President Von der Ahe left for Cleveland last night to make a proposition to President Robison. His idea is that the Cleveland Club lend to the St. Louis Club pitchers Cuppy and Wallace, second baseman Childs and shortstop McKean, in exchange for catcher Douglas, pitcher Kissinger, shortstop Cross and outfielder Parrot. In return the St. Louis Club will give to the Cleveland Club one-fourth of the profits derived from base ball in this city this year and at the end of the year the players will be returned to their original clubs. Secretary Muckenfuss, of the Browns, believes that the deal will be consummated. There are only a few others, however, who share his belief. If such a deal were made the local club would indeed be the beneficiary. Cuppy, Wallace, Childs and McKean form the nucleus of a winning team. The quartette are all stars. Cleveland would receive about $10,000 or $15,000 of the profits of the Browns, as it has been demonstrated in St. Louis in days gone by that a winning team can earn at least $50,000.-Sporting Life, February 6, 1897
How is this a good idea? Von der Ahe was willing to give up one quarter of the profits to rent four players for one year? It doesn't make a lot of sense.
The interesting thing about this is the financial information we get at the end. The implication is that the Browns were netting "at least $50,000" a year during the 1880's. For comparison's sake, it's known that the Browns only cleared $12,000 in 1896.
Now that I think about it, the Browns would only have to clear $16,000 on the year to break even on the deal and you would think they would have no problem doing that if they put a better product on the field. But it still seems extraordinarily shortsighted.