Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Bit More About Collins

The Memphis Blues have disbanded, and Dan Collins, the jumper, is at home in New Orleans.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 15, 1876

The proceeds of the benefit game for the Old Memphis Blues only got one man off, Dan Collins (it is alleged) pocketing the proceeds and leaving town without bidding the others good-by.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 24, 1876

I'm rather fascinated by Collins and would like to learn a bit more about him. He was born in St. Louis in 1854 and died in New Orleans in 1883, not even thirty years old. From my point of view, he is most famous for jumping from the Empire Club to the Chicago White Stockings in 1874, an event that helped bring about the organization of the Brown Stockings. He got into three games for Chicago that year and appears to have returned to St. Louis. In 1875, he was playing with the reorganized Red Stockings in the second half of the season and was most likely playing for a local club prior to that. In 1876, he obviously played with the Reds and Louisville, before ending the season in Memphis.

After that I don't know what happened to him. He was still a very young man and was likely playing baseball somewhere. But I can't find anything on him after 1876. I also can't verify the date of death. If anybody has any more information on Collins, I'd love to see it.


Richard Hershberger said...

Genealogybank has the run of the New Orleans Daily Picayune from this period. I poked around a bit.

He played with the R.E. Lee Club, probably the most prominent baseball club in New Orleans, around 1880 and 1881. He appears in many box scores, usually playing the outfield but sometimes short or pitcher.

In 1882 he is playing the same positions with the Remy Clarkes. I had not heard of the Clarkes before. They seem to have been a second tier local club: locally prominent, but not in the same class as the Lees.

The issue of 9/21/1883 discusses an upcoming game of the Clarkes. It notes that "Danny Collins" will play because another player is still suffering from a sore hand, suggesting that Collins was no longer a starter.

The issue of 9/22/1883 includes a short obituary, "Danny Collins's Last Home Run." It provides ample
biographical information to confirm that this is the Dan Collins you are interested in. It notes his "open handed, warm hearted disposition" and the he didn't leave much for his wife and three children, and suggests a benefit game.

It doesn't say how he died, but I think a reasonable interpretation of this fact set is one of dissipation leading to a gradual decline of playing ability and an untimely end: a classic morality tale.

David Ball said...

More later on this interesting case study, but let me remark that the Remy Clarks did take at least one trip north around the early or middle '80's, getting to Cincinnati among other places, and Dr. John fans will be interested to know that at that time their lineup included a center fielder named Rebennack.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

Great job, Richard. Appreciate the information. I had assumed that Collins was playing ball in New Orleans but I don't have access to the NO papers before the late 1880s and couldn't find anything. And dissipation and gradual decline is the story of my life.

David-nice Dr. John reference. Really wasn't expecting that.

David Ball said...

Well, I passed up a chance to reference Dylan and the Memphis Blues.

This is an interesting case study in relations among players and clubs, and the letter from Haldeman gives some particularly nice insight into how League clubs viewed these situations. Often you only hear the complainant's side of the case. We're still getting primarily one side of the story, but the other side, the Louisville side, really may not bear very close examination.

At the time these events took place, clubs could not transfer contract rights directly from one to another, so if one team wanted to acquire a player under contract to a different one, the man would have to be released from his current contract and then signed to a new one by the acquiring team. Among other consequences, this meant that any time a team wanted to acquire a player, although he was not what we would regard as a free agent, they would have to negotiate with the man himself, besides (in principle) dealing with the club that owned his contract rights.

Sometimes a club would contact another to say they were interested in acquiring the player, and asking permission to talk to him if the second club was willing to contemplate a release. Often, however, the procedure was essentially what must have happened with Collins. A club official would contact the player first, writing him that "we will pay you a salary of X dollars if you can get your release," relying on the man himself to do the negotiating with his current club for the release. Probably the player himself often put up any price paid for the release (which in those days would be very small), in the expectation he would get it back in the form of increased salary.

It seems to have been some years before anybody objected to this procedure in principle, but there were frequently complaints about particular egregious abuses because the possibilities for abuse were considerable, as the Collins case illustrates. Making an offer before you contacted the club might have the effect of making the player dissatisfied with his current situation, thereby putting pressure on his club to release a man they preferred to keep. If Collins had remained in the Red Stockings' lineup but started pouting about not being allowed to go to Louisville, how much use would he have been to the Reds?

What's more, it's clear that teams sometimes used the "if you can get your release" offer as a see-no-evil way to solicit a player to violate his contract while retaining plausible deniability on their own side. The Collins case seems to be an example. They made him an offer provided "you can get your release" and then took his word that he had a proper release. "We needed him for a few days and he never mentioned his team had any objection. Had we known otherwise, we never would have taken him."

On the other hand, you have to sympathize with the situation of a club like Louisville. One constant of all professional team sports is that clubs are in constant need of fresh talent. In 1876 teams had no farm system to provide depth, in fact they could only afford to carry one or at most two substitutes. A couple of injuries could be crippling, and how easy would it be to find a player even marginally competent for National League ball who wasn't playing for some team somewhere? How likely was that minor team to give up a player of even marginal NL abilities without exacting a high price, if it would let him go at all? The pressure on a team like Louisville to cut corners must have been very great.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

Good stuff. I like your point about sympathizing with the big clubs and their difficulties in procuring top talent. The system simply wasn't in place yet to get the best players to the best teams and they were forced to scramble to get the players they needed.

Another point which should be made is that this was the Gilded Age and the League's attempt at monopolizing professional baseball at the highest level fits in with other social and economic trends of the time. If I find it rather immoral that Louisville would steal Collins from the Reds or that the Browns refused to play the Reds or that the existence of the League meant the death of the Covington club, that doesn't mean that what the League clubs were doing with regards to lower level clubs was necessarily wrong. They did what they did to survive and make their product stronger. It was survival of the fittest and the League showed, in the end, that they were the fittest. So be it. That's evolution for you.

What's important is to note the evolutionary process and how the League, and their practices, developed over time and the effect this process had on the baseball world. It's important to note that the League of 1876 was not the Major League Baseball of today and there was this entire other world of fascinating clubs and players existing and flurishing as the League developed. The fact is that the League's growth and success suffocated this other world and basicly crushed it out of existence. In the end, the StL Reds and Covington and hundreds of other clubs became historical footnotes of interest only to a few.