Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Reds Try To Arrange A Game With Boston In August 1875

Manager McNeary, yesterday, endeavored to arrange a game for to-day between the Boston and St. Louis Reds, but Manager Wright declined playing the pony team unless a $200 guarantee were given him. This Mr. McNeary declined doing, and it is not probable that these clubs will come together.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 20, 1875

Very interesting. If this game had come off, would it have counted in the NA standings? Doesn't this strengthen the argument that the Reds inability to schedule championship games rather than financial distress was the reason for their dropping out of the NA?


Richard Hershberger said...

It is a sign of several things. The Reds' poor attendence is one of these. The home and visitors typically split the gate, two-thirds and one-third respectively. Assuming a twenty-five cent admission, that $200 Wright was asking for would need about 2500 spectators. Presumably neither club thought this likely, or it wouldn't have been a deal breaker. So poor attendance results in both problems scheduling games and financial problems.

This ilustrates the argument I have made that the fundamental structural flaw of the NA was that it let anybody in. Why would Wright demand such a high guarantee? 2500 was a more than respectable crowd in that period. Presumably the Bostons would be in town anyway to play the Browns, the added expense of playing the Reds would be minimal, and it is unlikely that Wright could have scheduled a more lucrative exhibition elsewhere. So why the refusal to play without a high guarantee?

One response of the stock clubs to the co-op teams was to simply ignore them. If a club disbanded midseason, it was no longer an issue. The co-ops needed the stock clubs as a draw. So for the stock companies to simply not play the co-ops would hasten the co-ops' demise with little cost to the stock clubs, as the games were unlikely to be remunerative anyway.

This may look like a problem with the system of letting each club work out its own schedule, but that is a secondary effect. In 1871, when all the clubs were legitimately top-tier, this problem didn't exist; and in 1876 the NL didn't have the problem either. It had other problems with scheduling, but there was no nonsense about refusing to schedule games. The NA's problem was the imbalance in strength, both financial and on the field, between classes of clubs.

David Ball said...

Well, a one-third gate share for visitors was typical, even standard, for NA games but Wright's correspondence shows that in negotiating with minor clubs -- normally not in the NA but he presumably saw the St. Louis Reds in that light, too -- he sometimes asked for a smaller guarantee than $200 but always insisted on well over 33% of the gate, since the real Red Stockings -- the Boston Red Stockings -- were the drawing card. I have a note that has come unglued from its source, but I believe it is from David Voigt's big history, pages 202-03, that summarizes: Wright generally demanded 1/3 of the gross from NA teams, and from other teams 60%, usually with a guarantee of $100 to $300.`

What Wright asked of the St. Louis Reds is probably not out of line with this. and he wouldn't have been expecting a crowd as large as 2,500. I suspect he demanded a percentage as well, but that wasn't mentioned because the guarantee was the real sticking point for the SL Reds.

That said, Harry Wright was not a hard man, but there are indications that by 1875 he was willing to do anything necessary to kill off co-op teams that couldn't handle their weight. In June, his Reds came to Keokuk for a three-game series, and Wright was so disgusted with the take from the first two games that he took his team to Chicago without playing the third, saying he preferred to have the players get an extra night of sleep before a big series. By skipping the last Keokuk game he not only passed up at least a few dollars of income, but he paid for an extra night in a Chicago hotel cost, when I would guess it would have been less expensive in Keokuk. The only reason I see to do this is that he wanted to kill the Keokuk club.

Jeff Kittel said...

If the goal was to kill off or force out the co-op clubs then this certainly would fit. The Reds insisted that they tried to schedule more games with the Brown Stockings and were unable to do so. They claim that they tried to schedule an Eastern trip and were unable to do so. And here we see them unable to schedule a game with Boston.

Combine this information with the fact that the Reds continued to play on in 1875, made several short road trips after July 4th, and basically judged their season a success then their lack of NA games after July 4th shows something other then the club dropping out of the NA. It's possible to argue that the Reds, rather than dropping out, were essentially forced out in a political power-play by the larger clubs in the search for a more stable league.

Richard Hershberger said...

To back away from this a bit, I know of no direct evidence of any conscious effort by the stock clubs to force out the co-ops. The evidence is circumstantial, with this being put forward as a possible explanation. I would want to look more closely at the pattern of play between stock and co-ops before really backing this theory.

Jeff Kittel said...

Never let logic get in the way of a good argument.

When Boston came to StL in June and played the Reds, the data I have says that the crowd was around 1200. On the same trip, they drew between 6000 and 8000 against the Browns. In August, again against the Browns, they only drew 1400 and 2000 for two games on the 19th and the 21st. It seems that Boston had a home game on August 4th against the Whites and then didn't play another NA game until the game in StL on the 19th, the first game on a four game Western trip. They could have squeezed in a game against the Reds on the 18th or 20th with little problem.

I'm more than willing to accept the obvious and say that Boston didn't want to play the Reds because there wasn't any money in it and the game wouldn't have been competitive. But if you're Boston and you've made the effort to come to StL and Chicago for games, don't you want to play more than four games? Wouldn't it make sense to grab a game against the Reds and make another hundred dollars? There's no reason to leave money on the table when you have all the expenses involved in traveling West, you have the time to play the game, and you have an opponent who's a nominal member of the league ready to play.

Again, the Reds were saying, in three different circumstances, that they were trying to schedule league games but couldn't. That suggests that something's going on other than the Reds being a weak club who didn't draw well at home or on the road.

Richard Hershberger said...

Do we know that Boston played only four games on this tour? I suspect they played exhibition games as well. A check of the Clipper would be the first place to look, including the brief items of gossip (since an exhibition game out west might not rate a full box score).

In light of David's point about negotiations for exhibitions, I wonder if Wright couldn't get better terms for a whistle-stop game in some place like Indianapolis or Columbus than he could from the Reds. That is, perhaps we ought to take his guarantee demand at face value, as what it would take to be more lucrative than what he could get elsewhere.

If this interpretation stands up, what we have is not necessarily a conscious intent to force out the co-ops, but merely a refusal to grant them the same treatment given to stock clubs.