Edwin A. McAlpin

This article was written by Bill Lamb


Edwin McAlpinWealthy and able, Edwin A. McAlpin was a man of many interests: family, commerce, Republican Party politics, the New York State National Guard, the Presbyterian Church, and the American Boy Scouts (an early rival of the Boy Scouts of America). For a relatively brief period beginning in 1889, McAlpin also took an active part in the affairs of major-league baseball. He was a financial backer of the New York club in the upstart Players League, served as the first president of the league, and thereafter was a passive investor in the National League New York Giants. McAlpin sold his interest in the NL Giants in early 1895 and left the game, devoting the remainder of his life to political, business, and civic endeavors. He died from a stroke at age 68 in 1917. His life story follows.

Edwin Augustus McAlpin was born in New York City1 on June 9, 1848, a scion of wealth and privilege. Father David Hunter McAlpin (1816-1901) came from more humble stock, the son of impoverished Scotch-Irish immigrants who fled to America after the failed Irish Rebellion of 1798. By the time of his son’s birth, David McAlpin was on his way to becoming a self-made millionaire, head of D.H. McAlpin & Company, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of tobacco products. Edwin was the oldest of the 10 children born to David and his wife, the former Frances Rose (1829-1870), and his father’s favorite. He was educated in local public schools and prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

In 1861, a lifelong devotion to the military manifested itself when 13-year-old Ed McAlpin attempted — twice — to enlist in the Union Army as a drummer boy. Intervention by his father thwarted these attempts to serve, but once young McAlpin reached the age of majority, he enlisted in the New York State Militia (now New York State National Guard) as a private. He quickly ascended through the ranks to a command position, retiring in 1888 with the rank of colonel. He won credit for transforming the 71st Infantry Regiment from a repository of the lax and indolent into a first-rate military unit.2

McAlpin’s entry into both married life and the business world began in 1870. Early that year, he joined D.H. McAlpin & Company as a clerk, initiating the process through which his father would groom him to assume control of the business in due course. Months later, Edwin (then 22) married Anne Brandreth, the daughter of a wealthy patent-medicine manufacturer. They settled in her Westchester County hometown of Ossining.3 In time the couple would have five sons.4

During his early married years and into the mid-1880s, McAlpin busied himself with family, business, and civic duties. His name appeared in newsprint only in connection with regimental affairs.5 But in 1883, McAlpin began taking an active role in GOP politics, serving as a delegate to the New York State Republican Convention.6 The following year, he was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for a Westchester County congressional seat. By then, Edwin had succeeded his father as president of the family tobacco company and was a wealthy man in his own right, as reflected by his purchase of a Midtown Manhattan apartment building for $250,000 in early 1885.7

In large measure, McAlpin’s association with major-league baseball stemmed from his friendship with young Wall Street financier Edward B. Talcott. They were a political odd couple — Democrat Talcott was an influential Tammany Hall insider, while McAlpin was emerging as a leader of the state Republican Party. Yet the two men bonded as fans of the New York Giants. In midsummer 1889, the pair plus Cleveland trolley-car magnate Albert Johnson were observed seated together in the New Polo Grounds when Giants first baseman Roger Connor slugged a tape-measure home run. As recalled decades later by sportswriter John Kieran, “Eddie Talcott, broker and baseball fan, jumped up and started a collection. [Those who] chipped in included Col. McAlpin and Johnson. They gave Roger a big gold watch.”8 Unbeknownst to fellow spectators, the three well-heeled fans were doing more than just taking in a Giants ballgame. They were formulating plans to back the rival baseball circuit quietly being organized by visionary New York shortstop John Montgomery Ward. Indeed, Talcott, McAlpin, and Johnson would each play a pivotal role in the launching and operation of the new Players League.

On November 4, 1889, the Players League was publicly unveiled by Ward. Three days later, McAlpin was named as a member of a committee charged with drafting a new player contract that did not contain the hated reserve clause.9 A week thereafter, the newly formed New York Base Ball Club Limited filed incorporation papers in Albany. Listed as franchise principals were financial backers Talcott, McAlpin, and New York City Postmaster Cornelius Van Cott, as well as Giants stars Tim Keefe and Buck Ewing.10 Van Cott would serve as factotum club president, but franchise operations would be directed behind the scenes by vice president Talcott. McAlpin, meanwhile, assumed a seat on the board of directors of the PL New York Giants. He also accepted the post of chairman of the committee formed to write a constitution and bylaws for the Players League. At a circuit organizational meeting conducted a month later, McAlpin was elected president of the Players League, succeeding temporary president Al Johnson.11

In agreeing to serve as PL president, McAlpin was adding to his already demanding array of business, political, and governmental responsibilities. Among other things, he was the president of a major tobacco-product manufacturer; the head of the New York State League of Republican Clubs; the mayor of Sing Sing (Ossining), New York; and a director or trustee of various commercial and civic organizations. He also had a wife and four children to look after.12 Despite those obligations, McAlpin performed his duties as league president diligently, calling and then presiding over often-distant PL board meetings as the nascent circuit struggled to survive its financially troubled maiden season. The courteous but efficient manner in which McAlpin administered PL affairs soon gained him a host of newspapermen admirers.13

But favorable press coverage did not solve the Players League’s problems. Donning a brave public face near midseason, President McAlpin declared that “Our league is getting friends each day and we will improve our crowds from here on. The weather was been our chief enemy. We actually have not had a decent stretch of weather in New York the whole season and as a consequence our attendance has been hurt.”14

It would take more than better weather to cure the new league’s ills. Those difficulties prompted McAlpin to call a special meeting of PL principals in mid-July. A three-member committee consisting of Johnson, PL secretary Frank Brunell, and Buffalo club executive Moses Shire was thereupon instructed “to visit every town represented in the Players League and investigate the standing of each club, and if any were found that needed assistance, such assistance was to be given them, both financially and otherwise.”15

While the Players League continued its struggle, McAlpin’s political responsibilities called. He spent much time in August organizing the annual convention of New York Republican Party clubs. Early in September, McAlpin delivered the welcoming address to the 1,000-plus delegates gathered in Saratoga, New York, and then presided over several days of convention activities. In the meantime, the Players League was approaching the financial break-point, with rumors of consolidation with the National League swirling about. Nowhere did those rumors have more substance than in New York, where NL New York Giants boss John B. Day and PL Giants leader Talcott were soon engaged in merger negotiations, preempting global National League-Players League settlement talks. This placed McAlpin, president of the Players League but a co-owner of the New York PL Giants, in an awkward position. For the time being, the best he could do was voice assurances that PL interests would be respected in the Day-Talcott talks. The reaction in certain quarters was swift and recriminatory, with Sporting Life’s Chicago PL correspondent disdaining league President McAlpin as “nothing more than a figurehead” who suffered from a lack of baseball playing experience but enjoyed the notoriety of being league president. Yet McAlpin “would choose his business and social standing over the Players League if he had to make the choice.”16

At the postseason league meeting held in October, McAlpin took the floor to deliver a long and impassioned speech about the necessity of consolidation with the National League. He also publicly endorsed the Day-Talcott position of excluding John Montgomery Ward and/or other ballplayer representatives from the New York club merger negotiations.17 Those negotiations soon bore fruit, with the National League and Players League New York Giants joining forces. At a follow-up PL conclave, McAlpin submitted his formal resignation as Players League president. The resignations of the PL New York and Pittsburgh franchises were tendered at the same meeting.18 Remaining attendees attempted to keep the organization going, electing Boston club President Charles A. Prince as new Players League president. But the league was doomed, with other PL club owners scrambling in pursuit of consolidation with rival NL clubs or buyout agreements.

Those left on the outside reacted bitterly, with Talcott and McAlpin being singular targets of abuse. Particularly angered by events was Players League secretary Frank Brunell, who denounced the two New Yorkers as “traitors” who had “thrown down” the league to preserve their well-being — all to little effect.19 For his part, McAlpin reacted mildly to such censure, informing Sporting Life that “I am out of baseball for good, but my best wishes would always have been with the brotherhood should that organization have continued in existence.”20 While McAlpin thereupon receded from a place of prominence in baseball affairs, he did not withdraw from the game altogether. Instead, he retained his interest in the consolidated New York Giants franchise, nominally headed by Day but actually controlled by his friend Talcott.

For the next four seasons, McAlpin took little active part in governance of the club, as Talcott strove to rebuild Giants fortunes at the gate and on the playing field. Both efforts proved successful. A revitalized New York team captured the inaugural postseason Temple Cup in 1894, after setting a new National League regular-season attendance record (387,000). Despite that, the club’s commerce-minded ownership group was dissatisfied with the financial return on their investment. De facto club boss Talcott in particular had grown disenchanted with being a ballclub magnate and wanted out. To that end, he entered into discreet discussions regarding sale of the Giants with Manhattan real estate millionaire Andrew Freedman, a Tammany Hall colleague who had recently developed an interest in baseball. In late January 1895, Talcott, having secured the agreement of McAlpin, Van Cott, and reluctant club secretary/investor Frank B. Robinson, delivered a slim but working majority of New York Giants franchise stock to Freedman.21 And with that, Edwin A. McAlpin’s connection to major-league baseball came to an end.

Abandonment of baseball did not make McAlpin’s life any less eventful. In 1895 New York Governor Levi P. Morton appointed him the state adjutant general (with the military rank of major general). The following summer, General McAlpin was a contender for the vice president spot on the Republican Party ticket with William McKinley, but his support faded quickly at the GOP National Convention in St. Louis.22

Back home in Ossining, McAlpin served as a village trustee and postmaster, president of the local YMCA, and trustee of the First Presbyterian Church.23 Meanwhile, he continued to run the family tobacco company until his father’s death in 1901. Shortly thereafter, he sold the business to the American Tobacco Company, an industry giant. From then on, McAlpin mostly dabbled in high-end Manhattan real estate, much of which he had inherited upon his father’s passing. In March 1908, the death of Anne Brandreth McAlpin brought their 38-year marriage to a sad close.

In September 1911, McAlpin, the father of five young men, was gratified by his election as president and chief scout of the American Boy Scouts. This organization — founded by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst in 1910 — was a rival to the Boy Scouts of America. In fact, McAlpin thought the BSA should change its name “because the ABS was bigger and older as well as better.” (It was actually formed a few months after the BSA.) The ABS subsequently changed its name to U.S. Boy Scouts; a court injunction in 1920 effectively put it out of business.24

December 1912 saw the opening of the 25-story Hotel McAlpin, then the world’s largest hotel and a Midtown Manhattan landmark erected at a cost of $13.5 million. McAlpin spent his final years living quietly in Ossining. On the afternoon of April 12, 1917, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while at home, and died a few hours later. Edwin Augustus McAlpin was 68. After local funeral services, his remains were interred next to those of his wife in the family mausoleum at Dale Cemetery, Ossining. Survivors included his five sons, his sister, Frances McAlpin Pyle, and brothers George, William, David, and Charles.

 

Acknowledgments

This bio contains excerpts from The Polo Grounds: Essays and Memories of New York City’s Historic Ballpark, 1880-1963, copyrighted 2019, edited by Stew Thornley, republished by permission of McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson, North Carolina 28640, https://www.mcfarlandbooks.com.

This version was reviewed by Rory Costello and Len Levin and fact-checked by the SABR fact-checking team.

 

Sources

In large part this bio is grounded in the writer’s previous work on the New York Giants franchise, including the organizational histories published in the Fall 2016 issue of Outside the Linesthe newsletter of SABR’s Business of Baseball Research Committee, and The Polo Grounds: Essays and Memories of New York’s Historic Ballpark, 1880-1963, Stew Thornley, ed. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2019). Specific sources for the personal detail contained herein include anonymously authored biographical essays published in the Boston Herald, September 8, 1890, and Ancestry.com, November 17, 2009; US Census data; and contemporary newspaper reportage, particularly the McAlpin obituary published in the New York Times on April 13, 1917.

 

Notes

1 Certain sources posit the Westchester village of Ossining as McAlpin’s birthplace. But the 1850 US Census identifies the McAlpin family as residents of New York City’s 4th Ward, and the 1905 passport application completed and certified as accurate by Edwin A. McAlpin himself lists his birthplace as New York City.

2 Col. McAlpin “aggressively cut dead wood from the ranks and reorganized the leadership cadre to such an extent that it became virtually a new regiment.” History of the 71st Regiment, N.G., N.Y. (New York: 71st Regiment Veterans Assn., 1919), 453.

3 At the time, the McAlpins’ place of residence was known as Sing Sing. In 1901 the village name was changed to Ossining to avoid association with the notorious New York prison known as Sing Sing.

4 The McAlpin children were Benjamin (born 1871), Edwin A. Jr. (1875), David Hunter II (1880), Kenneth (1882), and Joseph (1891).

5 See e.g., “Military Notes,” New York Herald, June 20, 1881: 13; “The 71st Reviewed,” New York Herald, April 7, 1885: 7.

6 Per “Stalwarts and Half-Breeds,” New York Herald, September 15, 1883: 5.

7 As reported in “City News Items,” New York Herald, February 1, 1885: 4.

8 John Kieran, “The Brave Days of Old in Baseball,” New York Times, January 7, 1931: 40.

9 Per “No Money Up as Gift,” New York Herald, November 7, 1889: 10.

10 As reported in “The New York Limited,” New York Herald, November 16, 1889: 8, and “Base Ball Gossip,” Worcester Daily Spy, November 16, 1889: 3. See also, “Clubs Organized,” Sporting Life, December 18, 1889: 5.

11 As reported in “Brotherhood Organized,” Chicago Inter-Ocean; December 17, 1889: 17: “The Ballplayers’ League,” Indianapolis Journal, December 18, 1889: 6, and elsewhere.

12 Fifth son Joseph Roderick McAlpin was not born until 1891. For a more complete roster of the organizations that required McAlpin’s time and attention, see “Col. Edwin A. M’Alpin,” Boston Herald, September 8, 1890: 5.

13 For a particularly effusive testimonial, see the Boston Herald, September 8, 1890: 5.

14 Per “Base Ball Notes,” Duluth (Minnesota) News-Tribune, July 6, 1890: 5.

15 “The Baseball Arena,” Harrisburg Patriot, July 18, 1890: 1. See also, “The Players Meet,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 18, 1890: 3.

16 Harry Palmer, “Chicago Gleanings,” Sporting Life, September 27, 1890: 7.

17 See “The Fight on the Players’ Rights Question,” Sporting Life, October 25, 1890: 2.

18 As reported in “One by One They Go,” Pittsburg Dispatch, November 12, 1890: 7; “Base Ball Peace,” Baltimore Sun, November 13, 1890: S2; “Two Clubs Secede,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 13, 1890: 5, and elsewhere.

19 See first-person columns by Brunell published in Sporting Life, November 29 and December 27, 1890.

20 “The Players League,” Sporting Life, November 22, 1890: 3.

21 As reported in “Freedman Is Boss,” New York Evening World, January 24, 1895: 7; “Baseball Transfer Today,” New York Herald, January 24, 1895: 11; “He Controls the Giants,” New York Tribune, January 25, 1895: 12, and newspapers nationwide.

22 Vigorously boosted by the New York State Republican Club associates, McAlpin’s quest for the VP slot stalled when state party bigwig Chauncey M. Depew refused to place his name in nomination, lest it drain support from the potential candidacy of New York Governor Levi Morton, a former US vice president actively exploring his own chances for the second spot on the McKinley ticket, per “Scenes and Incidents,” New York Tribune, June 15, 1896: 3. Morton was McAlpin’s political patron, and detractors accused McAlpin of disloyalty. See e.g., “News and Comment,” Sporting Life, June 27, 1896: 14.

23 McAlpin’s second son and namesake later became the Reverend Edwin A. McAlpin, a Presbyterian minister.

24 Keith Monroe, “The Way It Was,” Scouting, October 1990: 61-62.

Full Name

Edwin Augustus McAlpin

Born

June 9, 1848 at New York, NY (US)

Died

April 12, 1917 at Ossining, NY (US)

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