William H. Conant

This article was written by William H. Lyons

Conant, WIlliamWilliam H. Conant, Arthur H. Soden, and James B. Billings were the majority owners of the Boston Nationals1 from its difficult early years, through its ascendancy to the position of one of the best teams in the National League, to its eclipse after the entry of the American League team in Boston in 1901. Held in high esteem by many of the owners of the other National League teams, in large part because they provided financial support in times of crisis, these three were also called misers and worse.2 They spent unprecedented amounts of money to acquire the rights to star players and to build a ballpark that in its prime was the envy of other teams in the National League, yet they were unwilling to spend money on player salaries except in times of crisis, and refused to spend much to rebuild or maintain the ballpark after a fire in 1894. In 1906, when Conant and Soden sold the team and the ballpark, they received both lavish praise and stinging criticism. Examination of Conant’s part in this story reveals these same dichotomies. As outgoing as Soden was retiring, Conant “enjoyed a big cigar and a drive behind a frisky span [of horses].”3 Conant was willing to spend lavishly in some circumstances,4 yet stories abound, some perhaps apocryphal, of his stinginess.5

William Henry Conant – in later years Uncle Bill Conant – was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, on March 15, 1834, to Ira and Lucy Conant.6 Ira was a farmer. Although William may have worked on the family farm when he was younger, in 1855, when he was 21, he was living in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, with his older brother, Ira, and working as a clerk in Ira’s “country store.”7 By 1860, William had started a hoop–skirt manufacturing and sales business.8

On May 2, 1860, William married Isadora “Dora” Shepardson in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Dora was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, on January 13, 1839, to George W. and Juliette Richards Shepardson. The newlyweds lived in Attleboro at the time of their marriage but by 1868 had established a home in Boston at 16 Rollins Street in the South End. They moved twice within Boston, finally moving to adjacent Brookline in 1904. William and Dora had three children,  William A., Fannie Dora, and Charles H. Conant.

By 1865, William’s hoop–skirt business was located on Washington Street in Boston. His brother Ira joined him in the business, which they operated under the name Conant Bros. from 1867 through 1872 and as A.K. Young & Conant Manufacturing Co. in 1873 and 1874. A.K. Young had operated a separate hoop–skirt manufacturing business in Boston, and his addition to the Conant business name suggests that he first became a part–owner of the Conant Bros. business and then acquired the business when William and Ira started a different business.

The hoop–skirt business provided a living for William and Dora for about 14 years. When women’s fashions changed, they started a new business initially known as the Gossamer Rubber Clothing Co. Over the years, the business had several locations in Boston and one in Framingham, about 30 miles west of Boston, Their partnership continued until Ira’s death in 1895. Thereafter, William was the sole owner of the business, known as W.H. Conant Gossamer Rubber Co., until his oldest child, William A. Conant, became first an employee and then a co–owner of this business. Exactly when this business ended is not clear, although the Boston Globe listed ads for the sale of the business in June and July 1914.9 The 1910 US Census lists William H. and William A. Conant as rubber manufacturers. The 1920 Census lists William A. Conant as a real–estate manager and William H. Conant as having no occupation. In 1914 the Boston City Directory lists father and son as owners of W.H. Conant Gossamer Rubber Co. but the1916 edition contains no business listing for either father or son, suggesting that they either ended or sold the business between 1914 and 1916.

Although there are no public financial records for the gossamer–rubber clothing business, that business provided William and his family with a very comfortable living.10 Dora traveled in Europe in 1889 with their younger son, Charles. William owned at least three horses, a pair named Right Fielder and Left Fielder, and an iron–gray gelding.11 From 1900 onward, William and Dora had domestic help living with them.

When the National League was formed in 1876, the Boston entry organized as a Massachusetts business corporation named Boston Base Ball Association.12 The corporation was what now would be called a close corporation, meaning that a relatively small number of shares were issued,13 and those shares did not trade on any established market. Soden initially bought 15 shares for $15 a share at the urging of his friend George B. Appleton. “Before the 1877 season started, Soden and his friend James B. Billings, a shoe and leather man, owned a majority of the stock,” Harold Kaese wrote in his history of the Braves.14 Conant initially became involved by employing an agent, identified by two sources as Captain Jones, to acquire single shares of stock from individual shareholders. Kaese refers to “an emissary named Captain Jones.”15 George V. Tuohey refers to “Captain Jones, who has followed the game since its opening in this city” and notes that “[i]n the [1870s] the stock went begging. It could be bought for as low as $15 a share, and some shares went for even less than that.”16 The identity of “Captain Jones,” although apparently known to both Kaese and Tuohey, is a mystery today.

From 1876, when Soden was first elected a director at the corporation’s annual meeting, through the 1880 annual meeting, when Billings become a director, to the 1881 annual meeting, when Conant became a director,17 these three men accumulated stock ownership and power in the corporation. At the 1884 annual meeting, when Billings, Soden, and Conant owned the majority of the stock, the shareholders voted to reduce the board of directors from five members to three and elected Billings, Conant, and Soden as the directors, Soden as president, Billings as treasurer, and Conant as general manager.18 At that point, these three essentially controlled the corporation and the team.

Why would successful businesspeople like Billings, Conant, and Soden invest in professional baseball? All three had a strong interest in game and Conant and Billings enjoyed generally good relations with the players.19 Nonetheless, the 1876 Boston Nationals were not a success on the field, finishing the 1876 season in fourth place at 39 wins and 31 losses. Neither was the Boston team a financial success, losing, according to David Quentin Voigt, $777.22 in 1876.20 Although the Boston team finished first in 1877 and 1878, the $2,230.85 loss for 1877 more than tripled the 1876 loss and the $1,433.31 loss in 1878 was more than double the 1876 loss.21 The losses increased in 1879 ($3,346.90) and 1880 ($3,315.90).22 National economic problems – a depression at its worst in 1878 – did not help, nor did the League’s problems with drinking, gambling, and brawling.23 Notwithstanding these financial issues, Billings, Conant, and Soden believed that they could put their experience as successful business owners to work making professional baseball in Boston profitable as well as entertaining for the public.24 The application of what they considered good business practices, however, often generated controversy.

Their drive to improve the financial health of the team began with cuts in player salaries, advertising, clubroom upkeep, and travel expenses.25 These cuts were not popular with the players, and manager Harry Wright’s inability to deal with the problems caused by cuts in the travel budget may have caused his dismissal.26

In 1882 the directors announced that shareholders would no longer receive complimentary tickets to all home games. Many of the minority shareholders signed a petition objecting to the decision and stating that they had purchased their stock with an understanding that they would be entitled to the tickets.27 After the directors refused to change their decision, a detailed letter to the editor of the Boston Globe appeared on April 16, 1882, stating the arguments for complimentary tickets.28 Although the letter did not present very persuasive legal arguments, the anger of the shareholders was understandable even if the decision made financial sense.29

In 1884, after Boston had won the 1883 National League pennant, the directors raised the price of a season ticket from $20 to $30. A petition signed by 33 shareholders and former season–ticket holders asked the directors to reconsider the increase, to no avail. The directors decided to have two types of season tickets. The first, selling for $30, would entitle the holder to a specific grandstand seat. The second, selling for $20, would entitle the holder to general admission but not to the grandstand, although the holder could pay an extra fee for admission to the grandstand.30

The directors were notorious for severely limiting player salaries, and Conant was perhaps the toughest of the three on this issue. For example, Michael “Kid” Madden, a star pitcher originally acquired by Conant, visited Conant in early 1888 to discuss his contract for that year. During the 1887 season, Conant gave Madden $25 each time he won a game and $100 for winning the final two games with New York.31 Thus, Madden likely assumed Conant would agree to a favorable contract for 1888. When Madden named his figure, “[i]t nearly knocked the solid Conant off his feet. When he had sufficiently recovered his breath to allow him to talk, he gasped: ‘What is the size of your hat? Mike, you must be crazy. We have talked it over, and we have decided just what we will pay you. We will pay you just for next season, and when you get ready to sign let me know.’”32 Madden signed for $2,000, the salary offered by Conant, but jumped to the Boston Players’ League team in 1890.

Although the directors were usually tightfisted with player salaries, they nevertheless spent very large amounts of money to purchase the rights to players. Kaese credits Billings, Conant, and Soden with starting the practice of buying players. The purchases of Mike “King” Kelly in 1887 and pitcher John Clarkson in 1888, both from Chicago, are the two most prominent examples. Chicago received $10,000 each for these players. Billings apparently pushed for the acquisition of Kelly, but all three directors agreed on the acquisition of Clarkson.33 Despite being willing to pay $10,000 to purchase the rights to Kelly, the team paid him only a $2,000 salary, the League maximum. Kelly had made it clear that he expected $5,000 to play for Boston, and extracted an additional $3,000, ostensibly for his portrait.34 Later, in response to raids by the Players’ League, Conant rebuilt the team by purchasing rights to players. When it came to attempts by other teams to purchase players reserved by Boston, however, Conant was generally unreceptive.35 Further, once the challenge of the Players’ League had ended, Conant decided that paying for players’ releases was a bad practice, which the National League should prohibit.36

The Boston Nationals finished first in 1891, 1892, and 1893. This success, which suggested that the team was very profitable, prompted the players in 1894 to grumble about their salaries. Instead of quietly investigating this problem, Conant demanded that star left fielder Tommy McCarthy tell him if he had been spreading information about the team finances.37 McCarthy reportedly affirmed to Conant that “he had, as had every other player on the team.”38 As Sporting Life noted, “[a] little diplomacy [from the owners] would set things right, but this is a business to which Director Conant would be very, very new.”39

In the midst of the turmoil over salaries, a terrible fire destroyed virtually all of the South End Grounds.40 The team temporarily moved to the Congress Street Grounds, where the Players’ League and American Association teams had played. Although some argued that the Nationals should remain there, the team rebuilt the South End Grounds, but in smaller and less expensive form. The new grandstand did not include an upper deck because, Conant pointed out, the old upper deck “was only patronized on great occasions.”41

The Boston press tried to link a tragic event to alleged reputed stinginess of the Conant and his partners. Martin Bergen, the Boston catcher from 1897 to 1899, apparently suffered from a mental illness.42 On January 21, 1900, he killed his wife and two children before taking his own life. A Sporting Life article argued that the directors drove Bergen to kill because his meager salary made it impossible to provide for his family.43 Tim Murnane responded that “[t]he Boston magnates did everything for him that they did for the other men, and, in fact, a great deal more, and are in no way to blame for any misfortune that overtook the player.”44

Relations between the directors and the minority shareholders were also difficult. Lack of financial transparency proved a problem for the Boston Base Ball Association almost from its formation in 1876. At the first annual meeting, in 1876, the shareholders raised questions about finances and appointed a three–person committee that included J.B. Billings to audit the treasurer’s accounts.45 Ironically, as treasurer, Billings, supported by Conant and Soden, limited the release of financial information. At the 1883 annual meeting of the association, the bylaws were amended to require the treasurer to report to the directors and not to the shareholders,46 a practice acceptable under Massachusetts law at the time.

At the 1885 annual meeting, the directors obtained approval to amend the bylaws to permit payment of compensation to the corporate officers (Billings, Conant, and Soden), prompting minority shareholder George H. Lloyd to request a treasurer’s report from President Soden. Soden responded that he knew of no such report and that the treasurer (Billings) was in New York. Lloyd then sought to force disclosure of the 1883, 1884, and 1885 treasurer’s reports, as well as other financial information, but the directors refused.47

In 1887 shareholders John C. Haynes, Charles C. Carey, Julian B. Hart, and Frederick E. Long asked a court to compel Billings, Conant, and Soden to provide a financial accounting.48 Billings, no doubt expressing the feelings of Conant and Soden, stated: “We don’t want the affairs of the association spread before the world. That would not be the business way of doing things. The financial standing of a concern is its own business and not for the public.”49 Because the minority shareholders did not (and likely could not) allege fraud by Billings, Conant, and Soden, the court concluded that “it was a hard situation, but there was no opportunity for the court to act unless there was an allegation of fraud.”50

In addition to the problems caused by a lack of financial transparency, the directors faced three challenges from competing baseball teams placed in Boston prior to 1901. Conant played a significant role in two:

(1) Players’ League – The Brotherhood (1890). Although some National League owners thought the Brotherhood revolt would come to nothing, Conant realized that the players were serious.51 The Boston Nationals lost multi–position player Kelly, left fielder Hardie Richardson, and first baseman Dan Brouthers, as well as third baseman Billy Nash, second baseman Joe Quinn, outfielder Dickie Johnston, pitcher Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourne, center fielder Tom Brown, pitcher Bill Daley, and pitcher Mike “Kid” Madden.52 Conant took the lead in buying a replacement team that brought Boston success in 1891, 1892, and 1893.53 He bought first baseman Tommy Tucker from Baltimore for $3,000, utility player Bobby Lowe from Milwaukee for $700, shortstop Herman Long from Kansas City for $6,300, and pitcher Kid Nichols for $3,500 from Omaha.54 Conant had personally scouted Nichols, who became the backbone of the pitching staff of the Nationals’ pennant–winning teams in 1891, 1892, and 1893. Conant was also instrumental in persuading pitcher John Clarkson to remain with the Nationals by offering a large salary increase (reportedly $7,000 a year). Clarkson in turn persuaded catcher–outfielder Charlie Ganzel to stay.55 In the end, although the Boston Players’ League team, managed by Kelly, finished first, the league disbanded after the 1890 season.56

(2) American Association (1891). The Association placed a new team in Boston in 1891. The team, the Boston Reds, played at the Congress Street Grounds. Mike Kelly, unsigned by either the Nationals57 or the Boston Reds, agreed to manage and serve as captain of Cincinnati’s American Association team. After the Cincinnati team decided to move to Milwaukee, Kelly requested and obtained his release.58 Kelly then signed a contract with the Reds but Conant, who always thought very highly of him, induced Kelly to jump back to the Boston Nationals, despite Soden’s opposition.59 Both the Nationals and the Reds won their league championships, but the 1891 season proved the end of the American Association.

After offyears in 1894, 1895, and 1896, the Nationals won their fourth and fifth pennants of the decade in 1897 and 1898. But the glorious finish to the 1890s did not foreshadow success at the beginning of the twentieth century. After withstanding challenges from Boston teams in the Union Association, Players’ League, and American Association, the directors of the Boston Nationals were unable to meet the challenge posed by the Boston Americans of the new American League.

Conant badly miscalculated the success the new league would have in signing players. He expected to keep pitcher Bill Dinneen, third baseman Jimmy Collins, left fielder Chick Stahl, and pitcher Kid Nichols for the 1901 season, regardless of whoever else he might lose to the American League.60 Although Nichols and Dinneen remained with the Nationals, two key players, Collins and Stahl, did not. The first Boston defector was outfielder Hugh Duffy, who jumped to Milwaukee. Conant made no effort to persuade Duffy to stay: “He’s about through as a player. We’ll let him go in peace.”61 The devastating loss was Collins, who had promised to stay with the Nationals, but signed with the Boston Americans as player–manager for $4,000. Conant attempted to prevent the defection, sending Billings and manager Frank Selee to persuade Collins not to jump. Conant claimed he had authorized payment of up to $5,000 to Collins, but not only did Collins sign with the Americans for $4,000, he also persuaded Stahl, right fielder Buck Freeman, and pitcher Ted Lewis to go with him. Unable to replace the talent that had defected to the Americans, the Nationals did the best they could with the players they had left – which is to say a fifth–place finish. The Boston Americans battled for the American League pennant, finishing second to the Chicago White Sox by four games. Kaese argued that “[i]f they had been offered enough money, Collins, Lewis, Stahl, and Freeman would have remained with the Beaneaters. In Collins, the Triumvirs surrendered all the assets they had for this fight. Their one chance as to make the newcomers look like minor leaguers by comparison. Instead, the newcomers made the Beaneaters look like minor leaguers. …”62

In April 1902, in a move likely intended to facilitate the ultimate sale of the team, the Boston Base Ball Association sold the South End Grounds and associated land to a real–estate trust called the Columbus Avenue Trust. The trustees of the trust were Charles A.R. Soden (son of Arthur Soden), George Billings (son of J.B. Billings), and Conant.63 After the transfer, the Association became a tenant of the trust and paid rent for the use of the grounds.

In July 1904 Billings sold his remaining stock interest to Conant and Soden. “On July 4, an order was issued to the effect that [Arthur] Soden would act as treasurer of the club and that [William J.] Rogers would be his assistant.”64 Although Conant denied that Billings had retired (or been forced out),65 from that point onward, Soden and Conant controlled the team.

After rumors of their interest in selling the team had circulated for several years, on November 28, 1906, Conant and Soden sold their stock in the Association to George B. Dovey. The real–estate trust sold the South End Grounds property to Dovey at the same time. Conant and Soden received $75,000 in cash and the trust accepted a promissory note for $200,000, secured by a mortgage on the South End Grounds, bearing a 3 percent interest rate.66 Sporting Life summed the outcome of the sale for Conant and Soden: “One can see, therefore, that both the former owners need have no apprehension at all about their financial future. Each is rated at near the million mark.”67

At its 1906 winter meeting, the National League feted Conant and Soden. They were the guests of honor at a gourmet dinner in the Waldorf–Astoria in New York City on December 12, 1906. League President Harry Pulliam, New York Giants President John T. Brush, and sportswriter Francis C. Richter spoke, giving Conant and Soden effusive praise for their long service to the League and the game. At the conclusion of the dinner, Conant and Soden received silver loving cups and honorary lifetime League memberships. Not long after the gathering The Sporting News carried a biting response to this praise: “Wasn’t it the selfish management, the refusal to treat public and press with decent courtesy, the unwillingness to spend a few dollars for repairs to the dilapidated South End Grounds, to say nothing of the persistence with which they refused to strengthen their team when the American League came into Boston, that caused the public to go over to the Huntington avenue grounds by the thousands while the Triumvirs’ lot was deserted?”68 The author asserted that Conant and Soden did not provide free tickets for players’ wives, reneged on a promise to pay an injured player’s medical bills, and refused to allow the manager to disburse cash to the players while the team was playing away from home. He concluded: “When Soden and Conant stepped down, it was the best thing that ever happened for the old organization . …”69

After the sale, Conant maintained an active interest in baseball. He attended both Boston National and Boston American League home games.70 When he wintered in Florida, he attended spring–training games in St. Petersburg. On May 8, 1925, the Nationals, by then known as the Braves, played the golden jubilee game that celebrated the founding of the National League. Although Soden remained at home following his doctor’s advice, Conant, despite bad weather, attended the game with his son, William.71

Soden’s death on August 14, 1925, upset Conant. “[Conant’s] decline dated from that time and his condition became such that the Winter trip to Florida was abandoned,” the Boston Globe said.72 Conant died at the Hotel Brunswick, in Copley Square in Boston, where he had been living for several years, on October 23, 1926, at age 92.73 He had been widowed since Dora died on March 28, 1912. Both are buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston.

Conant left $250,000 to his hometown of Bridgewater for the purpose of establishing a hospital. Conant made the gift by an Indenture of Trust dated June 4, 1925, as amended, between himself and Boston Safe Deposit and Trust Company as trustee. The William H. Conant Hospital Trust continues to this day as a nonprofit charitable foundation. The trust’s primary purpose is to support the William H. Conant Community Health Center in Bridgewater.


1 Referred to in this chapter as the Boston Nationals, but also known during this period as the Red Stockings, Reds, and Beaneaters.

2 “Billings was not a bad guy, but those other two, Conant and Arthur Soden, were the type of blackguards that even Charles Dickens would have rejected as character models for his novels as too one–dimensionally bad.” Donald J. Hubbard, The Heavenly Twins of Boston Baseball – A Dual Biography of Hugh Duffy and Tommy McCarthy (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2008), 87.

3 Harold Kaese, The Boston Braves (New York: Putnam, 1948), 23.

4 For example, spending thousands of dollars to buy the rights to rebuild the Boston Nationals during the battle with the Players Union.

5 A batter “fouled ten in succession over the back wall at Boston, and not one of them came back. As each ball went over, Conant … moaned in agony. After seven had gone, he wept aloud, and the tenth found him in spasms, his hands contracted nervously over a wad of dollars. Two more balls, at $15 the dozen … would have killed him then and there.” “One on Conant,” Sporting Life, May 18, 1900: 5.

6 Ira Conant died on February 19, 1871, at age 71, in Bridgewater. Massachusetts. Lucy Conant died on August 6, 1889, at age 87, in Bridgewater. Boston Globe, August 7, 1889: 8. Ira Conant and Lucy Leonard were married in Bridgewater on November 24, 1822. Vital Records of Bridgewater, Massachusetts to the Year 1850, Volume II –Marriages. The 1840 US Census stated that two members of the Conant household were employed in agriculture. The 1850 and 1860 US Censuses stated that Ira Conant was a farmer.

7 That census lists Ira M. Conant, age 28, as head of the household that included Mary P. Conant, Ira’s spouse, their son George, age 3, and William H. Conant, 21.

8 See victoriana.com/Victorian–Fashion/crinoline.htm.

9 Boston Globe, June 28, 1914: 30; July 1, 1914: 13; and July 8, 1914: 13.

10 “When [hoop skirts] went out of fashion, [William H. Conant] manufactured rubber goods, from which he made a fortune.” Kaese, 23. As with the hoop–skirt business, we have no information about how Conant treated the workers involved in producing the garments.

11 “Slipping Over the Road, Fast Trotters, Many Men, Few Women Face the Cold Winds Upon the Brighton Sleighing Ground,” Boston Globe, January 4, 1887: 6.

12 “The Boston Baseball Association,” Boston Globe, December 8, 1876: 5; “Boston’s Club Unsold,” Sporting Life November 11, 1905: 5.

13 Images of some stock certificates can be found on the internet. See, e.g.,  worthpoint.com/worthopedia/1883–boston–base–ball–association–25179879 (Certificate 124, J. B. Billings, 1 share, dated June 4, 1884); sterlingsportsauctions.com/1888_boston_base_ball_association_stock_certificat–lot45904.aspx (Certificate 140, Arthur H. Soden, 1 share, dated  March 16, 1888); and scripophily.net/bobabaasbore4.html (Certificate 91, W.H. Conant, 1 share, dated December 16, 1881). Billings confirmed that the Association originally issued 150 shares of stock. “Against the Triumvirs,” Boston Globe, November 13, 1887: 3. “[T]here are only 78 shares today – the 64 we [Billings, Conant, and Soden] own and the 14 scattering ones. …  When the 150 shares were originally issued there was an assessment of 50 cents on $1. Later there was a second assessment of 20 cents on a dollar. When the third and last assessment of 30 cents was made it was paid on 78. The holders of the other 72 shares preferred to forfeit them rather than pay the assessment.” Ibid.

14 Kaese, 22.

15 Ibid.

16 George V. Tuohey, A History of the Boston Base Ball Club (Boston: M.F. Quinn & Co., 1897), 176.

17 “The Boston Base Ball Association,” Boston Globe, December 8, 1876: 5; “Boston Base Ball Association – Annual Meeting,” Boston Globe, December 16, 1880: 1; “Boston Base Ball Association,” Boston Globe, December 22, 1881: 2.

18 “Boston Base Ball Association,” Boston Globe, December 17, 1884: 1. At the same meeting, the shareholders voted to purchase the South End Grounds property from the Estate of Barnabas Hammett “for a price not exceeding $100,000.” Ibid.

19 Kaese, 23: “[Conant] was closer to the players than Soden, but not as close to them as Billings. Conant frequently travelled with the club, and often scouted the minor leagues.”

20 David Quentin Voigt, American Baseball: From the Gentleman’s Sport to the Commissioner System Volume 1 (University Park, Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press, 1983), 76. “Most clubs lost money for the first year; probably only Chicago showed a profit.” Harold Seymour, Baseball The Early Years (New York: Oxford University, 1960, reprint 1989), 86.

21 Voigt, 76.

22 Ibid.

23 Voigt, 79–81.

24 At the 1881 annual meeting of the Boston Base Ball Association, the report of the board of directors closed “with the opinion that the corporation ought to be run on business principles to make it a success.” “Boston Base Ball Association,” Boston Globe, December 22, 1881: 2.

25 For details, see Voigt, 77.

26 Ibid.

27 “Dissatisfied Boston Stockholders,” Boston Globe, April 2, 1882: 2.

28 “No Season Tickets for the Stockholders of the Boston Base Ball Association,” Boston Globe, April 5, 1882: 4; “Those Season Tickets,” Boston Globe, April 16, 1882: 8. The letter was signed “Justice.”

29 The author asserts an oral promise of season tickets in perpetuity, and states: “The claim that nothing can be found in the articles of association or constitution and by–laws of the corporation giving the right the shareholders demand, may possibly be true, but do they find anything there denying that right?” The fact that the articles, constitution, and bylaws say nothing about the right to tickets does not help an argument based on an oral promise. The writer argues that the directors could be liable for denying the stockholders access to the home games, at best a legally dubious proposition. The letter also speaks of “antagonizing so large a majority of [the Association’s] shareholders,” but the writer must mean number of shareholders, not number of shares. By 1882, Billings, Conant, and Soden collectively owned a majority of the shares.

30 “The Base Ball Season Ticket Scheme Modified,” Boston Globe, March 12, 1884: 4.

31 “‘The Kid’ Signs a Contract,” Sporting Life, January 11, 1888: 3.

32 Ibid.

33 Kaese, 46–47, 49.

34 Kaese, 47.

35 “Mr. Conant said it was amusing to hear of the clubs that expected to get Stivetts, Long, Lowe, and other men under reserve to Boston, when they knew it was simply impossible to get them at any price.” “Conant Not Worried,” Boston Globe, January 5, 1894: 2.

36 “The League Getting in Line Against the Sales System,” Sporting Life, January 31, 1891: 1.

37 “The Boston Row,” Boston Globe, March 19, 1894: 3.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid.

40 “Boston’s Ill Luck,” Boston Globe, May 19, 1894: 1.

41  “The Boston Fire,” Boston Globe, May 26, 1894: 3. “It will not be nearly as costly as the old structure. In this connection it may be said that only last year Director Billings was anxious to have the insurance increased $10,000, but this was not only opposed by Director Conant, but the latter was willing to allow as much of the insurance to drop, but it was, luckily, not done.”

42 “Bergen’s Insane Deed,” Boston Globe, January 20, 1900: 1, 3 (referring to his aberrant behavior during the 1899 season).

43 “Bergen’s Crime,” Sporting Life, February 17, 1900: 2.

44 Ibid.

45 “The Boston Base Ball Association,” Boston Globe, December 8, 1876: 5.

46 “The Annual Meeting of the Boston Ball Association,” Boston Globe, December 20, 1883: 2.

47 “Boston Base Ball Association,” Boston Globe, December 17, 1885: 1. Soden, Billings, and Conant voted themselves each a $2,500 salary for the year.         

48 “Against the Triumvirs,” Boston Globe, November 13, 1887: 3. Details of the claims asserted by the plaintiffs appear in “A Pooh–Bah Trio – Calling the Triumvirs to Account,” Boston Globe, October 6, 1888: 1.

49 “Against the Triumvirs,” Boston Globe, November 13, 1887: 3.

50 Ibid. Modern corporation law would grant minority shareholders reasonable access to the type of financial information the plaintiff sought.

51 “Bound to Fight,” Boston Globe, November 1, 1889: 2 (“I was not surprised because I was under the impression … that the men were up to something.”). When asked if the National League would fight, Conant responded: “Why certainly. We have nearly $50,000 lying idle with [National League President] Nick Young at Washington and that will help the weak clubs out. Boston, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia have the pluck to stick it out, and we must help the other clubs.” Ibid. The earliest challenge came in the form of the Union Association in 1884. Although the Boston Unions had several popular former Boston Nationals players – including pitcher Tom Bond, catcher Lew Brown, shortstop Walter Hackett, and first baseman Tim Murnane – their on–field performance (a lackluster fourth–place finish) was not sufficient to win fans from the Boston Nationals. Kaese, 38. Kaese states that Merton Hackett played for the Boston Unions, but it was Walter Henry Hackett, brother of Merton Hackett, who played for the Unions.

52 Kaese, 56.

53 The Boston Nationals finished fifth in 1890, in large part because of a series of accidents to key players John Clarkson, Herman Long, Bobby Lowe, and Patsy Donovan.

54 Kaese, 57.

55 “Where Was That Bomb?” Boston Globe, December 18, 1889: 3.

56 Robert R. Ross, The Great Baseball Revolt – The Rise and Fall of the 1890 Players League (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2016), 197.

57 The Boston Nationals did not claim Kelly on their reserved list. Marty Appel speculates that the Triumvirs may have concluded that Kelly’s best days as a player were behind him. Marty Appel, Slide, Kelly, Slide – The Wild Life and Times of Mike “King” Kelly Baseball’s First Superstar (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1999 reprint), 156.

58 Appel, 162.

59 “They Are After Kelly,” Boston Globe, June 10, 1891: 3; “War of Pitchers,” Boston Globe, July 3, 1891: 5; Appel, 163–164.

60 “Conant’s Ideas,” Sporting Life, December15, 1900: 8. Conant’s omission of shortstop Hermann Long from this list struck one writer as a mistake. Ibid. Long, however, did not jump to the American League and played for the Nationals in 1901.

61 Kaese,100. Conant’s judgment appears sound, at least in hindsight – Duffy played in 79 games as player–manager for Milwaukee in 1901, batting .308. Thereafter, he played 18 games in 1904, 15 games in 1905, and one game in 1906, all for Philadelphia in the National League.

62 Ibid.

63 “Boston National Baseball Grounds Transferred,” Boston Globe, April 8, 1902: 11.

64 William J. Rogers died suddenly, at age 45, on February 16, 1905. He had been the team’s assistant treasurer for many years and became treasurer in the fall of 1904. “End Came Suddenly,” Boston Globe, April 22, 1905: 7. His death was a shock to Conant and Soden and may have contributed to their decision to sell their interests in the team. See also “Triumvirate Broken: Director J.B. Billings of Boston Club Out,” Boston Globe, July 7, 1904: 7.

65 Ibid.

66 When James Gaffney built Braves Field in the Allston section of Boston in 1915, the note and mortgage were paid so that the old South End Grounds could be sold. “To Retain Pre–Eminence in Ball Parks,” Sporting Life, January 9, 1915: 2.

67 Francis C. Richter, “Dovey’s Doings,” Sporting Life, October 20, 1906: 3.

68 The Sporting News, February 2, 1907: 1.

69 Ibid.

70 See, e.g., Boston Herald, September 25, 1919: 14 (Conant attended a doubleheader at Braves Field between the Braves and the Giants).

71 “Veterans of Boston Teams of 70’s at Golden Jubilee Celebration,” Boston Globe, May 8, 1925: 8.

72 “Soden Funeral to Be Held Sunday,” Boston Globe, August 15, 1925: 8;

 “‘Uncle Bill’ Conant Dead, Funeral Tomorrow,” Boston Globe, October 25, 1926: 22.

73 Ibid.

Full Name

William Henry Conan


March 15, 1834 at Bridgewater, MA (US)


October 3, 1926 at Boston, MA (US)

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