1869 Winter Meetings: Pivot To Professionalism

This article was written by Mark Pestana

This article was published in the Baseball’s 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900


Baseball's 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900The baseball season of 1868 ended with the National Association crown changing hands twice in the final month. The 1867 champs, the Unions of Morrisania, maintained their status for most of the season, thanks to playing weaker Eastern clubs during the early months and then taking an extensive Western tour in July and August. When they finally met up with top-tier Eastern nines in mid-September, they were promptly relieved of the title. The new champs, Brooklyn’s Atlantics, however, enjoyed the view from the top for only about three weeks, as they dropped two games in succession to the New York Mutuals, with the second loss, on October 26, transferring the title.  

The Mutuals, who were winding down their season, made sure to avoid playing the dangerous Athletics of Philadelphia. Frank Queen of the New York Clipper had offered a Gold Ball to the 1868 champions, but, recognizing that New York clubs were blatantly dodging the Philadelphia challenge, he declined to award his prize, opting to wait for a Philly-Mutes matchup in early 1869. In the meantime, with the annual convention fast approaching, it must have been in the minds of some baseball men to develop a more logical mechanism for determining the championship. It was apparent, too, that something must be done about the steady encroachment of professionalism into the game.

The December Convention of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP)

The 12th annual convention of the NABBP took place on Wednesday, December 9, 1868, at Metzerott Hall in Washington, DC. Metzerott, known sometimes as “Iron Hall,” was located in the Northwest section of Pennsylvania Avenue and was one of the city’s premier amusement halls, home to symphony concerts, magic shows, readings, and lectures. Mark Twain made his Washington debut there in January 1868.1

As decided at the previous year’s convention in Philadelphia, the attendees were, for the first time in Association history, representatives of state associations exclusively, rather than of individual clubs, although an exception was allowed for “such States or districts as had not a sufficient number of clubs to organize a State association.”2 A total of 186 clubs were represented, including 72 from New York, 25 from New Jersey, 24 from Pennsylvania, 22 from Massachusetts, and 31 from Ohio. Washington itself sent delegates from five clubs. The most distant territory represented was Omaha, Nebraska.

A reporter for the New York Herald commented that “while the respectability and general creditability of the representation present marked the convention as a success in one particular[,] it was a comparative failure in another, as there were but thirty-two delegates present,” saying that several delegates were “snow bound on their way to Washington,” and averring that a meeting held either immediately after the close or immediately before the opening of a season would be better attended.3

National Association President George Sands (club president of Cincinnati’s Buckeyes) opened the convention with a speech that set the tone for the business at hand. The rules of the game were imperfect, he said, and “changes are required.”4 The Constitution and By-Laws “demand your attention,” he told the delegates. He wasted little time in addressing the question of professionalism:

Professional base ball playing, although discountenanced by our National Base Ball Constitution, has been gradually gaining strength and influence, until now it seems necessary for us to recognize it, and enact laws for its government. Since we have failed to suppress it, we ought now legislate, to control its management.

Sands also called upon the delegates to “correct the evil” of revolving, or jumping from one team to another, and advised stronger penalties for violations. As he closed, he recommended action to “strictly prohibit open gambling or betting upon any base ball ground,” asserting that this was necessary “if we desire the support and countenance of the best classes of the United States.”

Upon Sands’ conclusion, the roll call began and almost immediately a minor controversy arose regarding the Mutual Club.

The Mutuals’ trouble stemmed from a game-fixing incident in September 1865, when a pair of gamblers named McLoughlin and O’Donnell waved some greenbacks under catcher Bill Wansley’s nose before a match with the Eckfords. With the promise of making at least $300 apiece, Wansley enlisted third baseman Ed Duffy and shortstop Tom Devyr to aid the cause and, sure enough, the favored Mutuals lost to their Brooklyn foes, 23-11. Counting passed balls, wild throws, and general muffs, Wansley and Duffy racked up nearly 20 miscues between them. Although Devyr’s play could not be faulted, he did confess to being at least a “silent partner” in the plot, and all three were summarily banished by the NABBP.

Devyr, perhaps understandably, won forgiveness early on, and was reinstated by the Association in time for the 1867 season. But no such official amnesty had been granted Ed Duffy when almost exactly three years later, on September 30, 1868, he donned a Mutuals uniform and manned third base against the Active Club of New York. The brash action drew immediate protest, and formal charges against the club for reinstating Duffy were laid before the Judiciary Committee of the New York State Association.

The Mutuals argued that the time for bringing such charges had passed, since the club had actually reinstated Duffy (though not playing him) on July 28, more than 60 days before the Committee hearing. On that technicality, the case was rejected. But this was only a brief reprieve: New charges were crafted and in a meeting on October 14, the Judiciary Committee ruled that the Mutuals had violated Article 9 of the state association’s constitution by playing Duffy illegally in the September 30 contest. All games in which Duffy played were invalidated.5

The State Association constitution also provided that a club in violation of the article should not be entitled to continue its membership. This seems not to have been addressed by the Judiciary Committee, prompting the New York Herald to muse, “Are the Mutuals simply to abide by the judgement of the committee and strike out the record of the games in which Mr. Duffy played, or are they to consider themselves as having forfeited membership in the association?”6

The question was resolved at the November 11 meeting of the New York State Association in Albany. When the Mutuals’ name was called during the roll, Judge Advocate Frank S. Belton, who had prosecuted the case before the Judiciary Committee, objected, asserting that the club was no longer a member. The point was debated but the roll call continued, over Belton’s protest. In due time, the Judiciary Committee reported on its cases and approved the prior finding in the Mutual affair, thus formally expelling the club from the Association. In a sudden about-face, Belton himself then moved to reinstate the Mutuals, and his motion was swiftly enacted, with only one dissenting vote.

This may seem a peculiar twist, and one demonstrating a shocking lack of fortitude on the Association’s part, but it was not atypical of the times. In the opinion of one New York writer, “To obtain even a verdict against so powerful an organization as the Mutual club, was quite a victory for those whose efforts were directed in support of the best interests of the game.”7 

The matter was seemingly closed at that point. But during the opening roll call of the December Convention, déjà vu struck, as Frank B. Wood of the New Jersey State Association protested the reception of the New York Association “on the grounds of the action of that Association … in reinstating the Mutual Club.”8 All turned out well, however, as further discussion showed that no charges against the New York State Association had been brought to the National Judiciary Committee, and therefore the New York Association’s status was not in question before the national body. Also, Duffy’s name had been removed from the Mutuals’ member list. The subject was thus put to rest for good.9

The roll call, the reading of the last meeting’s minutes, and the president’s opening remarks being dispensed with, reports were next introduced. The treasurer reported that a total of $1,046 had been received, while $862 was disbursed, a balance of $244 remaining. A statement on behalf of the Nominating Committee was read, listing the state associations and clubs applying for membership to the NABBP. The Omaha club, being the only entity among the applicants to send a delegate, was the only one elected.

Collection of membership dues came next on the agenda, and when that process was complete, the Association coffers had been fattened by an additional $358.

Henry Chadwick, the acting chairman of the Rules Committee, next presented its report. Like Sands, he put special emphasis on the issue of professionalism, giving a brief chronology of rules developments in that area from 1858 to present. Chadwick then read through the proposed amendments to the Constitution, with the delegates acting upon each as it came up.

A change in Section 1 of Article 3 limited to one the number of delegates who could represent a state, territory or district that had insufficient clubs to form a state association. This was of greatest impact on the Washington (DC) clubs, which had been granted individual delegates at the previous convention, and thus came to the 1868 meeting with a higher delegate count than New York state, which represented a total of 72 clubs. Some discussion ensued as to whether the change should take place immediately, but ultimately it was decided to hold off on enforcing the new restriction until the next convention. Further amendments to Article 3, in Sections 1 and 4, ensured that any delegate to a state or national association must be a member of a club in the association he was representing.

A change to Section 1 of Article 8 cut the annual dues in half, from $2 to $1. A new Article 10 limited the membership of the Rules Committee to five, with three constituting a quorum.

The committee added a new article, Article 12,10 which enabled the association by a two-thirds vote to confer honorary membership upon any officer or committee member in good standing.

There was but one change in the By-Laws: decisions by state association Judiciary Committees could no longer be appealed to the national Judiciary Committee; that committee now would hear only cases in which the litigating clubs were from different states. 

After an hour’s adjournment for lunch, delegates returned at 3 P.M. and got back to business, taking up amendments to the rules of play.

Rule 1, concerning ball, bat, and bases, was scarcely touched. Section 1 was changed to say that the challenging club would furnish the game ball in only the first and third games of a series rather than in all match games.

Rule 2, governing pitching, underwent more serious revision. For starters, the pitcher’s box was enlarged from a six-by-four-foot rectangle to a six-foot square, the intent being to allow the pitcher enough space to make all of his preliminary and delivery motions within the confines of the box.   

A change in Section 2 of Rule 2 eliminated the umpire’s discretion in calling balls, mandating that he must call a ball when the pitcher fails to deliver a fair ball to the plate. Additional language in Rules 2 and 3 emphasized that proper warning must precede the calling of either a ball or a strike, meaning that no call could be made on a pitcher’s first toss. At this time, three called balls gave the batsman first base, and another adjustment in Rule 2 prohibited other baserunners from advancing in such circumstances unless “obliged to vacate” the base they occupied. This would avoid a situation in which a baserunner at third could score on a batter receiving his free pass on called balls.

Finally, to strengthen the requirement in Rule 2, Section 3 that the ball be “pitched, not jerked or thrown,” a tag was added precluding the ball from being delivered “in any other way than with a straight arm, swinging perpendicularly from the [pitcher’s] body.” As the Sunday Mercury put it, he must “use his arm as a pendulum.”11 The change was seen as a judicious one, as evidenced in the Clipper’s commentary: “There is no question of the fact that much of the delivery of last season, termed pitching, by courtesy, was simply a well disguised style of throwing.”12

On the other side of the balance, to counter the habit of some batters running forward to meet a pitch, thus closing the gap with the pitcher, Section 1 of Rule 3 was revised to say the batter “when in the act of striking at the ball, must stand astride of a line drawn through the center of the home base,” removing the latitude permitted by the previous wording, “when about to strike the ball.”

An interesting addition was made to Rule 3, Section 2, concerning batting order: “Any player failing to take his turn at bat, unless by reason of illness, or injury, or by consent of the captains of the contesting nines, shall be declared out.” The Milwaukee Sentinel shed light on the purpose of this addendum:

During the past season several instances have occurred of players leaving the ground and forfeiting their strike. … Suppose, for instance, a professional nine are at the bat in their ninth inning, their opponents having previously played their last inning and scored twenty runs, the professionals entering upon theirs with a total of nineteen to their credit. They go in to the bat and score one with two hands out, and the next man to take the bat happens to be the poorest batsman of the nine, and one almost sure to be put out. Under the present ruling … there is nothing to prevent the batting nine from sending the player in question temporarily off the field, thereby admitting of a good batsman taking his place.13

Three adjustments of note pertaining to baserunning were made in Rule 4, the first coming at the end of Section 1 and stating that a baserunner could not be forced to vacate a base by another runner unless the latter was also to be forced by the provisions of the rule. A prohibition against substitute runners except “for reason of illness or injury” was also added here. In Section 5 of the same rule, language saying that a runner could not, with two outs score “if the striker … is put out,” was revised to “if the striker … is put out before touching the first base.” 

Rule 5, labeled “The Game,” saw significant changes. Section 1 was amended to allow two clubs to mutually agree to a draw if the score was tied at the end of nine innings. Previously, the clubs were obliged to continue play until one team had a lead at the completion of an inning.

In a move to combat the scourge of revolving, the waiting period for a player to join a new club was extended from 30 days to 60, meaning that a player must have played his final match as a member of Club A on April 1 in order to join Club B on June 1. Members of college nines were exempted, as were players on junior nines, which were not considered members of the National Association.

The change of greatest import came in the final section of Rule 5. The former Section 9 read:

No person who shall be in arrears to any other club, or shall at any time receive compensation for his services as a player shall be competent to play in any match. No players, who play base ball for money, shall take part in any match game; and any club giving any compensation to a player, or having, to their knowledge, a player in their nine playing in a match for compensation, shall be debarred from membership in the National Association; and they shall not be considered by any club belonging to this Association as a proper club to engage in a match with; and should any club so engage with them, they shall forfeit membership.

This lengthy injunction against professionalism, which had proved almost completely impotent in its noble but naïve intent, was entirely rewritten, whittled down to the following new and renumbered Section 7:

All players who play base ball for money, or who shall at any time receive compensation for their services as players, shall be considered as professional players, and all other players shall be regarded as amateurs.

Little was done with Rule 6 (“Miscellaneous”); parts of it were extracted and incorporated into other rules.

In the final rule, number 7, addressing umpires’ duties, amendments were compelled by a conflict between two teams west of the Mississippi. On June 18 the Union and Empire Clubs of St. Louis were playing the first game in a best-of-three championship series. The Empires had just knotted the score at 15-15 in the bottom of the eighth. With two outs and a man on first, the Empire batter skied a popup. As the Union third baseman settled under the ball, the runner from first, barreling around the bases, collided with him and knocked him over, preventing the catch. Runner and batter were safe. Looking for an interference call, the Unions’ pitcher and third baseman immediately appealed to the umpire for a reversal of the call. After consideration, this he did, declaring the Empire batter out and thus ending the inning. The Unions tallied six runs in the top of the ninth, and won the game, 21-18.

The Empire Club made a formal appeal to the state association, charging that the umpire had reversed his decision without cause and on an appeal from players other than the team captain, and, moreover, did not declare the winning club and record his decision in the scorers’ books at the end of the game — all in violation of sections of Rule 7.

The state association’s Judiciary Committee sustained only the final charge, failure to properly record decisions, but that was enough to render the game invalid. In the end it made little difference, as the Unions won the two succeeding match games to claim the state championship.

Consequently, the Rules Committee and convention delegates added a little muscle to Rule 7, saying in Section 6, “The captains of each nine shall alone be allowed to appeal for the reversal of a decision of the umpire,” and, in Section 1, “No game … shall be forfeited from the failure of the umpire to record his decision, or properly discharge his duties.”

Two other important changes, not related to the St. Louis matter, were made to Rule 7. In Section 2, concerning the determination of a winner in games suspended before completion, a certain low-handed chicanery was targeted by the committee. The prior language said that a game that could not be concluded would be decided by the score of “the last equal innings.” That is, if a game were in the middle of the ninth inning but was called due to rain or darkness before the inning was complete, the winner would be whichever team had more runs at the end of the eighth (the last “equal” inning). This proviso, in fact, saddled the Cincinnati Red Stockings with a loss in a contest with Philadelphia’s Keystones on October 1.

The Keystones led 24-22 after eight full innings, and added four in the top half of the ninth. Cincinnati overcame the deficit in the bottom half, notching seven runs with but one out. The Keystones, seeing the lateness of the day and the handwriting on the wall, proceeded to intentionally not get two more outs, hoping through purposeful muffing to drag the game out until darkness intervened. Reds’ captain Harry Wright, recognizing the ploy and declining to see it played out to conclusion, finally requested the umpire to call the game.14 Per Section 2 of Rule 7, the score reverted to that of the completed eighth inning, and the Keystones walked away with a 24-22 victory.

The amended language approved by the delegates now said that, in the case of a suspended game, if one nine had completed an inning and the other nine “exceeded the score of their opponents,” even though their inning went uncompleted, the nine with the higher score would be declared the winner.

The last amendment in this long list came in the concluding section of Rule 7, and had two aims: first, to levy a real punishment on clubs violating the rules of the game; second, to reduce the number of what were termed “social” games. For an infraction like using an ineligible player, the existing punishment was that the game would be declared null and void, not to count as an official match game. Transgressing clubs would often circumvent the intent of the law by merely calling the contest a “social” or “exhibition” game. Under the newly amended section, a team “in contravention to the rules” could be suspended from the National Association for up to a year for a first offense and expelled for a second offense.    

The final major business of the convention was the election of officers. Thomas Tassie of the Atlantics was elected president. Frank Wood of New Jersey and John Rogers of Pennsylvania were chosen first and second vice president respectively. The new treasurer was Mortimer Rogers of Boston’s Lowell club and the new recording secretary was Charles Coon of Washington’s Olympic. The “West” was appeased, as C.A. Downey of Omaha was elected corresponding secretary.

After these offices were filled, Archie Bush of Harvard moved under the new Article 12 to have Henry Chadwick declared the first honorary member of the association, and this was approved unanimously.

The delegates also voted to have 2,000 copies of the convention proceedings printed, and Mort Rogers’ paper, The New England Base Ballist — soon to be retitled The National Chronicle — was by unanimous acclamation named the “official organ of the National Association.”15 After slating the next convention for Boston on the second Wednesday in December 1869, the assembly was adjourned. 

Harry Wright and Professionalism in Cincinnati

Of the myriad candidates for the designation “Father of Baseball” it is hard to argue a stronger overall case than that of Harry Wright. No, he didn’t invent baseball, but neither did Doubleday or Cartwright. Chadwick, who carried his torch for the diamond game for nearly as long as it existed in the nineteenth century, is perhaps better thought of as a godfather to organized ball: a guiding spirit at a distance, not from within the arena itself. Wright, who may have contributed as much intellectually to the game as Chadwick, made a deep imprint on the field as well. 

Born in England but raised in New York City, Harry’s first sport — that of his father, Samuel — was cricket, and Harry was a professional in that field by the time the National Association of Base Ball Players was getting off the ground in 1857. But he soon caught the baseball bug that so infected the young Manhattanites of his day. He was a member of the Knickerbockers early enough to play alongside Doc Adams, James Whyte Davis, and Charlie DeBost, and even earned a spot as one of New York’s “picked nine” in the first of the Fashion Race Course games in July 1858. Yet, when he set out for the West in March 1865, it was to accept an offer playing professional cricket with the Union Cricket Club of Cincinnati.

Like Wright, Aaron B. Champion straddled the adjoining worlds of cricket and baseball in mid-1860s Cincinnati. The 23-year-old lawyer had a hand in forming the Union Cricket Club in 1865 and, in the summer of 1866, the Cincinnati Base Ball Club. Harry Wright’s love for the “New York Game” was soon rekindled and, in concert with Champion, he gave the Queen City baseball team an overhaul, importing fellow cricketers and the best of local baseball talent. The remodeled team played only four matches in the waning weeks of the 1866 season, but emerged as a force to be reckoned with the following year, at least in the West. They went 16-1, defeating teams from Indiana and Kentucky as well as their hometown rivals, the Buckeyes and Live Oaks. Their only loss in 1867 came at the hands of the powerhouse Washington National team, whose leading run-scorer happened to be Wright’s younger sibling, George, another cricketer-turned-baseballist.

Even greater strides were made in 1868, as Wright and Champion engaged Asa Brainard, Charlie Gould, John Hatfield, Doug Allison, and Fred Waterman to don the newly designed Red Stocking uniforms. The team began playing more games against the veteran Eastern clubs and, while most of their 36 victories came against Western nines, they showed their growing power with wins over the Unions of Morrisania, the Nationals of Washington, the Troy Haymakers, and the Mutuals.

All was but a warm-up for 1869. Wright and Champion agreed that full professionalism was the way to go and, with the new Rule 5, Section 7 in hand, they added Cal McVey, Andy Leonard, Charlie Sweasy, and — most importantly — George Wright, creating the first all-salaried nine. Gould was the only remaining homegrown talent on the club. The fact that the rest were mercenaries rankled some; however, given what was to come in the Reds’ 1869 season, it is no surprise the “hired gun” model soon became the standard rather than the exception.

Revolvers: Hatfield and Radcliff

In the winter of 1868, gossip touched upon a number of players moving about, and the false rumors could be as interesting as the real deals. George Wright was said to be signing with the Athletics — as a catcher.16 Charlie Pabor, full-time pitcher of the Morrisania Unions in 1868, was rumored to be sought as an outfielder by both the Mutuals and the Red Stockings. The Haymakers tried unsuccessfully to lure George Zettlein and Lip Pike from the Atlantics. As late as the first week of April, it was hinted that Asa Brainard would be the Mutuals’ starting shortstop.17

Speculation, of course, was harmless, and in most cases player moves under the new professional system were made in good faith. But the matter of “revolvers” — defined succinctly by the Clipper as “those players who leave clubs after having made promises and accepted compensation for future services”18 — was a concern that would plague organized ball for years to come. Despite the 60-day rule adopted at the December convention, the problem continued to grab headlines in 1869.

John Hatfield began his baseball nomadism as a teenager, spending time in the outfield with both the Gotham and Active clubs of New York in 1865, and moving from the Actives to the Mutuals in the midst of the following year. He found a full-time job at second base with the Mutuals in 1867, when they enjoyed the best season of any New York club. But when Harry Wright went shopping for talent in New York in the early spring of 1868, Hatfield became one of his marquee recruits. “(C)onsidered by many the best general player in the country,”19 Hatfield made the rounds of the Red Stockings lineup in ’68, catching, playing infield and outfield, even pitching a bit early on, in what proved to be Cincinnati’s breakout season. His performance earned him a Clipper Gold Medal. 

Hatfield’s contract with the Reds was due to expire on March 10, 1869. According to the club, the player was signed to a new agreement on January 22, contracting his services from March 11 to November 15, 1869. It seems, however, that Hatfield was feeling homesick for Gotham; he soon dropped out of sight in Cincinnati, and by early February reports surfaced that he had rejoined the Mutuals.20

When it became apparent in early March that Hatfield was not going to honor his commitment to Cincinnati, the Red Stockings filed formal charges accusing him of violation of contract, and dishonesty and ungentlemanly conduct. In proceedings at the club’s annual meeting on April 6, the Cincinnati directors laid out a string of specifications detailing Hatfield’s questionable pecuniary dealings: selling tickets on behalf of the club but pocketing the funds, borrowing from but never repaying teammates, writing fraudulent money orders, overdrawing on his salary, etc.21

Oddly enough, affidavits in the player’s defense were submitted from officers of the Mutuals, claiming their contracting with Hatfield was in all innocence, maintaining that Hatfield had only made a verbal promise to stay in Cincinnati, and portraying the player as the victim of misunderstandings.

Unmoved, the Cincinnati club expelled Hatfield by an overwhelming vote and moved on. John Hatfield was a regular for the New York club throughout 1869 and was still a Mutual in the National League’s inaugural year of 1876.

John Radcliff had been Dick McBride’s valued batterymate with the Athletics of Philadelphia since 1867 and, like Hatfield, he was awarded a Clipper Gold Medal for his 1868 performance, one of five Philly medal-winners. But, as the 1869 season approached, he too became the center of a revolving scandal.

According to Radcliff,22 the trouble began when he decided to resign from the Athletics at the end of their June 1868 Western tour and join the Mutuals. Before he engaged with the New Yorkers, however, the Athletics sent a party to lure him back with an offer of additional money. Radcliff consented and finished the season with the Philadelphians, receiving “a little at a time” of the bonus money. By the end of the season he was ready again to move on, and apparently made terms with the Red Stockings. The Athletics, getting wind of this, withheld the final $65 of his bonus, and would release it only if he signed an agreement to play with them in ’69. Figuring that his new agreement with Cincinnati took precedence, Radcliff signed the Athletics’ paper, got the $65, and grabbed the next train to Porkopolis.

Not that it made much difference to Radcliff at this point, but the Athletics, in their March 1 annual meeting, voted unanimously to expel him “for dishonest conduct.”23 Athletic corresponding secretary Philidore Bell laid out the club’s case in a letter that appeared in the March 20 Clipper. The club version did not differ greatly from the player’s in generalities, but the specifics were damning to Radcliff. Bell revealed that the bonus amount used to induce Radcliff to return to the fold was $500, and had been raised by “private subscription.” While acknowledging that Radcliff had returned immediately to the Quaker City, Bell explained how the club soon discovered a series of creditors requiring satisfaction from the player, and how it endeavored to make good on those debts in his behalf. Bell declared firmly that everything promised to Radcliff had been paid either to him or his creditors. As for the final $65 and the signed agreement, Bell stated that the written acknowledgement was “entirely optional” in the club’s view, but that Radcliff had no objection to it, as he “had promised to remain” with the Athletics. Bell enclosed a copy of the signed receipt and pledge dated January 21, 1869.

The Red Stockings, taking the high road, expelled Radcliff from their club as well. Casting about for work in the City of Brotherly Love again, Radcliff had landed a job with the Keystone club by the end of April.24 This did not sit well with the city’s number-one club. Replying to a challenge for a series with the Keystones, Philidore Bell wrote on May 10 that the Athletics would not play the Keystones “so long as the said John Radcliff … retains a place on your nine.”25

Undeterred, the Keystones continued to play Radcliff against other nines. Then, on May 22, the player sent a brief, polite note of resignation to the officers of the club, saying he was going to devote himself “to the business duties of life.”26 The offending blot removed, the Athletics assented to meet the Keystones on the field of combat, scraping by with a 25-24 win on June 4 and following up with a more convincing 38-26 triumph on June 12. 

Meanwhile, devices were at work behind the scenes to return the prodigal son to the fold. In the same edition that reported the June 12 Athletic-Keystone tilt, the Sunday Mercury of Philadelphia announced: “The unfortunate misunderstanding existing between the Athletic Club and John Radcliff … has been satisfactorily adjusted … Radcliff asking to be reinstated in the club, and having acknowledged he was wrong in acting as he did.”27 He remained an Athletics member through 1871.

The Season of 1869

If the preseason analysis in the New York Clipper can be taken as more than perennial hyperbole, anticipation was at a peak as the summer of ’69 approached:

 At no time, probably, within our recollection, have the prospects of a brilliant and successful season been more favorable than they are at present. In fact, we do not recollect of a season when preparations have commenced so early, and when there was such an eagerness to begin the season.28

In reviewing the prospects of the clubs, the Clipper presciently noted that the Cincinnatis, with no legitimate rivals left in the West, would be “turning their attention to new fields,” and that the Eastern contenders “must look to their laurels.”29

At the same time, the readership was reminded that Mr. Queen still held the Gold Ball meant for the champions of 1868, and no hometown bias was in evidence as it was stated flatly that “the unsportsmanlike action of two prominent clubs” (i.e., the Mutuals and Unions) denied the Athletics a fair shot at the prize.  

The Clipper continued to stump for an early meeting between the Mutuals and the Philadelphians to determine the championship. The Athletics sent a formal challenge to the New Yorkers on April 23, proposing a best-two-of-three series for the 1868 title. The Mutuals declined, saying they had already won that title, but would consent to play for the 1869 honors.30 The Clipper despaired of ever seeing the clubs meet again.

Ultimately, the Athletics swallowed their pride and conceded the Gold Ball for 1868, secretary Philidore Bell writing on May 6, “Having done all that we believe to be required of us, we are unwilling to take any further steps in regard to the affair.”31

Amateurism

Although the pros dominated the headlines, a kind of pastoral wistfulness seemed to keep nostalgia for the amateur world alive. It was bruited in February 1869 that the Unions of Morrisania had “determined to resign from contending for the palm of superiority in the professional arena” and “return to their old amateur status, under which so many enjoyable summer seasons were had.”32 This would “reinaugurate the glorious days” when the goal was “healthful exercise … rather than filling a treasury from gate-receipts.”

The Sunday Mercury reported that the “old players, who have been holding back for two or three years past, are now coming forward to help the revival, which is going to do more good to baseball than anything we have heard of in years past.”33

Others vacillated, including the Red Stockings’ primary hometown rivals. The Clipper reported, “The managers of the Buckeye Club are a little undecided whether to have a full professional nine, or to arrange a strong, amateur nine, with professional pitcher and catcher.”34 The famous Tri-Mountain club of Boston was included in a prospective list of professional teams for 1869, but indeed never shed its amateur status.35

The amateurs proved that at times they could still hold their own against even the best professional teams. The Athletics were upset by the Harvards, the Atlantics played to a draw against a picked nine of Boston amateurs, the Mutuals lost to Star of Brooklyn, and the Haymakers were defeated by the Pastimes of Baltimore.

Conclusions

The delegates of the December 1868 convention had settled the “amateur vs. professional” issue with conviction. But they had taken no action at all to regulate the competition for the NABBP championship.

The lingering matter of the Clipper Gold Ball award was finally decided on September 15 in New York. The Athletics’ persistence paid off as the Mutuals at last deigned to accept the Quaker City challenge to a match series for the Clipper prize. The first contest, on September 8 in Philadelphia, was a decisive 45-28 Athletic victory. The green-stockinged men36 made it closer in the return game on the 15th, but still fell short, 24-22, thus putting the Gold Ball in the Athletics’ hands. It was a rather hollow prize, as the nominal 1868 title had gone to the Mutuals 11 months before, and the 1869 title would go to another New York club less than two months later. The Clipper Gold Ball could have become an emblematic prize, a nineteenth-century version of the Commissioner’s Trophy for the World Series winner, but the governing body of the National Association was seemingly uninterested in formalizing the culture of the game to that extent.37

Entering 1869 as champions, the Mutuals managed to hold the title until July 3, when they lost the third game of a series against the Eckfords. The newly crowned Eckfords, a much stronger team than the Mutuals, nevertheless made sure to avoid scheduling a second game with the Red Stockings after losing to the Cincinnatis on August 16. They scored a victory over the Athletics on September 16, but would not give the Philadelphians another bite at the apple after that. They split two return games with the Mutuals in September, but the third and deciding contest did not come until the final day of the season, when it didn’t matter anymore.

By that time, the Atlantics had wrested the title away from their fellow Brooklynites, with a 16-12 win on November 8. The Atlantics, who had suffered a June 16 loss to the Red Stockings in Brooklyn, traveled no farther west than Lansingburgh (Troy, New York) all summer. Their eleventh-hour invitation to the Reds to play — in Brooklyn again — on November 18 was disingenuously pointless, as the Reds’ player contracts expired for the year on November 15. Thus, at the finish line, the Atlantic club could claim the professional pennant for 1869, based on the rather inscrutable championship principles of the day.  

The pity of 1869, as of so many years prior to creation of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players’ in 1871, was that the determination of a true national champion was subject to manipulation by whoever held the title at any given time during the season. Accustomed as we are today to an orderly pennant race decided by the cumulative total of victories over 162 games, it is dismaying to contemplate a system which allowed a team to retain the title by ducking and stonewalling any serious challengers in a kind of perpetual round-robin tournament.

As for 1869, it should have been the Red Stockings’ year completely. They won upward of 60 games without suffering a single defeat, vanquishing not only their Western neighbors but every Eastern nine from Boston to Washington as well. In professional matches alone, they outscored their opponents 517-239. Yet, when it came to the official 1869 championship, they were left outside looking in, as the title was once again tossed around guardedly among the Manhattanites and Brooklynites.

1868 proved to be the last baseball season in which amateurism could claim to stand on relatively equal footing with professionalism. The events of 1869 tipped the balance decidedly and forever in favor of the pro game. In that context, Cincinnati’s juggernaut takes on an importance of vast proportion. For the first time, there was a champion-caliber club outside the New York-Philadelphia-Washington corridor. The Reds’ unprecedented Pacific Coast tour brought that region out of the baseball dark ages, and helped establish a truly “national” game across the map. Their success was also a direct prod to the birth of a second pro powerhouse in the West, the Chicago White Stockings.

In hindsight, George Sands’ words at the December Convention, prescribing the need to recognize, legislate, and manage professionalism, are perhaps the most fateful words in the history of the game. For better or worse, all that the game is now, and all it probably ever will be, had its seed in that speech.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the following:

Books

Hunter, Alexander, and Polkinhorn, J.H. History of the New National Theater (Washington: R.O. Polkinhorn & Sons, 1885).

Ryczek, William J. When Johnny Came Sliding Home (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1998).

Tindall, William. Standard History of the City of Washington from a Study of the Original Sources (Knoxville, Tennessee: H.W. Crew & Company, 1914).

Wright, Marshall D. The National Association Of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2000).

Voigt, David Quentin. American Baseball: Volume One (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1983).

Newspapers

Cincinnati Commercial.

New York Tribune.

New York World.

Other

Devine, Christopher. “Harry Wright,” SABR BioProject.

Faber, Charles F. Aaron. “Burt Champion,” SABR BioProject.

Websites

Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 National Republican (Washington), January 10, 1868: 3.

2 New York Sunday Mercury, December 13, 1868.

3 New York Herald, December 13, 1868: 5.

4 New England Base Ballist, December 17, 1868: 78.

5 This amounted to only two: the September 30 game with the Actives and an October 2 game against Cincinnati.

6 New York Herald, October 24, 1868: 3.

7 Reported in New England Base Ballist, November 26, 1868: 2. The “New York Correspondent” presumably is Chadwick, not named in this issue but in subsequent ones.

8 Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player, 1869: 44.

9 Both Duffy and Wansley were eventually reinstated and eligible to play by1870.

10 The New York Clipper and other newspaper sources refer to this as “Article 13,” but Beadle’s 1869 guide (page 17) shows it as Article XII, and there is no Article XIII.

11 New York Sunday Mercury, December 20, 1868.

12 New York Clipper, January 16, 1869: 323.

13 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 15, 1868: 1.

14 Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, October 1, 1868: 8.

15 Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player, 1869: 49.

16 New York Clipper, February 13, 1869: 354.

17 New York Sunday Mercury, April 4, 1869.

18 New York Clipper, February 20, 1869: 363.

19 New York Clipper, April 18, 1868: 11.

20 Cincinnati Gazette, February 8, 1869: 2; National Chronicle, February 13, 1869: 23.

21 New York Clipper, March 20, 1869: 395. 

22 In a letter to Frank Queen, printed in the New York Clipper , March 6,1869,.

23 New York Sunday Mercury, March 14, 1869.

24 Philadelphia Sunday Mercury, April 25, 1869.

25 Philadelphia Sunday Mercury, May 16, 1869.

26 Philadelphia Sunday Mercury, May 30, 1869.

27 Philadelphia Sunday Mercury, June 13, 1869.

28 New York Clipper, April 10, 1869: 2.

29 Ibid.

30 New York Clipper, May 8, 1869: 35.

31 Frank Queen, however, viewed things differently — as we shall see a few months hence.

32 New York Sunday Mercury, February 7, 1869.

33 New York Sunday Mercury, March 28, 1869. After a pathetic 1869 season in which they managed to defeat only a handful of New York amateur clubs, the Morrisanias restocked their lineup and went the pro route in 1870.

34 New York Clipper, February 13, 1869: 357.

35 New York Sunday Mercury, January 10, 1869.

36 The green stockings as part of the Mutual uniform debuted the last day of July and the “Green Stockings” nickname was used at least as early as the November 13 edition of the New York Clipper.

37 Frank Queen showed considerable foresight when, bemoaning the Gold Ball dilemma, he wrote in the November 7, 1868, New York Clipper: “[W]e should have expressly stated that the Gold Ball would be presented to that club which should prove to be the winners of the largest number of games of those played for the championship.”

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