Tuesday, October 21, 2008

So Called Amateurs

In the May 7, 1874 issue of Forest and Stream, there is a nice article about the trip the White Stockings made to St. Louis and the difficulties they had with the Empires and Reds. The article goes on to state:

If the amateur, so called, nines (of St. Louis) can give the "Whites" such a close push, what will the eastern professionals do when they meet them this month...By the rules of the...Amateur Association, (the St. Louis) clubs are allowed to share in gate money receipts. Wherein they differ from the professional players we are at a loss to conceive. The only legitimate status of an amateur club is that which prohibits all participation in gate money proceeds. And no player can be considered an amateur who is compensated for his field services by "money, place, or emolument"...We can readily admit that a club can play on a ground where admission is charged, and yet be an amateur club, but it is only under circumstances where the club or the players do not share in the proceeds.

The Union Club began charging admission to their games in 1867 and other St. Louis clubs quickly followed suit so the idea that amateur clubs were charging admission is not exactly news. However, I think the insinuation here is that the players were also taking some of the gate money and this would be the first source I've seen that even mentions the possibility that the amateur clubs of St. Louis were compensating their players. One assumes that once the clubs were charging admission the compensation of players quickly followed but there is nothing in the source material to support this. My believe that the St. Louis players were being compensated in the late 1860's is based on nothing more than logical reasoning. This piece tends to support that argument.

If I'm reading the article correctly then I think this is fairly significant. However, I did edit the article rather heavily. It actually says "Before they left St. Louis the Whites got off some games with a lively ball, and of course won by large scores. By the rules of the Massachusetts Amateur Association, their clubs are allowed to share in gate money receipts."

My thinking here is that "Massachusetts" was an error and the writer actually meant "Missouri" and "their clubs" refers to St. Louis clubs. That's a bit of a leap to make but I think it's reasonable. The entire piece is about the White Stockings trip to St. Louis and their games with the clubs of that city. This whole line of thought began with a reference to "the amateur, so called, nines" of St. Louis. The writer is casting doubt on the amateur status of the St. Louis clubs and players. At no other point in the article does the writer mention Massachusetts or any other clubs other than the Whites and the St. Louis clubs.

My reading of this is that the antecedent to the pronoun "their" is the "St. Louis" in the previous sentence.


David Ball said...

I disagree a little with your interpretation. The meaning of amateurism was an ongoing topic of debate, and the specific issues discussed here were regularly commented on. It seems to me Forest and Stream is clearly saying the teams did take gate money, but while the assumption that the players were getting paid may well be there, I don't believe that's what he's saying. I read it more like:

"The St. Louis clubs take money at the gate, and by our standards any club cannot consider itself amateur. And while we're on the subject, if any player..."

Don't know that it's that important, because in all probability they were getting paid. I suppose we would probably see them as semiprofessionals, but that is a category that didn't exist then; the word was used, but with a different significance.

The Forest and Stream baseball writer at this period was Henry Chadwick. I actually have access to it in microfilm and have read some of it, but gave up when I realized I was essentially getting a sketchier version of the same coverage Chadwick was writing for the NY Clipper, which I also have relatively easy access to. What I noticed, though, is that the Clipper's proof reading is a lot better than Forest and Stream's. I saw a lot of errors in Field and Stream, so no doubt you're right that "Massachusetts" is a mistake for "Missouri" here.

Jeff Kittel said...

Fair enough. And Lord knows I trip over the whole amateur/semi-pro/professional thing enough that I want a new terminology to describe what it is we're looking at.

The bigger point is that here's a source in 1874 pointing to the StL clubs and saying "Hey, these are not amateur clubs." Al Spink and E.H. Tobias both stress the amateur nature of baseball in StL until 1875. While Tobias mentions that some of the clubs are charging admission by 1867, he wants us to believe that they had no desire to make money and were driven by the pure spirit of sportsmanship.

Yes, they may be using the word "amateur" to describe the fact that the StL clubs were not competing for the championship with the professional clubs in the NA but their use of "amateur" has been used to argue that no StL club paid its players until 1875. And while I have no smoking gun, there is no way that's possible. The clubs are charging admission, they're taking a cut of gate receipts, they're playing in tournaments for money, etc. If they're not compensating their players in some form then what are they doing with the money? Why are players jumping from club to club in the late 1860's and early 1870's?

So while this isn't the smoking gun that proves the StL clubs were compensating their players, it's a nice piece to the puzzle. It's certainly somebody (Chadwick) pointing a finger and saying "You guys aren't pure as the driven snow" and that's significant because it's the first source I've found that does that explicitly.

Combine the revenue streams, the player jumping, the fact that several of the players on the Empire Club were employed by the StL Fire Department after they joined the first nine along with this source and there's a great deal of smoke.