Saturday, May 15, 2010

The End Of The Interregnum, Part Four

The 1881 season was a successful one in St. Louis, both on the field and at the box office. Several events that took place that season had a profound impact on the St. Louis baseball market and helped to shape that market for a generation. In many ways, the 1881 season is similar to the 1874 St. Louis baseball season in that the success that was found in those seasons led to a St. Louis baseball club entering a major league.

The most significant event that took place in 1881 was the creation of the Sportsman's Park and Club Association under the leadership of Chris Von der Ahe. August Solari, after the disappointments of the Interregnum years, gave up his lease on the Grand Avenue Park and this lease was picked up by Von der Ahe's new organization, which was officially incorporated at the end of March 1881. The SPCA originally had no connection with the St. Louis Baseball Association and the Brown Stockings other than providing the Browns with a home ballpark. Eventually, in October 1881, Von der Ahe and the SPCA would forcibly seize control of the club from the St. Louis Baseball Association and Von der Ahe would, at that point, become the Boss President of both ballclub and park. But we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

The important point is that Von der Ahe and the SPCA were running the Grand Avenue Grounds by the spring of 1881 and had made significant improvements to the grounds. Also significant is that Von der Ahe was a relative outsider in St. Louis baseball circles. He had been a member of the board of directors of Solari's Grand Avenue ballclub in the mid-1870s and had some connections in St. Louis politics but he was not, in any real sense, an insider like Solari, the Spink brothers or the former Union Club members who had run the NA/NL Brown Stockings. Von der Ahe and the SPCA represented a new leadership force in the St. Louis baseball market and while this new force at first co-existed with the old, as represented by the St. Louis Baseball Association, eventually the two came into conflict, the result being the consolidation of the St. Louis baseball market under the new leadership of Chris Von der Ahe. It's the advent of this new leadership and their conflict with the old that brought about the end of the Interregnum.

The other significant event of 1881 was the return to the St. Louis baseball market of significant, outside competition. Because of the depressed nature of the St. Louis market from 1878 to 1880, as well as a depressed and disorganized national baseball market in general during the era, St. Louis did not receive many visits from good, nationally competitive baseball clubs. There are several reasons for this. As mentioned, the national baseball market was depressed and disorganized, as clubs and leagues of clubs searched for a business model that would support professional baseball. The effect of the game-fixing scandal and the general corruption that had surrounded the Brown Stockings from 1875 to 1877 on the St. Louis market can not be overstated, as it alienated and turned off what had been a very large fan base. The financial collapse of the Brown Stockings also had a negative impact as it essentially froze St. Louis out of the League system and denied the market visits from the best clubs in the nation. In the end, the St. Louis Baseball Association was unable to schedule many visits from good baseball clubs from large cities and when they were able to get a team like Indianapolis to visit, they couldn't get the fans out. Even the Chicago clubs stopped coming.

But by 1881, things had started to change. That season St. Louis saw visits from clubs from Cincinnati, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York and the fans flocked to the ballpark to see the Brown Stockings take on a higher level of competition. Harold Seymour wrote that it was Al Spink who arranged for these clubs to come to St. Louis and that, in many ways, it was the coming together of an anti-League group. St. Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and New York had all, for various reasons, been frozen out of the League and the arrangements that they made in playing each other in 1881 pre-figured the formation of the American Association the following year. The financial success that was realized in St. Louis by bringing these clubs in and the relationships that were formed among baseball men in the various cities was extraordinarily significant for the history of baseball. If these games had been financial failures or if Spink had not been successful in bringing the clubs to St. Louis, it's unlikely that the AA would have been formed or that St. Louis would have entered a new league. The Interregnum would have continued and possibly would have lasted into the 20th century.

So we have several events taking place in 1881 that combined to bring about the end of the Interregnum. The coming of new leadership under Von der Ahe and the SPCA, a group of anti-League cities and clubs forming relationships and scheduling each other, and the financial success of those scheduled games, by the end of the 1881 season, came together to create a unique situation in the St. Louis baseball market that led to Von der Ahe seizing control of that market and entering a new club in a new league.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about how Von der Ahe seized control of the Brown Stockings and the relationship that action had with the creation of the American Association.

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