1884 Winter Meetings: Collapse of the Union, Return of the Prodigals

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 Annus Mirabilis that was 1884 left a massive fallout for the campaign of 1885. For the first time, there had been three major leagues operating simultaneously, and the messy multi-circuit milieu — especially the tenuous stability of the freshman Union Association, and the renewed tensions between the National League and the American Association — brought repercussions that weighed heavily on baseball minds throughout the offseason.

Of paramount concern was the question of how to deal with renegade players — the contract-breakers and league-jumpers who tried the patience of owners and tested the limits of baseball law. Of this group, one Anthony J. Mullane stood out as an especially iniquitous example, and much attention was paid him and his fellow transgressors in the run-up to 1885 and beyond. The helter-skelter player moves were paralleled by changes in franchise locations, ownership and league affiliation.

In terms of what was actually happening on the field, the perennial tug-of-war between pitcher and hitter tilted noticeably toward the pitcher in 1884, meaning that administrative bodies would be looking for ways to help batters through rules changes.

THE MULLANE CASE

Twenty-five year-old Tony Mullane had yet to acquire the colorful nicknames we associate with him today, “The Count” and “The Apollo of the Box,” but he had begun already to establish himself as one of the most talented and durable of nineteenth-century pitchers. He was also attaining a reputation as a revolver extraordinaire.

After a brief five-game trial with NL Detroit in 1881, Mullane enlisted for a tour with AA Louisville in 1882. He next signed with Chris Von der Ahe’s St. Louis Browns for a higher price in 1883, before really getting into hot water with his contract maneuvers in 1884.

Taking advantage of the Union Association’s disregard for the two established leagues’ reserve clause policy, Mullane accepted a whopping $2,500 offer from Henry Lucas and prepared to twirl for the St. Louis entry in the fledgling UA. But before the season could even begin, the young ace had second thoughts about jumping leagues, and returned to the AA fold, signing on with the new Toledo club for the same $2,500 salary the Unions had promised. Notwithstanding Mullane’s superb year between the points, the Blue Stockings crossed the finish line in eighth place, at 46-58. On October 25, firmly on the path to disbanding, the team brokered a deal with Von der Ahe to make Mullane, along with Curt Welch, Sam Barkley, Tom Poorman, and manager Charles Morton, available — naturally, for a hefty sum.

With a 10-day waiting period stipulated between release from one team and signing with another, Von der Ahe took the peculiar precaution of having the players appear before a notary and sign a pledge to finalize their contracts with St. Louis on November 4.

While the other ballplayers in the Toledo fire sale followed through on their preliminary pledge, Mullane once again went rogue. Approached by the Cincinnati club in the interim, and offered a $5,000 contract ($1,500 above the Browns’ offer), Tony took a generous $2,000 advance and inked the Cincinnati deal on November 4, thus provoking the enduring ire of Von der Ahe and the league itself.

Mullane’s singular case, along with a great many more mundane instances of contract and league-jumping, would bring swift and forceful action at the winter meetings.

IN FLUX

When it came to the number and locations of their franchises, the nineteenth century major leagues had made a habit of inconsistency. Although the NL generally held to an eight-member circuit, with occasional dips to six, they managed only twice to field the same eight teams two years running.1 The AA, meanwhile, had grown from six in 1882, to eight in 1883, to 12 in 1884.2 And of course, the Union Association underwent a dizzying swirl of transformations in its short career.

More changes were in the offing for 1885. At the end of October 1884, about the same time Toledo was selling off its cluster of stars to the Browns, another AA entry was liquidating its assets. The Columbus Buckeyes had done themselves proud in their sophomore campaign with a second-place finish but, facing insolvency, they decided to unload a large contingent of players. Charter AA member Pittsburgh coughed up $6,000 for the rights to Tom Brown, Fred Carroll, Jim Field, Rudy Kemmler, Bill Kuehne, Fred Mann, Ed Morris, Frank Mountain, John Richmond, and Pop Smith — nearly the entire Columbus reserve list.

THE ARBITRATION COMMITTEE

The first postseason meeting of note was that of the Arbitration Committee on Friday, November 7, 1884. Held at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City, it included representatives of “those professional associations of the country which are signers of the National Agreement”3 namely, the National League, the American Association, and the Eastern League. The Northwestern League would have been included, too, had it not just disbanded.

The leading business taken up by the Committee was the state of the Eastern League. Several of its clubs were in bad financial straits and League Secretary H.H. Diddlebock advised the Committee that those which did not make good on their debts by the Spring would be expelled. In fact, the Eastern as a whole was on quite tenuous ground and it was ordered that it (the Eastern League) must provide evidence of at least six active clubs by the time of the next Committee meeting in April or forfeit membership in the National Agreement.

An amendment to Section 3 of the National Agreement made the minimum player salary under the reserve rule $1,000, to apply to all Leagues, including the Eastern and the Northwestern (assuming those bodies returned in 1885). An amendment to Section 5 prohibited a released player or a player from a disbanded club from signing or playing with another club until the expiration of 10 days from the notice of release or disbandment.

The Committee also reiterated its stand against reinstatement of players who had jumped to the Union Association in 1884, citing specifically their denial of Clarence “Kid” Baldwin’s application for reinstatement. Informal discussions took place on a number of other subjects, e.g., putting an end to the “growing evil of drunkenness,” the Columbus sale to Pittsburgh, and the coming elections for President and Secretary in both the League and the Association. The Mullane case was discussed, and although it was not in a position to make any binding decisions, the Committee let it be known that it considered his expulsion “absolutely necessary.”4 The date and location of the Spring meeting were set for the first Friday in April, in Philadelphia.

THE NOVEMBER NL CONVENTION

The National League’s ninth annual convention, a two-day affair, began Wednesday, November 19, at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York. All eight League clubs were represented, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, New York, Providence sending two men each, Philadelphia sending three, and Cleveland and Detroit, only one apiece. The first order of business was the reluctant acceptance of President Abraham G. Mills’ resignation. It didn’t take long for the convention to unanimously vote League Secretary Nick Young as Mills’ successor. Rather than seek a new Secretary, the two offices were combined, making Young both President and Secretary, as well as “custodian of funds.”5

After the official awarding of the 1884 Championship to the Providence Grays, a new five-man Board of Directors was installed, consisting of Young (ex-officio), Spencer Clinton of Buffalo, John B. Day of New York, Al Reach of Philadelphia, and a representative from Detroit to be named later.

Two Committees were next appointed, the Printing Committee and the Schedule Committee, both consisting of the same three members (Day, Arthur Soden of Boston, and Al Spalding from Chicago). John I. Rogers of Philadelphia was then appointed as NL member to the Arbitration Committee, replacing the resigned Mills.

With the routine administrative business out of the way, the first major player-related issue was taken up: the appeal for reinstatement of players expelled for abrogating the reserve clause by jumping to the Union Association. The case of Frederick Lander “Dupee” Shaw became the League’s exemplar in the matter.

Shaw, a pitcher with the Detroit Wolverines, had decided to stage a midseason walkout rather than pay a fine levied by the club. Going back to his Boston-area home to sulk, he shortly was offered a job with the Boston Union team, and within a week it was reported he had joined them.6 The left-hander went on to become a 30-game winner (combined NL and UA) and one of four pitchers to rack up over 400 strikeouts. But at season’s end, he was ready to return to the NL fold.

Despite the impressive performance credentials, the League was not ready to forgive and forget — not for Shaw, nor for any of the other renegades. The official resolution was denial of all reinstatement applications, the board’s proclamation stating, “This League will never consent to the reinstatement of any player who has deserted, or may hereafter desert any club identified with this League while held by the reserve rule.”7

Cognizant of the widespread dominance of pitching over batting in 1884, the Convention opened a discussion on amending rules governing the delivery of the ball. Central to the issue was whether overhand delivery should be prohibited. Proponents (of prohibition) argued that the greater speed of overhand throwing was a detriment to the hitting and fielding aspects of the game. They pointed, too, to the wear and tear, not only on pitchers’ arms, but to their battery-mates behind the plate. On the opposing side, it was noted that enforcement of such prohibition was a near impossibility for umpires, and that freedom of choice in delivery allowed for more strategy on the pitcher’s part.

With no solution imminent, action was deferred to the second day of the convention. But before the discussion was closed entirely, one of the delegates floated a new idea: that pitchers might be required to keep both feet on the ground while making their delivery, thus cutting down on speed. The idea was promptly embraced, and the rule adopted ran as follows: “A fair ball is a ball delivered by the pitcher while standing wholly within the lines of his position, and facing the batsman, with both feet touching the ground while making any one of the series of motions he is accustomed to make in delivering the ball to the bat…”8

Further attempts were made to improve life for hitters. The batter’s box was expanded from three feet to four and a half feet, allowing for greater freedom of movement. And an odd new amendment to Rule 14, Section 2, would permit a bat to be shaved or flattened by a half inch on one side — the idea being to enhance bat control and to reduce foul balls.

The balk rule was more clearly defined. Where the rule previously said, “A balk is a motion made by the pitcher to deliver the ball to the bat without delivering it,” the new wording said a balk occurs if the pitcher “when about to deliver the ball to the bat, while standing within the lines of his position, make any one of the series of motions he habitually makes in so delivering the ball to the bat, without delivering it.”9

There was an interesting take-back against the batters’ side, as Rule 65 was reworded to say that a fair ball hit over any fence less than 210 feet from home-plate would be a ground-rule double, thus precluding a repeat of 1884’s home-run barrage over the right-field fence at Chicago’s Lake Front Park.

The Spalding ball was retained as the League’s official sphere, and all printing concessions (score cards, show-bills, etc.) were awarded to John B. Sage of Buffalo. Appointment and control of umpires was put in President Young’s hands. The issue of Philadelphia’s admission fee exemption (they were allowed to charge only 25 cents rather than 50, largely due to the fact they had a powerful AA rival in town charging only 25) was deferred to the next League meeting, which was planned for early March.

THE DECEMBER AA CONVENTION

The American Association held its annual convention during the second week of December, the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York again being the venue of choice. The New York Clipper referred to it in advance as “the most important meeting the Association has yet had,” saying the delegates would be called upon to take up “a number of subjects of vital interest to the future welfare of the organization.”10

The Board of Directors held their preparatory meeting on Tuesday, December 9. The AA board included Brooklyn owner Charlie Byrne, Philadelphia co-owner Lew Simmons, Baltimore manager Billy Barnie, Louisville manager Jim Hart, and Von der Ahe of St. Louis, and was chaired by Association President Denny McKnight. After making the official award of the 1884 championship to the Metropolitans, the Board delved into its major piece of business: the Mullane case.

John J. O’Neill, a Missouri Congressman with connections to the St. Louis club, acted as counsel for the club and laid out the charges of dishonorable conduct against the pitcher. O.P. Caylor of Cincinnati — probably the only party possessing any sympathy toward the accused – stood in as defense counsel. Caylor could do little but try to point out similar offenses by other players which had gone unpunished. He noted, too, that St. Louis itself had acted less than forthrightly when it lured Mullane away from Louisville in 1883. (Von der Ahe must have felt a sting on that point.) But to no avail. The Board’s ruling is worth quoting in full:

“Whereas, Tony J. Mullane has been guilty of conduct tending to bring discredit on the baseball profession, causing discontent and insubordination among all professional players, and setting an example of sharp practice almost equivalent to actual dishonesty; therefore, it is

“Resolved, That this Board of Directors feel that such conduct must not be tolerated, and consequently they decree the suspension of said Mullane for and during the season of 1885, and they also order that he repay to the Cincinnati Club before Jan. 1, 1885, $1,000 of the money advanced him, and that he shall not play ball with any professional club during the season of 1885, or this suspension shall be increased to final expulsion.”11

The Clipper’s final pronouncement on the case recognized that the blame lay not only with the player: “There is no difference between the action of a club which endeavors to secure a contract surreptitiously and that of a player who breaks a written engagement.”12 The point surely hit home with the Cincinnati club, as they, by virtue of the Board’s decision, found themselves out $1,000 (half of the advance they had given Mullane).

The annual Association meeting proper began the next day, Wednesday the 10th. Delegates from nine of the 12 1884 teams were present: Baltimore, Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. McKnight and W.C. Wykoff were reinstalled as president and secretary, and Von der Ahe was made vice-president. The Board of Directors was reduced to five, Byrne, Barnie, and Von der Ahe retained, Nimick of Pittsburgh added, with McKnight the chair, ex-officio.

The first important action taken was the reduction of the Association to eight teams, these being Baltimore, Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Louisville, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. Indianapolis was thus left out in the cold, as was the Virginia franchise. Columbus and Toledo had of course already disbanded. Applications for membership were received from Newark and from the Washington team of the UA, but, as one Cincinnati paper put it, “it was deemed best to make the Association an octagon.”13 The only consolation for Indianapolis and Virginia was a promise to respect their player contracts for a year, and, in fact, a telegram was sent to the NL and the Eastern League soliciting similar pledges from those bodies.

Brooklyn’s Byrne put forward a proposal to change the system of dividing gate receipts between home and visiting clubs. Instead of the standard guarantee of $65 to the visitors, Byrne suggested a 25 percent share of receipts. The proposal fell one vote short of the required two-thirds to pass.

Constitutional amendments were taken up on Thursday the 11th, and several relatively mundane changes were made. Official scorers were given three days (rather than 24 hours) to submit scores. The Association president was invested with many “arbitrary” powers, including almost complete control over the umpires. He was granted authority to suspend any player, manager or umpire found guilty of open drunkenness. An amendment to Article 6, Section 2, said that if gate-money were refunded due to an early game stoppage, the guarantee to the visiting club would not be paid.

To underscore the sentiment of the Mullane decision, new language was added to Article 6, Section 4, stating, “Any eligible player who may be proved guilty of signing contracts with two clubs covering the same period of time, and receiving advance money from either, shall be expelled.”14 In addition, Section 7 added the stipulation that a club, manager, or player who would “in any way evade the spirit and letter of the ten-day clause” could be fined between $100 and $500.15

On-field activity was addressed through a number of modest changes. One moved the start of the season from May 1 to April 20, with season’s end moving from October 15 to October 1, though provision was made to allow makeup games to be played up to October 10. Fines were dictated for clubs that would leave the field before a game ends, such as in a disagreement over an umpire’s decision. The choice of first “at-bats” would be given to the home club, rather than leaving it to a coin toss. The Association adopted the NL’s stricter definition of a balk where the pitcher’s preliminary movements were concerned. The foul-bound catch rule was, for the moment, retained.

The Convention adjourned at 7:00 PM on the 11th, with the next meeting scheduled for March 2, 1885, in Baltimore.

THE UNION ASSOCIATION DECEMBER MEETING

When the board of the AA handed down its verdict on Mullane’s suspension on December 9, an indignant O.P. Caylor threatened to withdraw his Cincinnati club from the Association. This sparked a little jeu d’esprit from Billie Barnie, who dashed off a telegram to the owners of the Cincinnati Union team, inquiring as to their interest in stepping in should the Porkopolis slot in the AA become vacant. Caylor, being apprised of the communique, hastily backpedaled on his threat.

This was but one of a dizzying series of feints, dodges, and rumors lending confusion to the fate of the Union Association as the year 1884 came to a close. UA President Henry Lucas could take pride in his own champion St. Louis Maroons, but on the whole his upstart circuit was clearly in trouble. Only five of the original eight clubs — St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boston, Baltimore, and Washington — completed the full season of over 100 games. Chicago’s Unions, withering in the face of competition from the NL White Stockings, up and moved to Pittsburgh in late May but could not make it to the finish line there either, shutting down in September. Four other teams never got to play more than 25 games. It was unclear whether any club besides St. Louis had actually met expenses for the year.

Yet, reports persistently flooded the baseball channels about possible player transactions and club moves for the 1885 season. In October, Ned Williamson was said to be signing with the Maroons. At the same time, a Union team in Philadelphia was rumored. Larry McKeon of Indianapolis supposedly signed on with the UA’s Kansas City, and the same club offered large contracts to two catchers, Jocko Milligan and Jack O’Brien. In late November came reports of attempts to form Union clubs in the abandoned AA cities of Toledo and Columbus. Lucas visited Indianapolis in December and promoted the idea of that city joining. It was hinted at one point that the UA of 1885 might have no eastern clubs at all, that Lucas would establish a “Western Association.” The Cincinnati Enquirer, on the premise that Cleveland and Detroit would not continue as NL members in ‘85, ran an article encouraging them to shift over to the UA.16 In late December, Lucas was in Cleveland, trying to further that interest.

Whatever optimism was generated by all this fodder suffered serious deflation when reports began surfacing at the AA Convention that Lucas was actively pursuing an avenue by which to secure NL membership for his Maroons. While the idea of Lucas jumping leagues was regarded in some quarters as an improbability, due to the obstacles for all parties concerned, the likelihood of such an eventuality was, to others, soon apparent, requiring only a little more time for covert machinations to fully play out.

In the meantime, the Union Association finally got around to its annual meeting on December 18 in St. Louis. Besides the host party, delegates from only three other cities – Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Cincinnati – managed to show up. Indianapolis, looking for a home after being voted out of the AA, sent a proxy. Washington and Boston, not sending delegates, were dismissed from the league, and the resignation of the Baltimores was accepted. A few constitutional amendments were adopted. One called for a guaranty fund, to be held by the President, to which each team would make a $500 deposit as surety of their club remaining in operation. The President was granted full authority over umpires’ appointments, salary payments, and fines. In step with one of the AA’s amendments, a forfeit of $250 was mandated for any club failing to play out a game.

It was decided that the UA should be an eight-team league in 1885, and applications for membership were received from Columbus, St. Paul, Cleveland, and Detroit. All other matters, including any changes to actual playing rules, were deferred to the January meeting, to be held in Milwaukee.

JANUARY MEETINGS AND THE FATE OF THE UNIONS

Visiting Philadelphia at the end of December, Henry Lucas was asked about the status of his purported shift to the NL. He responded, “I do not see how we can join the League. As long as the National Agreement remains in force I could not join and play some of the men I now have under contract. These men have made me in baseball, and I will stick to them.”17 At the same time, Chris Von der Ahe was writing President McKnight that he would “not under any circumstances consent” to a rival St. Louis franchise in the NL.18

Within a week, however, Lucas was telling a reporter in Indianapolis that he had secured the transfer of St. Louis to the NL in place of Cleveland, and that negotiations for UA Cincinnati to replace Detroit were “well under way.”19 At least part of that claim was genuine.

On January 10, delegates of the National League hustled back to the Fifth Avenue Hotel for a special meeting. Cleveland had submitted its withdrawal from the League on January 5 — one day after Lucas’ Indianapolis interview — and action was needed to fill the vacancy. Although several potential replacements were discussed, Lucas’ team was undoubtedly the front-runner.

Two major stumbling-blocks stood in the way. One was the issue of the league-jumpers. The St. Louis Union team was loaded with former NL and AA stars who made Lucas’ club the giant that it was. For him to give up those players blacklisted for breaking the reserve clause would mean starting from Square One, a place he obviously did not wish to be.

The second huge obstacle was Von der Ahe. The National Agreement stipulated unanimous consent to confirm new membership in either league, and at the moment it appeared Chris was in no mood to give his blessing to a second ballclub in the Gateway City.

The delegates nonetheless went ahead and voted to admit the former St. Louis Unions to the League, and then waited to see how things would shake out.

While this tempest was brewing, the scheduled January 15 meeting of the UA in Milwaukee went forward, but in a sadly anticlimactic fashion, as the only clubs represented were Milwaukee and Kansas City – President Lucas neither appearing nor making any communication to the group. Those delegates present proceeded to disband the Association, while holding out the possibility of reorganizing in some new form. In fact, it was shortly thereafter reported that a “Western Association” was to be formed, containing teams in Milwaukee, Kansas City, Toledo, Columbus, Indianapolis, Cleveland, St. Paul, and Minneapolis.

With the assent of Von der Ahe to the Lucas membership still not forthcoming, NL president Young booked the Fifth Avenue Hotel for January 21 to convene yet another special league meeting. Hedging his bet in case the St. Louis deal fell through, Young at the same time solicited Indianapolis to apply for NL membership. After a full day of discussion without resolution, the decision was made to appoint a committee consisting of three NL club representatives to meet with a similar contingent of AA reps at the Association’s upcoming January meeting, for purposes of finding a solution to the dilemma.

Before such meeting could take place, however, the presidents of the rival St. Louis clubs came together — Von der Ahe inviting Lucas to a private conference on Sunday, January 25 – and in a mere half-hour the two moguls worked out an amicable resolution between themselves, thus averting a potential new NL-AA war. Von der Ahe blamed misunderstanding and “ruinous rumors” for keeping the two at odds as long as they were.20

The AA went ahead with its special January 27 meeting at the Monongahela House in Pittsburgh, but now, brandishing plowshares instead of swords, they confirmed their acceptance of the NL’s new St. Louis entry. A further resolution reiterated the strong stance against all contract/reserve-jumping players. It was also decided to move the season start from April 20 to April 18.

On the following day, back in New York, a trio of National League reps and another of American Association reps met to formalize the final agreement on the Lucas deal. It was a brief, self-congratulatory affair, and the League magnanimously agreed to return the favor if the AA should, for example, wish to install an American club in Chicago. Additionally, the two groups determined to appoint a joint standing committee that might deal with future conflicts in a more contained and expeditious manner.

A joint meeting of League and Association schedule committees took place February 17 in New York, its main concern being to avoid conflicts between the League and Association clubs in New York, St. Louis and Philadelphia.

MEETINGS OF MARCH AND APRIL

Echoing sentiments already expressed in the pages of the Clipper, Gothams great John M. Ward weighed in on the question of the reserve-jumpers in a letter to that paper.21 Declaring that there was but one capital crime in baseball — “crookedness” — and that that alone deserved the ultimate penalty of expulsion, the noted “clubhouse lawyer” argued that reserve-jumpers should not suffer de facto expulsion (blacklisting) for breaking a rule to which they had not agreed in the first place. Ward looked less kindly upon the contract-breakers and acknowledged the propriety of fines or suspensions on that front — but again, not the “ultimate” penalty.

The AA held its next regular meeting at the Eutaw House in Baltimore, March 2 and 3. In a preliminary conference, the Board of Directors considered an application for reinstatement by Dave Rowe, who had jumped from AA Baltimore to UA St. Louis, where he enjoyed an excellent year as Lucas’ center fielder. Cincinnati took the Clipper-Ward position and spoke up for reinstatement of reserve-jumpers, but in the end, Rowe was shot down. The convention then passed a resolution instructing Arbitration Committee members to vote against all reinstatement efforts.

In lesser business, an attempt at abolishing the foul-bound catch was defeated by a five-to-three vote. A new resolution granted either team the right to demand that a postponed game be replayed. And Billie Barnie declined to consent to the Eastern League’s proposal for a team in Baltimore.

The NL was back at the Fifth Avenue Hotel March 7 for what the Clipper termed “the most important Spring meeting ever held.”22 The first action was the unanimous endorsement of the January 21 election of the St. Louis club. A new amendment empowered President Young to levy fines of $250 against players or managers whose misconduct went unpunished by their own clubs. The standing committee recommended at the AA’s January meeting was endorsed, and Soden, Spalding, and Day appointed as League reps. They wasted no time calling a confab with AA reps, Byrne, Simmons, and Von der Ahe, and the sextet produced a joint resolution banning future payments of advance money to players or managers. Bob Ferguson was named head of the League umpires for 1885.

At the prodding of Henry Chadwick, one important playing rule received clarification, that concerning the new “both feet stationary” rule. A new definition, to be included in the President’s instructions to the umpires, said that “any movement whatever of the forward foot” was prohibited, but that the lifting of the back foot “was not to be regarded, as it cannot be lifted until the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand anyway, and therefore…does not violate the rule.”23 No warning would be given when a pitcher moved his forward foot: a “foul balk” would be called, two of which would give the batter his base.24

Finally, the question of reinstatement was addressed, as Newton Crane, Henry Lucas’ legal counsel, presented arguments on behalf of four St. Louis players seeking to return: Fred Dunlap, Orator Shaffer, Dave Rowe, and Charlie Sweeney. By a majority vote, the League followed the Association’s lead, and all applications were denied, seeming to ring the death knell for reinstatement in 1885.

Crane, interviewed back in St. Louis the next week, said that, at least in the case of Sweeney, it was only one negative vote — from Henry Root of Providence — that prevented the player’s return. Sweeney had been only suspended, not blacklisted, and the other club representatives were favorable to his plea, but Root apparently still held a grudge against the hurler who deserted him in the midst of a pennant race.

In New York, Lucas summed up the irony of the players’ situation to a Times reporter: “I induced them to desert, and if they committed any crime surely I was a party to it. Now the League has taken me into its fold and it refuses to reinstate them.”25

The Girard House in Philadelphia was the site of the Arbitration Committee’s annual Spring meeting on April 3. Day, Rogers, and Young represented the League, Barnie, Caylor, and McKnight, the Association, and George Ballard, Mike Scanlan, and Diddlebock stood in for the Eastern League.

The first important order of business was the Eastern League’s repeated request to locate a club in Baltimore, and this was again denied.

The Committee did not take up the cases of any of the blacklisted players already ruled on at the NL or AA meetings. It did, however, reinstate several players who had been expelled from “minor associations” for lesser infractions. The most notable names in this group were “Kid” Baldwin, Chris Fulmer, and Abner Powell, all of whom had been bounced by the Northwestern League. In light of this, and at a time when the threat of blacklisting was reportedly used to free clubs of indebtedness to players, the Committee saw fit to make an amendment to the National Agreement declaring “none of the united associations shall have the power of expelling a player unless the sentence is confirmed by the Arbitration Committee.”26

THE SECRET MEETING

One day after the Arbitration Committee’s meeting, a small group of National League officials convened in New York for a session that was not immediately reported in the papers. But small hints began to appear. Upon his return to St. Louis on Monday the 6th, Henry Lucas told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat that he had done his best to plead his case with the other League officers and, although he could not say for certain what the outcome would be, “You can say positively that I am going to stick to the League.”27 Curiously, the same paper reported the next day that Jack Glasscock was in town playing a practice game with the former Union nine, and that he expected to see his fellow Cleveland-deserters, Jim McCormick and Fatty Briody, soon.

The Clipper of April 11 gave no indication it was even aware of the April 4 meeting. But the Boston Journal of the same date dropped a bombshell, announcing: “A SENSATION IN BASE BALL: Unconditional Surrender of the League to Lucas.”

The Journal reporter had a contact among the club presidents — he assured his readership it was not Soden — according to whom, Albert Spalding had informed the group that Chicago “would drop out of the League unless Mr. Lucas…was enabled to secure the best talent that the country afforded.” And the only way to do that was “to give St. Louis the blacklisted men and Sweeney.”28

Much of what Spalding reportedly said was cribbed from Lucas’ own recent diatribes, but he also played on the financial heartstrings of the moguls, suggesting that with a well-stocked Maroons team, “the attendance at the St. Louis games would be very large, and visiting clubs would reap a harvest,” while, without the blacklisted men, “St. Louis would be dead to the League.”29 He also let it be known that the same profit incentive — or disincentive — would play a factor in going forward with major renovations he was contemplating for the Windy City ballpark. After some group discussion, it was decided to call a special meeting on April 18.

RETURN TO THE FOLD

Strangely, for an event of such magnitude, the NL didn’t play all its first-stringers in the April 18 meeting, which was held — you guessed it — at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Day, Soden, and Rogers were there for New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. J.E. Allen, not Root, appeared for Providence, Al Spalding sent his brother Walter for Chicago, and Nick Young had proxy for Buffalo, Detroit, and St. Louis.

The oddly-assembled crew gave little time to preliminaries and were in short order voting on two resolutions: first, to reinstate Dunlap, Schaffer, Hugh Daily, and Emil Gross, with a fine of $500 each as their final punishment; second, to reinstate Sweeney, Glasscock, McCormick, Briody, and Dupee Shaw, with a fine of $1,000 each. Both proposals carried with only Providence and Philadelphia voicing initial objections before throwing in with the majority.

In the wake of the momentous League action, Denny McKnight convened his generals again in Pittsburgh on April 27. Von der Ahe, knowing an opening when he saw one, immediately applied for the reinstatement of Dave Rowe and Tom Dolan, but his was the only vote in favor: the AA held firm to the blacklist.

The next business was to deal with shenanigans in New York that had been fomenting since at least November, when John Day fired Gothams manager Jim Price and replaced him with Mets manager Jim Mutrie. Day, president of the Metropolitan Exhibition Company which owned both New York clubs, had begun a campaign of building up the NL Gothams at the expense of the AA Mets. The maneuvering continued when Mets stars Tim Keefe and Dude Esterbrook were suddenly released by the team, then disappeared with Day for an ocean cruise of some two weeks’ duration, and finally docked again in Manhattan signed with the Gothams. The Association recognized this little game of hide and seek for just what it was — a means to transfer players between teams without worrying about the 10-day rule.

Considering the extremely questionable ethics, the ownership was probably lucky to get off with a $500 fine for its ruse. For good measure, Jim Mutrie was banned from future employment in the AA.

It was then time to address the NL’s reinstatement decision. Declaring that the League had violated the National Agreement by reinstating players without approval of the Arbitration Committee, the Association declared it would no longer honor the reserve clause and voted unanimously “to suspend all further intercourse with the League until they had repudiated their open violation of the National Agreement.”30

The Association’s volley on the reinstatement brought a quick response from Nick Young, who denied the NL had violated the Agreement. In the League’s view, they had every right to reverse a resolution they (the NL) had passed in 1884, and besides, the Arbitration Committee was a judicial body, there to interpret laws, not create or remove them.

CODA

From there, the parties maintained a hostile but distant stand-off. After all, it was finally time to play ball again: the 1885 AA season had already opened, and the NL’s was about to begin. In June, the AA passed a series of amendments bringing them into line with current NL practices: the abolishment of the foul-bound catch, the removal of restrictions on the pitcher’s delivery (i.e., permitting overhand throwing), and giving the home-team captain the choice of first innings.

On August 20, a group of Association club presidents assembled in Atlantic City voted to revoke adherence to the ten-day waiting period for released players. In the AA’s view, the League had already abrogated the National Agreement by reinstating reserve-jumpers, and the Association thus was no longer bound by the Agreement where it did not suit them.

About a week later, hints emerged that the AA would finally capitulate on the blacklist question.31 According to a later report in Sporting Life, “Von der Ahe. . . recommended the reinstatement of Dave Rowe and has also asked President McKnight to take a mail vote on the question of reinstating the blacklisted players.”32 Rowe was back on the playing field September 16 and by the close of the season Tom Dolan, George Bradley, Jack Gleason, and Sam Weaver all returned to the baseball brotherhood.

Even a certain notorious ambidextrous pitcher was back in uniform before winter set in. On October 4, at Cincinnati, in the first of a series of six postseason exhibition games between the Reds and the St. Louis Browns, Tony Mullane made his first on-field appearance of 1885. He pitched masterfully, allowing only three scattered hits, but poor field work behind him resulted in a 5-1 victory for the St. Louis team.

Despite having his way with both the League and the Association, and getting all his UA stars back, Henry Lucas was frustrated in his hopes for glory in the established leagues. The outlaw owner who was responsible for so much of the turmoil of ‘84 and ‘85 saw his team finish dead last, 49 games behind the NL champion Chicago White Stockings.

 

Sources

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

Boston Herald, Cleveland Leader, , St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Kerr, Roy. Big Dan Brouthers: Baseball’s First Great Slugger (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2013).

Lansche, Jerry. Glory Fades Away (Dallas: Taylor Publishing Co., 1991).

Nemec, David. The Beer And Whisky League (New York: Lyons & Burford, 1995).

The Great Encyclopedia of 19th-Century Major League Baseball (New York: Donald I. Fine Books, 1997).

 

Notes

1 The eight-member NL of 1882-1883 was a slightly different eight from that of 1883-1884, the former including Troy and Worcester, and the latter including New York and Philadelphia in their place.

2 The AA actually sported 13 teams in 1884, but Virginia was technically a midseason replacement for Washington.

3 “The Arbitration Committee Meeting,” New York Clipper, November 15, 1884: 554.

4 New York Clipper, November 15, 1884.: 555

5 “The League Convention,” New York Clipper, November 29, 1884: 587.

6 “Base-Hits Everywhere,” New York Clipper, July 19, 1884: 275.

7 “The League Convention,” New York Clipper, November 29, 1884: 587.

8 Constitution and playing rules of the National League of professional base ball clubs (Chicago, Illinois, A.G. Spalding & Bros., 1885), 31.

9 Ibid.

10 “The American Convention,” New York Clipper, December 13, 1884: 620.

11 “The American Convention Proceedings. The Meeting of the Directors,” New York Clipper, December 20, 1884: 634.

12 “The American Convention,” New York Clipper, December 20, 1884: 640.

13 “Fourth Annual Meeting of the American Base Ball Association,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, December 11, 1884: 4.

14 “The American Convention Proceedings. The Annual Meeting,” New York Clipper, December 20, 1884: 635

15 Ibid.

16 “Why Cleveland and Detroit Should Join the Unions,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 14, 1884: 10.

17 New York Clipper, January 3, 1885: 668-669.

18 New York Clipper, January 10, 1885: 684.

19 Ibid.

20 “The Lucas Deal Completed,” New York Clipper, January 31, 1885: 732.

21 “The Reserve-Rule and Contract-Breakers,” New Yok Clipper, February 14, 1885: 763.

22 “The National League,” New York Clipper, March 14, 1885: 828.

23 Ibid.

24 Constitution and playing rules of the National League of professional base ball clubs, 31.

25 “The Association Refuses to Reinstate the Deserters,” New York Times, March 8, 1885: 2.

26 “The Arbitration Committee Meeting,” New York Clipper, April 11, 1885: 52.

27 “Lucas Will Go On In the League,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 7, 1885: 4.

28 “A Sensation in Base Ball: Unconditional Surrender of the League to Lucas,” Boston Journal, April 11, 1885: 6.

29 Ibid.

30 “The American Meeting — Its Momentous Action,” New York Clipper, May 2, 1885: 99.

31 “Other Base Ball. Notes,” Boston Journal, August 25, 1885: 3.

32 “Diamond Dust,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 8, 1885: 4, and “Notes and Comments,” Sporting Life, September 16, 1885: 4.

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