Sunday, January 24, 2010

The 1876 Brown Stockings: Pike Speaks His Mind

A Globe-Democrat reporter ran across Pike, the popular center-fielder of the Brown Stockings, yesterday afternoon, and while engaged in a brief conversation with him, asked his reasons for signing with the Cincinnati nine next year. "When I was away in New York, this spring," replied he, "I was asked my opinion of the Mutual game, alleged to have been thrown by McGeary, and I openly informed my questioner that I had no doubt that McGeary had sold the game; that he was a crooked player. I also expressed the same opinion here in St. Louis. For these honest expressions of my opinion, to which I still adhere, Remson was engaged in my place for next year. Seeing that I had no chance here, I have signed to play in Cincinnati next year, although I have become fond of St. Louis, and would have preferred to stay here."
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 24, 1876

Mr. Lipman Pike, center-fielder of the St. Louis ball club, in a card published in the morning papers yesterday, sees fit to disown certain statements which he made to a Globe-Democrat reporter on Sunday, and which were published the following day. Why he should disown them is well known to the Directors and friends of the St. Louis club. Not only were the statements published made to the reporter, but many others, which were of no interest to the community at large. No third person being present at the interview, the question of fact can not be proven. Mr. Pike, however, informed another attache of this journal, on Sunday afternoon, that he had made the statements accredited to him in regard to McGeary but that he had not made them to a reporter. In his card he states that he had no conversation whatever with a Globe-Democrat reporter on Sunday, although on Sunday night, in the presence of half a dozen witnesses, he referred to the reported interview, and asked why his remarks had been printed, even going so far as to use threatening language. To those who are acquainted with Pike's relations to the St. Louis Club, nothing more on this subject need be said. He may regret his foolish remarks, but will fail to make this paper shoulder the responsibility of them.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 26, 1876

Let's get this out of the way first: Pike disowned his remarks a day after they appeared in the Globe. I don't find that to be significant because I don't believe the Globe was making it up. I believe what Pike said in the Globe on July 24, I believe the Globe's defense that was published on July 26 and I think it's reasonable to believe that Brown Stockings management had Pike disavow his statement or Pike did it one his own due to the inflammatory nature of his remarks. This appears to be nothing more than a 19th century attempt at damage control. But, bottom line, I believe what Pike said on July 24.

And now on to the good stuff.

Are you kidding me? I honestly couldn't believe this when I first read it. You never find anything this good. Lip Pike flat out said that he thought McGeary sold the game and flat out said that McGeary was crooked. This is direct evidence that members of the Brown Stockings believed that McGeary was a dirty ballplayer, were unhappy about it and voiced their unhappiness.

Pike also states that, because he voiced his opinion about McGeary, he was being replaced by Remsen and that he was not wanted on the club in 1877. I believe that this is evidence of a pro-McGeary group within Brown Stockings management that either failed to recognize the growing culture of corruption that was enveloping the club or was willing to ignore it. When confronted with the evidence of McGeary's actions in New York, their reaction, according to Pike, was to replace the men who brought that evidence.

There is no actual evidence that Remsen was signed to replace Pike but Pike believed that it was so and believed he was being replaced because he had accused McGeary of crookedness. And so he signed with Cincinnati. Pike signed with Cincinnati in 1877 specifically because of how the Brown Stockings handled the McGeary situation.

Pike was not the only member of the Brown Stockings who believed that McGeary was crooked. Cuthbert basically walked off the field in disgust during the McGeary game in New York. Bradley was swept up in the accusations against McGeary and signed a contract to play elsewhere in 1877 at the first opportunity. While we don't know how every member of the team felt about McGeary, we've seen enough evidence to say that their were divisions in the clubhouse.

So we have divisions among the players and we have divisions among management and nobody is dealing with the situation. Either nobody has the authority to solve the problem or the people with the real power in the organization don't want to solve the problem. I find it unbelievable that with all the talk that had been going around baseball during the period that the directors of the Brown Stockings didn't realize that the corrupting influences of gambling and game-fixing weren't a real problem. They had to know that this was a serious situation and either were unable to stop it or, what may be worse, they chose to ignore it and sweep it under the rug. As a result, they lost some of their best players. As a result, the corrupting influences spread. As a result, the Brown Stockings died in 1877.

I think that the true story of the 1875-1877 Brown Stockings is that of a club that allowed corrupting influences to envelope the team, did nothing to arrest that spread and collapsed as a result. The 1877 gambling scandal was not an isolated incident. It was part of a larger pattern of corruption that stretched back into 1876 and, most likely, 1875. The club directors were aware of the problem. They knew that players were fixing games. They did nothing to stop it and, in fact, emboldened the fixers by allowing them to win a power struggle withing the club. J.B.C. Lucas and Orrick Bishop are as responsible for the Brown Stockings' breakup as Joe Blong and Mike McGeary.

Lip Pike told them that they had crooked ballplayers on their club and they got rid of Lip Pike. Mase Graffin suspends McGeary and Orrick Bishop comes out to Philadelphia to sweep everything under the rug and undercuts his manager at the same time. Chadwick and Spink were telling them not to sign these guys and they did anyway. They have a crooked umpire on the payroll. They sign more crooked ballplayers from Louisville. Etc. Etc. Etc. It was a mess run by some of the most prominent citizens of St. Louis. These upstanding gentlemen almost destroyed professional baseball in the city, motivated (one assumes) by greed and a desire to win at all costs.

And here we are, only half way through the season.


David Ball said...

Very interesting from a couple of points of view. McGeary carried his bad reputation around with him like a cloud, so it's easy to believe Pike 's initial statement. But Pike also carried around his own reputation as a prima donna and a troublemaker. I have read this about him but have seen only a few concrete examples, and this incident gives me a better understanding of why clubs were so often willing to let him go in spite of his brilliance as a player.

There's one consideration I think you may be overlooking, Jeff. You seem to view Pike's assumption that Remsen was intended to replace him as an overreaction on his part. But Pike had other cues besides the Remsen signing as to the Browns' attitude towards him. They were clearly negotiating with a lot of players, and if they hadn't made him an offer, he would naturally have understood that as an indication they didn't want him back, even if they hadn't told him so explicitly.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

That's an interesting point about the lack of a contract offer to Pike. By this time the Browns had already signed four or five guys and, as you say, a lack of an offer from the club would be a statement to the player that maybe they didn't want him back. I can't wait to see the time frame on McGeary resigning and Cuthbert leaving.

As to the possibility of Pike overreacting or misreading the Remsen signing, there was speculation in the Globe about Pike and Remsen playing together in the outfield in 1877 so they didn't necessarily see Remsen as a replacement for Pike. We don't really know what Browns' management was thinking (although I've spent plenty of time speculating about that) but we do know what Pike thought and, to a certain extent, what William Spink thought. And Pike and Spink kind of contradict each other.