Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Word "Machiavellian" Comes To Mind

Last evening, it seems, Henry V. Lucas and Chris Von der Ahe, the respective Presidents of the Union and St. Louis Baseball Clubs, had a conference, Mr. Lucas calling at Mr. Von der Ahe's office to see what could be done toward an amicable arrangement for the admission of the Union Club into the League. No definite agreement was reached but Mr. Von der Ahe promised to have the Hon. J. O'Neill represent him at the League meeting to be held in New York to-morrow. Mr. Lucas left for New York last night. He will alone represent his team at to-morrow's meeting. It is rumored here that should he not be admitted to the League to-morrow he will organize a Western League, including the cities of Cleveland, Toledo, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Springfield, and St. Louis.
-The New York Times, January 21, 1885

A special meeting of the Baseball League was held in Parlor D of the Fifth Avenue Hotel yesterday...The object of the meeting was to take some action in regard to the refusal of Christian Von der Ahe to allow Henry V. Lucas to have a League club in St. Louis. At a recent meeting of the League Mr. Lucas was given the place left vacant by the withdrawal of the Cleveland Club. Mr. Von der Ahe is the proprietor of the St. Louis American Association Club, and according to a compact entered into by all the leading associations, known as the national agreement, h has the power to refuse to allow another club in St. Louis. He objected to Mr. Lucas's admission, and yesterday's meeting was called to see what action would be taken. The delegates present were determined to have the St. Louis League Club in their ranks, and sharp words were used. The action of Von der Ahe was denounced, and it was intimated that if necessary the national agreement would be broken in order to allow Mr. Lucas to have a League club in St. Louis.

Early in the day Mr. Lucas and Congressman J.J. O'Neill, who represented Mr. Von der Ahe, were allowed to confer with the delegates. They expressed their views, and their words were listened to with great attention by all present. President McKnight, of the American Association, was in the corridor of the hotel and when he heard rumors that the national agreement would be broken he immediately held a conference with C.H. Byrne, of the Brooklyn Club. It was resolved to offer a proposition to the League delegates. At the suggestion of Mr. Byrne, President McKnight asked that a committee of the League men be appointed to confer with a committee of the American Association and endeavor to settle the question amicably. This coincided with the views of the majority of the delegates in session and the suggestion was acted upon...
-The New York Times, January 22, 1885

Victory over the Unions created problems which nearly led to a falling-out among the victors. The League's determination to establish a club in St. Louis headed by Lucas, even if it meant breaking the National Agreement, began a baseball cold war which lasted through the season of 1885 and several times threatened to bring open conflict between the League and Association. Outright war was avoided mainly because the Association was unwilling to take a strong stand against the League during this year of strain.

The League admitted Lucas and Newton Crane, his attorney, to its special meeting January 10, 1885, furnished them with contracts, and to all intents and purposes accepted them as members. A wire was sent to Von der Ahe requesting his consent for Lucas to share the St. Louis territory, and League owners pledged themselves to admit formally Lucas's club as soon as the Browns' owner gave his approval. Lucas was also supposed to see Von der Ahe personally.

...(At) first (Von der Ahe) indicated he would not oppose a settlement. But Lucas delayed seeing him until the last minute, and then was "so exact in his manner" that he annoyed Von der Ahe greatly. Besides, Von der Ahe saw a chance to extract a price for his consent. He demanded that Lucas pay him for losses suffered in the Union War and for giving the Union chief a "valuable business privilege." This Lucas "positively declined" to do.

To undercut Von der Ahe, the League, at a second special meeting in New York on January 21, called for a change in the National Agreement making St. Louis an exception to the rule covering territorial rights. At the same time more telegrams were sent pressing Von der Ahe to modify his demands. Relations between the two groups became tenser. The Association men were so concerned that a full complement of them were present in the city and were earnestly discussing the crisis in the bar and corridors while the National League was meeting. While the Association was willing to compromise, it wanted to go slow on changing the National Agreement. But the League was determined to have its way. When Von der Ahe still refused to yield, Denny McKnight, president of the Association, was called into the League meeting and told that the Association had already violated the National Agreement by breaking the ten-day rule in the Brooklyn-Cleveland player deal. The League demanded that the Association either expel Brooklyn or let Lucas move to St. Louis...

By reviving (the Brooklyn-Cleveland deal) and confronting McKnight with it, the League was plainly preparing to break the National Agreement by pleading that the Association had already done so. McKnight's answer was to call a special Association meeting at Pittsburgh later in the month. The League agreed to take no action until that time.

The situation was saved by a chance meeting of Lucas with Von der Ahe's representative, Congressman John J. O'Neill, on the train returning to St. Louis. O'Neill, who was also vice president of the Browns, had been looking after Von der Ahe's interests at the baseball sessions in New York. He arranged for the two men to have dinner at the popular St. Louis restaurant, Tony Faust's place, where they made a secret agreement which resolved their differences...

Von der Ahe then wired Association leaders, who by then were convened at Pittsburgh, that matters had been amicably adjusted, clearing the way for the Association and the League to come together again...
-From Baseball: The Early Years

Harold Seymour, in Baseball: The Early Years, noted that the agreement between Von der Ahe and Lucas may have come about as a result of Lucas paying Von der Ahe $2500.

And have I ever mentioned how much I dislike trying to untangle 19th century baseball politics. The stuff gives me a headache.


David Ball said...

With all due respect to Seymour, and I have a great deal, I think he misread this particular situation. The AA had actually nailed the NL pretty tightly to the wall by pirating the Cleveland players that were supposed to stock the Maroons.

You read a lot about the NL's Machiavellian dealings, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. How smart a deal did forcing their way into St. Louis look two years later?

Jeff Kittel said...

In hindsight, it certainly didn't work out the way the League thought it would. I think it just goes to show the extent to which the League was willing to go to seize a piece of the St. Louis market. At the time, it was the hottest market in baseball. The Browns had been either first or second in attendance (among all major league teams) since the formation of the AA and in 1884 the Browns were first and the Maroons were fourth overall in attendance. There was money to be made in St. Louis and the League knew that.

As to Seymour, when it comes to pirated players, jumping contracts, and all of that I usually take all threats of repercussions, black listing, etc with a grain of salt. It's usually just sound and fury. And come to think of it, all the talk of forcing changes to the National Agreement probably falls into the sound and fury category as well. The decision to take the Maroons into the League had already been made and all that was needed was to reach some kind of accommodation with VdA. All of this was most likely just posturing to force the accommodation through.