Saturday, January 23, 2010

The 1876 Brown Stockings: Dame Rumor

All quotes from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, except where noted.

Clapp, Dehlman and Nichols are the only players who have thus far signed with the Brown Stockings for '77.
-July 11, 1876

The annual report about Harry Wright's departure has started again. This time it is St. Louis that he is to give a boost to, and he is to take three of the Bostons with him. Don't they wish they may get them?
-July 12, 1876 (from the Boston Advertiser)

A Startling Rumor from St. Louis

St. Louis, July 3-The Boston club arrived here today, and will play the Browns tomorrow. Negotiations are in progress looking to the transfer of Harry Wright, with three of the best players in the Boston nine, to St. Louis, at the close of the present season. This, it is believed, will more than make up for the loss of Bradley, the present St. Louis pitcher, who has signed to go with the Athletics next year.
-Boston Globe, July 7, 1876

The Boston Globe thus discourses concerning St. Louis: "The St. Louis Club has engaged Nichols for next season. Efforts were made to get Peters, of the Chicagos, who is a St. Louis boy, and Ross Barnes; but the result is that both remain in Chicago and have their salaries raised...Three or four men of the Boston team have been approached on this trip in relation to next year, but the engagements of all extend over two or three years, and any chances which are made will probably tend to strengthen the team rather than otherwise."
-July 14, 1876

The Brown Stockings pay Nichols $2,500 to pitch next year.
-July 15, 1875

Yesterday President Bulkeley of the League received official notification that the St. Louis Browns had engaged Nichols, of the New Haven nine, to play with them next season. Dehlman has been re-engaged as first baseman...We are very sorry to learn that Nichols is going West, and believe that only a very large salary has induced him to go. He has been the mainstay of the New Haven nine for two years. He is not only one of the most skillful pitchers in the field, but also a good-natured, jolly, companionable fellow at all times. The home nine will find it hard to fill his place.
-July 15, 1875 (from the New Haven Palladium)

At the beginning of the present week one of the directors of the St. Louis Club came to Chicago with the laudable intent of getting two or three players to strengthen his next year's nine, even at the expense of weakening Chicago. This director, being a gentleman, did not sneak about, but walked boldly forward to conquer the men he wanted by mere force of money. To one of the strongest players in the Chicago nine-and, perhaps, the best man living in one branch of the game-the St. Louisan offered, as a starter, $3,000 a year and the captaincy of the Brown Stockings. This did not move the player at all, and the bidder went up to $4,000, which is, the writer thinks, the largest sum ever offered to a ballplayer. But even this did not produce a favorable answer, and the interview ended for the time. Yesterday the director massed his forces for another attack, and announced that he would go as high as $6,000 sooner than fail to get the man he wanted.

The Tribune hasn't heard the result of the last offer.

To another member of the Chicagos who fills his position as well as anybody does the same one, this gentleman from St. Louis announced that he was prepared to offer $2,500 for the next season.
-July 16, 1876 (from the Chicago Tribune)

A Brown Stocking director was heard to remark yesterday that Remsen would play in St. Louis next season...Do the Browns intend losing Pike? A finer outfielder it is impossible to get. He is a power at the bat, and, what is still better, faithful. He and Remsen would make a strong team.
-July 16, 1876

In these columns last week it was noted that Mr. Hazard, of the St. Louis Club, had been in Chicago, making extravagant offers to a couple of Chicago players. It is satisfactory to record that he returned home without effecting any engagements...The St. Louis announce that they have made a contract with Joseph V. Battin, John Clapp, Harmon J. Dehlman and F.C. Nichols. The latter is at present pitching for the New Havens, and has one of the best curve deliveries in the business.
-July 18, 1876 (from the Chicago Tribune)

President Appolonio, of the Boston club, was in town yesterday, and Dame Rumor had it that his visit to St. Louis was for the purpose of engaging Joe Blong to pitch for the Bostons next season.
-July 19, 1876

Lot of interesting stuff going on here. First, the Boston Globe had Bradley and Battin signing with the Athletics by July 3, which is a little earlier than I had it, based on the Globe-Democrat's reporting. This adds some weight to the idea that Bradley and Battin were talking with the Athletics in late June, when Philadelphia visited St. Louis to play the Brown Stockings.

I think we can probably dismiss the Harry Wright rumors. Would the Browns be interested in bringing Wright and a few player from Boston to St. Louis? Probably. But as the Boston Advertiser noted, this was an annual thing with Wright and, if there were discussions with the Browns, it most likely wasn't that serious on Wright's part.

Is it even remotely possible that the Browns' would have offered Ross Barnes $6000? Again, I don't think so. That's so far out of line with what anybody else was making to seem far fetched. But did the Browns want Barnes and Peters? Of course they did. Did they make overtures to them? Probably.

Jack Remsen was a pretty good ballplayer and would have been an upgrade over Joe Blong and, maybe, Ned Cuthbert but there was no way that he could replace Lip Pike. But, as we'll see tomorrow, Pike wasn't pleased with the signing and believed that Remsen was signed to replace him.

The Tribune has Battin signing with the Browns by July 18. If Battin signed with the Athletics at the same time as Bradley, sometime in early July, how does he sign with the Browns a couple of weeks later? Battin did play for the Browns in 1877, of course, so he did sign with them at some point. Was this a result of the Athletics dissolving their stock club? Lots of questions but we do know that Battin did sign with the Browns and the Tribune implies that it was in the middle of July, after Battin had agreed to join the Athletics.

That's a lot of information for one post. What does it mean?

I think we can make some general conclusions based on what we know. Brown Stocking management was looking to make changes. Even if we dismiss the possibility of Harry Wright joining the club, there are some indications based on the McGeary affair that the club was unhappy with Mase Graffin. Bringing in Wright would have solved that problem.

Bringing in Ross Barnes would solve the McGeary problem. McGeary was accused of throwing a game in New York and a few of his teammates believed that their captain was crooked. It's likely that the Brown Stockings were an organization divided between pro-McGeary and anti-McGeary camps. I'll show evidence tomorrow that puts an exclamation point on this.

If you look at the case of Bradley, who appears to have signed with the Athletics before the club signed Nichols, it appears that it's the case of someone in the anti-McGeary camp bolting the club. Bradley, if you'll remember, got thrown under the bus by Chadwick in the aftermath of the McGeary affair. Chadwick subtlety accused Bradley of being involved in fixing the game. If he was not, and there's no other evidence that he was, then he was most likely very unhappy about the matter.

Neither management nor the League take any action against McGeary and this could not have gone over well with the honest ballplayers on the club. We know that there were crooked ballplayers on the club. Joe Blong. Joe Battin. Mike McGeary. There were even accusations in 1875 against Bad Dickey Pearce. The club swept everything under the rug and what kind of message was that to the guys who were playing on the level? If McGeary fixed the New York game and Blong and Battin were fixing games in 1877 and Bad Dickey was fixing games in 1875 (which I'm not completely certain he did), how many other games were being fixed in 1876? The guys on the club knew what was going on and it appears that many of them did not like it. Those guys, specifically Bradley, Pike and Cuthbert, wanted out.

It appears that somebody in Brown Stockings' management realized the extent of the problem and was looking to solve it. Bring in Harry Wright to right the ship. Bring in Barnes and get rid of McGeary. Bring in some new players and get rid of the bad wood. But the attempt to solve the problem failed. McGeary was back in 1877 and was again the captain. Blong and Battin were still on the club in 1877. And they lost Bradley, Pike and Cuthbert in the process.

If there was an attempt by an anti-McGeary faction to solve the problem of crooked players and a divided club, they either simply failed in their attempt to solve the problem or they were over-ruled or outmaneuvered by the pro-McGeary faction. It's possible that there was a group inside management that didn't believe that they had a problem or were unable to recognize the problem. They were the same group that whitewashed the McGeary investigation and undermined Graffen after he suspended McGeary.

I believe that the evidence points to a divided club and a divided management. The wedge was McGeary and the culture of corruption that was swallowing the Brown Stockings in 1876 and that would help destroy the club in 1877. There were many people who recognized what was happening-Graffen, Bradley, Cuthbert, Pike, etc. But there had to be a faction in management that supported McGeary over the anti-corruption forces. This faction is directly responsible for the failure of the Brown Stockings in St. Louis and are responsible for almost killing professional, major league baseball in the city. It would take several years and the leadership of Chris Von der Ahe to overcome the bad decisions that were made in the summer of 1876.

Tomorrow, we will hear direct testimony from a member of the anti-McGeary, anti-corruption group as Lip Pike speaks about Mike McGeary and Brown Stocking management.


David Ball said...

At last the suspense ends and we get to the good stuff. Aside from the New Haven item about Nichols, do any of the other announcements, explicitly report official league notices? That would be about the best possible indicator of reliability, and would pretty well settle Battin's status.

Lip Pike was an outstanding player but he was notoriously touchy and temperamental (rarely regarded as a good-natured, jolly, companionable fellow). It will be interesting to see what he has to say. Amid all the larger news, I'm struck by the quick signing of Dehlman. You would have thought that, even in 1876, they would have wanted their first baseman to hit a little, no matter how good he was in the field.

Anonymous said...

Keep on posting such themes. I love to read stories like that. BTW add more pics :)

Jeffrey Kittel said...

You didn't like the Hartford stuff, David? I gave you the inning by inning account of the first no-hitter in NL history. And Bradley's in the process of setting a consecutive shutout innings record (probably; I'm still having trouble running that down). But all everybody wants is the salacious stuff.

Of course, I blame myself. I've been trumpeting this for awhile and building it up to be something spectacular. I was telling somebody the other day that I felt a little pressure about it. I feel that after all the promotion I really had to come through with something. But it is what it is.

There are some holes in my logic. Battin signing with the Athletics doesn't really fit the pattern of the "honest" players wanting to leave StL, considering his actions in 1877. The flirtation with Harry Wright is odd and doesn't necessarily fit. If we have an anti-corruption faction and a pro-McGeary group, which side would most want to bring in Wright? The pro-McGeary group would want to get rid of Graffen but the anti-corruption people probably believed that Wright would be a strong hand on the tiller. Maybe it was something that everybody could agree on. Even the Pike/Remsen situation doesn't perfectly fit my explanation.

But, generally speaking, I think the evidence is there to say that the club is divided between an anti-corruption group and a status quo/pro-McGeary group (I hesitate to call it a pro-corruption group). It explains some of the things that we didn't have answer for, specifically the question of why the Brown Stockings didn't bring back Pike, Bradley and Cuthbert in 1877. And if you argue that the pro-McGeary group won a power struggle within the club, you can show how a culture of corruption enveloped the Brown Stockings.

That's probably the most significant thing. Previously, when anybody wrote about the break up of the Brown Stockings, they pointed to the 1877 gambling scandal. But we can show that that wasn't an isolated incident and that kind of corruption was something that the club was dealing with for several years. It went so far as to break up the rather successful and popular 1875/76 Brown Stockings. And the triumph of the pro-McGeary camp may actually have left people like Blong and Battin and Burtis feeling rather brazen. The decisions made in 1876 may very well have facilitated the corruption that we see in 1877.

It's not exactly earth-shattering but I think it does allow us to look at the Brown Stockings differently than we did before. The Pike quote tomorrow is fantastic and I almost posted it as soon as I found it. The post will probably be up a little late. It's not completely finished as I've had a rather busy week. But it will be up tomorrow afternoon.