Friday, July 17, 2009

There Is No Such Thing As Coincidence, Just The Illusion Of Coincidence

After returning from an eighteen game Eastern road trip, the Brown Stockings played thirteen of fourteen games at home, interrupted only by the game they played against Philadelphia in Ludlow on September 22, 1875. But that's not really what I want to talk about at the moment. Don't despair; I'll be getting to that game shortly.

If one looks at the schedule, the Brown Stockings were at home from August 12, when they played the Athletics, through September 13, when they played Hartford. They had the game against Philadelphia on September 22 and then returned home to play Philadelphia three more times at home, starting on September 27. The pertinent question is what was the club doing on those eight days when they didn't have a championship game scheduled?

By September 15, the Brown Stockings were in the Cincinnati area playing baseball and they remained there through the 22nd. But, again, this isn't what I want to write about. This post isn't really about the Brown Stockings. This is actually a post about Joe Blong.

Follow along:

-The Brown Stockings arrive in the Cincinnati area by September 15 and play a game against the Stars which they win 12-8 (and which was umpired by Charlie Sweasy).

-On September 18, the Stars play the Ludlows in an exhibition game and lose 7-5 to their rivals. Joe Blong is suspended after the game. Rumors fly that Blong had "sold" the game and/or was drunk during the game.

-Blong is expelled from the club on September 20 and there are reports that he had already signed a contract with the Brown Stockings for the 1876 season. During his hearing, Blong is rather defiant towards the trustees of the club and one explanation for this is that he has a contract for $1,500 from the Brown Stockings for next season.

So we now know how Blong signed with the Brown Stockings for 1876. The Brown Stockings were in the area playing baseball and actually had a game against the Stars in which Blong pitched. One can assume that the contract was offered to Blong sometime between September 15 and September 20 and that this contract colored Blong's view of his service with the Stars. It's possible that Blong already had a contract with the Brown Stockings before the Ludlow exhibition game and, if this is true, his behavior in the game should be interpreted in that context. Blong was a St. Louis native, had arranged to play with one of the top clubs in the country for the following season in his home town and was already fixed on his future rather than on endeavours in Covington. He had no loyalty to Covington or the Stars and probably couldn't care less about the rivalry with Ludlow. Blong was headed back home to play baseball at the highest level and, as far as he was concerned, the Stars could go pound sand.

It's arguable that the Brown Stockings' trip to the Cincinnati area lead directly to Blong's blow up with Covington and the beginning of his reputation as a crooked ballplayer.


David Ball said...

I don't have a note of this, but the (pro-Blong) Enquirer claimed that Blong had actually signed with the Browns during the afternoon before his hearing before the Stars directors. The Enquirer man claimed Blong had actually shown him the signed contract.

The Cincinnati Commercial Letter, 9/20/1875, carries a letter from Blong: “In the report of the game between the Stars and Ludlows, Saturday, the Covington reporter of the Commercial charges me with unfair dealing, in that I sold the game to the Ludlows for a considerable sum of money. The Ludlows scored four runs only in the third inning, with McSorley pitching for the Stars, and only scored three runs in the remaining six innings, in which I did the pitching. Does this look like ‘selling the game?’ In justice to myself, it is but fair to state that I told Mr. Hawes, the President of the Base Ball Club, that I was not in condition to pitch...As to the charge the writer makes I…defy him, or any other man, to prove that I received a dollar for ‘selling the games.’”

The same issue carried an interview with Smith N. Hawes, president and acting manager of the Stars. Hawes said he had just returned from a long stay in the east. Blong’s play had previously been satisfactory, but was decidedly not so in Saturday’s game. At the request of a majority of the players and a majority of the club directors, Hawes says he requested first baseman Denny Mack to speak to Blong and "say to him that he Directors expected every man to play to the best of his ability.” Mack did so, but with no effect. At the end of an unnamed inning Hawes says he talked to Mack, Dillon and shortstop Andy Cummings, who were indignant at Blong’s “apparent want of effort.” Hawes then asked Blong what was the matter. “He replied in a very surly manner: ‘Why, haven’t you a change pitcher?” Hawes remarked they had only McSorley, “who was unable to perform that duty. Mr. Blong said that he didn’t care to pitch in such a game as the present one anyhow, upon which I replied that such being the case the game should be stopped.” At the uring of the players, Hawes backed down and agreed to let the game go one more inning. Blong then braced up and pitched well until near the end. “Mr. Blong neither before nor during the game said he was disqualified, physically or otherwise.” Haewes said he was not relying only on his own judgment, but “I consulted with the players and the best base ball talent of the city, and acted according to what I believe was right and the universal sentiment of the club.” Hawes is the man who later fled to Canada when his accounts as a city official were found to be in default, reportedly because he had dipped into city money to cover large gambling debts.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

I found something from the Enquirer, published in the Globe, that implies that Blong signed the same day he was going to meet with the Stars directors and it's getting posted later in the week. That's probably the same thing you've seen. However, I think that a lot of my speculation about the Brown Stockings coming to town and "tampering" with Blong is still generally valid.

I find it possible but unrealistic that Blong gets himself into trouble, runs to the Brown Stockings and signs a contract for 1876, allowing him to take a hard line with the directors in his hearing. It's more likely that he was talking to the Brown Stockings about a contract when they got into town and had reached some kind of understanding regarding 1876. This leads to his disinterest in the Stars/Luds exibition. The contract gets signed on the afternoon of the 20th, prior to the meeting with the directors. With the contract going into effect on November 1, he's in a strong position and can basicly tell the Stars to pound sand.

It's amazing that the situation degenerated to the point where his 1875 season is used to paint Blong as a fixer. Leaving 1877 out (where there is some evidence that he was involved in game fixing) and realizing that Blong's behavior in 1875 was something less than honorable, there is no evidence that he was involved in any wrong-doing, either with the Reds or with the Stars. All he did was leave the Reds for the Stars and then the Stars for the Brown Stockings. And there is some evidence that he actually was granted his release from the Reds. I can understand Blong getting a bad rap for revolving in 1875 (and he was castigated in print for this) and the guy was probably a pain in the rear end but his behavior in 1875 was hardly villainous.

The real problem with Blong's historical reputation is the events of 1877. When combined with the accusations of 1875, he comes off as one of the more corrupt players of the era. While it's possible that he may have been so, there isn't enough evidence to support the idea that he was an incorrigible fixer.