This article was written by Joan M. Thomas
Born in St. Louis on September 5, 1857, Henry Van Noye Lucas was the twelfth and youngest child of James H. Lucas and Marie Emilie (Desruisseaux) Lucas. His French-born paternal grandfather, Jean Baptiste Charles Lucas, was appointed Federal Territory Judge by President Thomas Jefferson. One of Henry’s older brothers, John B. C., was a significant figure in the organization of one of St. Louis’ first professional baseball clubs, the National Association St. Louis Brown Stockings of 1875. With an equally strong interest in the sport, Henry spearheaded the formation of the Union Association of 1884 and founded its premier club, the St. Louis Maroons. Initiated through Henry’s earnest effort to oppose the reserve rule, the new league folded after its maiden season. Though the experiment failed, during its short life Henry Lucas gained the title “Napoleon of Baseball.”
Educated at St. Louis University, Henry lived in an estate just outside of the city of St. Louis in what is the present-day town of Normandy. His property was part of a much larger plot originally owned by his grandfather. Several sources reveal that Judge Lucas was awarded land in New Madrid, Missouri, and following the earthquake of 1811 that was centered there, he got the property near St. Louis in exchange. He named it after his ancestral home of Normandy, France. Henry’s land lay on Natural Bridge Road in what later was called Normandy Hills.
When his father died in 1873, Henry inherited $2 million of his nine-million-dollar estate. In 1880, he married Louise “Lizzie” Espenschied, the youngest child of then-noteworthy St. Louis businessman Louis Espenschied, owner of Louis Espenschied Wagon Factory. The couple’s only child, Henry V. Lucas Jr., was born on February 1, 1881, and was known as “Little Henry.” A pleasant fellow, Henry Senior indulged his wife with expensive jewelry and clothing, treating her to dinner at places such as the upscale Delmonico in St. Louis’ Forest Park. As a leisure activity, he enjoyed entertaining friends with his skill at slight-of-hand magic tricks. But his favorite pastime involved the relatively new American game of “base ball” (as it was spelled in those early days). An amateur player, he laid out a diamond on his Normandy spread, inviting guests to play and to partake in refreshments afterwards. But Henry Lucas aspired to become as adroit in his business dealings as he was at parlor tricks.
With their combined pedigrees, Henry and Louise Lucas’s financial and political advantages supported Henry’s various business ventures. Louise’s oldest sister Philippine was the wife of St. Louis Mayor of 1876–1881, Henry Overstolz. Her youngest brother Frederick F. was private secretary to Mayor Overstolz and City Treasurer under Mayor David R. Francis. He then served as Missouri State Senator 1891-1893. He also held a financial interest in and served as vice president of his brother-in-law’s Maroons.
An all-around sports enthusiast, Henry V. Lucas Sr. enjoyed baseball both as a participant and as a spectator. An ardent follower of the American Association St. Louis Browns of the early 1880s, (the St. Louis club called the Brown Stockings became a charter member of the National League in 1876, but folded after 1877), he sided with the players in their opposition to the “reserve rule.”
First instituted by a secret agreement between National League club owners in 1879, the rule allowed an owner exclusive rights to five players. That prevented those “reserve” ballplayers from contracting with another league club. After the 1882 formation of the American Association, a National Agreement between the two leagues resulted in each major league club retaining the rights to eleven players under the reserve rule. In September of the following year, a movement to form yet another league got underway. Called the Union Association, its backers opposed what they called the “arbitrary reserve rule.”
Henry Lucas surfaced as the primary force behind the new group’s formal organization. In his quest to enlist new clubs from at least eight cities, Lucas traveled the country. Because he deemed Boston a necessary entry, he even offered George Wright funds to form a Union club in that city. Then, with the support of other St. Louis investors, in November of 1883 he filed papers to incorporate the St. Louis Athletic Association, giving birth to the Union Association St. Louis Maroons.
The principal stockholder of the new corporation, Lucas started work preparing home grounds for the Maroons. He acquired suitable property on the north side of the city, signing a five-year lease at $325 per month. Bordered by Cass Avenue on the south, Jefferson Avenue to the west, Howard on the north, and Twenty-Fifth Street to the east, it was to include a three-story brick clubhouse, a carriage yard and a fenced-in baseball and athletic field.
Lucas wanted a class park to top anything yet seen in the country. He envisioned an elegant facility for baseball and other athletic activities. The clubhouse, located at the corner of Jefferson and Cass, was designed for the utmost comfort and convenience of the ballplayers. The third floor included a dressing room, bathroom, reading room, billiard room, card room, and closets for players to store uniforms and personal belongings. The carriage yard along Cass Avenue was large enough to accommodate over a hundred vehicles.
As for the ballpark, the main entrance, double ticket office and grandstand were constructed at Jefferson and Howard. Facing east and south at that corner, the white-painted wooden structure behind home plate could seat 8,000 fans. Opera chair seating extending further east and south accommodated at least 2,000 more. Bluegrass and clover brightened the outfield, which was encompassed by a cinder track for sprinting and bicycling. A large bulletin board at the southeast corner of the field provided game scores not only for the Maroons, but telegraphed tallies from other Union club games. All combined, this accounts for the unofficial name “Palace Park of America,” designated by some sources over time. However, the official name, Union Base Ball Park, remained throughout its use for major league baseball.
As for his ballclub, Lucas wanted to secure players as talented as his ballpark was beautiful. Moreover, he was willing to pay the price necessary to attain that goal. Naturally, the upstart Union Association’s refusal to honor the reserve rule rankled the two older leagues’ club owners. Facing severe criticism, Henry responded thus:
“The new League certainly has no ambition to make a fight on the old Associations, but we positively refuse to recognize that reserve rule… We will recognize all contracts, but not the reserve rule. The idea of any Association getting control of the best players in the country is simply ridiculous. Take the case of the Athletic Club. It is stated…that the managers of that (club) cleared $70,000 during the past season. Lew Lemmons, the Athletics’ president, had not $1,000 when he started and yet grew rich in one season. The good playing of his men was chiefly responsible for this and yet under the reserve rule he can hold eleven of them at $1,001 each, and if they refuse to accept those figures he can stop them from playing in any one of the clubs of the older associations. Our intention is to break down the reserve rule in a measure by affording players an opportunity to escape from these rigid conditions.” (The Lucas Nine 1884)
Players signing with the Maroons who were not under contract, but held in reserve by their respective clubs, were infielders Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap and John Gleason, and outfielders Orator “George” Shafer and Dave Rowe. Because they broke the reserve rule, they were blacklisted by the two other leagues. Initially completing the club roster were pitchers Charlie Hodnett, Perry “Moose” Werden and W. H. “Bollicky Bill” Taylor, catcher George Baker, shortstop Milt Whitehead, outfielder L. P. “Buttercup” Dickerson, and utility men John “Jack” Brennan and T. J. “Sleeper” or “Old Iron Hands” Sullivan.
An announcement in March revealed the date of the scheduled Maroons home opener as April 19, when they would face the Chicago Unions – the St. Louis/Chicago baseball rivalry already manifest. Around the same time ball fans learned that the Union Association’s season schedule would span from April 19 to October 15, about a month longer than that of either the National League or the American Association. Possibly, Lucas and his supporters meant to capitalize on a projected appeal of the new league, and/or get the most for the money spent on player salaries.
On April 6, 1884, a pre-season exhibition game between the Maroons and their reserve players allowed locals a preview of the new club and park. The event drew a capacity crowd inside the park with “a thousand or two” additional fans viewing the game “from house-tops or other available elevations.” (Sporting – A Brilliant Opening of the New Ball Grounds) Wearing their new white uniforms with maroon caps and stockings, the club made a handsome appearance. It had been revealed earlier in the year that the team’s players would also have a “regular traveling suit…of dark blue…[said to be] the first of its kind introduced by any ball club.” (Diamond Dust Feb 17, 1884) This points to Lucas’s pioneering approach to everything concerning his enterprise.
Before the much anticipated Maroons’ scheduled home opener, the local media publicized the fact that on game days a large banner posted in front of the downtown office at Sixth and Pine streets would read “Game today at the Union Grounds.” No banner would simply mean no game. Advertised ticket prices of 50 cents for reserve seats, 25 cents for the upper grandstand and open seats, and boys’ admission of 10 cents seemed reasonable. Season’s tickets, available at a discount before April 19, sold at $22 for reserve and $11 for the cheaper seats. Parking in the carriage yard for all game goers was free. An added feature was the owner’s announcement that he had ten thousand Union Association guides to distribute to all who paid admission to that first game.
When the big day finally arrived, thousands of excited baseball cranks poured into the Union Park despite wintry temperatures and an overcast sky. But shortly after the Chicago players arrived, a steady rain set in, and the game was finally called. Patrons had their choice of a refund or a rain check. This highlights a somewhat innovative idea at the time. The “custom of giving the ticketholder a rain check [didn’t] become institutionalized [until] 1890 by the National League.” (Dickson) However, there is evidence that an earlier St. Louis club offered a token similar to a rain check. In 1876, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat described a coupon given to each ticket holder at a Brown Stockings game. It merely entitled the holder to money back in the event the game was “interrupted by rain before the fifth inning.” (Bravo Browns) As Lucas had always followed professional baseball with fervor, and his brother John B. C. was a Browns founder, he likely expanded on that practice.
At long last, on the day following the rainout, St. Louis got to see the Maroons’ inaugural season game at their pristine new Union Base Ball Park. Because the weather was not much better than that of the previous day, the event concluded after six innings. Local newspapers commented on the fact that the capacity crowd sat through the drizzling rain in temperatures hovering near freezing, and practically no one left throughout the proceedings. And, in a tradition that continues on into the 21st century, their partiality to the home team did not dissuade them from appreciating the efforts of the visitors. Chicago’s talented one-armed pitcher Hugh Daily was a crowd favorite. Hodnett took the mound for the Maroons, winning 7–2. The event ended after one hour and fifty minutes. That began the Maroons’ 20-game winning streak that ended on May 24, when they lost to the Union Association Boston Reds 8-1.
Lucas’s club continued on its winning ways with more streaks that year, but none to equal the first. With Ted Sullivan, and then Fred Dunlap managing, it easily captured the Union Association pennant with a season record of 94 wins and a mere 19 losses. Their closest competitor, the Cincinnati Outlaw Reds, tallied a 69-36 mark.
The Maroons’ winning season of 1884 would suggest a bonanza for Henry Lucas, but by then interest in the Union Association had dwindled considerably. Lucas had paid hefty salaries to players, such as Sure Shot Dunlap, who garnered $3,600, a huge payday for a ballplayer in the late 19th century. But one well paid, talented ballclub couldn’t hold the league together. Instigating his title “Napoleon of Baseball,” the Maroons’ owner lent money to less successful Union clubs in a valiant attempt to keep the new league afloat. But even before the season’s end, it became apparent that the Union Association was destined to fail. All told, twelve clubs played under its auspices. Some, however, joined late in the year, playing very few games, most notably the St. Paul White Caps, who played only nine games beginning September 27. By year’s end, the Union Association was a thing of the past. Undaunted, Henry Lucas set his sights on a National League franchise for his club.
A January 7, 1885, piece in the New York Times reported that Lucas had purchased the National League Cleveland Blues franchise, and that he claimed to have arranged the reinstatement of three players who had jumped their contracts to play for Union Association clubs. Not surprisingly, the owner of the American Association St. Louis Browns, Chris Von der Ahe, acted on a national agreement option by refusing to allow another big league club into his city. Nonetheless, following much political wrangling, the Maroons were awarded a National League franchise.
The 1885 Maroons starting lineup looked considerably different from that of the previous year. Among the returnees were Dunlap and Shafer, and Australian-born Joe Quinn, who joined the club as a rookie outfielder in 1884. Two newcomers were blacklisted players that Lucas did manage to get reinstated: catcher Charles (Fatty) Briody and shortstop Jack (Pebbly Jack) Glasscock. Accordingly, the new franchise gained the informal nickname “Black Diamonds.” It was widely reported that the Maroons’ millionaire owner paid out enormous salaries to his players in hopes of matching or surpassing the club’s final tally of 1884.
Early in the season, Henry raised his voice in vehement opposition to the suggestion that the National League adopt the American Association’s rule that awarded first base to a batsman hit by a pitched ball. The Boston Herald reported, “The voice of Henry Lucas is for war with the American Association, rather than have the League to yield one iota of any position it has taken. Well, Mr. Lucas is a fighter…” (“Diamond Dust” May 17, 1885) But Henry’s fighting spirit failed to help his club meet his expectations that year.
After winning the April 30 home opener against the Chicago Nationals (then called the White Stockings), by May 30, the Maroons had won only five more games. Nevertheless, the media revealed that attendance at games they played in the East had been large despite the “blacklisted players” on the club. But their disappointing performance prompted the New York Times headline “Their Lustre Is Dimmed – Mr. Lucas’s “Black Diamonds” Do Not Shine.” A consummate baseball aficionado, Henry was overheard remarking after a May 25th 11-0 rout at the hands of the New York Giants, “Great Scott!…can’t these New York men bat. Their fielding is superb, but their batting…it’s the best I’ve ever seen.” (The Lustre Has Dimmed)
By mid-September, it was reported that come the next season, National League pitchers would be penalized for hitting players. Around the same time, Lucas turned over his active involvement with the Maroons to his close friend, Ben Fine. In addition, rumors arose that St. Louis Browns owner Chris Von der Ahe secured the majority of stock in the St. Louis Athletic Association, the Maroons’ legal entity. That story proved to be unfounded, but the Maroons ended the season of 1885 with a dismal record of 34–74, a far cry from their impressive finish as the Union Association leader of the previous year. Meanwhile, Von der Ahe’s club playing down at old Sportsman’s Park tallied nearly the opposite final at 79–33, capturing the 1885 American Association flag. It began to look as though the Napoleon of Baseball was about to meet his Waterloo. But Henry Lucas was not quite ready to surrender, despite having lost a large share of his family fortune to his baseball concern.
During the winter of 1886, news of a lawsuit filed by the Cleveland Baseball Association revealed that Lucas still owed $2,000 of the $2,500 he had agreed to pay for the National League franchise in 1885. Representatives of the Cleveland group stated that when they pressed him for the balance due, he surprised them by telling them “to play ball with themselves” [and finally] “ignored their demands…” (A Baseball Litigation)
Regardless of the legal issues their newsworthy owner faced, the Maroons took to the field in 1886 with Gus Schmelz managing. Alex McKinnon, who held that position part of the previous season, was at first base, and Dunlap, Glassock and Quinn were still on the club roster. But once again, it was a relatively new group. The revamped Maroons demonstrated little improvement from 1885, and predictably attendance dwindled as the season commenced. So, Lucas introduced his club’s new “Black Diamond” uniforms at a Saturday, May 22 home game with the Giants. He even resorted to offering ladies days, as attested by the note “…Ladies will again be admitted free…” in the September 22 St. Louis Globe-Democrat announcement that the Maroons would face Kansas City at the Union Grounds that day. In the end, the club’s final record of 43-79 looked a little better than that of the previous season, but it was not enough to matter.
After an eleven-game losing streak in July, tensions between Lucas and his highly paid second baseman heightened. Finally, Dunlap was sold to Detroit for about $4,500. By early August, news reports revealed that the Maroons owner wanted out of baseball. The club did show some signs of resurgence by August 23, when it defeated Kansas City 6–0, to sweep a three-game series at Union Park. Unfortunately, only three hundred fans witnessed that Monday afternoon finale. Two days later, it became clear that a new stockholding group would take over the Maroons ownership.
Local notable businesses, including the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association, subscribed liberally to the new company. The heaviest individual subscriber, William Stromberg, succeeded Henry Lucas as president. Fred Espenschied, the former owner’s brother-in-law, retained his position as the Maroons vice-president. Finally, on September 23, the Maroons played the last National League game at the Union Park, losing to Kansas City 3-2. They closed out the season on a road trip, playing their last game in New York on October 9, losing to the Giants. They finished sixth in the National League. Then, a fall city series between the St. Louis Browns and the Maroons concluded at the Union Park on October 31. After losing the first five of six, the Maroons won the last game, 2–1. The enterprise was in debt when the new stock group took over, even though the Union Park had been used for a number of other sporting events throughout its existence. Early in 1887, the club was sold and moved to Indianapolis, becoming the National League Hoosiers. The following year, the grand ballpark built by Henry Lucas was torn down to make room for a homeopathic college. That formally ended the era of Henry Lucas and the St. Louis Maroons.
It is difficult to calculate just how much money Henry lost to his major league baseball venture, as various figures were tossed around at the time and for years to come. The New York Times reprinted a Kansas City Journal item that stated he lost “$70,000 in two years.” (Here And There) Given the fact that Henry had helped finance the Union Association in total, the failure of that organization certainly put a large dent in his wallet. But, despite his discouraging experience as a ballclub owner, he still sided philosophically with the players.
Late in 1889, a players’ union called the Brotherhood lured major league players to desert their clubs for a new league, the Players League of 1890. About the two older leagues, Henry Lucas commented, “They can’t hold men, even if under contract, and unless the players are disposed to carry out contracts such documents are not worth the paper they are written on. I had some experience in that line, and speak from the record.” (“Bad For The Brotherhood”) As it turned out, the Players League fared no better than the Union League, lasting only one season.
As for Henry Lucas, after his withdrawal from baseball, he continued on his entrepreneurial path, ever reaching for a successful undertaking, often in the realm of sports. Around 1895, he went to great expense, building an early indoor bicycle race track, now known as a velodrome, which gained prominence during the early 20th century. It was said that he gathered famous bicyclers to compete on his track, and that the whole venture ended badly. (Research on details about that unfortunate event is in progress by SABR author Joan M. Thomas.) At some point after that, Henry moved to Chicago seeking employment. Then, on April 7, 1902, he filed for bankruptcy in that city, wiping out $40,000 of debt. The following year in St. Louis, his wife Louise divorced him, citing desertion and non-support. She later married William Capot Clopten (or Clopton) of St. Louis.
Henry eventually returned to St. Louis, where he obtained a position as a city street inspector. Earning $75 a month, he worked at that position for the last three years of his life. Then, on November 15, 1910, he died in St. Louis at the home of his niece. The cause of death was listed as blood poisoning, thought to have resulted from an ankle injury he sustained by stepping off a curb some four years earlier. In his last will and testament, written and signed on December 16, 1909, Henry named his “beloved son Henry V. Lucas, Jr.” as his sole beneficiary.
Henry Van Noye Lucas Sr. is buried in the Lucas family plot at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. His ex-wife Louise died in 1940 and is buried next to her second husband at St. Louis’ Bellefontaine Cemetery. A building inspector for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, Henry Jr., Louise and Henry’s only child, died five years later. He is buried next to his mother at Bellefontaine. He was unmarried with no known descendants, so the legacy of Henry V. Lucas ended with him.
In addition to his sports ventures, at some point during his life Henry V. Lucas reportedly lost $300,000 through the failure of a barge line he started between St. Louis and New Orleans. In 1882, one towboat he owned named Iron Mountain sunk after hitting either a drift log or a bank. One person aboard, a chambermaid, died in the disaster, and the boat was a total loss. At the time of Henry’s death, a lawsuit he had filed over his alleged share of his brother Joseph’s estate was still pending. Joseph died in 1903, leaving his estate to his wife, who in turn willed it to her mother. So it would seem that Henry was the victim of bad timing.
In retrospect, Henry V. Lucas Sr. was a visionary. His strong opposition to baseball’s reserve rule predated its abolition in 1975 by more than ninety years. Building an attractive ballpark that accommodated a number of other sports; erecting a scoreboard that posted telegraphed game scores from around the country; paying ball players much larger salaries than most; building an elaborate club house with all sorts of accommodations for athletes; introducing a dark blue traveling suit; giving out rain checks before it became common practice; increasing ballpark attendance by admitting ladies free; and building an early velodrome – all these innovations have since his time been tried with a great measure of success. Yet the name of Henry V. Lucas remains relatively obscure among sports aficionados.
An aside: Henry’s brother-in-law Frederick Espenschied also lost a great deal of money in the Union Association. Frederick’s youngest son, Lloyd Espenschied, moved with his family to Brooklyn, New York, in 1901. There Lloyd gained prominence as co-inventor of the coaxial cable, which paved the way for television transmission. Perhaps his father’s and uncle’s farsightedness served as inspiration.
April 6, 2011
Espenschied: an Early Wagon Builder, Missouri Historical Society Archives.
Lucas Family Tree, Missouri Historical Society Archives.
“A Disastrous Crevasse,” New York Times, March 27, 1882.
“Cleveland’s Baseball Club,” New York Times, January 7, 1885.
Joan Cook, “Lloyd Espenschied, One Of The Inventors Of The Coaxial Cable,” New York Times, July 4, 1986.
“Lost $2,000,000 Since 1892,” New York Times, April 8, 1902.
“Mr. Lucas’ St. Louis Club,” New York Times, January 22, 1885.
“Mrs. Henry V. Lucas Gets a Divorce,” New York Times, June 23, 1903
“St. Louis Ball Players,” New York Times, September 7, 1885.
“Sleight-of-Hand With Diamonds,” New York Times, November 13, 1881.
“The Rival St. Louis Ball Nines,” New York Times, January 21, 1885.
Overstolz Family Tree: Missouri Historical Society Archives.
“Diamond Dust,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 22, 1886, 7, col. 5.
“Diamond Dust,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 31, 1886, 11, col. 3.
“Henry V. Lucas Is Dead,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, November 16, 1910 Missouri Historical Society Vertical File.
“The Maroons New Stock Company,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 25, 1886, 9, col. 3.
Joan M. Thomas, “The Union Base Ball Park St. Louis,” The Baseball Biography Project, SABR.
Will No. 39306, Henry V. Lucas, Filed and admitted to probate June 12, 1911, St. Louis, Missouri.
“A Baseball Litigation” The New York Times. February 16, 1886.
“Bad For The Brotherhood” The New York Times. November 20,1889.
“Bravo Browns” St. Louis Globe-Democrat. July 27, 1876, 8.
“Diamond Dust,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat. February 17, 1884, 8, col. 2.
“Diamond Dust,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat. May 17, 1885, 9. col. 3.
Paul Dickson, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary. 1989, 318.
“Here And There,” The New York Times, August 23, 1886.
“Sporting – A Brilliant Opening of the New Ball Grounds,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 7, 1884, 7, col. 1.
“The Lucas Nine,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 19, 1884, 10, col. 6-7.
“The Lustre Is Dimmed,” The New York Times, May 26, 1885.
Henry Van Noye Lucas
September 5, 1857 at , ()
November 15, 1910 at , ()
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