Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Disgusted With Base Ball

The base ball nine of (St. Louis) for 1878 has been partly broken up by the expulsion of Devlin and Hall by the Louisville Club for fraud.  They were engaged to play with this club next season and substitutes will be hard to find, as they were experts.  In fact, it is doubtful if the club will try to fill the vacant positions, for there are rumors that the management are disgusted with base ball, and those well posted with the inside workings of the club claim that the club purposely lost several games this season they could have won, and that the Bostons, Louisvilles and Hartfords traded games with them for betting purposes.  An investigation is to be made, when Blong, Battin and others, who are charged with having been bought over by the Bostons and Hartfords, will proably be expelled.  The coming investigation will result in a more startling expose than the Louisville frauds.  Testimony will be forthcoming that will condemn numerous players in the Cincinnati, Hartford and Boston clubs.  In fact nearly all the clubs belonging to the League Association will be implicated, so that a general investigation by the League Association will be necessary.  It is reported that conclusive evidence will be furnished which will result in the expulsion of players from all the clubs.  At a meeting of the (Brown Stockings') stockholders, the Treasurer's report for 1877 shows that the expenses for that period have exceeded that receipts by about $6300.  This amount has been reduced $2000 by the voluntary contributions of the members of the Board of Directors.  The players have agreed to make discounts from their claims for salaries to the extent of $1600, so that the indebtedness will be reduced to $2700.  The amount contributed by the players is not far from uniform, and the per diem charge of 50 cents per day while away from home, and the balance of $2700 still due is for salaries for players.  The directors state that unless this deficit is made up by the friends of the club there will be no nine there next year, notwithstanding the fact that between $2500 and $3000 have already been pledged as a guarantee for 1878.
-Boston Daily Globe, November 11, 1877


David Ball said...

From looking at contemporary newspaper coverage (seeing the St. Louis papers only through what was reprinted elsewhere, though), the sense I have gotten is that the Browns would probably not have survived to play in 1878 anyway, and the loss of Devlin and Hall was just an additional straw on the camel's back. Does that agree with your reading of the situation?

They had signed Charlie "Pop" Snyder, as well, another "expert" player from the Louisville team, and all three of the Louisville fugitives were to get fancy salaries in St. Louis, if the reports in the press were correct.
Yet the St. Louis club could not pay its own players. Meanwhile, Louisville was also behind on salaries to its own players. At its annual meeting in the winter, the NL officially ordered the club to pay off its arrears to Snyder in particular.

Judging by standard contemporary practice, you couldn't sign big name players like Devlin, Hall and Snyder without paying them salary advances. If I'm right in assuming the three must have gotten advances or they wouldn't have signed with the Browns, it raises a few questions in my mind, the most important of which is this:

What kind of a way is this to run a railroad, anyway? St. Louis couldn't find money to pay its own players, but it was seemingly able to pay several players who were not getting paid by their own Louisville club. Was every club in the country only paying players on the rosters of teams other than its own?

Jeffrey Kittel said...

It's possible that the club would have survived to play in 1878 if the scandal didn't break but I don't know how likely a scenerio that is. There's an article in the Chicago Tribune that appeared in Dec 1877 that laid out the club's troubles and it's almost entirely focused on the financial difficulites. The person quoted in the article (who appears to be someone with inside knowledge)stated that the club lost money in both 1876 and 1877 and that they drew more fans in 1875 then they did in the next two seasons combined. Certainly 1877 was a disapointing season on the field, attendance-wise, financially, ethicly, etc. but the club was making plans for the 1878 season, attempting to raise money to pay off their debts, and in general acting like a club that planned to play the next season.

It's difficult to seperate the financial trouble from the ethical trouble (and I'm starting to like the euphamism "ethical trouble" as a catch-all for the gambling/game-fixing stuff). A major blow to the club was the loss of J.B.C. Lucas' leadership, who announced at the Oct 31 meeting that he was stepping aside as president. Did he step aside because he saw the enterprise as financial loser or because he was disgusted with the ethical troubles? It's impossible to say but I tend to think that he would have been more accepting of some financial setbacks then he would have of being affiliated with a bunch of crooks and fixers.

To what extent did the ethical trouble drive some of the financial trouble? I have a feeling that there was probably a lot of baseball fans in StL that knew what was going on-not just within their club but across the NA generally. Why make the trek up to the Grand Avenue Grounds and pay your hard-earned money if the game wasn't on the level? There had to have been people talking and word must have spread on something like this. Certainly by late August, club management knew what was going on and at the beginning of August the Devinney stuff broke. People had to have been talking. While the lossing (legitimate or otherwise) drove the poor attendance, by August at the very least there must have been a cloud of suspicion surrounding the club.

The story of the ethical troubles couldn't have broken at a worse time as far as the club was concerned. The Louisville story breaks in the Globe on Oct 31-the day of the club meeting when the financial situation was laid out for investors. While it appears that the club met with some success re: raising money and they probably could have raised enough to cover their debts and sign players for 1878, the Nov 1 stories in the Globe about the game fixing (and subsequent coverage) certainly killed all attempts to raise funds. William Spink's article must have just been devestating. Reading it more than a hundred years later, it's still very powerful and it's an extraordinary example of early muckracking journalism. At the time, it must have been as if somebody just set a bomb off in the room.

As far as what the Brown Stockings were thinking when they signed the Louisville players, I think they call that throwing good money after bad. Management realized that they had a bad club and that a losing club wasn't going to draw in StL. The 1875 Reds are a perfect example of that. Their thinking was that if they could rebuild the club, get some decent players, and put a winning product on the field, they could make some money (or at the very least break even). It seems like a solid plan but given the suggestions that the club lost money in 1876 with a successful club, one has to wonder if it would have worked in 1878.