Friday, September 11, 2009

A Short Homily On The Lunacy (or This Is As Good A Place To Start As Any)

The base ball season of 1875 ended yesterday, and, as it has been the most eventful since the adoption of the sport as a National one, a short homily on the lunacy is in order. It has been an eventful season in more than one respect. Thirteen clubs entered in the race for the whip-pennant, each one starting in with a big flourish of trumpets. Yet, in a very short time, three of them, the Washingtons, Westerns and Centennials had disbanded, and three others did not endeavor to visit foreign clubs on their own grounds, and hence were out of the race before it had fairly started. These facts, as a matter of course, tended to bring the game into disrepute, and will bear a little explanation. The clubs which disbanded were organized for speculative purposes, and, being poorly managed, became insolvent. Of the others, the New Havens, after receiving two-thirds of the gate receipts in their games with Western clubs at home, did not return the visits, although promising to do so, until quite late in the season. It was a confidence operation, in which St. Louis and Chicago were victimized. The same remark applies to the Atlantics, who never had any organization, or any responsibility, and played no less than thirty-eight different men in their nine during the summer. With the St. Louis Reds, who are also out of the race, it was different. They entered for the championship with the firm determination of endeavoring to gain a place, and it was not their fault that they did not do so. They were cried down by unworthy rivals, who did everything in their power to bankrupt the management, but failed. The Brown Stockings would not arrange games with them, except on their own terms, and Eastern organizations were informed by mischief-makers that the Reds would not last, and when the "Ponies" expressed a willingness to go East, the organizations referred to could not be prevailed upon to arrange games with them.

During the season there were more complaints of "hippodroming" than ever before, and from the appearance of things the charges were, in most cases, founded on fact. It is, of course, almost impossible to furnish proof positive that a game is not decided on its merits. Yet there were doubtless many of them "thrown" to benefit the gambling fraternity. The Philadelphia and Mutual Clubs, as they always have been, were looked upon as the black sheep in the flock, each organization being controlled by a coterie of sporting men. The Mutuals were not strong enough this season to successfully "hippodrome" to any very great extent. Hicks, their catcher, it is said, could tell how many runs their opponents would make in each inning, and his friends used to lay their wagers accordingly. With the Philadelphia nine it was different, its players being skillful enough to win when they pleased, except when pitted against the Bostons or Athletics. Hippodroming places them next to last in the championship race, while their proper position should be third. Zettlein, the pitcher, only last week, openly charged his associates with selling out, and retired in disgust. During the season half a dozen of the players have been frequently charged with "crooked" conduct, among them Treacy, McGeary, Meyerle and Zettlein. Of other clubs, it is openly charged that Chicago lost her final games to Hartford to beat St. Louis out of third place, which is about as probable as that Chicago and St. Louis arranged at the beginning of the season that each organization should win all games played on its own grounds, which proved to be the case. Many there are who assert that they are confident such was the case.

Although numerous players were accused of dishonesty, desertion and unfaithful conduct during the season, not a single member was expelled from the association. On the contrary, they were all released from their engagements; and, by being at once hired by some rival club to the one which they had left, were tempted still further to sell out and "revolve." Higham left Chicago, and the Mutuals received him with open arms. Blong was expelled from the Reds and Stars, to be affectionately received in the Brown Stocking fold. Latham went from Boston to New Haven, and thence to Canada. Fields skipped the Washingtons for the Ludlows, and others too numerous to mention skipped from one club to another with perfect impunity. This has done more than anything else towards killing base ball, and, unless the players to which class those mentioned belong are at once emphatically informed that their services are not desired, another year will show that base ball is assuredly played out.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 31, 1875

Let's see: club instability, crooked ballplayers and lots of revolving. This sounds familiar. I'm sure somebody has a plan for solving these problems. Perhaps the creation of a new league or something like that?


David Ball said...

Since our old friend Joe Blong appears here, let me point out that Henry Chadwick, who probably wrote this article, was so used to complaining about players moving from team to team that he assumed things were illegitimate even when that was not the case. We know for one thing that George Latham originally signed a three-month trial contract with Boston and when he was released at the end of it he signed with New Haven, perfectly honestly.

By the same token, there is foom for doubt about the circumstances of Blong's departure from the Reds and the wisdom and fairness of his expulsion by the Stars is questionable. At any rate, the Brown Stockings were technically innocent of signing a player released by the Covington Stars since we know they signed him the afternoon before the meeting at which he was expelled by the Stars.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

While you and I understand what took place in 1875 with regards to Blong, the story was getting pushed in the press that he was a ballplayer without honor. There were voices in the press, especially Chadwick, who was pushing the whole dishonest ballplayer story and this is part of the story. As is the fact that there is no evidence that Blong was throwing games in 1875, that he likely had arranged his release from the Reds in late June and that there was much more going on in Covington then was reported.

Also, Chadwick's version of events, which has become part of the conventional wisdom regarding the NA, was seized on by the big clubs and used as part of their argument regarding the need for a new league. It seems disengenuous that they were saying on one hand "Look at all these crooked ballplayers; the inmates are running the asylum and we need to reorganize things" and then on the other signing those same ballplayers for the new league.

While Chadwick may have been sincere in his statements, I have my doubts about the sincerity of the organizers of the League. There goal was to secure their market and make money rather than generally looking after the best interests of the game.