I've been writing a fairly long piece on Fred Dunlap and, so, I've had him on my mind lately (more so than usual). Anybody that reads this blog on a regular basis knows that I have an unhealthy obsession with the kingpin of second basemen. If I never write another word about the man I believe that I've done my part to rehabilitate his reputation against the onslaught of the Jamesian conventional wisdom. I feel that I've more than proven that Dunlap was one of biggest baseball stars of the 1880s and that he, during his peak, was regarded as the best second baseman in the game. Whether anyone is listening or paying attention...
But a question came to me this afternoon that I've never considered before and I think that it's relevant to the discussion. The question is this: Why did Henry Lucas sign Fred Dunlap? And, more importantly, why did he sign him to the contract that he did? Ponder that for awhile and we'll come back to it.
I once wrote that I don't believe in coincidence and while doing a bit of research on Dunlap, I came across a rather interesting non-coincidence. In the fall of 1883, Cleveland and Dunlap came to St. Louis to play the Browns in an exhibition series. They played three games on October 22, 23 and 24, with the Browns winning two out of three, and it just so happened that the first rumors of Henry Lucas' plans for the Union Association leaked in the Globe on October 23. Lucas is in the process of putting together his new league and formulating plans for the 1884 season and two future members (Dunlap and Glasscock) of the Maroons are in town playing baseball. I would argue that it's highly likely that Dunlap, who signed with the Black Diamonds by the end of November, was first approached about jumping to the Maroons when he was in St. Louis in late October of 1883.
But that brings us back to the question of the day: Why Dunlap? I believe that the answer is self-evident. Dunlap was the best player in baseball in 1883 and Lucas, trying to make a big splash with his new league, wanted the best player in baseball on his new club and in his new Union Association. Lucas, who was a baseball player and fan, targeted Dunlap when he came to St. Louis in October and, making sure that he got his man, offered to make him the highest paid player in the game. He gave Dunlap a two year, guaranteed contract worth at least $7500 and perhaps as much as $10,000, with at least some of the money paid upfront. While the existence of the UA certainly had an impact on the inflation of salaries in 1884, nobody else was getting this kind of contract.
Lucas signed Dunlap, and made him the highest paid player in the game, because Fred Dunlap was the best player in baseball in 1883 and had been the best second baseman in the game for four years. It was a move designed to make headlines and to give the UA credibility as a legitimate major league. In order to get the publicity he needed, and to build a championship club in St. Louis, Lucas needed a star and a franchise player. And the one that he chose was Fred Dunlap.