Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Henry Lucas' Obituary

Henry V. Lucas, son of James H. Lucas, who once owned the greater part of the business district of St. Louis and who left his son more than $1,000,000, died late last night as a $75 a month street department employee.

In four years he lost more than $250,000 in an effort to give St. Louis a winning ball team. In this he succeeded, but his expenditures financing an organization to fight the national league led him to disaster.

A spectacular aggregation was the union league, which Lucas go together in 1884, after his application for a national league franchise had been rejected and he had backed teams in New York, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Boston, Pittsburg, Washington and Kansas City.

The national league gave Lucas a franchise after his St. Louis team won the pennant. The next year the team finished last. The union park grandstand was burned and Lucas quit baseball. About the same time a fleet of river barges he owned was sunk and he could not replace them because of his baseball losses. From that time, he always said, everything went wrong.
-Boston Daily Globe, Nov 17, 1910

Henry V. Lucas, once a millionaire, who tried to fight the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs by organizing the Union Association in 1884, died in St. Louis this month. He was practically without money, being an employee of the street cleaning department in that city at a salary of $75 a month. Lucas went broke because of his baseball venture. His father bequeathed him more than $1,000,000 to him and all of it was dropped in promoting the national game.

When Lucas conceived the idea of forming the Union Association he received encouragement from many prominent players and proceeded to furnish backing for new clubs in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Boston, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Pittsburg, Washington, Kansas City and other cities. This was after his application for a National League franchise had been coldly turned down. His club in St. Louis, called the Maroons, had such players as Jack Glasscock, Fred Dunlap, Chrley Sweeney, Denny, Joe Quinn, Orator Schaefer, Dave Rowe and Milt Whitehead. It was a winner in point of playing skill, for the Union Association championship was easy, but as Lucas had to keep the other clubs above water as well as St. Louis he lost a pile of money. The Union Association blew up, therefore, after one season and Lucas' St. Louis club was admitted to the National League. It was a total failure and when the club's grounds and grand stand were burned in 1885 Lucas was forced to quit.

It has often been said that St. Louis was thus placed under the spell of some hoodoo for it was not so many years afterward that Chris Von der Ahe, once owner of the champion Browns, was driven to the wall and forced to sell his great base ball team for almost nothing. The St. Louis Nationals the club was called at the time and when the Robisons got hold of it they experienced more trouble and hard luck which has not yet disappeared.

The ruin of Lucas was wholly due to lack of experience in knowing how to build up a league and to the warlike methods of the old National League magnates. He started his Union Association by promising all kind of money to the players before he had clubs established, after which he paid out all of his fortune rather than be ridiculed and regarded as a quitter in the eyes of the base ball public. If Lucas had been advised by such organizers as Ban Johnson and Charley Comiskey his scheme might have succeeded, but it was his misfortune to find practically no helpers who knew anything about the business management of the national game.
-Macon Weekly Telegraph, November 27, 1910

There are numerous errors here in the Lucas obituaries, most of which I've already addressed in other posts.

The idea that Lucas lost his fortune on baseball is simply wrong. He received at least two million dollars upon the death of his father and his baseball losses never approached anything close to that. The best source I've seen places his baseball losses at somewhere around $30,000.

As to the fire in 1885, I may be missing something but I don't have any information about that. I just did a quick search and found nothing about a ballpark fire between 1884 and 1886. The original writer of the obit may have been thinking about the fire at New Sportsman's Park fire in the late 1890's. But then again I just may be missing something. If anybody has any knowledge about a fire at the Union Park in 1885, please let me know.

The nature of the relationship between Lucas and the League magnates is also something that is being reinterpreted and not as cut and dried as the obits make it seem.

The reality of the situation is that there isn't much factual information in these obits. It is true, however, that Henry Lucas died in November of 1910. The exact date, according to his death certificate, was November 15th.

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