Saturday, July 31, 2010

This May Or May Not Be True

It is generally believed that Mr. Von der Ahe, despite the fact that his club won the championship, did not quite clear expenses. This may or may not be true, but at any rate he is retrenching wherever he can and in cutting down expenses for the winter has discharged even Supt. Solari, Bookkeeper Schwartz, and all the park hands. The only man left at the park in fact is Jake, the barkeeper. Indeed in his work of retrenchment Chris cut out even the telephones. He will also save some money on his team next year. He has now signed all his old players and one new man-Kemmler. In order to secure peace and harmony and to prevent one player feeling jealous at the slary received by another, Von der Ahe has adopted a regular grade of salaries, paying the players who bear the brunt of the battle more than those who have little to do. The salaries of the three outfielders-Welch, Nicol and O'Neill are now $1,800, while the infielders-Comiskey, Barkley, Latham and Gleason are $1,900. The pitchers-Foutz, McGinnis and Caruthers and the catchers-Bushong, Robinson and Kemmler, who do the hardest work of all have been contracted with at $2,000 each. Last year Comiskey was paid $3,000 for his services, while Bushong received $2,800. This was for seven months' work, viz: from April 1 to October 31. This year Comiskey will ostensibly receive the same salary as the other infielders, but so as to encourage him in the managing of the team another contract will be drawn up between him and the club, in which he will receive $500 for his services as manager. This will make his salary $2,500. Bushong will be made content by a clause in his contract guaranteeing him $10 for each extra game in which he catches. In other words, he will catch two games a week and when called upon for a third or fourth game he will be paid the extra sum, which will at least bring his salary away above that received by the other catchers. The St. Louis Browns will therefore pay $5, 400 to its three outfielders; $8,100 to its four infielders, this including the $500 paid to Comiskey for managing, and $12,000 to its pitchers and catchers, this not including the extra money paid Bushong. This, in fact, will bring the salary list up to $25,000 or at least $5,000 less than was paid out last season.
-Sporting Life, December 2, 1885

I'm not sure that I'm buying this. Von der Ahe himself stated in the late 1890s that, except for the 1890 season, the club never lost money while he was running it. Also, given Von der Ahe's nature, I'm find it hard to believe that he was handing out pay cuts after the club won the championship in 1885. Rudy Kemmler was making more money than Welch, O'Neill, Latham and Gleason and was making as much as Foutz and Caruthers? How can that possibly be true? Von der Ahe was going to cut Comiskey's pay after winning the championship? I don't believe it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

An Optimistic Headline

Hopes Rather High Just Now In The Mound City

Much Confidence Reposed in Manager Tim Hurst's Ability to Get Good Work Out of the Excellent Ball Players at His Command
-Sporting Life, March 26, 1898

I'm not going to bore you with the entire article except to pass along that it was written that the local fans "are looking for Tim Hurst to do something wonderfully wise with the rejuvenated Browns."

The Browns finished 39-111 and in last place again. Interestingly, that was an improvement over 1897 when the club finished 29-102. Also of interest is that Hurst managed the entire season, somehow avoiding getting fired by Von der Ahe.

I'm actually very interested right now in these really bad Browns teams from the late 1890s and would love to do a day by day look at the 1897 season. Sadly, my database doesn't include the St. Louis papers from the late nineties so that project isn't easily doable. I just think it would be much more fun to look at a historically bad team instead of the 1886 Browns. But I work with what I have.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Alternative History

The talk of Von der Ahe retiring from base ball at the close of the present season is not true, yet I don't doubt but what Chris has been talking of leaving the national game and living on the interest of his money.
-Sporting Life, July 26, 1890

Imagine if Von der Ahe had retired after the 1890 or 1891 season. How would he be viewed in baseball history?

Throwing out the 1882 season, when the Browns finished fifth, Von der Ahe's club from 1883 to 1891 finished second, fourth, first, first, first, first, second, third and second. Four championships (including one outright and one disputed world championship) and three second place finishes in nine years. He brought major league baseball back to one of the biggest baseball markets in the country and helped build a viable, second major league. He was responsible for building one of the greatest and most famous teams of the 19th century. Von der Ahe was also an innovator when it came to baseball stadiums and the ballpark experience. He was rich, famous and successful.

After 1891, of course, everything fell apart for a variety of reasons. Von der Ahe became an object of intense ridicule as the Browns never finished higher than ninth during the last seven seasons he was running the club. The popular image of Von der Ahe was formed in the second half of his run with the Browns, when the stadium burned down, he gets arrested in the Baldwin affair, the press turned on him, Sullivan and Latham started telling stories, he was firing managers on almost a daily basis, his team was struggling to win thirty games a year, he was building statues of himself, etc., etc., etc.

If Von der Ahe had gotten out of baseball after the 1890 or the 1891 season, no one would have blamed him, given the difficulties he experienced with the Player's Revolt, and his legacy would not have been stained by the difficult years that followed. There would have been no Von der Ha! Ha! Ha! History would have recorded him as having been one of the most successful and innovative baseball magnates of the 19th century and he would, more than likely, be in the Hall of Fame.

But that isn't how things happened. The 1890s are a part of Von der Ahe's record and has to be weighed against the success he experienced in the 1880s. While history would have been kinder if Von der Ahe had gotten out in 1890/91, it certainly would have been much less interesting.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sweeney Seems To Have Become Demoralized

Mr. Lucas came home last Friday and I fear his absence has been felt by the Maroons. Sweeney seems to have become demoralized, and, if reports are true, he should be severely dealt with. It stands him in poor grace to make such a spectacle of himself as he has at Boston and Providence. He owes everything to Mr. Lucas, and to thus repay him the generosity of the man, who stood by him in the hour of need, is not simply ungrateful, but most unmanly. He knows or ought to know that upon his good conduct depends not only his own future, but business interests of his employers. Drunkeness is one of the worst elements to contend with among base ball clubs and expulsion should be the inevitable reward of the drunkard. It may be a hard thing to do, but every one will endorse Mr. Lucas if he promptly expels Sweeney if he again repeats his late errors. I do not think that Sweeney intends to do wrong, but he seems to be unable to resist temptation and lacking in good steady habits.
-Sporting Life, May 27, 1885

The last sentence is, without a doubt, an interesting summary of Charlie Sweeney's character.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Can't Pass Up This Joke

It is stated that after the conclusion of the exhibition season Christ Von der Ahe will start out upon a lecture tour, taking for his subject, "What I Know About Base Ball."
-Sporting Life, October 21, 1885

When asked for a comment, Ted Sulliven stated that it would be the shortest lecture in recorded history.

Thank you. I'll be here all week. Don't forget to tip your waitresses and bartenders.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Der Boss

At the Browns' reception Chris Von der Ahe said: "I am druly der boss manager of der boss club" and the crowd yelled: "Vats knocked is knocked and dats a home run."
-Sporting Life, October 21, 1885

I just wanted to document the fact that the Von der Ahe moniker of Der Boss President goes back at least to 1885. It's entirely possible and likely that it pre-dates this event. If I were of the mind to look into this, I would search October 1881 to October 1885.

The context of the remarks were a celebration in St. Louis of the Browns' 1885 AA championship.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Speculating About A Rumor

It is said that for Dunlap's obstinacy the Lucas club franchise would have been purchased by Von der Ahe and the Louisville Club jointly, the latter to get the pick of the players, while Von der Ahe would hold the franchise and shut off opposition in St. Louis. Dunlap, however, refused to go to Louisville and his refusal...blocked the deal.
-Sporting Life, October 21, 1885

Being so parochial, I can't say if this took place in other markets at the time but there were constant rumors swirling around St. Louis about changes in ownership and league-affiliation. Von der Ahe, according to the rumors, was always in the process of buying the Maroons or moving the Browns to the NL or starting a new league. I think that it would be understandable if one were to dismiss all of it as rumor but I lean (ever so slightly) in the opposite direction. There was so much smoke here, over such a long period of time, that there may have been some fire. It would be in character for Von der Ahe to constantly attempt to manipulate the baseball market to his advantage and it's possible that a lot of these rumors were at least discussed by Von der Ahe and then leaked out.

I hope I qualified that last statement sufficiently because I recognize these things as rumor and appreciate them as such. However, I can see Van der Ahe sitting around, shooting the breeze and saying "Hey! Maybe I should buy the Maroons, take all their players and then move the new Browns to the National League." In my imagination, this conversation takes place in a bar after five or six beers.

Also, I should mention that it was absolutely in Dunlap's character to refuse a move to Louisville. He would have demanded a new contract with a higher salary before he would have agreed to something like that.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Nice Little Von Der Ahe Story

A St. Louis paper gives out the following as gospel truth: "When Tom Deasley worked for Chris, he got full one day, and Chris said to him 'Tom, you're drunk.' 'I know I am,' said Tom, 'but it's your beer, Chris.'" It was, perhaps, a good thing that Chris disposed of his saloon before the present season, and it would be a better thing if he should set his men a personal example.
-Sporting Life, October 21, 1885

I actually find this story rather amusing. It's different than a lot of the Von der Ahe stories in that it's ironic rather than mocking. But the most important thing here is the information that Von der Ahe had sold his saloon before the 1885 season. That's news to me.

Friday, July 23, 2010

So General And So Great Is The Disgust

A delightful change in the weather has had a most salutary effect upon the attendance at Sportsman's Park. Added to the influence of the weather has been the realization of the fact that after the Browns leave for the East there will be no more first-class ball played in St. Louis this season. The Maroons will, of course, be here ere long, but they do not play base ball of any consequence. So great and so general is the disgust expressed here for the Maroons that it would not be difficult to find plenty of men who would back the Prickly Ash nine to win three out of four games.
-Sporting Life, August 12, 1885

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Not Being Overrun With People

As an evidence of the harm done St. Louis by the publication of bare-faced falsehoods comes an alleged tirade indulged in by Patsy Tebeau, published in your last issue. How can Patsy Tebeau, or anyone else, discuss the proposition to transfer base ball games from St. Louis to some other city, when no such proposition has been made? Ah, there is the rub. It has been published in St. Louis that such a transfer was contemplated; published without any warrant, however, without a single fact to base the publication upon; published and copied in other cities as a fact, because it is not yet known, though gradually becoming so, that some publications that appear in the city of St. Louis are not worthy of reproduction. Here are the facts:

Secretary Dreyfuss, of the Louisville Club, had written to President Von der Ahe requesting that the games for August 16, 17 and 18 be transferred to Louisville. Chris' reply was as follows: "I must say that for pure, unadulterated, unmitigated nerve, your proposition to transfer to Louisville the three games scheduled at St. Louis, August 16, 17 and 18, easily wins the 'blue ribbon.' Ye gods! Since when has there been such a thing as a 'crowd' at a ball game in Louisville. On our last visit there we did not make expenses, and with any approach to favorable weather here we will get more out of one game than three in your village. Judging from past results it would be much more to our advantage to transfer those three games to some little outside town rather than Louisville-if we were in the transfer business. We are not being overrun with people at our park, but compared with those at Louisville and Cleveland, it is as a World's Fair to a school picnic. I have never yet had to transfer a game; when I do, it will not be to Louisville-not this year, anyhow."
-Sporting Life, August 17, 1895

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Henry Lucas Obituary

Henry V. Lucas, 53 years old, son of James H. Lucas, who once owned the greater part of the entire business district of St. Louis, and who bequeathed to his son more than $1,ooo,ooo, as well as millions to his other children, died late last night as a $75 a month employee of the Street Department. Base ball was the rock on which Lucas' fortunes were wrecked. In four years he lost more than a quarter of a million dollars in an effort to give St. Louis a winning ball team. At this he succeeded, but his lavish expenditures in financing an organization to fight the National League led him to disaster. A spectacular aggregation was the


which Lucas got together in 1884, after his application for a National League franchise had been rejected, and he backed teams in New York, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Boston, Pittsburg, Washington and Kansas City. The St. Louis Maroons, with their silk stockings and lambs' wool sweaters, were a sight to behold when they would march on the field. The National League, in self-defense, in 1885 gave Lucas a franchise after his St. Louis Union Association team in 1884 made the greatest record ever established in major league base ball. It won the pennant with a percentage of .850, winning 91 and losing 16 games. The next year the same team finished last in the National League. The Union Park grand stand was burned and


from base ball after 1886. About the same time a fleet of river barges which he owned was sunk in a storm, and he could not replace the boats because of his heavy base ball loses. From that time, he always said, everything he touched went wrong. To the Lucas Maroon standard flocked such old-time ball players as Jack Glasscock, Fred Dunlap, Charley Sweeney, Jerry Denny, Joe Quinn, Milt Whitehead, Jack Brennan, Dave Rowe, George Decker, Jack Kirby and Orator Schaefer. The home where Lucas was born was on the present site of the 'Frisco building, at Ninth and Olive streets, in St. Louis. Surrounding this home were the rolling meadows and fertile fields of


covering an area which now includes within its limits the Post-Dispatch building, the National Bank of Commerce, the Third National Bank, the Fullerton, Holland, Missouri Trust, Chemical, Odd Fellows', Frisco and Century buildings, the Post Office and the new Carnegie Library. The property once owned by Lucas' father is now worth one hundred or more millions.
-Sporting Life, November 26, 1910

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sorrow In St. Louis

After having been for several years foremost as a base-ball city St. Louis is now effectually out in the cold and there is great depression there in consequence. The Globe-Democrat says:

There was a sorrowful feeling along the local base-ball line yesterday, and the question was asked a thousand times: "What is to become of us?" The meeting of the Brotherhood knocked the last pin from under the hopes of the Brown admirers, and there is a decidedly panicky feeling among the cranks. It was thought that the brotherhood would, of course, make a place for the team, dropping Pittsburg from the list. Such was not done, however, and Pittsburg is still a member of the plucky young organization. Just what is to become of the Browns is a question. The association is dead, the league professes to want none of them, and now the brotherhood openly avows that St. Louis will not be taken in. Just what the opposition to the future great is is not known but it is supposed to arise from the feeling against Mr. Von der Ahe. John Ward's order to "have nothing to do with Chris Von der Ahe" seemed to have been obeyed to the letter at the meeting It seems hardly probable that all the great associations will allow such a city as St. Louis to go by the board. It is as good a ball town as any of them when properly managed, and a good club can always make money here. Can it be that there is an organized effort to run Mr. Von der Ahe out of base-ball, and when this is accomplished to put a strong club in here? It would seem that such was the case.
-The Daily Inter Ocean, December 21, 1889

Monday, July 19, 2010

We Got Jokes

Two nines composed of drug-clerks are about to play a game of base-ball in St. Louis. As they haven't yet decided on a name, we suggest that one be called "Qui-nine" and the other "Strych-nine."-New York Tribune
-The Vermont Watchman, June 12, 1889

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Those Terrible Sinners In St. Louis

St. Louis prides itself on its amateur base ball clubs, and such faith have the residents of that town in the harmlessness of the game, and to show that it is an innocent one, the authorities allows it to be played on the Sabbath. In fact, very few games are played on any other day of the week, and a recent Monday issue of one of the St. Louis organs devotes considerable space to the account of two "great" amateur games, and mentioning in addition about a dozen minor games, all played on Sunday.
-Inter Ocean, July 16, 1874

Again (and again and again), I go back to the cultural differences between St. Louis, which was settled by the French and had a large Creole population, and the rest of the country, which was, generally speaking, settled by Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Creole, Catholic St. Louis simply had a different view of how the Sabbath was to be observed. As the Creole influence wained over time, St. Louis would join with the rest of the country and enact blue laws but this wasn't the case in 1874 and there was no reason for the Chicago papers to get all snotty about it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

That's Good Money

The St. Louis Agricultural and Mechanical Association offer premiums to the amount of five hundred dollars to be contested for by base ball clubs during the fair to come off early in October, the winning club to receive three hundred dollars, the second best one hundred and fifty dollars, and the third best fifty dollars.
-The Daily Cleveland Herald, September 5, 1868

Since I have to assume that the Empire and Union Clubs entered this little tournament and placed in the money, this raises the question of what was done with the money? Did the players get a cut? Did it go to the club to help pay for general expenses?

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Lincoln Baseball Legend: Apotheosis

Abraham Lincoln is lying near death following the shooing at Ford's Theatre. With his closest advisers gathered around him, he calls over Major General Abner Doubleday. "Abner," whispers Lincoln, "don'" And with those final words, Lincoln goes down swinging.
-Baseball Anecdotes

To their credit, Daniel Okrent and Steve Wulf, the authors of Baseball Anecdotes, don't let the above story pass without noting that it has no basis in fact. Do I even need to debunk it for you?

Just for the record, Lincoln never spoke after being shot at Ford's Theatre. Doubleday was not at the Peterson House when Lincoln died. Case closed.

Interestingly, I believe that Doubleday was stationed in Washington at the time of the assassination and, while I read somewhere that Lincoln and Doubleday never met, Doubleday travelled with Lincoln to Gettysburg in November of 1863 and was at social events with Lincoln during the war years. Did they meet? Did they know each other? Maybe. Probably. But that's not exactly relevant. While there is some facts to support the possibility that the Lincoln/Doubleday deathbed legend could have occurred, there's more than enough evidence to show that it unquestionably did not happen.

The story, as far as I can tell, is attributed to Bill Stern, the sportscaster, and probably dates back to the late 1930s or 1940s. Stern was, to say the least, a fanciful storyteller with a vivid imagination and these traits made him a successful radio personality. Whether Stern made the story up himself or had heard it from someone else is unknown.

Another version of the story exists where Lincoln's last words are "Don't let them kill the great game, Abner."

Regardless of how the story came about or what version we're talking about, this is just extraordinary myth-making. It furthers both the image of Lincoln as man of the people as well as the image of baseball as America's game. Lincoln, who was despised by a large percentage of the country for most of the 19th century, loved the game that so many of us love. He was one of us. Baseball, a game whose purely American origins were questioned, was blessed by the Greatest of All Americans. It's our game, an American game. Lincoln loved the game so much, loved his country so much, that his last thoughts were of baseball. Baseball is so American, so wholesome and good, that St. Abraham was thinking of the game in his final moments. There simply is not a better example of the Lincoln baseball legend than the deathbed story. It encapsulates just about everything there is to know about both the Lincoln legend and the baseball origins legend. It's perfect and beautiful.

I could prattle on and on about Lincoln and baseball, fact and legend. But I want to get back to St. Louis baseball so I'll just recommend a few books. I've already mentioned David Herbert Donald's biography of Lincoln. It's an excellent book and if you're looking for a Lincoln biography, this is the one you should read. Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory by Barry Schwartz and Lincoln in American Memory by Merrill Peterson are probably the two best books on the Lincoln legend, how and why it was created, and what it all means. I'd also recommend a little book called Land of Lincoln by Andrew Ferguson. Not as heavy or serious as the Schwartz and Peterson books, it takes a look at how Lincoln is portrayed and thought of in modern America. It's actually kind of funny, as well as illuminating.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Lincoln Baseball Legend: The Great Ball Player

Sometimes on sunny afternoons, such as those in early June [1856,] Ben McQueston, a clerk at J.W. Matheny's store, would call up the stairway to the law office, "Mr. Lincoln, we are going to play ball." Unless something very pressing was on the table, Lincoln gladly trotted down to a field with the others and played whatever game was on, often a version of "town ball" or rudimentary baseball. "Everybody played ball," McQuestion said. "There was nothing incongruous about a leading lawyer like Lincoln joining in with tradesmen, clerks, and professional men for an afternoon's amusement. Everyone had time for recreation and business did not suffer."
-The Case of Abraham Lincoln

The source for this story, which appears in a book about one of Lincoln's more interesting legal cases, was a newspaper article in the February 18, 1920 Weekly Kansas City Star that was entitled "Fought Fires with Lincoln Sixty-Five Years Ago." McQueston, a resident of Springfield, was a member of a volunteer fire company, serving with Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln Great Ball Player

Decatur, Ills., February 16.-That Abraham Lincoln was a great ball player as the game was played in those days, is the statement of Mrs. Rachel Billington, who on February 12 celebrated her ninetieth birthday. Mrs. Billington lived only a few doors away from the Lincoln family at Springfield and also knew the statesmen later as a lawyer in Decatur. "In those days," says Mrs. Billington, "the batter stood with his back to a wall and Lincoln could hit the ball every time it was pitched to him."
-Sporting Life, February 21, 1914

The most interesting thing to me here is that the game that Mrs. Billington saw played had the batter standing against the wall. When I was a kid, many of the versions of ball that we played, most notably corkball, was played with the batter hitting in front of a wall. You didn't need a catcher that way and you could also chalk out the strike zone on the wall. In fact, the old Illinois Bell building in downtown Granite City, Illinois (in whose parking lot many a games of corkball were played) for a long time had a spray-painted strike zone on the wall (the work, I imagine, of some baseball-playing vandal; and, no, it wasn't me).

As I've mentioned before, Lincoln, when he moved to Illinois, arrived in a community that had a vibrant ballplaying culture. A baseball variant, that the locals specifically remembered as being called town ball, was played in central Illinois in the 1820s and 1830s. Other ball games that were played during the antebellum era included bullpen, cross out and long town. I mentioned in a previous post that Lincoln had a reputation as a being a good fives player. Ball playing was a large part of the culture of central Illinois and it would have been atypical of Lincoln not to take part in these games.

Lincoln was a large man, standing six foot four, and was uncommonly tall for his time. While thin, he was a solidly built man, having spent his youth as a farmer and laborer, and was known for having great strength. Andrew Kirk, who was interviewed by Herndon in 1887, remembered Lincoln picking up and throwing a cannon ball. There's a famous story about the young Lincoln arriving in New Salem and engaging in and winning a wrestling match with the strongest and toughest young man in the area. There are also plenty of stories about Lincoln winning foot races. What one has to take away from all the evidence is that Lincoln was a very good, natural athlete.

A good athlete and living in a community of ball players, it's almost unthinkable that Lincoln would not have played baseball and, as I've shown above, there is plenty of evidence that he did. Lincoln's friends and neighbors were unambiguous on that point:

I knew Lincoln as early as 1834...We played old fashioned town ball...Lincoln played town ball...Lincoln was a good player-could catch a ball...
-James Gourly, interviewed by William Herndon in 1865 and 1866

Did Lincoln play the New York version of baseball that became all the rage in the late 1850s? There is no evidence to suggest that he did and it's highly unlikely. It's possible that he saw the game played in Illinois in the late 1850s and likely that he saw the game when he lived in Washington but there is no evidence that he ever played the New York game. However, Lincoln did play a local version of baseball that the people of central Illinois called town ball. There is plenty of evidence that Lincoln was a ballplayer and that he was a rather good one.

One more thing I should mention: There's a great deal of evidence of ballplaying in Illinois before Lincoln arrived and while he was living there. Having looked at a lot of the sources, it's easy to speak intelligently about that. There is much less evidence of ballplaying in Indiana and Kentucky during Lincoln's youth. I've looked at some of the local histories and haven't found much and what little I did find was about southwestern Indiana. However, in 1866, Herndon interviewed Burnbry B. Lloyd, who appears to have known the Lincolns while they lived in Kentucky. Lloyd mentioned that people in Kentucky, during that time, played ball and specifically mentioned "corner ball, called bullpen, cat & town ball."

This is significant for two reasons. First, this is evidence that Lincoln was exposed to ball games from a very young age and may have participated in these games while a child in Kentucky. More importantly, if Lloyd is speaking about Kentucky during the time when Lincoln lived there, as he appears to be doing, then this is evidence of ballplaying in western Kentucky prior to 1816. This would be the earliest reference to baseball in the West that I've seen and, combined with the Gratiot reference, presents a portrait of a ballplaying culture in the West that goes back to the 18th century. I'll have to put up a specific post on this once I do some more digging. But I'm very intrigued by the Lloyd reference.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Lincoln Baseball Legend: Postville

A fire in 1857 destroyed Logan County's records, so little is known about the cases Lincoln handled at Postville. Once, when Lincoln was absent from a court session, Judge Treat sent the sheriff, Dr. Deskins, to find him. Deskins finally found Lincoln in Postville Park, "playing town ball with the boys."
-In Lincoln's Footsteps

Postville, Illinois was the county seat of Logan County and was part of the Eighth Judicial Circuit that Lincoln travelled while practicing law. Riding the circuit, Lincoln would have been in Postville twice a year from 1839 to 1847. Among all the Lincoln baseball stories that have been collected, the Postville reference was new to me and, considering that I found it in a book published in 2002, I was rather skeptical about it.

The earliest reference to Lincoln playing town ball in Postville that I've found occurs in a footnote in Honest Abe by Alonzo and John Rothschild, which was published in 1911. Supposedly, Lincoln was representing a client in Postville who, while testifying, was caught in lie. When his client was proven to have been untruthful, Lincoln got up and left the courtroom. When Judge Treat noticed Lincoln's absence, he sent the sheriff to go find him and bring him back. The sheriff, according to the main text of Honest Abe, found Lincoln in a tavern across the street from the courthouse, with his feet up on the stove. When informed that the judge wanted him back in the courtroom, Lincoln answered that he couldn't return. "My hands are dirty and I came over here to clean them," Lincoln was reported to have said.

This, of course, is an anecdote about Lincoln's character and honesty. The saintly Lincoln could not abide representing a client who would lie on the stand and he felt personally sullied by doing so. Another version of the story states that when Judge Treat heard what Lincoln had said, he exclaimed "Honest Abe" thus coining a nickname. The figure of speech that Lincoln used in responding to the sheriff may have been first attributed to Horace Binney, a prominent 19th century lawyer from Philadelphia, and then later incorporated into the Lincoln legend. In the notes, the story is attributed to Ward Lamon, one of Lincoln's law partners, and Francis F. Browne, whose Lincoln biography was published in 1914.

Also in the notes, however, it states that "According to [Stringer,] Lincoln was found, not at the tavern, but in the Postville Park, playing townball with the boys." "Stringer," although not mentioned in the bibliography, is most likely Lawrence Stringer, who wrote a history of Logan County that was published in 1911 and included a chapter on Lincoln. I haven't had an opportunity to check Stringer's history and can't say what his source is.

The Postville town ball story simply does not have the ring of truth about it. Abraham Lincoln walked out on a case because he was morally upset about his client's lack of veracity and then a short while later was found playing town ball. I don't buy it. The fact that there are multiple versions of the story that contradict each other also adds to my skepticism as does the fact that the entire story seems to have been constructed to support the image of the saintly Lincoln. The entire thing smells of Lincoln the legend rather than Lincoln the man.

However, I don't discount completely the possibility that Lincoln may have played town ball in Postville. It was not out of character for Lincoln, even after becoming a successful attorney, to do so. Tomorrow, I'll present some of the evidence that supports the idea that Lincoln played town ball. But as far as this specific Postville reference is concerned, I believe that it's a piece of myth-making.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Lincoln Baseball Legend: Abe Goes To The Game

George Kirsch, in Baseball in Blue & Gray, tells the following tale:

Certainly as president, Lincoln had ample opportunity to see a baseball game. Before, during, and after the war baseball clubs competed on the President's Grounds near the White House in Washington, D.C...According to [Winfield Scott Larner,] Lincoln and his son Tad watched the contest from a spot along the first base line, cheering with their fellow fans and also receiving an ovation from the crowd.

This quote appears, unattributed, at Baseball Almanac:

At about six o'clock, the President, who was prevented from appearing earlier on account of the semi-weekly Cabinet meeting, came on the ground and remained until the close of the game (Washington 28 vs Brooklyn Excelsiors 33), an apparently interested spectator of the exciting contest.

There's also another version of this story that I have in my notes that gives the interesting detail of Lincoln and his son eating peanuts at the game and the ground around their feet being covered in peanut shells.

I'm inclined to give some credence to this story for a few reasons. First, Lincoln was a man who enjoyed athletics and athletic contests. He had a reputation as a good athlete and there are numerous accounts, told by people who knew him, of Lincoln participating in athletic contests, including town ball (which I'll cover in another post). He was also a man who enjoyed people. He enjoyed sitting around with people. He loved talking to people, telling and listening to stories. I believe that it would be in Lincoln's character to go to a baseball game and to enjoy himself while there.

Second, Lincoln certainly had the opportunity to go to a game. As Kirsch noted, there was a ballpark in his backyard. Also, while Lincoln was obviously under a great deal of pressure during his time in office and the crush of business was, at times, overwhelming, there were also periods when there was nothing going on. There were moments during the war when the armies were inactive and when Congress wasn't in session. During these times, Lincoln really had rather little to do. While I doubt that Lincoln went to a baseball game during the first few days of July in 1863 or when Republicans in Congress were trying to force various cabinet members from office or during one of the diplomatic crises with England, the Lincoln administration was not one crisis after another, twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. There were quiet moments when Lincoln was able to find time for rest and relaxation and I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that he could have taken his son to a baseball game.

Lastly, and most importantly, there was Lincoln's relationship with his son Tad. Lincoln's love of children is well documented and, while his relationship with his oldest son Robert was rather strained, he was particularly found of his younger sons, Willie and Tad. A doating father, his younger sons were spoiled by Lincoln and his wife. Donald, in his biography of Lincoln, writes about the relationship between Lincoln and his son:

Lincoln drew much comfort from Tad, to whom he became even more attached after the death of Willie. He spent much time playing with the boy, and he helped him raise his kitten and train his dog...Because of his speech defect most people could not understand Tad, but his father always could-and he knew how frustrated the child became when he could not express himself...In turn, Tad adored his father, and he would often hang around the President's office until late at night, sometimes falling asleep on one of the couches or chairs. When Lincoln got ready to retire, he would pick the boy up and carry him off to his big bed, where Tad now mostly slept.

Given Lincoln's personality and the relationship between he and his son, I find it entirely believable that he would take his son to see a baseball game. If Lincoln had the time and inclination to see a game, it would be reasonable that he would take his son, to whom he was devoted, along with him (as he did most notably on his visit to Richmond in 1865). If the young boy was bitten by the baseball bug and wanted to see a game, I can easily imagine him begging his father to take him to see a game and Lincoln agreeing to his wishes.

However, it must be stated that there is no primary source evidence that Lincoln attended a baseball game in Washington while he was President. As I've argued, the accounts of Lincoln attending a game are reasonably believable and shouldn't be dismissed out of hand but all we can do is speculate. Personally, I'd like to know more about the baseball grounds in Washington, about the history of the game in Washington during the war years, and find a date for the Washington/Brooklyn game. I think that adding that information to what we already know about Lincoln would strengthen the argument that he attended a baseball game while President.

One more thing that I'll just throw out there without any evidence to support it and without really thinking it through: Lincoln visited the Army of the Potomac on numerous occasions, often staying overnight at the camp. Given all we now know about baseball during the Civil War and about specific instances of baseball activity among the troops, isn't it possible that Lincoln may have seen a baseball game being played during one of his visits? I have no idea if he did or did not or if the scenario is entirely realistic but the thought occurred to me and I figured I'd throw it out there.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Lincoln Baseball Legend: The Notification Story

How Lincoln Received The Nomination.-When the news of Lincoln's nominations reached Springfield, his friends were greatly excited, and hastened to inform "Old Abe" of it. He could not be found at his office or at home, but after some minutes the messenger discovered him out in a field with a parcel of boys, having a pleasant game of town-ball. All his comrades immediately threw up their hats and commenced to hurrah. Abe grinned considerably, scratched his head and said, "Go on boys; don't let such nonsense spoil a good game." The boys did go on with their bawling, but not with the game of ball. They got out an old rusty cannon and made it ring, while the tall Sucker went home to think of his chances.
-Daily Evening Bulletin, June 16, 1860

During the sitting of the convention Lincoln had been trying, in one way and another, to keep down the excitement which was pent up within him, playing billiards a little, town ball a little, and story-telling a little.
-Life and Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 1

A while back I picked up a copy of David Herbert Donald's biography of Abraham Lincoln. It was recommended to me as the best modern biography of our sixteenth president and I agree that it's a fine work. With my interest in 19th century baseball, I read the book with one eye on anything baseball related and while there is nothing specifically baseball related mentioned, there were a few things that I thought were of interest.

One of the more interesting things was Donald's description of the process by which Lincoln gained the 1860 Republican presidential nomination and what Lincoln was doing while the convention was in session:

While the Republican National Convention was in session, Lincoln went quietly about his business in Springfield, but he eagerly sought to learn what was going on in Chicago. Up early on Friday, May 18, the day when nominations were to be made, he passed some time playing "fives"-a variety of handball-with some other men in a vacant lot next to the Illinois State Journal office. Learning that James C. Conkling had unexpectedly returned from Chicago, he went over to his law office to hear the latest news from the convention. Stretched out on an old settee, so short that his feet stuck out over the end, he listened to Conkling's prediction that Seward could not be nominated and that the convention would choose Lincoln. Lincoln demurred, unwilling to tempt fate by being overoptimistic, and said that either Bates or Chase would probably be the choice. Getting up, he announced: "Well, Conkling, I believe I will go back to by office and practice law.
At the Lincoln & Herndon office Baker, of the Illinois State Journal, came in with telegrams announcing that the names of the candidates had been placed in nomination and that Lincoln's was received with great enthusiasm. Shortly afterward, a new telegram announced the result of the first ballot...Giving no indication of his feelings, Lincoln went over to the telegraph office, where a report on the second ballot was just coming in...Lincoln then awaited the results of the third ballot in the Journal office. As he had anticipated this was the last ballot. Seward retained most of his strength, but nearly all the other delegates flocked to Lincoln...

"I knew this would come when I saw the second ballot," Lincoln remarked as he accepted the congratulations of his fellow townsmen. Emerging from the Journal office, he said jokingly to the ball players who broke off their game to congratulate him: "Gentlemen, you had better come up and shake my hand while you can-honors elevate some men." Then he headed for home, explaining: "Well Gentlemen there is a little woman at our house who is probably more interested in this dispatch than I am."

Donald's source for this information comes from Jess Weik's The Real Lincoln. Weik's was also the co-writer of Herndon's Lincoln or, as it's officially titled, Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner at the time of the nomination, did an extraordinary amount of research into Lincoln's life, beginning shortly after the assassination in 1865. Over a twenty year period, he conducted interviews with the people who knew Lincoln (including family, friends, neighbors, enemies, etc.) and it's this collection of primary source material that Weik's transformed into what is probably the most important biography of Lincoln ever written. So Donald, for his story of the Lincoln notification, went, in Weik, to probably the best source he could. While I haven't been able to ascertain whether or not Herndon was an eyewitness to any of this (he and Lincoln had had a bit of a falling out during the campaign), Herndon did know all the people who were with Lincoln on the day of the nomination and interviewed many of them. And Weik was working off of Herndon's notes as well as his own research.

I happen to have a copy of Weik's Lincoln biography. He described Lincoln, on May 18, as being, naturally enough, nervous and restless. He then gives E.L. Baker's account of that day. Baker was the editor of the "Springfield Journal" and was with Lincoln for a great deal of the day:

Met Lincoln and we went to ball alley to play at fives-alley was full-said it was pre-engaged; then went to excellent beer saloon near by to play game of billiards; table was full and we each drank a glass of beer; then went to Journal office expecting to hear result of ballot...

I can go on and on with accounts from people who were with Lincoln on May 18, 1860 and not one person mentions town ball. The Lincoln notification town ball story is simply not true. Lincoln was not playing town ball when he was notified that he had won the Republican nomination for president.

How and why that story developed and spread is rather interesting but is the subject for another time. I am absolutely fascinated by the legend that developed around Lincoln and how that merged with the legends about the origins of baseball. You have apotheosis and myth-making and nationalism and the bloody flag and economic interests all coming together at the same time to create a Lincoln baseball myth. One of the interesting things about it is that there is some reality behind the legend. It wasn't made up out of whole cloth. I'm finding it interesting to separate the facts from the legend and trace the development of the legend. But, again, that's a post another day.

As far as the notification story is concerned, the fact is that Lincoln was not playing town ball that day. He did appear to want to play fives, which he was rather good at, but was unable to because the court was already in use and did play some billiards. So Lincoln did play "ball" on the day of his nomination but it was billiards rather than baseball. Also, there was a delegation that came to Springfield to inform him officially of his nomination (a fact that plays a part in another version of the notification story). They arrived in Springfield on May 19 at seven o'clock in the evening and found Lincoln at his home, where he was officially notified that he was the Republican nominee for president. Again, he was not playing town ball when this happened.

The Lincoln notification story is a legend and did not happen. It appears that there are some facts surrounding the events of May 18, 1860 that were misconstrued and misinterpreted, leading to the creation of the legend. But we have more than sufficient primary source material to reconstruct what Lincoln was doing on the day he was nominated and the bottom line is that he was not playing town ball.

Note: The image at the top of the post comes from the Albert Spalding collection and shows Lincoln being notified of his nomination while playing town ball. Spalding, of course, had a large roll in the creation of the both the Lincoln baseball legend and the baseball origin legend.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The End Of The Interregnum, Part Six

So where were we?

Pittsburg, October 10.-An informal meeting of representatives of the Independent League of Base Ball Clubs was held here this afternoon. After a short discussion it was decided to go no further at the present time than to elect temporary officers, appoint a committee on constitution and by-laws, and call an immediate second meeting. Thereupon the following temporary officers were chosen to act for the association until the election of permanent officers: President, M.F. Day, Metropolitan Club, New York; Vice President, Christ Von der Ahe, St. Louis; Recording Secretary and Treasurer, Jas. J. Williams, Columbus; Corresponding Secretary, H.D. McKnight, Pittsburg. Messes. Thorner of Cincinnati, Chas. Fulmer of Philadelphia, and a delegate to be appointed by the Louisville Club were named a committee to draft and present to the next meeting a constitution and by-laws to govern the association.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 11, 1881

This, I believe, is the first mention of the American Association in the Globe as well as the first mention of Von der Ahe's intention to enter his club into a new national baseball league.

The interesting thing, to me, is the timing of all of this. Von der Ahe's coup, in which he essentially seized control of the Brown Stockings from the StLBBA, took place during the first week of October and Von der Ahe had his new Brown Stocking club in place by October 3rd or 4th. By October 8th, he had the club back on the field at the Grand Avenue Grounds playing the Buckeyes of Cincinnati. On October 10th, he enters the club into the new American Association, ending the St. Louis baseball interregnum of 1878-1881.

I've said many a times that I don't believe in coincidence and I certainly don't believe that it's a coincidence that at the same time VdA was seizing control of the St. Louis professional baseball market, he was also involved in forming the AA. Pulling The Beer & Whiskey League off the shelf, we see that David Nemec writes that O.P. Caylor and Horace Phillips were meeting in Philadelphia in September discussing the formation of the new league and that Phillips had sent invitations to this meeting to baseball men in the various cities that were without League baseball. One has to assume that VdA was aware of the meeting and of this attempt to form a new league. When a new invitation was sent out for the October 10th meeting, VdA took action. His coup against the StLBBA has to be seen in the context of the formation of the AA. Knowing that a new national baseball league was being formed and that St. Louis was being invited into the league, VdA, who already controlled the best baseball park in St. Louis, took control of the best baseball team in the city so that he, and he alone, would control the St. Louis professional baseball market and reap the financial benefits of having that control. It was a masterful power play on VdA's part and one that would, in a few years time, make him rich and famous.

I talked a bit about the 1881 season before and I think it's important to put the formation of the AA in the context of that season, as an anti-League group consisting of St. Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and New York came together and started playing games against each other. I think that the 1881 season and the games played between clubs from those cities is important because the games were a financial success (or they certainly were in St. Louis at least) and you had what must have been the beginning of a dialogue between people like VdA, Caylor, Phillips, Justus Thorner and others. The October 10th meeting and the AA didn't happen overnight. Caylor's Cincinnati club was in St. Louis in May. Phillips' Athletics were in St. Louis during the first week of September. These guys were most likely talking amongst themselves all year long. This is one of the reasons why I find the August 24th meeting between VdA and the Brown Stockings players to be so significant. Out of context, it doesn't seem like a big deal but if there was a dialogue going on among the anti-League group throughout 1881 and things were coming to head with regards to the formation of a new league then one begins to see what exactly VdA was doing, how it tied in with the formation of the new league and why things happened in October the way they did.

By the beginning of November, after another meeting in Cincinnati, the AA was officially formed with the Brown Stockings as members and VdA on the board of directors. St. Louis had a professional baseball club in a major, national baseball league for the first time since 1877 and the interregnum was officially over. Chris Von der Ahe played a significant roll in all of this. He consolidated the ballpark and the club and helped form the new league. By November of 1881, VdA was the master of the St. Louis professional baseball market and had returned major league baseball to the city. Chris Von der Ahe was the one who ended the interregnum. Not the Spink brothers or August Solori or Ned Cuthbert or anybody else. The end of the interregnum came about because of the vision and efforts of Chis Von der Ahe.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

So This Is What Happened

First of all, I just want to say that my new keyboard feels odd. The old one was nicely broken in and this one will take some time to get used to. But dear Lord, it's nice to be able to write again. I promise that tomorrow I'll get back to baseball but first I want to tell you about my adventures over the last two months.

So sometime around the middle of May, I came home from work and got something to eat. I had the laptop out and was going to check the news, emails and whatnot while having dinner. I also grabbed a bottle of flavored water from the frig. I was at the dinning room table and opened the water, which promptly began to explode on me. Now I was standing right over my dinner and didn't want to get water all over my food so I turned to the left, moving the overflowing bottle of water with me. And it just so happened that I had the laptop opened and running to the left of my dinner.

Water all over the laptop. Curse words flying. I put the water down and grabbed for some napkins to dry off the laptop but the damage was done. My "a" button and the left shift key, I quickly came to discover, were no longer functional.

While the loss of the left shift key wasn't that big of a deal, the loss of the "a" was a serious problem. "A" is the third most used letter in the English alphabet, used more then any other letter except "e" and "t." You simply can't write without the "a," can't be done. Also, pretty much all of my passwords have an "a" in them, including the password to get into my laptop.

I discovered most of this the next morning when I tried to access my laptop but couldn't log on. I had to go into safe mode and change my password and quickly discovered that I could copy and paste the "a" whenever I really needed it. But there was no way I could write doing that. It was just to burdensome.

So the keyboard had to be replaced. Not a big deal. I have a Dell laptop so I went to Dell's website and purchased a refurbished keyboard for fifteen bucks. No problem at all. I figured I'd be back up and running in a week.

But no.

Dell sent me an email about a week after I had ordered the keyboard saying that they had to push back the shipment and it would be going out within the week. Okay. Not a problem. Things happen.

And then I got another email. Same deal. They had to postpone shipment. Only this time I had to okay things because of some kind of government regulation. So I sent of a quick email saying that I still wanted the keyboard and that they should ship it as soon as possible.

And then I got another email. Same deal. I again had to approve the continuation of the order or it would be canceled. At this point, I was a bit frustrated but, in all honesty, I was more upset at the federal government for making me have to continuously approve an order that I had already made and paid for.

And then I got another email. Same deal. Order postponed and, per the government, we need your approval to continue. By this time it was the first week of June and I've been dealing with this for almost a month. So I decided to take the bull by the horns and call Dell to see what was going on.

This is where it gets fun.

You probably have had the exact same experience with some other company so there's no real need to go into all the details. Nobody knows what's going on. Nobody has an answer. Nobody has a solution. And you just keep getting transferred from one person to another and having to retell your story over and over again. It's a bureaucratic nightmare. And that's what I had to deal with. When you get caught in the maze, it's like you can't stop because maybe the next person you get transferred to will have all the answers. But they never do.

The whole time I'm getting the run-around, all I can think is that we had made a contract. I give you money and you give me the product I selected. It was a very simple and basic social contract. They were in violation of this contract and nobody seemed to care. I was getting madder by the minute.

And then finally, I talked to a guy who came up with an answer and a solution. The reason, he said, that the order kept getting postponed was because that it was a very popular part. Okay, that makes some sense. My laptop is four years old and probably a popular model. Parts are in demand. I found that to be a reasonable explanation. He said that the best solution was to cancel the current order, refund my money and place a new order for the part, since they now had some in stock. Okay, again this sounded reasonable to me. This guy seemed to know what he was talking about and, since I needed and wanted the part, I was willing to take his advice.

He was a nice enough guy and seemed to care about helping me out. He not only put me in contact with a sales representative but he also stayed on the line, explained everything to her and basically acted as my agent in making the transaction. The old order was canceled, I got my money back and I began to place a new order.

And this is the point of the story where I about lost it. Rather then simply reselling me the part I wanted, the sales woman tried to sell me a brand new keyboard for sixty dollar. I don't mean that she gave me the sales pitch for a new keyboard but, rather, that she was trying to charge me sixty bucks for a new keyboard after cancelling the fifteen dollar, refurbished keyboard.

Dell gave me the run-around for a month and then tried a bait and switch.

I was not happy. I believe I told them something along the lines of "I will not, under any circumstances, give you more than fifteen dollars. I will not, under any circumstances, pay you one penny more then we had agreed to for this keyboard." I told them that if they didn't have the keyboard for the price we had agreed to that I'll just cancel the transaction. At that point, the sales women agreed to sell me the refurbished keyboard for fifteen bucks and the guy who was still on the line offered to wave shipping costs.

So that worked out, I thought. I complained a bit and saved a few bucks. The squeaky wheel got some grease. I'd have my keyboard in a week.

Meanwhile, as I waited patiently for my keyboard to be delivered, I went out of town for about five days. A little vacation. When I got back, the part still hadn't arrived. The next day, I got an email from Dell.

Same deal. Postponed a week.

And then I got another email a week later. Same deal. Postponed a week. Would I like to continue with the order?

I was done with Dell at that point and I called them up and canceled the order. By now, it was the first week of July.

The reason that I was so patient with Dell was that this was a difficult part to find. Newegg didn't have it and the only other place I found it online didn't exactly seem reputable. I couldn't find the dang thing anywhere but Dell. But having given up on them, I started searching again and two days ago, I found a brand new keyboard at Amazon for fifteen bucks. Brand spanking new. With one day shipping, I got the part for thirty bucks. Which was half what Dell wanted to sell me a new one for. The bastardos.

Literally the next day, UPS dropped the thing off on my porch. The next day. Dell jerked me around for almost two months. Amazon got me the part in twenty-four hours.

All's well that ends well and all of that but I'll never do business with Dell again. And my love for Amazon (which was already pretty intense to begin with) now knows no bounds. I went back to Amazon today and showed them a bit of appreciation by purchasing a 320 gb external hard drive. Almost went with the 1 tb but they're just too bulky and 320 gigs is more than enough for the laptop. Do you see what you lost there, Dell? It's called business. It's called money. If you had treated me better I might have bought that from you. Now you get nothing from me.

But enough of that nonsense. Tomorrow, I promise you that it'll be all baseball.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Back With A Vengeance

I have finally, after almost two months, replaced my laptop keyboard and can now type and post and do all that good stuff that I haven't been able to do without the "a" key. Good times. I have a rather interesting story to tell tomorrow about my adventures with the Dell computer company and, trust me, I will tell the story. Also, I've been doing a bunch of reading about Abraham Lincoln and some research into the Lincoln baseball legend. I've found some interesting things, some of which I haven't seen anywhere else. So I'll probably get back into the swing of things by talking about Lincoln a bit. But only after I wrap up the stuff about Von der Ahe and the end of the Interregnum.

I'm very excited to be back because I've missed this more than you can imagine and more than I thought I would. Any inclination that I ever had to stop blogging is now seriously gone. I'm tan, rested, relaxed and back with a vengeance.

To celebrate, here's some Neil Young for you:

Down By The River (probably my favorite Neil song) and backed by CSN.

Tonight's The Night.

Powderfinger (I also really like the Cowboy Junkies version of this song).

What the heck. Here's the Junkies version.

It's good to be back.