Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Thing Of No Tangible Value

The National League has discussed and decided to apply a method to improve the base-ball situation in St. Louis.  This determination, it is stated, will result in the elimination of Chris Von der Ahe and all the interests allied with him in the present organization and will give the St. Louis franchise to Frank DeH. Robison, of Cleveland, who will transfer the Cleveland Club to this city bodily next year.

The League holds that a franchise consists merely of the consent of the different clubs to play with one another, and if 11 of the clubs agree to withdraw this consent to play either at home or abroad with a twelfth club, the twelfth club has no redress.  Under this ruling a franchise is considered to be a thing of no tangible value, and each so-called franchise or agreement to play games is the property of the whole League and not of any individual base-ball club.
-The North American, October 3, 1898


Richard Hershberger said...

Of course there was by this time ample precedent that franchises did have value.

This goes back to when the owner of the Mets sued the AA for trying to cut him out, and won. The AA used a slightly different legal theory, claiming that it dissolved and reconstituted each year, so the franchises in last year's AA didn't have anything to do with this year's AA. The court didn't buy this transparent nonsense, and the Mets stayed in. It's hard to see how the argument the League is presenting here would have trumped this.

Then there is the fact that the League had multiple times paid owners to buy back franchise rights, most notably before the 1890 season and in the merger of the NL and AA.

This looks like mere posturing for negotiating position, and not very convincing posturing at that.

David Ball said...

The decision in the Mets case was ambiguous, because it was based on the AA's failure to follow the procedures in its own constitution.

A system was already firmly in place well before 1898 by which organized baseball was a structure of leagues, not of individual teams, and an independent team could operate only on the fringes (in fact, independents were excluded from membership in the National Agreement). It's valid to argue that if a club could be arbitrarily stripped of its league membership, its owner would instantly find the value of his asset reduced to zero (and especially in this case, since the NL would have put a new club in St. Louis, thereby preventing Von der Ahe from dropping into a minor league).

On the other hand, it's also true that every member of a league have a vital interest in one another's financial soundness and general suitability for membership.

As an example, Kansas City was always a problematic member of a major league in the 19th century by reason not only of small size but of geographic remoteness. The only major league city at all close was St. Louis, so KC might be a workable franchise in a league that included SL but would be impossibly remote in one without SL in its circuit. In 1887 the St. Louis Maroons quit the NL, and at least partly for this reason KC went out with them. With St. Louis removed, would it be reasonable to insist that the NL either live with the long train rides from Chicago and Detroit to KC or else pay the KC club's price, whatever that might be, to get them out?