Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Collins Affair, Part Two

It will be seen by the subjoined special telegram that Louisville, after nine successive attempts, has at last succeeded in winning a game of ball from Chicago, but the splendor of the victory has been disgracefully dimmed by the manner in which it was accomplished. The Louisvilles played Collins in spite of the protest entered by Manager McNeary, of the St. Louis Red Stockings, furnished the President of the Kentucky Club by telegraph, in order that he might be fully aware of the fact that Collins had not been released before engaging him. The release was refused for the reason that the Reds have entered for two tournaments to be played in Michigan, this week, and as they were to have such strong opponents as the Buckeyes to contend against, it was necessary that their full team should be placed on the field. The secession of Collins, who had played with the nine all season, of course weakens it and diminishes the chances of the club winning first money in the tournaments, so that all can see the injustice done the management by the action of the Louisville Club. This is, however, merely a side issue. The League was organized with the avowed purpose of instituting much needed reforms, and especially to cover cases as this. That the Reds belong to another association cuts no figure in the matter whatever, and it remains to be seen whether the Louisvilles will be sustained in their dirty action by other League clubs. The Reds have fulfilled their contracts with the players to the letter, and the boys have been kept together at a loss to the management, who knew they had a nine which, if it remained intact, would next year be able to take a prominent position in the championship arena. The "revolving" of Collins, while it may cripple the organization for a few days, will have no other effect, a much stronger man in every respect having been engaged to take his place, and he will be with them shortly. No one having the interests of the National game at heart will, however, fail to severely condemn the Louisville club for its action in the premises.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 6, 1876


Richard Hershberger said...

"The League was organized with the avowed purpose of instituting much needed reforms, and especially to cover cases as this."

This claim is simply wrong. The League was created to institute various reforms, but stopping its members from stealing players from outside clubs was not one of them.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

Is it possible that we see a distinction between the clubs that they didn't? I would think that a lot of folks would still have a National Association mindset where all the clubs were equal before the laws of the Association. They most likely did not recognize the creation of the League as the watershed event that it was. They may have seen the League reforms as an attempt to reform professional baseball rather than an attempt to further the interests of the big professional clubs at the expense of the smaller clubs. I'm not sure if it's fair to expect the non-League clubs to recognize the hypocrisy of the League at this early date.

David Ball said...

I think that's too literal a reading of the situation, Richard. It was perfectly natural for outsiders to measure the League's behavior by the general tenor of the claims it had made for itself. The National League claimed rather loudly it was going to run its affairs with more probity and in a more straightforward manner than had been done in the past. The preamble to its constitution lists five objects, among which are:

"To encourage, foster, and elevate the game of base ball;

"To make base ball playing respectable and honorable;

"To protect and promote the mutual interests of professional base ball clubs and professional base ball players."

I don't believe any official document of the National Association ever set such highfalutin goals for that organization. The National League's constitution did, and of course outsiders would demand that the League live up to its own professions. They would reasonably view the disregard for outside clubs' contract rights as a failure to do so. There's nothing specifically there about pirating other clubs' players, but did conniving in contract violations by players really tend to "make base ball playing respectable and honorable?"

In fact, the League recognized that this was not respectable behavior and did at least take what seems to have been rather halfhearted action against this kind of behavior at its subsequent annual meeting.

David Ball said...

I posted my comment and then found Jeff had also posted one I had not seen. In principle, the law and ordinary business practice ought to have compelled everyone to honor contracts, regardless of whether a particular firm belonged to a [articular business association or not, but as a practical matter a variety of considerations made it very difficult to enforce contracts.

I would guess McNeary and his friends in the St. Louis press thought they recognized the hypocrisy of the League very clearly. But we have only one side of the story, and we don't know whether the Reds were living up to their obligations to Collins. It would be interesting to see how the story played in Louisville.

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