed their real start to Sullivan.

It was in 1881 that I first met Ted Sullivan. I was then managing the co-operative St. Louis Browns, and was looking about the country for teams to play them. I had heard of Sullivan and I wrote to him at Dubuque and asked him to bring a team to St. Louis to play three or four games. In another part of the work I refer to the team he brought here then. It included, among others, Comiskey and Loftus, and it was this visit that led to Comiskey's coming to St. Louis a year afterwards to manage the St. Louis Browns. It was from this team, strengthened a year or two later, that came the four-time winner, St. Louis Browns, the team that won successive pennants in the American Association, and then captured world's honors. During the time of the building up of this team, Sullivan was the leader. Comiskey, true enough, was even then the team's first baseman, but he had not yet mastered the inner points, nor did he possess the spirit, nor the aggressiveness needed then by the real commander.

It was not indeed until Sullivan had put the St. Louis team into real shape that Comiskey took hold of it as its captain and manager. That was in 1885. Prior to that, the work of building up had been done by Sullivan for the strong and aggressive personality of Comiskey did not really mature until later. The great players who went to make up the wonderful winning combination for St. Louis were gathered together from all parts of the country by Sullivan.

One of his first strokes was to bring little Hugh Nicol here to play right field. He took him from the champion White Stockings. Then he went East and picked up Tom Deasley, the Boston catcher, and Arlie Latham, the crack third baseman of the Athletics of Philadelphia. He got other players from other directions, put together a stone wall infield and an outer works to match and then turned the guns over to Comiskey.

In 1884 Sullivan's active mind and aggressiveness led to his joining forces with Henry V. Lucas of St. Louis and that combination resulted in the organization of the Union Association of baseball players, the most powerful and widespread movement of independent players that up to this time had ever been taken in opposition to the owners of the clubs of the National League and American Association.

When this organization disbanded in 1885, Sullivan set out as an organizer of minor baseball leagues and that year he organized the Western League, with clubs in Kansas City, Omaha, Milwaukee, Toledo, Indianapolis and Cleveland.

In 1888, Sullivan appeared as the manager of the Washington Club of the National League.

In 1900 he established the Atlantic League and in 1902 and for a couple of years later he organized the Texas League and put the game on a proper footing in the Lone Star State. In 1904 he put the strong Virginia League in motion.

In recent years he has devoted nearly all his time to the selecting of players for the major league teams...

I might go on forever telling of what Sullivan has done for the game, for his labors have been increasing and have been continued from the earliest days of the real professional sport up to the present time, and so I will conclude this sketch of him with a few words spoken on the same subject by Charles Comiskey, Sullivan's life-long friend:

"Ted Sullivan's standing in the profession of baseball," said Comiskey, "cannot be measured by modern standards. He is in a class all by himself. he is ever and always ahead of his time, with a knowledge of the game and a versatility that no other man of my acquaintance has ever possessed."

Of what Sullivan did to bring about the organization of the American League, I have told elsewhere in this work.
-Al Spink, writing in The National Game

I think that I have as much admiration and respect for Ted Sullivan as anybody but I have to take exception with a couple of things in Spink's piece. The idea that Sullivan formed the first minor league is inaccurate and a misrepresentation of the modern idea of "the minor leagues." Was the Northwestern League minor in comparison to the NL or the AA? Of course it was but that didn't make it the first minor league in the sense that it was controlled by the major leagues and used as a developing ground for young players who would graduate to "the Majors." The Northwest League was just one baseball league among many and while it didn't have teams in large markets and the quality of play was most likely inferior to that of the NL and AA, it wasn't what Spink was making it out to be.

I also take exception to Spink's representation of the UA as "
the most powerful and widespread movement of independent players that up to this time had ever been taken in opposition to the owners of the clubs of the National League and American Association." If by "up to this time" he means 1910 (when The National Game was published) then I think that honor would belong to the Players League. If he's talking about 1884 then the statement doesn't mean much because the AA had only formed two years earlier. Both the AA and the PL were stronger and more significant challengers to the baseball status quo than was the UA.

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