Friday, December 18, 2009

The 1876 Brown Stockings: This Is A Mistake

A great many people might suppose, from the week's base ball record, that the Brown Stockings did not know how to play against the Hartfords and Athletics "and sich," but this is a mistake. The St. Louis boys have gate money in their eye, and want to draw the big crowds at the return matches to be played in St. Louis, where they pocket two-thirds instead of one-third of the receipts. If the Eastern clubs come here with the reputation of having been beaten by our home club, they would excite comparatively little interest, whereas the whole town may be confidently relied on to go and see the champions who have gotten away with the Brown Stockings. This is our theory of the thing, but we are sorry to say that it does not affect the bets, which are a total loss.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 11, 1876


Richard Hershberger said...

I appreciate that they had not yet established precedent for what does and does not provoke interest in the ticket-buying public. Nonetheless, this line of reasoning seems peculiarly unpersuasive.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

Absolutely. I took it more as the reaction of disapointed fans following the sweep in Hartford. It's fans making excuses with their club six games out and pretty much out of the pennant race. It is interesting, however, that the excuse takes a kind of game throwing/gambling angle. Sign of the times, I guess.

David Ball said...

Do you take this as intended seriously? I really find it difficult to tell. Suspicions of this sort were rampant around this time, however.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

If I remember correctly, this piece didn't come from the "sports section" of the Globe but rather from a column that was usually devoted to light local news. So it probably shouldn't be taken 100% seriously. I posted it to show some of the reaction in StL to the three losses to Hartford. I consider the sweep by Hartford to be one of the pivital moments of the season and was interested in how it was viewed in StL at the time. But it really is fascinating to see them kind of half-joking about the club lying down in order to gin up a good crowd for the return visit. It kind of speaks to the idea that everybody knew what was going on, everybody knew that there was some crookedness imbedded in the game. And it was joked about in the same manner in which we joke about the size of Barry Bond's head.

And if the question is do I take the accusations seriously then I'd answer that I don't. I think Hartford proved themselves to be a good club and just beat them fair and square. Although every time I read about McGeary, Battin or Blong making an error I tend to take a close look at it. While I wouldn't call "fix" every time the Brown Stockings lost, I've come to realize that there's a bunch of guys on that club that you couldn't trust.

David Ball said...

I meant to ask whether you thought the reporter meant it seriously, and I'd be interested to know what Richard thought about that, too. It seems to me to have been intended probably tongue in cheek, but nothing clearly labels it as such, and this is very much the sort of accusation people were making with dead seriousness in those days, as the recent situation with McGeary indicates.

And as you say, the insidious thing about it all is that once you start to wonder about somebody, then all sorts of things become suspicious. Although there certainly are important differences in principle, in this particular respect, game selling really is a lot like PED use. They both bring the integrity of the competition into question and thereby make almost every interesting outcome suspect.