Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Von der Ahe Arrested For Employing Labor On The Sabbath

Last week at Viva El Birdos, Larry Borowsky posted an interview with Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who has just published a new book, 100 Things Cardinal Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die. In the introduction to the interview, Larry wrote that he had "never heard the one about team owner [Chris Von der Ahe] getting arrested in the second inning of an 1887 game and charged with conducting business on a [Sunday]..." Well, I had never heard that one either and, given my interest in the history of Sunday baseball in St. Louis, I had to find out what this was all about. A quick search led me to the relevant article.

The Browns and Baltimores played one inning yesterday, when the game was stopped by the police and Von der Ahe was arrested. A crowd of fully 10,000 people assembled to witness the game, many no doubt being attracted by curiosity and in the hope of seeing some excitement to vary the monotony of the Sabbath. All arrangements had been perfected in anticipation of what transpired. Every person who paid his way into the grounds was given a check which would admit him to any future game in the event of yesterday's game being stopped. A squad of twenty-five mounted police were on the grounds, under the leadership of Sergt. Floerich. The Baltimore team arrived early on the grounds, but were instructed to remain off the field. At 3:10 the gong was rung, and the home team proceeded to their places for practice. Ten minutes later the Baltimores came on the field amidst a perfect storm of applause, and after ten minutes' practice for the visitors the gong was rung and Umpire Ferguson proceeded to call "time." The Baltimores took the field, and the game commenced. In the meantime a squad of police formed in line at the western end of the grand-stand, and another across near the dressing-rooms. Latham opened by hitting to center for a base, and reached second on a passed ball. Gleason hit to Kilroy, who caught Latham between second and third, where he was run down, Gleason reaching second on the play. He reached third on O'Neill's out, but was left, Comiskey striking out. Greenwood flew out to Robinson, Purcell went out on an assist of Gleason's. Burns hit through Gleason and stole second, but was left, Tucker flying out to Welch.

Caruthers had stepped up to the plate for the second inning, when Sergt. Floerich stepped up to Bob Ferguson, and said:

"You will have to stop the game."

"All right, sir," said Bob-"Time!"

And ball playing for the day was at an end.

During the progress of the first inning Sergt. Floerich went up to the Director's box, where Mr. Von der Ahe was sitting. The Sergeant stepped up to the Browns' President, accompanied by Detectives Howard and Harrington.

"Mr. Von der Ahe, I will have to place you under arrest," he said.

"All right," was the response, "although I wish you had allowed us to play a few more innings, as the game was very interesting."

Mr. Von der Ahe smiled as he arose to accompany the detectives. An omnibus had been provided for the occasion, and the detectives, Mr. Von der Ahe, Wm. Medart, Jos. G. Lodge, Judge Scott and the Globe-Democrat reporter jumped in and were driven rapidly to the Fair Grounds Sub-Station, where a charge of breaking the Sunday law was preferred against Mr. Von der Ahe. The party was evidently expected at the station, as quite a crowd had gathered to watch the developments. In the station the prisoner and his friends were greeted by Chief Huebler, who immediately telephoned for Judge Noonan to accept the offender's bond. After a short delay, Judge Noonan arrived and the bond, but $100, or double the maximum penalty for breaking the law, was accepted, Wm. Medart subscribing to it. The Judge had evidently taken advantage of the Noonan Sunday law decision and was enjoying himself to his fullest capacity. The party was then driven back to the park, where they were greeted with shouts of applause, the crowd, no doubt, thinking that the playing would be renewed. As Chief Huebler, however, had given orders to arrest the players in case they attempted to play, Mr. Von der Ahe announced that the game was off.

When Sergt. Floerich stopped the game, the crowd, as if by one impulse, sprang into the field, and in a few seconds after the game was stopped, the diamond was filled with a surging mass of men, who hurled all kinds of vile epithets at the officers. At one time, it seemed as if personal violence would be offered them, but everything passed off smoothly, and in a short time after the players had left the field, the grounds were comparatively deserted.

The Baltimore team had made arrangements to leave for Cleveland last night, but, after the interference, Manager Barnie consented to remain over and play the game off to-day. This act on his part should be appreciated to-day by giving the visitors a rousing reception.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 11, 1887

The law in question had gone into effect on June 19, 1887 and prohibited labor or the employment of labor on the Sabbath. However, the Globe stated, on June 15th, that the City Counselor had targeted the law at saloons, beer gardens, pool halls and baseball and noted that "bakeries, barber-shops, baths, cabs, carriages and baggage-wagons, drug stores, gas and electric light companies, hotels, ice-dealers, laundries, livery stables and undertakers, meat-shops, milk depots, news-stands, physicians, restaurants, street cars, telegraph companies, and ticket offices" were not effected by the law. The Globe also noted on June 22 that Von der Ahe planned to test the new law and would not alter the Browns schedule. The saloons and beer gardens targeted also were going to fight the law.

The law began to be enforced on June 26 and by June 29, after the first arrests, it was being challenged in court. On July 9, most of the law was struck down by Judge Noonan, although he declared that the ban on the sale of whiskey was legal under Missouri law. The Chief of Police in St. Louis then ordered his men to "arrest and prosecute all persons pending or hawking their wares...on Sunday." The Globe, on July 14, stated that this order was the result of "an old ordinance which has existed on the books for years, more as a curiosity than anything else." This law may be the one that was being enforced in 1864, but that is unclear.

On July 15, Von der Ahe had his day in court and did not contest the facts of the charges against him. Under cross-examination, Sgt. Floerich testified "that the games had been played in the park for twelve years on Sundays and they had always been quiet and orderly, and had never been interfered with before." He also noted that the "ball-grounds were a private property." The defense, which included testimony from Congressman John O'Neill and former Union club member Charles Turner, essentially consisted of stating how wonderful a game baseball was and how orderly the crowds were at the games. They also argued that the law "had not in its purview the game of base-ball, but its application to labor was only to servile labor. [They] quoted other laws to show that the game of ball and kindred amusements were not prohibited...[arguing] that the law did not apply to sports and games, other than what are known as gambling games."

After a deliberation of two hours, Judge Noonan returned an opinion agreeing with the argument of the defense. He explicitly stated that the law only applied to servile labor and gambling games such as horse-racing and cock-fighting. "The evidence shows," he wrote, "that the base-ball playing was in private grounds, and no noise disturbing the peace of the neighborhood resulted therefrom, and the Court decided that the defendant committed no offense under the statute in playing base-ball and discharged him." The law did not prohibit "either expressly or by construction, base-ball, carried on decently, orderly and quietly on Sunday. I might say, in addition to this, that the game was a reasonable sport, and use of nature's powers, and, while the evidence showed that money was taken and money paid to the players, it in my mind is not within the meaning of this statute, any more than would be the playing of any piano player or singer that might come into the home of a citizen on Sunday to contribute to his entertainment." The Globe headlined their article of July 16, reporting the decision, "Base-Ball Is Recreation."

I think it's safe to conclude, based on this incident and the Edwardsville movement in 1886, that there was a general Sabbatarian movement in St. Louis at this time and they made an attempt to target baseball games. However, Sunday baseball and a loosely-observed Sabbath was a part of the general culture of St. Louis and I think this found expression in Judge Noonan's decision. In the end, the Sabbatarian movement would succeed and blue laws would be enforced in Missouri into the 1980s. But, to the best of my knowledge, those laws never effected the playing of baseball in St. Louis on Sundays. This incident stands out as an exception to St. Louis' general tolerance of Sunday baseball.

Note: For those interested, the law under which Von der Ahe was arrested stated that "Every person who shall either labor himself or compel or permit his apprentice or servant or any other person under his charge or control to labor or perform any work, other than household offices of daily necessity, or other work of necessity or charity, or who shall be quilty of hunting game or shooting on the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not exceeding $50."

Also, I have to admit that I've changed the title of this post four times, attempting to accurately describe what happened. In the end, I think it's accurate to state that Von der Ahe was not arrested for organizing a baseball game or engaging in business on a Sunday. He was arrested for compelling persons under his charge or control to labor on a Sunday. When I first started looking into this, I thought he was arrested for selling beer and whiskey on the Sabbath and that this had nothing to do with baseball but, after looking into it a bit more, I realized that I was wrong. The City Counsellor was targeting Von der Ahe and the Browns because they were playing professional baseball on a Sunday.

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