1885 Winter Meetings: A Temporary Stability

This article was written by Mark Pestana

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

Baseball's 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900After the tumultuous and expansive year of 1884 and the period of aftershock and contraction in 1885 as the two survivors, the National League and the American Association, righted their respective ships of state, one might have expected the winter meetings leading up to the 1886 season to be relatively dull and routine. But there was plenty afoot to keep followers of the national game interested during the offseason of 1885-1886. Before plunging into the actual winter meetings, a brief backward glance to events of late summer ’85 will be informative.

Late-Season Meetings

On August 24, 1885, the NL and AA met in joint conference at the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga, New York. Relations had been strained between the two major leagues, but any concerns about the tenor of the conclave were quickly dispelled as the parties worked in harmony as only businessmen with mutual financial interests can work.

Indeed, money matters were high on their priority list. Although the full plan of action finally adopted by the committee was not to be published until the two leagues voted on ratification at their respective meetings in mid-October, the information released publicly showed that the men of capital had stopped warring on each other and taken aim at the labor pool. They agreed to abolish the practice of paying advances to players prior to the opening of the season. It was also agreed that clubs would not negotiate with any contracted player prior to October 20. More significant were the rumors of a plan to combat escalating player salaries. As Sporting Life opined, the disbandment of so many clubs and the struggles of others had “made it manifest that there must be a material retrenchment in salaries.”1 Some favored a graded salary plan, some an across-the-board reduction. In the end, as the baseball world waited, it was said the League and the Association were “closer together than they have ever been before.”2

October Meetings: The Salary Question

The conference committees of the NL and AA assembled at their favorite haunt, New York’s Fifth Avenue Hotel, on October 16, 1885, to continue the work begun in Saratoga. Chairman Arthur Soden of the Boston club was joined by fellow NL executives Al Spalding (Chicago) and John Day (New York). The AA was represented by St. Louis Browns President Chris Von der Ahe, Lew Simmons of the Athletics, and Brooklyn’s Charlie Byrne. By the time the body adjourned on the evening of the 17th, it had crafted a new National Agreement, which was promptly ratified by the club delegates from both leagues.

In regard to yearly player contracts, the Agreement, as before, stipulated a duration of seven months, April 1 through October 31, with neither contract nor corresponding negotiations to be entered into by club and player prior to October 20. Language was added directing that contracts be forwarded to the appropriate league secretary within 10 days to be registered and approved. The secretary would then send notice not only to all member clubs of that league, but to the secretary of the other league as well.

At the same time, the reserve rule was expanded to cover 12 players on each club (up from the figure of 11 established by the first National Agreement in 1883). Given that in the AA and NL combined, an average of only 13 players per club played at least 20 games in 1885, club owners were guaranteed almost total control over their labor pool.

According to Section Five of the prior Agreement, a player released from contract, or a player on a disbanded team, could not be engaged by another club for 10 days after the release or disbandment. The revised section provided that such a player, immediately upon release and for a period of 10 days, could be engaged by a club within his own league. Thereafter, if the player remained available, he was free to negotiate with clubs from the other league. As Harold Seymour infers, this “marked the beginning of the modern waiver rule.”3

The Ninth and Tenth Sections of the Agreement delineated, as the Clipper termed it, “the re-arrangement of the powers delegated to the Arbitration Committee,”4 assigning to that body broad powers to “revoke, alter, and repeal all necessary rules and regulations,” as well as “exclusive and final jurisdiction” in matters arising from the Agreement and “differences and disputes” between the leagues or individual club members.5 Day, Soden, and NL President Nick Young were the League’s appointees to the committee, and Byrne, Von der Ahe, and Zach Phelps of Louisville, the Association’s. They convened at the conference’s end, the evening of the 17th, and heard a request from the Eastern League to be recognized as a party to the new Agreement. The board’s response was a stall tactic, creating a subcommittee to draw up parameters for membership in the National Agreement. Since the next Arbitration Committee meeting would not take place until December 8, this meant that from October 20 to that date, the Eastern League — and other associations like the New England League and the Southern League — could be freely raided for talent by the two majors. In addition, the board had determined that the reserve rule applied only to the AA and NL; the other organizations had no power to protect players beyond their current contracts.

The board also heard Von der Ahe’s complaint against catcher Tom Dolan. The backstop had played 116 games for the AA Browns starting in 1883, but had skipped to the St. Louis Union club late in the ’84 campaign. and was, naturally enough, blacklisted for 1885. When the AA finally acquiesced on reinstatement in September, Dolan was expected to return to the Browns, but instead landed with the NL St. Louis Maroons for three late-season games, to the aggrievement of Von der Ahe. Again the board took the matter under consideration but put off any decision until its December meeting.

It was Section Eight that addressed the salary question. The new language stated:

No club shall pay to any of its players for one season’s service a salary in excess of $2,000, nor shall any club employing a player for any portion of the season pay said player for his services at a rate in excess of said maximum salary…”

The salary cap drew immediate criticism, and not just from the ballplayers. The Clipper’s Boston correspondent averred:

“There cannot be any reason adduced why any player should receive less than he is worth. While all will admit that no player is worth $4,200, most of us will be forced to admit that there are plenty of players who have a market value of over $2,000.”6

While fretting over what impact the new salary policy might have on the general ballplaying populace, the writer did not refrain from putting a certain former Boston star in his place:

“The question now arises, will the players be fired with the old ambition? … For a man must be greatly dissatisfied upon a reduction of, in some cases, half his salary. But it is a deserved rebuke to such men as Jim] O’Rourke, who have forced the market, and compelled the management to pay what no club can afford. He has chuckled long enough about the reserve rule — now he will be at his wits’ ends to circumvent the new arrangement.”7

Another Clipper writer wondered whether the leagues might be doing damage to the quality of men by cutting down salaries:

“If $2,000 for a season’s salary will drive the educated and intelligent class of players out of the arena, better add a thousand to the amount, and be satisfied with a less per cent. of dividend on the returns. Stop the craze for fancy prices, but do not lower the quality of the material in the market by fixing too low a figure.”8

While the $2,000 salary cap drew criticism and skepticism, another passage in the eighth Section of the Agreement was roundly applauded, and that dealt with advances:

“No club shall… advance payment for such services prior to the 1st day of April in any year, except a sum of money in the month of March to pay for the transportation of said player from his domicile to the city where the club is located…”

The League Convention

The NL magnates met again at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in mid-November for the League’s annual convention, its 10th. The Board of Directors assembled to prepare their annual report on the evening of Tuesday the 17th and the convention proper was underway at noon the following day.

A few minor revisions in the constitution concerning time frames for meetings and notices were passed. One interesting procedural amendment was created, dictating that changes to playing rules should be made only during the league’s annual meeting, whereas customarily, fine-tuning of the rules continued through the yearly spring meeting just prior to season opening.9

As for actual rules of play, changes were, in the words of the Clipper, “of but trifling importance.”10 Rule 13 provided for immediate replacement of a ball hit out of the park, thus doing away with the delay entailed in retrieval of a lost sphere. Rule 17 now allowed a team’s manager to be with his players during the game; previously only the nine players on each side and the umpire were allowed on any part of the field during play. Much discussion took place over the pitcher’s delivery but, in the end, the rule there was left alone. An amendment that would penalize pitchers for hitting batsmen failed to win favor with the delegates; likewise, Al Spalding’s odd proposal to alter the shape of the diamond by shortening the distance between home and second base while lengthening that between first and third, went nowhere.

The convention moved next to address a situation that had manifested only a month earlier but which had sent shockwaves through the League and was still rattling all concerned.

The Detroit-Buffalo Affair

The Buffalo Bisons were seven-year veterans of the NL and had been league members for longer than any club except Boston, Chicago, and Providence. They were never pennant-winners, but neither were they a marginal club. They had always met schedule requirements and managed three third-place finishes during their tenure. But their fortunes were sinking in 1885: They were averaging only 500 paying customers per home game; expenses were not being met and there was little hope for a turnaround.

A core of stars known as the “Big Four” had been Buffalo’s main drawing card since 1881. The quartet consisted of Hardy Richardson, Jack Rowe, and future Hall of Famers Dan Brouthers and Deacon White, and their services were coveted by several teams. It was the Detroit Wolverines who figured out a way to snare the prize.

On September 16, 1885, a deal was struck whereby Detroit’s owners paid $7,000 for a controlling share in the Buffalo club. The Bisons would stay in place and play out the season, but the franchise, its operational costs, and its destiny would be in the hands of the Detroit shareholders. The first move the Detroit men made was to order the Big Four to report for duty with the Wolverines. The Buffalo team would have to scrounge for whatever replacements might be available to plug the gaps.

An immediate hue and cry went up from the rest of the League. President Young stepped in quickly, telegraphing Buffalo and Detroit on September 18 that they were in violation of the Saratoga agreement prohibiting any club negotiating with a contracted player prior to October 20.

Detroit management claimed they had not received a copy of the Saratoga agreement until after the Buffalo transaction had been accomplished, and certainly could have argued that they had complete control over the team and players they had purchased, but with surprisingly little protest they bowed to Young’s orders and did not attempt to play their new acquisitions. The Big Four could have returned to the Bisons squad to remain active, but all chose instead to sit out the remainder of the season. Sans its all-star infield, Buffalo closed out its NL career with unparalleled futility, losing 14 straight games from September 19 through October 10. The Wolverines, on the other hand, went 10 and 3 down the home stretch, but still managed only a sixth-place finish, just five games ahead of the Bisons.

In taking up the matter at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, the delegates weighed the merits of countering arguments: on the one hand, Detroit’s assertion that their controlling share in the Buffalo club permitted them to move “assets” as they pleased, and, on the other, that the release of the four players from their Buffalo contracts triggered a waiting period (until October 20) before any club could negotiate for their services. General discussion failed to resolve the question, so the tried-and-true fallback measure of appointing a “special committee” was put in play. Three comparatively neutral reps, Spalding, Young, and Day, were tapped for the duty. They went into caucus for six hours before coming back Thursday (the 19th) with their decision to grant Detroit’s plea.11

Little was left on the convention agenda after this tussle was concluded. Joseph Marsh (Detroit), Gus Schmelz (St. Louis), and Harry Wright (Philadelphia) were appointed to the Schedule Committee, due to meet March 10, 1886. Spalding, Day, and John Rogers were assigned to the Printing Committee, and the “Spalding Ball” received a three-year extension as the official League ball.

The final business before adjournment was a set of resolutions aimed at curbing future Detroit-Buffalo quagmires. The resolutions, which were adopted unanimously, also served to clarify the nebulous language of the National Agreement’s fifth section. Essentially, a player released from contract could be picked up by any League club that filed the necessary paperwork with the League secretary within 10 days. If more than one club filed, the one who had the player’s signature of assent was granted his services. If two clubs were to file papers but neither had the player’s assent within 30 days, the League secretary would decide the player’s destination by lot.

A player signing his assent with more than one club would be subject to blacklist.

The Outside Leagues

It will be remembered that the Eastern League had petitioned for recognition as a party to the new National Agreement during the October joint conference. A subcommittee, consisting of Philadelphia’s John Rogers and Louisville’s Zach Phelps, had been appointed to work on the issue. By the end of November, the Clipper could report that Rogers and Phelps had drafted a contract which, though not admitting other leagues to the NL-AA inner sanctum, would afford them a measure of protection.12 The full Arbitration Board took up the matter December 8 in Philadelphia, immediately prior to the AA convention. The terms of the new policy were that, for an admission fee of $50, outside leagues like the Eastern could be parties to the National Agreement (though they would have no representation on the Arbitration Board), and that they could protect their talent by sending a list of contracted players to the secretary of the board by January 1 each year. Those players would then be ineligible to contract with either the AA or NL for the duration of their contracts.

December Meetings of the Association; Wiman and the Mets

During the first week of December, the long-standing conundrum over the Metropolitan Exhibition Company’s dual ownership of the NL and AA New York teams seemed to have finally been resolved when a deal was formalized to transfer, for a reported $25,000, Day’s AA Metropolitans to one Erastus Wiman.13 The Canadian-born Wiman began his rise in Manhattan’s financial world in the late 1860s, and harbored a keen interest in developing property in Staten Island, where he and his family resided.14 Upon purchase of the Mets, in fact, he made clear his intention to move the club to grounds on Staten Island, a proposal that was met less than enthusiastically by the rest of the Association.

The Continental Hotel in Philadelphia was the site of the American Association convention, December 9. Two days prior to that, delegates from all AA clubs save Louisville and Metropolitan held a special meeting to discuss the matter of the Metropolitans and Wiman. In light of what was considered a questionable franchise transfer, and the ongoing concern that Day and the Metropolitan Exhibition Company consistently acted so as to advantage their League club to the detriment of the Association club, the legal quorum of six clubs unanimously voted to expel the Mets from the AA and replace them with the Washington Nationals.

The group then passed a resolution concerning the handling of player releases, nearly identical to that adopted by the NL at the end of its November Convention.

After the December 8 meeting of the Board of Directors, at which only generally routine business like the formal awarding of the prior season’s championship was carried out, the Association convention began in earnest the morning of the 9th. Present were representatives for the seven AA clubs in good standing (St. Louis, Athletic, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Baltimore, and Cincinnati) as well as the newly anointed Washingtons. When George Williams, Erastus Wiman’s secretary, appeared on behalf of the Mets, he was initially denied admittance. After some discussion the convention delegates relented, but by then Williams was at the local telegraph office wiring Wiman about the situation. In short order, Wiman had an injunction filed to prevent any meeting continuing without Metropolitan delegates and to remove the Washington club from the meeting and the Association.15

Meanwhile, the report of the Board of Directors and the decision at the special meeting to expel the Metropolitan club were unanimously approved. The election of officers followed, with Denny McKnight again installed as president and Von der Ahe elected vice president. O.P. Caylor, Byrne, and Phelps were appointed as a subcommittee to work on revisions of the constitution and playing rules, with their report expected at the March 1886 Schedule meeting.

At about this point, business came to a halt with the entry of an officer who proceeded to serve the Wiman injunctions on all present. The convention was adjourned and the parties were charged to appear in court the following morning, where Judge Martin Thayer of the Common Pleas Court entertained brief arguments from both parties’ counsel before affirming the preliminary injunction and setting a date of December 19 for further hearing with affidavits.

The Mets’ Day in Court

December 19 saw the return of plaintiffs and defendants to Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas before Judge Thayer. An affidavit submitted on behalf of Erastus Wiman noted that the AA had, at its October 17 meeting in New York, approved all the arrangements he had made concerning the Metropolitan club up to that point, including the move to the Staten Island ballgrounds. He pointed to the player contracts already in place for 1886 and the loss of money that would be incurred should his club be denied participation in championship play.

The affidavit of Secretary Williams supported the argument with estimates of the losses disenfranchisement would bring. Team manager Jim Gifford’s affidavit insinuated there were Association clubs that wanted to expel the Mets as a means of getting their players.16

Counsel for the Association argued that its clubs were bound together for but one season at a time, that with every year came an essentially new Association, and that clubs had been dropped before. Moreover, it was claimed, the Mets’ expulsion was for good cause, as the move from New York to Staten Island would result in reduced attendance and corresponding loss of income. Besides, since the Mets had released two of their best players (Tim Keefe and Dude Esterbrook, presumably), attendance had already declined.

Judge Thayer did not need much time to render a verdict. In his view, the AA was no mere partnership that could be dissolved at the instigation of any one party. Nor did he buy the notion that a new Association was formed every year; all evidence demonstrated it to be a “continuing” entity. Explaining that, in his reading of the AA constitution, it was “perfectly plain that the plaintiff could not be expelled without notice and trial,” Thayer concluded that the injunction should be sustained.17

The day before Thayer ruled on the injunction, the Washington Nationals, aware that their membership had not been fully ratified by AA stockholders,18 and perhaps sensing something in the wind, withdrew. This in turn opened the door for the Association to reconcile with Wiman and the Mets.

The AA reconvened at Philly’s Continental Hotel on December 28. The resignation of the Nationals from the AA was formalized. The vote expelling the Metropolitans was “reconsidered,” and the New York delegates were welcomed back to the fold. Some business formalities were observed, with the election of officers and committee appointments being redone, the results with the Mets participating turning out the same as without them. The season schedule was discussed and the convention decided to eliminate all exhibition games, while increasing the number of regular-season games from 112 to 140. The convention Part Two ended with entirely amicable relations obtaining between Wiman and all the member clubs.

The January League Meeting

The League would also need to regroup for the 1886 season. Buffalo’s purchase by Detroit had all but sealed its demise. Providence, too, gave up the ghost, and by the end of November, the Rhode Islanders had been bought up by Soden of Boston, who promptly signed the Grays’ battery of Charley Radbourn and Con Daily.19

Naturally, speculation as to replacements for the two clubs sparked interesting rumors. It was said the Metropolitan Exhibition Company was seeking to buy another team, one outside New York, with Baltimore a strong possibility. Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Indianapolis were suggested as possible new franchises. The AA’s Brooklyn and Pittsburgh were alleged to contemplate shifting to the NL.20 Not long after the NL’s November convention, hints leaked out about Washington of the Eastern League being offered membership.21

In any discussion of the NL’s prospective makeup for 1886, a primary consideration was the maintaining of a quality on-field product. This led some observers to advocate for a six-team circuit, which would avoid the drain on the talent pool incumbent in an eight-team league with two brand-new clubs.22

The six vs. eight question was top priority for the special League committee that powwowed at the Fifth Avenue Hotel on January 16, 1886. The committee, consisting of Soden, Spalding, Day, Al Reach, and Rogers (the latter two both representing Philadelphia), showed a decided preference for the eight-team scheme, but it took several votes to achieve unanimity, Spalding holding out for six until he “saw there was no hope.”23 With almost the same breath, there was agreement to admit Washington as a seventh member.24 It being understood that the eighth member should be a Western entry, to balance the league geographically, the committee considered applications from Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and Kansas City. Each of the applicants made the case for their city being able to support a major-league franchise. Kansas City’s delegate, for example, “presented a petition for admission signed by the very best citizens … prominent bankers, merchants, brokers and professional men of every degree.”25 Both Kansas City and Milwaukee sought permission for Sunday games, but the League would not budge on that point. Upon Spalding’s suggestion, it was agreed to consign the selection of the final franchise to the three already existing Western clubs, Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit. A decision on reassigning Buffalo and Providence’s reserved ballplayers was also postponed, pending the “Western” decision.

Concern over the viability of new clubs was so strong that the committee passed a resolution requiring all clubs to put up a $5,000 bond of guarantee (to be paid in yearly installments of $1,000), “to cover all expenses, such as the disbandment of a club before the end of the championship season, lawsuits,”26 and “any extra expenses involved in additional railroad transportation.”27

Kansas City was named the eighth NL club on February 9.28

The AA’s March Meeting: Burch and Barkley

The Louisville Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, hosted the Association the first week of March 1886. Proceedings began the morning of Monday, March 1, addressing the cases of two players with contract disputes. The first was that of Ernie Burch, a 29-year-old outfielder who had split the 1885 season between Washington in the Eastern League and Kansas City in the Western League. The case was fairly cut-and-dried: The Brooklyn club held a contract signed by Burch on January 5, while the Metropolitans held another, signed by Burch on January 21. Testimony was heard from both parties, but a unanimous vote summarily decided the matter in favor of the Brooklyns.

Attention turned now to Sam Barkley, a player of considerably more substance, whose case was not as clear-cut. In his first major-league year, Barkley led the 1884 AA Toledos in almost every offensive category and, as a second baseman, topped the club in fielding chances, assists, and double plays. In 1885, amid a greater pool of talent on the pennant-winning St. Louis Browns, he produced club-leading figures in doubles, triples, home runs, assists, and double plays. Despite this, Browns owner Chris von der Ahe let it be known at the December AA convention that he would entertain offers for his star infielder. Pittsburgh showed interest, bidding $750 for Barkley’s release, but they were quickly outdone by Baltimore, which offered $1,000. Delaying a decision, Von der Ahe said he would allow the clubs to negotiate directly with the player after the convention. On Christmas Day, at Barkley’s home in Wheeling, West Virginia, Billy Barnie went to great lengths to secure the second baseman’s services for Baltimore, eventually pledging not only the maximum $2,000 salary but an additional $500 for “captaining” the club, which finally induced Barkley to sign. Further negotiation ensued between Barnie and Von der Ahe at the December 28 AA meeting in Philly, and on December 30 Barnie was sending the $1,000 release sum on its way to St. Louis.29

On New Year’s Day, however, Barnie received a telegram from Barkley stating: “Have reconsidered about going to Baltimore and declare the agreement you have, signed by me before my release from St. Louis, void.”30 Soon thereafter came a telegram from President McKnight himself, advising that Barkley now preferred to sign with Pittsburgh, and indicating that Barkley’s agreement with Barnie, made prior to actually being released by St. Louis, could not be enforced. His several strenuous protests making no headway, Barnie had no option but to bring his case before the Association at its March meeting.

On March 1 the Board of Directors heard arguments from Barnie and Pittsburgh’s William Nimick in the matter and declared they would render their decision the following morning.

Tuesday’s session began with the Board of Directors’ report on the Barkley case. With some reservation, they acknowledged that Barkley’s initial agreement with Baltimore was not binding according to Association rules, as he had not yet been officially released from the St. Louis club.

The report went on to say: “President McKnight properly advised Barkley that his contract with Baltimore was irregular and he had the legal right to repudiate it; but at the same time that, since he had accepted the money of the Baltimore club, and given his word to play there, such a course as he contemplated would be in bad faith and dishonorable, and advised him against such action.”31 That sentiment, reinforced by the memory of the Tony Mullane case the previous year, no doubt played into the board’s final decision, which was to suspend Barkley for the season of 1886 and to levy a $100 fine “for duplicity and dishonorable conduct.” Pittsburgh would be awarded his services after the suspension was served.32 The board’s decision was approved over Nimick’s protests.

With Burch and Barkley out of the way, the delegates went to work on changes in the constitution and rules of play. Among the few notable new constitutional clauses was this one regarding game times:

“Hereafter, when a visiting club must leave for another town on the day of a game, it shall be the duty of the home-club to call the game three and one-half hours before train time, and the visiting club shall have the right to leave the grounds within one hour before train time, no matter what may be the stage of the game.”33

Other new clauses included one requiring visiting clubs to provide the batting order to the official scorer by 10 A.M. on game day. Another allowed for a club to resign from the Association any time between the end of the season and the next annual meeting. It was also determined that the offices of Association president and secretary would be combined.

Some significant changes were made to the playing rules. The pitcher’s box was extended by adding 12 inches in the direction of second base. Similarly, the batter’s box was extended by a foot in width, either side of home plate. Stolen bases were added to the official scorer’s columns. A specific prohibition was added against teams playing with fewer than nine players. Also prohibited were spikes on players’ shoes. A baserunner could now be called out for interfering with a thrown ball. A batter hit by a pitch would be given his base only if, in the opinion of the umpire, he did not allow himself to be hit. Lastly, the number of called balls necessary to give a batter his base on balls was reduced from seven to six. The convention adjourned on Tuesday evening after the adoption of the 1886 schedule.

NL March Meeting

National League delegates gathered at New York’s Fifth Avenue Hotel March 3 and 4 for their spring meeting. The report of the Schedule Committee was presented and adopted. A lively discussion about admission rates took place, with Philadelphia requesting an extension of its “25-cent privilege” for another season, and St. Louis and Washington petitioning for similar license. Philadelphia’s privilege was renewed and the 25-cent rate was also granted to St. Louis, but Washington was denied.

The plan for $5,000 “guarantees” from each club that was made in a resolution at the League’s January meeting was now formally adopted as a constitutional amendment.

Changes to the rules of play were minimal. There was a proposal to award batters a base when hit by a pitch, but it failed to carry. Following in the AA’s footsteps, the League extended the pitcher’s box by a foot, and added stolen bases to the official score summary.

Aftermath: Barkley, McKnight, and More

It did not take long after the AA’s March meeting for the Barkley decision to draw legal threats from both the player and the Pittsburgh club. A special meeting was then called, supposedly to give Barkley an opportunity to present his own case in defense. President McKnight initially proposed Pittsburgh as the location but most of the clubs, perhaps fearing lest they be served with injunctions there by Barkley, insisted on another site, and Cincinnati was agreed upon. On March 20, representatives and/or proxies from all AA clubs appeared at Cincinnati’s Grand Hotel. To their dismay, neither Barkley nor McKnight appeared. A telegram from McKnight arrived stating he was “too unwell” to attend. A telegram was sent to Barkley, giving him additional time to make an appearance, but it went unanswered.

The delegates set about taking action regarding their president. A resolution was drafted for the purpose of removing McKnight from office, chief among the charges being that he “has of late tended to foment discord and misunderstanding among the clubs,” that clubs “have experienced difficulty in obtaining prompt and careful attention to business matters,” and that “in matters of dispute between the associated clubs” the president “has failed to observe a strict impartiality.”34 The resolution was passed by a 7-to-1 vote, and McKnight’s reign was over. Former Association Secretary Wheeler Wikoff was unanimously voted in as his successor.

The next day being Sunday, no meeting was held, but the group reconvened Monday morning to examine the Barkley case in as much depth as they could without the central figure present. In the end, the earlier decision for suspension was upheld. As for McKnight, he refused at first to turn over the Association records and books in his possession and demanded a hearing on the matter of his deposal, but in time accepted his fate.

For his part, Barkley was still not giving up. At the end of March he filed an injunction against the Association in the Pittsburgh courts. The matter threatened to drag on ad nauseam, until Pittsburgh’s Nimick proposed a solution to Billy Barnie. Knowing Barnie was in need of a first baseman, Nimick offered to release Milt Scott to the Baltimores. In addition, Barkley’s fine would be increased to $500. Barnie accepted the proposal, the other Association clubs adopted this as resolution to the entire matter, and on April 16 Wikoff officially reinstated Sam Barkley for the 1886 season.

The Detroit Wolverines, thanks to their acquisition of “The Big Four,” had an impressive season but still fell 2½ games short of the Chicagos in the NL race, while St. Louis topped the AA and bested the White Stockings in the World Series. The new League clubs, Washington and Kansas City, not unexpectedly wound up in the cellar, neither managing to win even a quarter of its games. The rule changes governing pitching were of great benefit to hurlers, resulting in a spike in strikeout totals, Matt Kilroy of Baltimore racking up 513, which remains the all-time record to this day.



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


Koppett, Leonard. Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2004).

Nemec, David. Major League Baseball Profiles: 1871-1900, Volumes 1& 2 (Lincoln, Nebraska: Bison Books, 2011).

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

The Beer and Whisky League (New York: Lyons & Burford, 1995).


Boston Journal.

St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

Wheeling (West Virginia) Register.






1 “Harmony Is the Outcome of the Conference Meeting at Saratoga Last Week,” Sporting Life, September 2, 1885: 1.

2 “Cincinnati News,” Sporting Life, September 2, 1885: 2.

3 Harold Seymour, Baseball: The Early Years (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), 169.

4 “The Arbitration Committee,” New York Clipper, October 24, 1885: 506.

5 “The Baseball Conference,” Clipper, October 24, 1885: 505.

6 “From the Hub,” Clipper, October 24, 1885: 505.

7 Ibid.

8 “The League Convention,” Clipper, November 21, 1885: 570.

9 “The League Convention,” Clipper, November 28, 1885: 584.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.: 585.

12 “Protecting Outside Leagues,” Clipper, November 28, 1885: 587.

13 Clipper, December 12, 1885: 616, 619.

14 Dictionary of Canadian Biography (biographi.ca/en/bio.php?id_nbr=7148).

15 “American Association Legislation. The Philadelphia Convention,” Clipper, December 19, 1885: 633.

16 “The Legal Contest,” Clipper, December 28, 1885: 649.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 “From the Hub,” Clipper, December 5, 1885: 602.

20 “From Cincinnati,” “Another Guess,” and “From McKnight’s Bailiwick,” Sporting Life, September 30, 1885: 5; Clipper, November 14, 1885: 554; Clipper, November 28, 1885: 585.

21 Clipper, November 28, 1885: 585.

22 A St. Louis correspondent to the Boston Herald (January 17, 1886: 7) said that “unless the league can secure either Cincinnati or Pittsburg for a western member, it had better go through the season with six clubs, as the two new members would simply be dead timber.” Henry Lucas is quoted in the same article thus: “Milwaukee cannot support a club without Sunday games, and Indianapolis cannot support one with them. It seems to me this is a question that has but one side, and that is on the side of the six clubs.” And Al Spalding, it was reported (Sporting Life, January 13, 1886: 2), “takes the very sensible view that it is better to have six evenly matched clubs than to add two which can by no possibility hold their own against the other six.”

23 “Eight Clubs in the League,” Boston Herald, January 17, 1886: 7.

24 Ibid.

25 “Eight Clubs,” Sporting Life, January 20, 1886: 1.

26 “Eight Clubs in the League,” Boston Herald, January 17, 1886: 7.

27 Clipper, February 20, 1886: 779.

28 Ibid.

29 Sporting Life, January 13, 1886: 1.

30 Ibid.

31 Sporting Life, March 10, 1886: 2.

32 “The American Association Meeting,” Clipper, March 13, 1886: 824.

33 Ibid.

34 “How It Was Done. Details of President McKnight’s Decapitation,” Sporting Life, March 31, 1886: 1.