Friday, February 25, 2011

Caruthers Sold To Brooklyn

Before this evening's sun disappears Bod Caruthers, the best ball player in the Brown Stocking team, will have signed with Brooklyn for next season. Mr. Von der Ahe had up to the time of his departure for the East resolved to keep Caruthers on his team for next year, but he could not withstand Charley Byrne's big offer, and St. Louis loses the twirler. The amount paid for his release is $9000, and Caruthers will receive $5000. It is $500 of this amount which delayed the deal yesterday, otherwise Caruthers would have been signed last night. He asks Byrne for $4500 salary and $500 for his consent to the transfer. Byrne is willing to pay the amount asked for salary, but objects to the $500 for the transfer, and this is what is delaying the deal. Joe Pritchard, who has been representing the Brooklyn people here, has kept a watchful eye on Caruthers, to see that he was not approached by any other manager. The genial Sporting Life correspondent was dumbfounded yesterday when Gus Schmelz, the manager of the Cincinnati club, dropped into the Laclede Hotel. Joe and Gus are fast friends, but this was a matter of business, and Joe kept a watchful eye on Schmelz. Gus made no secret of the matter that he had come for Caruthers, and took Bob aside to have a long talk with him. The twirler admitted that he would just as soon sign with Cincinnati as with Brooklyn, that it was the stuff he was after, and if given his price, viz., $5000, he would sign with anybody. As a result, a message flashed over the wire to Mr. Von der Ahe in New York, asking him to put a price on Caruthers, stating that Cincinnati would pay almost any price for the great pitcher. Gus waited long and patiently for the answer, which never came. Up to midnight no reply had been received. It is not probable that Von der Ahe will release Caruthers to Cincinnati anyhow. The Porkopolitans are very strong now for the Browns' very much weakened team, and would have a walkover next season if given Caruthers to alternate with Smith and Mullane. Von der Ahe understands this, and while he is willing to make all he can out of the deal, he does not wish to see his once champion club made a show of next season. As soon as Pritchard saw Schmelz he took Caruthers in tow, and Gus had but little chance to speak to him. After supper Joe sent Caruthers over to Schaefer's billiard parlor to play billiards all evening, while he invited Gus to go to the theater with him. Seeing that he could do nothing, Gus consented, and the pair were together all evening. At 11 o'clock last night the scene was shifted to the Laclede again, where Caruthers, Pritchard, Schmelz and a Globe-Democrat reporter formed a group. Pritchard was very anxiously awaiting an answer to telegrams sent to Byrne. As soon as Pritchard found that Schmelz was in town he sent telegrams to Byrne telling him that the scent was getting very hot, to hurry and close the bargain. In reply he received a telegram stating that as far as he and Von der Ahe were concerned, Caruthers was all right, and to sigh the pitcher. Pritchard put a contract for $4500 under Bob's nose, but the latter said, "No; not without the $500." Not having authority to sign Bob at these figures, he wired Byrne the facts in the case. The latter no doubt had gone out with Von der Ahe, secure and happy in the belief that Caruthers was a Brooklyn player, and not returning until late, did not receive the telegram. At any rate, no reply had been received up to an early hour this morning. There is no doubt, however, that the deal will be perfected, as Byrne will not let a paltry $500 stand in his way after expending $13,500. A favorable reply will be received this morning, and before night Caruthers will be a Brooklyn player. This move will be regretted by Caruther's thousands of admirers in this city. He was a very popular player, and will be a tower of strength to the team from the City of Churches.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, November 25, 1887

The machinations surrounding the Caruthers sale are fascinating and read a bit like something out of a Cold War spy novel.

One of the things that I don't understand is how all of this came to be explained as a function of Von der Ahe's stupidity and greed. The usual explanation for the sale that you hear is that Von der Ahe broke up his championship club and sold off his players for the money. Money played a part in this but, I believe, only to the extent that this was how player transactions took place during the era. Teams were paid to release a player, who then signed with the club that paid for his release. But this wasn't really about money; this wasn't really a fire sale. Von der Ahe didn't have to make any of these moves. They were strategic moves rather than financial moves. And I would have to imagine that later descriptions of the sales as being motivated by greed and financial necessity was a result of Von der Ahe's deteriorating relationship with the press in the 1890s as well as a projection of the impact of Von der Ahe's financial troubles and poor management decisions during that period onto his past actions. The idea of Von der Ahe selling off his best players for the money and destroying his championship team became part of the mythology surrounding Von der Ahe. It became part of the caricature of Von der Ahe that continues to be presented and accepted today regardless of historical fact.

I'll get into all of that when I try to wrap this up. But we still need to finalize the Caruthers deal, look at the fallout and get Foutz sold to Brooklyn.

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