Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Von Der Ahe And The Players League, Part One

Chris Von Der Ahe, President of the St. Louis Club, is in this city and held a conference yesterday with President Spalding of the Chicago Club. The supposition is that the talk referred to the proposed independent move of the Brotherhood of Baseball Players. After the conference Mr. Von Der Ahe said to a reporter:

"The Association will have to stand by the League. I don't speak officially as President of the St. Louis Club, but I believe that is the inevitable outcome of the fight. It is a question of capital against labor, and capital must stick by capital. The Brotherhood may think it can command capital on its side, but it will get left on that point. To mention nothing else, there are not six men in the whole Brotherhood who have an ounce of business brains. They are good ball players, but can't manage. They can't even take care of the salaries they are now getting. And capitalists are not going to trust their money in such hands, and right here let me emphasize the fact that it takes capital, and bit capital, to run the ball business. I exhaust this point when I say that A.G. Spalding is the only instance in the history of the game of a ball player developing into a successful manager.

"Johnny Ward," he continued, "no doubt, thinks he could manage. Johnny also calls himself a lawyer. Why doesn't he practice law, then? Simply because he is a ball player-nothing more-and couldn't make enough money at law in a year to pay one week's board."
-New York Times, October 25, 1889

I don't think that it's a stretch to say that the Brotherhood War had a detrimental effect on the fortunes of Chris Von der Ahe and the Browns. The Players League broke up the core of the championship club and, after a brief restoration in 1891, the Browns entered a decline that would culminate in back to back one hundred loss seasons, bankruptcy, and the club being placed in receivership. While all of Von der Ahe's troubles in the 1890's can't be laid at the feet of the Brotherhood, the war with the Players League certainly was the beginning of the end of Von der Ahe's baseball empire.

The interesting thing to me when looking at this period is Von der Ahe's inability to come up with a consistent strategy in dealing with the Brotherhood. More specifically, I should say that Von der Ahe's words didn't match his deeds and neither were consistent with the rumors that swirled around. While Von der Ahe always publicly stated his loyalty to the Association and the League in opposition to the Brotherhood, at the same time he was meeting with representatives of the Brotherhood and rumors were flying as late as May of 1890 that he was trying to join the Players League.

In the next few posts, I'm going to take a look at Von der Ahe's actions during the Brotherhood War and attempt to determine what his position was regarding the Brotherhood, the Players League, and the Browns role in the war.

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