Monday, December 29, 2008

Von Der Ahe And The Players League, Part Five

The Press of (Cleveland) recently published an interview with Secretary Hawley, of the Cleveland League ball club, wherein that gentleman said he believed that the Brotherhood and Chris Von der Ahe, of the St. Louis Browns, had at the recent meeting in New York entered into an agreement through which that club was to take the place of Pittsburg in the Players League. After reading the interview Von der Ahe wrote to Hawley as follows:

St. Louis. Dec. 29-You are greatly mistaken if you think that there is any understanding between the Brotherhood and myself. As I was in New York with Messrs. Whitaker and Lazarus at the time of the Brotherhood meeting, on my way to Rochester to reorganize the Association. I stopped off a few days to find out what was being done, as I was interested to such an extent that they were claiming some of my best men, and I wanted to find out what there was in that. I respect my name too much to do any such dishonorable act as playing a traitor to the association, which I was trying to build up again. I am not dependent on baseball as a livelihood. Also I always was in favor of the national agreement. As for being snubbed by the Brotherhood, as has been reported, I will say that I was never in the Fifth Avenue Hotel during their meeting. Chris. Von Der Ahe.
-The Washington Post, January 4, 1890

Nothing is ever cut and dried when it comes to Chris Von der Ahe. There's always nuance and contradiction and layers. And that's just the primary source material. I don't even want to talk about the secondary sources.

Here we have VdA explicitly stating that he was not negotiating with the Players League and that he was not even at the December 1889 meeting. This is in direct contradiction to the Post's article of December 19, 1889.

However, what else could Von der Ahe say at this point? Having attempted such a "dishonorable act" as moving the Browns to the PL and failing to do so, he had no real choice accept to deny that the machinations ever took place and that he was a loyal soldier all along. I guess he could have stood up and admitted what he was doing but what baseball magnate would have done that? These guys were always playing serious political games against each other and there was always some scheme within some plot within some plan. Von der Ahe was no different. He was always working some angle and he got caught working the PL angle.

But I guess it was easier to pull something like that in 1890 than it would be today. If Bill Dewitt tried to move the Cardinals to the Frontier League, got caught doing it, and then denied it ever happened, there would be an uproar across the internet and on ESPN.

Of course, the other way to look at this is that VdA is telling the truth here and the December 19, 1889 article was wrong. Or that there's truth and falsehood in both accounts. Or that I'm too tired to make heads or tales of this anymore.


David Ball said...

How many of his players would he have lost if he had gone with the PL? The NL would certainly have viewed them as fair game

Raids anywhere close to as effective as the ones he actually suffered would have made it difficult for the Browns to compete in the much tougher PL. If they were having trouble drawing fans with a winning team, how would they have done with a second division PL club?

Jeffrey Kittel said...

They lost most of their starters except Tommy McCarthy and Shorty Fuller. The pitching staff wasn't as hard hit-the tough loss there was Silver King.

The interesting thing here is that the Browns didn't lose their players until January. The way I see it is that VdA was trying in December to take the team in toto into the PL. He would have had the core of the Four Time Champions and good young pitching. Maybe this wouldn't have been enough to win the pennant in the PL but it would have been competitive on the field and, more importantly, at the gate.

One of the things that I haven't covered yet is the near collapse of the AA in November of 1889(I have a post on it going up tomorrow). The time line for this is rather interesting. I think the PL is announced in October, the AA loses four teams in November, VdA tries to join the PL in December (which would have been the death of the AA) only to fail, and in January, as the AA scrambles to find teams, most of the Browns players sign with PL teams.

VdA was in real danger in December 1889 of losing both his players and his league. His attempt to join the PL was a play that would have solved both problems (assuming that the deal to join the PL included him keeping his players). As it was, he was only able to solve half the problem and he suffered financially because of it.

David Ball said...

What I meant was that he couldn't stay neutral, and if he had avoided PL raids by joining them he would only have exposed himself to raids by the NL. There's no reason to believe the NL would have been any less successful, and the team Von der Ahe finally put together, or even one somewhat stronger, would not have been nearly as competitive playing in the PL as it was in the weakened AA. Of course, he would presumably have had the pick of the Pittsburgh Players.

This is actually different than the stories I've seen coming from outside St. Louis, though, which suggested that the entire AA might be flirting with the idea of an alliance with the PL.