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.