Sunday, May 16, 2010

The End Of The Interregnum, Part Five

There will be a meeting of the Brown Stocking ball-tossers at Christ Von der Ahe's, on Grand avenue, to-night.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 24, 1881

When I first wrote about what happened to the Brown Stockings organization in October of 1881, I described it as a schism. However, I was wrong. It wasn't a schism; it was a coup. In October of 1881, Chris Von der Ahe staged a coup against the St. Louis Baseball Association and seized control of the Brown Stockings as part of a plan to enter a St. Louis ballclub in a new major league.

The fight between Von der Ahe and the SPCA and the St. Louis Baseball Association over control of the Brown Stockings was, as the earlier posts in this series noted, a fight over money. Jon David Cash, in Before They Were Cardinals, noted how the gate receipts generated by the Brown Stockings were divided. According to Cash, the players were given sixty percent of the gate to divide among themselves and the StLBBA "retained the other 40 percent of the proceeds for the upkeep of Sportsman's Park, to cover advertising expenses, and to reimburse the travel expenses of visiting teams. The visitors received no share of the gate receipts [although the clubs were guaranteed a flate fee]...Under this system of distribution, Von der Ahe received his financial reward from concession rights, primarily beer sales." The Globe contradicts this to an extent when it stated that the SPCA received ten percent of the gross receipts and the proceeds from the sale of reserved seats in addition to concession sales. Regardless of how specifically the money was being divided, it's clear that Von der Ahe and the SPCA wanted a larger cut.

I also believe that the players wanted a larger cut as well. Cash noted that earlier incarnations of the Interregnum Brown Stockings had received seventy-five percent of the gate but, for the 1881 season, that was cut to sixty. While the players were making more money because of the larger crowds, there must have been some resentment over the fact that their share had been cut. At the same time as the StLBBA was seeing increased profits and the club was playing well and drawing larger crowds, the players were asked to take a smaller percentage. If Von der Ahe and the SPCA was unhappy about the share of the cut that they were receiving from the StLBBA, they had a group of players who most likely felt the same way. The two groups would come together in their unhappiness over how profits were being distributed by the StLBBA.

I find the notice from the Globe that appears at the top of this post to be rather interesting. If I'm reading it correctly, there was a meeting between the Brown Stocking players and Chris Von der Ahe on August 24, 1881. The meeting either took place at Von der Ahe's house or saloon. Since Von der Ahe was not involved, in 1881, with the actual running of the baseball club, I can think of no reason for him to be meeting with the players other than to discuss the common grievances that they had against the StLBBA. I think that this meeting marks the beginning of Von der Ahe's plan to take control of the Brown Stockings that would come to fruition at the beginning of October.

The plan was rather simple. Von der Ahe would create a new baseball club, called the Brown Stockings, stock that club with members of the old Brown Stockings and that club would play at the Grand Avenue Park. Von der Ahe, after buying out the other investors in the SPCA, would then have full control of the ballpark and the club. The club would be entered into a new, independent major league that was being put together at that exact same time and Von der Ahe would then be the undisputed master of the St. Louis professional baseball market. The major question was whether or not Von der Ahe could get the players to agree to the plan and one would have to think that that was the major topic of conversation at the August 24 meeting.

The Globe did not believe that Von der Ahe could get the players and spoke in their October 4th issue of the loyalty of the players to the StLBBA. In response to Von der Ahe's gambit, the StLBBA had decided to have the Brown Stockings play their games at the Compton Avenue Park and the Globe believed that the players were going with them. However, this didn't happen and the core of the Interregnum Brown Stockings jumped to Von der Ahe's new club. The Gleason brothers, Ned Cuthbert, McGinnis, Baker, McCaffrey and Levis all joined the new Brown Stockings. Von der Ahe had kept six starters and manager Cuthbert, who still had a few games left in him. In advertisements for upcoming Brown Stockings' games, Von der Ahe made the point of listing the new Brown Stockings' starting nine just to make sure that everybody new that he had the players.

Von der Ahe was also able to get the opponents. While, as the coup was working itself out, he lost dates against the Atlantics, Von der Ahe made up for this with games against the Buckeyes of Cincinnati, the Eclipse of Louisville and, most importantly, the White Stockings of Chicago. With the club and the opponents came the crowds and Von der Ahe's coup was complete. The StLBBA soldiered on for a few more games in October of 1881 but their Brown Stockings were a shell of their former self and their opponents not of the same caliber as those engaged by Von der Ahe's Brown Stockings.

In the end, the StLBBA and their Brown Stockings simply disappeared as a business and baseball entity. But the bitterness that the old guard felt in being pushed aside by Von der Ahe, after they had kept baseball alive in St. Louis during the lean years and had just begun to see the fruits of their efforts, remained and would be seen time and again over the course of the next twenty years. I think it's likely that much of the anti-Von der Ahe sentiment that would be seen in St. Louis found it's origins in the way in which Von der Ahe seized control of the Brown Stockings and the St. Louis baseball market from the old guard. While his early success kept a lid on such bitterness and resentment, once the club and Von der Ahe began to struggle in the 1890s, the long knifes, that the old guard had been sharpening for a decade, came out.

As of the first week of October 1881, Chris Von der Ahe had the best ballpark and the best ballclub in St. Louis. He was also in the process of putting that club in a new, independent major league and finally ending the Interregnum. Tomorrow, I'll talk about the timing of Von der Ahe's moves to gain control of the Brown Stockings in relation to his moves to place that club in the new American Association.

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