Friday, July 18, 2008

A Kind Of Farm Team-The 1888 St. Louis Whites, Part 6

Part Six? Are you kidding me? I certainly can prattle on, can't I? That's a lot of words on a subject that I don't really feel I have a complete handle on. Anyway, on to the summation.

The original question at hand was "Were the St. Louis Whites a farm club for the St. Louis Browns?" David Nemec called them "a kind of farm club" and Peter Morris wrote that Von derAhe "operated the St. Louis Whites of the Western Association as a farm club..." So the general consensus among baseball historians appears to be that the Whites were indeed a farm club. I would have to agree that the evidence supports this consensus.

However (and for Pete's sake, why can't I just reach a conclusion and stick to it without having to qualify it?), I would have to say that Von der Ahe had other motives in operating the Whites beyond the desire to put together a farm club and develop young talent. He certainly was interested in having another gate attraction for Sportsman's Park. While the Whites failed to draw a crowd in their short history, the appeal of having a team playing at home while the Browns were on the road is obvious.

While I certainly see the flaws in the argument, I still believe that the idea that the Whites were a Western Association stalking horse for Von der Ahe's baseball interests has merit. Von der Ahe saw the threat of the Eastern clubs breaking off from the NL and AA and forming their own league as a real possibility and it makes sense that he would make plans to deal with the fallout from such a threat. The Whites and the WA can be seen as central to Von der Ahe's plans to establish a Western major league if and when the Eastern teams made good on their threat.

So, yes, the Whites were a farm club for the Browns and, if the intent was to identify and develop future major league players, they were a successful one despite only existing for part of one season. The Browns were able to identify and sign Beckley, Staley, Devlin, Herr, and Crooks, all good young players. If the Browns had kept those players and continued to develop young talent, they most likely would have had more success in the 1890's then they did.

But the team also existed to further Von der Ahe's business interests. They were designed to draw a crowd to Sportsman's Park when the Browns were out of town and they were a fall-back position in the event that the contemporary major league structure fell apart. So while the Whites can be identified as a farm club, they certainly were more than that.

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