Friday, September 19, 2008

The St. Louis Club Has Thrown Up The Sponge

You have seen, I suppose, before now the announcement that the St. Louis Club has thrown up the sponge, resigned from the League, and gone out of business. You have, of course known that this thing was likely to come, but still you may be sure that it hurt us just as bad when it did come as if we hadn't expected it. The reasons which led to the collapse were, at the first remove, financial. I will state the case for you so that you can understand it in the winking of an eye. We have had a club during the years 1875, 1876, and 1877-that is one side. Per contra, we have had a capital stock aggregating all told about $20,000. As near as I can ascertain, we have collected in the neighborhood of $16,000 on this $20,000. In addition to this, I am given to understand that some of the Directors raised money on their notes for the use of the Club and then had to pay the notes, amounting to close to $9,000. That went where the rest went, and, in addition to both items, there is some $3,000 due the players of 1877...

Of course you would be justified in asking me for the reason to my reason-that is, why we made these losses. And I can tell you straightaway...In the first place, Grand Avenue Park was too far away from "down-town" to ever hope to induce people to go to games there. A ride of more than an hour on a street-car is unpleasant and tedious at any time, and doubly so in warm weather and with a crowd. When I come to look back on the past, I wonder how so many people ever got out to the grounds.

In the second place, I attribute a good share of our trouble to the fact that we disgusted a certain class of people by playing ball on Sunday. One of the soundest expressions I ever heard on that subject was from a strong well-wisher of the Browns who once said in my hearing: "I tell you the bums and roughs are done busted; they've got no money. The money is all a gittin into the church folks' hands, and just so sure as you git them down on you, you're gone. And just so sure as you go to playin' games on Sunday them knock-kneed old dads won't let their girls go of a week day; and then the curly-haired boys won't go, and I tell you them's the chaps that have the money." There was more of this homely sermon but it was all to the same purpose, and I firmly believe it was based on better knowledge of human nature than the management had.

Then again, while the management-as far as the officers were concerned-was away above proof, yet there was a flavor of poker-rooms and such like that the people sniffed at.

One other thing which hurt very much was the unfortunate selection of umpires. Of course, it is foolish to charge, as some papers have done, that the Club put up Burtis with an idea of dishonesty. They put him in as one of five, and the other clubs chose him-the St. Louis Club didn't. But anyhow he was a very unfortunate selection, and it was poor policy-as it turned out-for the Club to uphold him and boost him along, and insist on him for umpire after he was so terribly disgusting to outsiders. But they thought they were right. Well, after the Burtis business began to be plain to the people, some of them wouldn't come again...I don't intend to say anything about crookedness among the players, for I don't believe in it, and I think all the row the papers have been making in this city is pretty much bosh. I don't care what Mike McGeary was before he came here. I believe he has been honest and straight with the people of St. Louis. It is pretty clear, of course, that Burtis was in with gamblers but all the talk about the men seems to me unfounded-at least I don't know of any proof.

But in spite of all these things-the debt and all-we should have gone on all right if it hadn't been for those Louisville expulsions. They struck us right when we were trying to raise a little money to go on with next year, and it flattened us out as flat as the dollar of our dads, and there we have been ever since.
-Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1877


David Ball said...

Interesting article. Notice that they had actually collected only 80% of their nominal capital...

"...a capital stock aggregating all told about $20,000...we have collected in the neighborhood of $16,000 on this $20,000."

The expulsion of the Louisville players, aside from its general dampening effect on baseball enthusiasm, hurt the Browns because they had already hired one or two of the banned players for their 1878 team.

Based only on my having read a range of similar contemporary commentary on the St. Louis situation in a variety of papers, my sense is that this writer may have been kidding himself, though. My sense is that the Browns were in serious trouble, not likely to survive, and the Louisville scandal was at most the final nails in the coffin.

Jeff Kittel said...

To a certain extent, the writer of the piece was absolutely fooling himself. The stuff about the location of the ballpark doesn't fly considering they had been playing ball there since 1868 and would continue playing there until 1966. And highlighting the crookedness of the umpire while giving the players a pass is kind of silly.

The conventional wisdom is that it was the Louisville scandal and the backlash that it created in St. Louis that did the Browns in and that is certainly not the case. The Browns folded because they were unprofitable in 1886 and 1887. Best evidence says they drew more in 1875 then they did in 1886 and 1887 combined. They didn't draw, didn't make any money, and folded. I think the writer of the piece may be correct in saying that Louisville scandal was the straw that broke the camel's back but it wasn't the reason for the club's demise.

I read the fact that they had to collect 80% of the stock as a sign of how unprofitable they had been over the previous two years. If they had been making money they wouldn't have had to call in the stock.