Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The 1876 Brown Stockings: The Mystery Deepens

Formal notices have been received of the engagement of Devlin and Snyder by the Louisville Club for 1877, and of Battin and Bradley by the Athletic Club for the same period.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 11, 1876

We have reports in the Globe on July 7 that the Brown Stockings signed Tricky Nichols for the 1877 season and here we have reports of George Washington Bradley and Joe Battin signing elsewhere for 1877. Leaving out the Battin signing for the moment, one would have to assume that the signings of Nichols and Bradley are related. Obviously, Bradley did not pitch for Philadelphia in 1877 (and Battin didn't play with them either, for that matter) but he did leave the Brown Stockings to pitch for Chicago. So it looks like Bradley was looking to leave St. Louis.

The timing of all of this is interesting. I don't think it's likely that Bradley's signing was a reaction to the Brown Stocking's signing of Nichols. There simply wasn't enough time between July 6 and July 10 for Bradley to get angry or upset over the Nichols signing, evaluate his situation and then engage in negotiations with the Athletics. Both the Nichols signing and the Bradley signing must have been in the works for a couple of weeks. It may be that Bradley was aware of the Brown Stockings interest in Nichols and reacted accordingly but I think it's more likely that the Brown Stockings were reacting to a desire by Bradley to leave the Brown Stockings.

Now, as I mentioned, neither Bradley nor Battin played with the Athletics in 1877 so it's possible that this was all rumor. I have a bit more work to do to run this down and the research is not complete. However, even if it is rumor (or something happened between the parties to nullify the agreement they made), it still is significant when looking at the 1876 season and the events that transpired to breakup the 1875/1876 Brown Stockings. It's also relevant to the events surrounding the 1877 Brown Stockings (and I think that's a nice euphemism).

But what this is telling me is that Bradley wanted out. And the question is why?

While I think I have enough evidence to answer the question, that is going to have to wait a few days. First, we have a great series between the Brown Stockings and Hartford to take a look at. Then I'll return to the question and talk about some rumors that were swirling around, show other players that were looking to leave St. Louis and present a rather shocking statement by Lip Pike that, I believe, ties everything together.


David Ball said...

Bradley would in fact have gone to the Athletics had they not been dropped from the League for failure to play out their 1876 schedule and gone out of business (an Athletic club played in 1877 but it was a new organization using the famous old name). Bradley signed with Chicago only after his contract with the Athletics was voided.

Although he never really developed, I believe Nichols was considered a coming pitcher, but Bradley no doubt rated well ahead of him and he certainly was the heart of the St. Louis team. so it does seem likely that the Browns would have tried to negotiate with Bradley first, or at any rate turned to Nichols only after they knew Bradley was leaving.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

Thanks, David. I figured there had to be something to nullify the contract but didn't know exactly what it was.

While the numbers for Nichols that are at my fingertips aren't that good, there is some stuff in the StL and Boston papers at the time about how good he was. He was signed to a rather large contract so that also would speak to how he was viewed at the time. There was certainly nothing in the papers saying that StL was making a huge mistake replacing Bradley with Nichols (although I wasn't really expecting anything like that).

I did consider the possiblity that the Browns simply wanted to make a change at pitcher would it doesn't make much sense. Bradley was young and good and there wasn't much of a reason to get rid of him. He may have been difficult to deal with but I don't know if that's true. Maybe they didn't want to pay him but they signed Nichols to a large salary. The most logical explanation (when looking at everything else that was going on) was that Bradley was looking to leave StL and the Browns covered their rear by signing Nichols.

Richard Hershberger said...

For the record, David and I have an ongoing friendly disagreement about the connection between the 1876 and the 1877 Athletics. I regard them as the same organization, with some cosmetic changes to disassociate the 1877 version from the disgraced 1876 version for purposes of dealing with the League. They certainly marketed themselves in Philadelphia as the same club, and the local press accepted this.

Compare with this the 1875 and 1876 Athletics. Through 1875 they had still been structured in the old fraternal club manner with dues paying members. (They seem to have long since abandoned club days with members showing up to divide up into teams and play ball.) Following the 1875 season they determined to reorganize as a stock company. For legal reasons they technically disbanded the old club and formed a new organization.

This is as great a break in organizational continuity as occurred the following year. But you don't see claims that the 1876 Athletics were new organization.

After 1877 it gets murkier. The organizational details are much less well documented. There was a reasonably stable 1878 version. Some of the people involved were from earlier versions. Somewhere along the line (probably either 1878 or 1879) they devolved into a co-op club and the old supporting organization quietly faded away.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

As long as the disagreement is friendly...but your point is taken. I think for the purposes of the Bradley contract, the significant thing would be that the Athletics would not be playing in the NL in 1877. Bradley signed to play with a club in the NL and when the club no longer existed (or however the best way to but it is) then he was no longer contractually obligated to play for them.

But was that really a big deal as far as the contract was concerned? He signed with the Athletics and if the Athletics were playing in 1877, in whatever capacity, he should have been obligated to fulfill the contract. However, it would be likely that both parties would want out of the contract-Bradley wanting to pitch in the NL for a larger salary and the Athletics not wanting to pay a large salary if they were stepping down in their level of competition.

Coincidentally, when I was writing up all the rumors that were surrounding the Brown Stockings in July, I came across a brief reference to the Athletics. I don't have it in my notes but the point was that they were desolving the stock club and reorganizing. The Globe (this is sometime in the middle or end of July 1876) says it was unclear how they were going to reorganize but that they did plan to play in 1877. They didn't mention how this would effect Bradley.

David Ball said...

In the unlikely event anyone but the three of us has gotten this deep into the matter, it may be worth explaining that the Athletics had a disastrous season in 1876, folded their team without making their final western swing, and for failing to live up to their scheduling commitments they were expelled from the NL at the annual meeting after the season. Their club president did attend the meeting in the hopes of staving off expulsion, so at least at that point the old club intended to go on.

I don't know about the Athletics' desire to hold Bradley et al., and it's a good question. It's plausible, as Jeff suggests, that they didn't think they could afford him. It happens that in early 1877 the new president of a reorganized Athletic club (Charles Cragin?) conducted a fairly extensive correspondence with Harry Wright. This survives in Wright's papers, and I don't believe they talk about Bradley and the others at all, although they do discuss the status of the future catching star Charlie Bennett, who had double-signed with the Athletics and Milwaukee.

Assuming for the sake of exploring possibilities that the new club did want to keep Bradley and Battin, I would say that legality was really of limited importance. For a mix of practical and legal baseball contracts were very difficult to enforce in court, and usually you could only defend your rights by exerting economic muscle on clubs who were using a player you thought was yours. The early NL had a proponderance of muscle power in comparison with outside teams and rarely went very far in compelling its clubs to honor contracts of outside clubs. That's not to say no NL club ever refused to sign a player under contract to outside clubs, but the League did relatively little to compel them to do so and raids on outside clubs' rosters were not rare.

From a purely legal point of view, however, if the 1877 Athletics were the old club, then they ought to be entitled to hold the players contracted for the 1877 season if they chose to do so. However, the League might well disregard those contracts because of the expulsion. But the 1877 club actually took care to represent itself to the NL as not the old Athletics but a new organization. They wanted to play exhibitions with NL teams who would refuse to do so with an expelled club, and so Cragin needed to show his club was a clean organization that had no connection with the old Athletics. He did say they wanted to keep the Athletics name because of its prestige in Philadelphia, so I can well believe that for PR purposes the new club represented itself at home as the old club, as Richard says, but that's not how they wanted to be perceived in NL councils.
Probably there is no unequivocally correct answer as to whether they were the old club or a new one. As far as Battin and Bradley were concerned, though, there was only one answer. They could not object to NL clubs signing the men on the basis of Athletics contracts signed in the summer of 1876, because to do so would be to identify themselves with the expelled and disgraced organization, exactly what they were trying to avoid. Since they were arguing they were a new club that just happened to have the same name as the Athletics. they really couldn't afford to claim any contract rights of the old club.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

I'll have you know that at last check 27 different people have viewed this post. If I had ads up, I could have made two or three cents this week. But I really have no idea if anybody ever reads the comments.

The Athletics situations seems similiar to the Brown Stockings in 1878. The League club dissolves but a club with the same name takes the field the next year. Is it the same club or not? Tough to say.

As far as Bradley, Battin and the Athletics are concerned, one would think that once the Athletics dissolve the stock club then any obligation the players had were dissolved with it. But it's kind of odd that they signed Bradley and Battin to begin with. Bradley, at least, must have come at a high price. So what were they thinking? Was it a last ditch effort to salvage things for 1876? Make a big splash, survive the season and things will be better in 1877? If they had decided to dissolve the club in mid to late July then they probably knew what was coming before they signed Bradley and Battin. It doesn't make a lot of sense.

One thing that I did just notice (that I should have noticed earlier), the Athletics were in StL at the end of June and the Bradley and Battin signings are announced early in July. You have to figure that this all came about while the Athletics were in StL.