Manager Sullivan, of the St. Louis Club, yesterday asked President Von Der Ahe for his release. On Wednesday, when the Metropolitans were batting hard, the President requested Manager Sullivan to change the pitchers. The manager refused to do so, saying: "It's no use now. The Mets have a deciding lead." After the game, it is said, the President spoke harshly to the manager. "I have brought this club up to its present standing," said Mr. Sullivan yesterday, "and it is hard, after putting it in a fair way to win the championship, to be treated thus badly. Mr. Von Der Ahe understands but little about base-ball, and if I had obeyed all of his orders during the season, the club would be nearer the foot than the head in the race."
-New York Times, August 31, 1883
While this account of Sullivan's resignation as Browns' manager is essentially correct, several details have been left out. About two weeks previous to this, Pat Deasley and Fred Lewis got drunk, assaulted Sullivan, and spent the night in jail. This story leaked to the press and the Browns had a PR problem on their hands, especially after everybody involved denied the story and were proved to be disingenuous. The Post-Dispatch started digging and published numerous stories of fights and drunkenness involving Browns' players. As the Browns were in the process of falling out of first place and losing the pennant, the Post was hammering them about the conduct of their players and stating that a lack of discipline was costing the club a championship.
Von der Ahe and Sullivan's relationship was already strained after Sullivan refused to support Von der Ahe's fining of Arlie Latham in late July. After the manager again defied his boss during the New York game and the club again lost, Von der Ahe decided to conduct a surprise curfew check and found most of the players absent from their rooms. He went to confront Sullivan about the situation and that's when a screaming match broke out and Von der Ahe "spoke harshly" to Sullivan.
In Before They Were Cardinals, Jon David Cash has the Post's take on Sullivan's resignation:
It is announced from New York that Sullivan has withdrawn from the management of the St. Louis club. The reasons for the withdrawal are alleged to be dissensions in the club, some accounts of which have already been given by the Post-Dispatch, and the truth of which are pretty well proven to by the final result. It is also stated that President Von der Ahe took Sullivan to task for not enforcing stricter discipline, and that a stormy scene occurred between the two men. Sullivan, at any rate, has withdrawn, and his place is filled for the present by Charley Comiskey.
So basically Sullivan is letting the players run wild, the team is losing, and he can't get along with his boss but, in the New York Times, Von der Ahe is the bad guy (based on the testimony of Sullivan). Of course Von der Ahe shouldn't have been interfering in game decisions and his fining of Latham in late July was uncalled for but Sullivan's real failure was his inability to deal with Von der Ahe. History has glossed over Sullivan's failures and his resignation as Browns' manager has become part of the Von der Ahe myth. Von der Ahe is the guy who tried to force his manager to change pitchers in the middle of the game rather than the guy who had problems with a manager who had a championship-caliber club but was letting the pennant slip away because he couldn't maintain discipline. Sullivan is the hero who resigned with honor rather than a failed manager.
I think that most of us have had demanding bosses as well as bosses who were erratic in their demands. As an employee, it's part of your job to deal with that and, to a certain extent, manage your boss. Sullivan was unable to do this and, if he didn't resign, he probably would have been fired. One of the strengths of the man who replaced Sullivan, Charles Comiskey, was his ability to manage Von der Ahe. He established a relationship with his boss that grew over time and Von der Ahe came to trust and respect Comiskey. A good manager manages people and Sullivan doesn't appear to have been particularly good at that especially in comparison to Comiskey.