Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The 1884 Maroons: I Can Never Get Back Into The League

Radbourne will not come to St. Louis.  The Providence management has reinstated him and expelled Sweeney, and he is now satisfied.  Sweeney,, however, will very likely come here... 
The Boston Globe of Sunday says: It was generally understood around the city last Sunday that Radbourn had signed with the St. Louis Unions, and will make his appearance with them on their return West.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 24, 1884

On the day after Sweeney's expulsion, the Grays faced a game against third-place New York.  Would Miller pitch, with his sore arm, after his horrible performance against the Phillies?  Or would the Grays send in the baby-faced, overmatched Conley?  Or had some other equivalent of a wooden cigar-store Indian been found? As the game was about to begin, the startled crowd at the Messer Street Grounds saw a familiar figure stroll to the box in his nonchalant, businesslike fashion, as a smattering of applause built to a crescendo of cheers. 
He was not leaving for St. Louis, after all.  Charlie Radbourn was back in a Grays uniform, and he was going to pitch.
-Fifty-nine in '84

So what happened?  According to several sources, Radbourn was going to jump to the Maroons.  It was a done-deal.  I'll let Brian McKenna explain, quoting from his SABR BioProject piece:

The Providence directors met to decide how to proceed with the rest of the season, or if to proceed at all. Few viable starters were available on the market with rosters stretched thin with upwards of 33 clubs that season spread over three major leagues. Their record stood at 43-19-1, a mere 2.5 games behind first place Boston in the standings and 5.5 games up on third place New York. After falling so close to the pennant in previous seasons, all of Providence wanted the chance to seize first place. Bancroft consulted with Radbourn and the directors. Ultimately, Rad agreed to pick up much of the slack through the rest of the season for consideration. In his words, “I’ll pitch every day and win the pennant for Providence, even if it costs me my right arm.” First, the reserve clause was stricken from his contract, allowing him to become a free agent at the end of the season. Second, his salary was raised substantially; in essence, Radbourn was paid the salary of two pitchers for the remainder of the season. Third, fearing that he was also in consultation with the Union Association, management gave him $1,000 according to newspaper accounts. In total, he made upwards of $5,000 in 1884, one of the highest figures in baseball history to date. 

Ed adds some color to the story in Fifty-nine in '84:

This was not a bad deal.  Though $5,000 awaited him in the Union Association, Radbourn knew full well that he risked lifetime expulsion from organized baseball if he violated his contract.  It was true that he could escape immediately from Providence if he jumped, and avoid toiling all season for owners who, in his view, had betrayed him.  But he feared that the outlaw league would not last.  "I can jump a contract with the league and join the [Union] association, but I can never get back into the league," he pointed out at the end of the season.  This hard profession gave his life meaning, and he did not feel good about placing all his chips on the fate of the Unions.  There was only one safe passage out: a release from his contract and freedom from the reserve clause. 
And here, Bancroft and Allen were finally offering him what he had sought for so long: to receive extra pay for doing extra work, to prove that he was the slave of no man, to break the chains of the reserve clause, to escape to a bigger market and a bigger payday, [and] to make himself the master of his own life... 
Sweeney was gone.  And Radbourn, refreshed by six days without pitching, returned in fine form... 
The greatest sustained pitching performance in baseball history had begun.

So, in the end, both Radbourn and Sweeney got paid, they got away from each other, each became the undisputed star pitcher on their club and each won a championship.  After all the drama, everything worked out.  

1 comment:

Cliff Blau said...

The problem with all this is that Radbourn had no reserve clause in his contract in 1884, nor did anyone else. There was a reserve system but it wasn't a part of the player contract until a few years later, when John Ward and the Brotherhood insisted it be made explicit. So Providence could agree not to reserve Radbourn, but couldn't remove the reserve clause from his contract.