Sunday, December 28, 2008

Von der Ahe And The Players League, Part Four

Chris Von der Ahe is said to be very much put out over the result of the meeting of the Players League which was concluded here last night. He came here with the belief that he would be admitted to the new league, and in fact many of the delegates acknowledged that the whole thing was cut and dried. But they were mistaken. When the question of the admission of St. Louis to the League came up the Pittsburg delegates exploded a bomb in the shape of a flat refusal to get out. They were in to stay and stay they would. They showed any number of telegrams from men in Pittsburg who offered to take stock in the club. They showed that they were perfectly capable of supporting their club. That settled it and the St. Louis president was notified that there was no chance for his club at present.

Chris, on his own behalf, said he had been reasonably sure of getting in the League but now that he had not been able to do so, he would either try to build up the old American Association or go into the Western League. "It is hard to tell just what I will do just now," said Chris, "but the playing season has not begun yet, and many things are likely to turn up by the time it does."
-The Washington Post, December 19, 1889

This is a rather firm assertion by the Post that Von der Ahe was attempting to jump to the Players League. The assumption, of course, is that the Browns would join the PL with all of their players and with VdA backing the club financially. I think that the fact that the Post is quoting VdA in this article should lay to rest any doubt as to what VdA was attempting to do in the winter of 1889.

In 1889, Chris Von der Ahe attempted to move the Browns from the American Association to the Players League. According to the Post, the only thing that stopped this from happening was the Pittsburgh club's refusal to step aside and their ability to convince the rest of the delegations that they were an economically viable organization. If Pittsburgh club had been unable to convince the other delegations of their economic viability, the St. Louis Browns would have played in the Players League in 1890.

Would joining the PL actually have been a good move for VdA? It's difficult to say. On the one hand, it's likely that the Browns would have been successful in 1890, both on the field and financially. Their success may have been enough carry the PL into 1891 and possibly a merger with the AA. In this scenario, VdA fends off a possible financial annihilation and at the same time becomes the unchallenged leader of the PL/AA combine. He would certainly have been in a stronger position than he was after the AA/NL merger.

On the other hand, it's a rather unlikely scenario. Would the success of a Browns PL club, with Comiskey, O'Neill, Latham, etc., have been enough to keep the PL afloat? Would Von der Ahe have been able to keep the other financial backers of the league from selling out the players? I have no doubt that VdA would have fought tooth and nail to keep the PL afloat. He would have had no choice after burning his bridges with the AA and the NL. But if he failed in keeping the league alive, I seriously doubt that the Browns would have ended up in the NL and while joining the League didn't work out for VdA, the Browns/Perfectos/Cardinals have done reasonably well. Maybe joining the PL would have been the best move for Von der Ahe personally but I think things worked out for the best as far as baseball in St. Louis is concerned.

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