1887 Winter Meetings: Harmony After a Fire Sale

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Baseball's 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900The 1887 season saw the American Association and the National League enjoy success on the field. Attendance at American Association games set a league record and attendance at National League games exceeded the attendance of the American Association for the first time since the American Association’s inaugural season in 1882.

Still the American Association regular season wasn’t without drama. St. Louis Browns owner Chris Von der Ahe was at the center of in-season machinations and would dominate the postseason headlines.

By late July, Von der Ahe had become unhappy with American Association President Wheeler Wyckoff and tried to have Wyckoff removed from office.1

“The meeting was designed to oust Wyckoff as Association president, ostensibly for being a poor handler of umpires and problems in general, but really for the crime of siding against the Browns too often,” David Nemec writes. “Von der Ahe touted Joe Pritchard, a St. Louis writer who had been beating his own drum for the job, but the coup failed when [Baltimore manager Billy] Barnie [who held both the Baltimore vote and the Athletics’ vote by proxy] skipped the meeting, leaving only four of the eight clubs represented, short of the majority needed to ditch Wyckoff. Afterward, a disgruntled Von der Ahe reportedly called on New York Giants owner John Day and offered to transfer his Browns to the [National] League.”2

In mid-October, the New York Sun reported that the Brooklyn franchise had purchased the Metropolitans franchise.

“The Brooklyn Club now owns the Metropolitan Club, and the question is what will they do with them,” the Sun wrote. “[Brooklyn President] Byrne says that he has had two offers for the Metropolitan franchise so far, and if it come to it, the Association would take it off his hands. … When the directors of the Metropolitan Club found that it would take something like $25,000 to strengthen their team for the next season they threw up the sponge.”3

Nine days later, the Sun reported that a syndicate was trying to get control of the American Association. Under the headline, “Is There a Deal to Get Control of the Association Clubs?” the Sun wrote:

“The past season seems to have been a most disastrous one to the American Association, for no less than three of its clubs have been driven to the wall, and the managers of one have already retired, while the backers of the other two have thrown up their hands and cried enough. The Metropolitan Club was the first to retire by selling out to a syndicate formed by the owners of the Brooklyn Club.

“When the managers of the Athletic Club decided that they had had enough they besought President Von der Ahe to buy them out. This Chris was willing to do, but he held off, giving as a reason that he could not come to an agreement as to the price. … ‘It was asserted [by a knowledgeable source] that an agreement was reached by which Chris von der Ahe is to secure control of the Athletic franchise by the purchase of the interests held by Messrs. Simmons and Mason, and that authority was given him to transfer some of the St. Louis players to Philadelphia.’ The question therefore naturally arises: Did these gentlemen control the action of the Association, or do they form the syndicate to purchase the Athletics?”4

A month later, Von der Ahe got the attention of the American Association again when he sold several of his players, including pitcher Bob Caruthers, who had gone 106-38 the previous four seasons with the Browns.

“Certainly in November of 1887, no one could have imagined any reason other than despair or pique to cause the owner of the team that had just won its third straight pennant to suddenly begin unloading nearly half its stars,” Nemec says.5

“It was the biggest fire sale in major-league history, even more startling than the one Harry Frazee conducted some thirty years later when he peddled Babe Ruth and many more members of his championship Boston Red Sox to bankroll his theater ventures. When it ended in November of 1887, the three-time champion St. Louis Browns seemingly were decimated, and what made it all the more improbable was that the chief beneficiary was [Brooklyn president] Charlie Byrne, Chris von der Ahe’s arch adversary in the Association.”6

Brooklyn director Ferdinand Abell said Von der Ahe’s moves would benefit the entire American Association:

“Von der Ahe did the best thing possible for the interest of base-ball. No move means so much for the Association as his late transfer of players. It insures a greater contest for the pennant. Whether or not it has weakened his team can be judged next season. I have never heard of his making a losing deal.”7

Abell was prophetic. The offseason moves worked out for Von der Ahe and the Browns. The Browns won their fourth consecutive American Association pennant in 1888 with a 92-43-2 record. Brooklyn finished second at 88-52-3. In his first season with Brooklyn, Caruthers was 29-15. Brooklyn had paid $8,250 for his rights.

The annual meetings started on November 14 with the joint rules committee of the National League and American Association in session in Pittsburgh.

“A resolution was then adopted that the question of the advisability of each club having one or more extra men in uniform, in order that they may be introduced into the game at any time, be referred to the annual meetings of the two organizations for discussion, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported. The object of the amendment is to prevent players from sulking on the field.”8

Among the rule changes agreed to, the newspaper said, “Rule 4 has been changed from four strikes and five balls, to three strikes and five balls. The rule allowing a base hit on five balls has been abolished, but at the suggestion of President Day five balls will still be considered a factor in earned sums. A base on balls will be credited against the pitcher in the error column. Rule 50, Section 4, has been amended allowing a runner to take the base if the ball hits the umpire. If the ball struck by the batsman hits a base runner after an attempted has been made to ‘field’ it the runner shall not be declared out.”9

Two days later, the National League went first with its annual meeting at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York. The New York Evening World described the meeting’s first day as “the calm before the storm.”10

Most of the discussions of the first day were regarding procedural matters.

“The playing rules as amended yesterday, it is thought, will give much more satisfaction than formerly,” the World wrote. “The allowing of two extra players in case of injury will expedite playing, and will be fair to both clubs. Umpires were happy, as it looked as though their salaries would be greatly increased. …”11

Also discussed on the first day was the “percentage system.”

“President Stearns, of Detroit, is making a plucky fight for the amendment to allow visiting clubs $200, with the privilege of taking in lieu thereof 30 per cent, of the gate receipts, instead of $125, as at present,” the World reported.12

Discussion about the percentage system continued into a second day. Two motions — one giving the visiting club 30 percent with the option of a $200 guarantee and the second giving 25 percent to the champion club — were both defeated by 5-to-3 votes. A third motion, for 25 percent and an option of a $150 guarantee, passed.

The League members passed a resolution regarding the sharing of gate receipts on Labor Day, which was not to be recognized as a federal holiday until 1894. In 1887 Oregon became the first state to make it an official public holiday; a public celebration of the day had been held in New York since 1882. The Washington club played in New York on Labor Day (September 5) and put in a claim for one-half of the gate receipts. The passed resolution said, “Resolved. That the sense of this league is that section 61 of the league constitution, requiring payment to visiting clubs of 50 percent on State holidays, be made so by law prior to the playing of games on such days.”13

With that business finished, the National League addressed the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood had been a topic of discussion since the first week of September, when the Sun reported that “a syndicate had made an offer to the Brotherhood to form an Eastern League in opposition to the older associations. The story is denied by the President of the Brotherhood; still it is certain to cause some uneasiness among the League managers. It is said that the story was started to force the League to give in to the demands of the ball players. …”14

On September 1, National League President N.E. Young in a letter to the Brotherhood said the League would not recognize the organization and would end correspondence with the group. In early October, Brotherhood President Monte Ward responded to Young to try to clear misunderstandings about the Brotherhood’s intentions.

“From what could be learned the scene about this time was what might be called red hot. It seemed to be the unanimous sense of the delegates that they should not recognize the Brotherhood. When hunger drove the delegates out of their cage it was made known that the League would be very happy to meet the Brotherhood players, but not as an organization.”15

The Brotherhood’s committee of Ward, Ned Hanlon, and Dan Brouthers, along with their counsel arrived at the hotel at 9:15 P.M. on the second day for a meeting with League members. After a lengthy debate, which included Young, John L. Rogers of Philadelphia, and Ward, A.G. Spalding made a motion:

“I am inclined to think that we should recognize the Brotherhood. I move that a committee of three be appointed by the Chair to confer with the Brotherhood with regard to a contract, and to report such changes as they can agree upon.”16

Ward apparently swayed the League members by explaining that “the [B]rotherhood was not a secret organization in the usual acceptation of the term. …”17

On December 7 the National League and American Association held their board of arbitration meeting in Cincinnati.

The primary issue facing the board’s three National League members (Day, Rogers, and Young) and three American Association members (Byrne, Phelps, and Von der Ahe) was an application by several minor leagues — including the Ohio State League, the New England League, and the International League — for protection under the National Agreement with the right to reserve their players.

“The board then went into consultation and finally agreed to give the minor leagues the privilege of reservation upon the payment by each club in such leagues of the sum of $250,” The Sporting News reported.18

The next day, the American Association began its annual meeting in Cincinnati.

In a preview of the American Association’s meeting, The Sporting News wrote: “The meeting promises to be one of the most important in the history of that organization.”19

Two big decisions facing American Association executives were the election of a president and find a franchise to replace the Metropolitans. A week before the meeting, Joe Pritchard withdrew as a candidate for the presidency.

“The first business,” said The Sporting News, will be the election of a President who shall act as Secretary and Treasurer, a Vice President and a board of four directors of whom two shall be representatives of Eastern Clubs and two shall be representatives of Western Clubs. The candidates now that Mr. Pritchard has withdrawn, are W.C. Wikoff, of Columbus, Mr. J.A. Williams, of Cleveland and Mr. Henry Diddlebock, of Philadelphia.”20

The preview went on to say, “Mr. Joe Pritchard, of St. Louis, who was mentioned prominently in connection with the presidency of the American Association, has authorized The Sporting News to announce his withdrawal from the race in question. He will not be a candidate at the American Association meeting at Cincinnati notwithstanding the fact that no less than four votes had been actually pledged to him. Mr. Pritchard withdraws from the race, simply for business reasons.

“The Sporting News has championed Mr. Pritchard’s cause through no ill feeling towards the other candidates, but simply because the belief in general that he is the most levelheaded baseball man in these parts, and because it was thought he could heal the prevailing breaches in the American Association and make that organization the most competent as well as the most formidable in the arena.”21

After re-electing Wyckoff president and electing Von der Ahe vice president, the Association declined to adopt the two-substitute rule that had come out of the joint rules committee meeting in November. But the Association gave its consent for the National League “to adopt this rule should it see fit.”22

Choosing a team to replace the Metropolitans was the second major decision facing the Association. One possibility, according to The Sporting News, was Pittsburg, which had left the Association after the 1886 season for the National League.

“A rumor was afloat in Cincinnati to the effect that Pittsburg wanted to return to the Association. Thank heaven it was only a rumor,” the newspaper commented.23

After a discussion — which included mention of the cities of Buffalo, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Syracuse — the decision was referred to a committee. The committee was expected to make a decision before the schedule committee met in Brooklyn on the first Monday in March.

Two other issues the Association addressed were admission prices and railroad rates. The Association decided to raise admission prices and Jimmie Williams of Cleveland was appointed to lobby the Inter-State Commerce Commission to see if the teams could get better railroad rates for 1888.

Williams told the gathering, “There is no doubt but what the Inter-State law hurt base-ball a great deal, and will do so more. It has been gently murmured to us that the Commission controlling the destinies of that law intends making some changes after January 1st, and you know about the early bird and the worm, so we thought that we would be among the first comers to ask for relief. I hope we get it, for honestly our transportation costs as much as players.”24

Overall, the meeting got positive reviews.

“The meeting was a success,” exclaimed the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It was the largest base-ball gathering in point of attendance, and the most important one to the pastime, especially the Association, ever held. It was noticeable for the harmony that existed among its delegates, and for the excellent and sound horse sense displayed in its legislative enactments. The most significant action of the assemblage, the increase of the tariff, was necessitated by the wonderful augmentation in the expenses, and bespeaks a safety for the game for the future.”25

One other significant development to come out of the meeting involved the scribes who covered the Association. At the conclusion of the Association’s meetings, the writers formed the National Base Ball Reporters’ Association.

“The first local base ball writers’ organization was formed in Philadelphia in 1885,” wrote Francis Richter years later. “From this sprung the idea of the National Base Ball Reporters’ Association, which was organized at Cincinnati, O., December 12, 1887 — this being the first national organization of base ball writers in the major league circuits. The officers elected were George Munson, of St. Louis, president; Henry Chadwick, of Brooklyn, vice-president; George E. Stackhouse, of New York, secretary; John H. Mandigo, of New York, treasurer. Board of Directors: Joseph Pritchard, Ren Mulford Jr., Frank H. Bunnell, Francis C. Richter.”26

At the organizational meeting, according to Richter, the group recommended a number of changes in playing and scoring rules to the League’s and Association’s Joint Playing Rules Committee. The changes that were subsequently adopted by the Rules Committee “were definitions of ‘stolen bases,’ ‘left on bases,’ ‘earned run,’ the placing of strike-outs in the summary and the crediting of the batsman with a hit on a base runner being hit by a batted ball and declared out.”27

January Special Meeting

In mid-January of 1888, a special meeting was convened at the Grand Hotel in Cincinnati to finalize the eighth franchise. Discussion began in the afternoon of January 16 and went past midnight with no decision being reached. The discussion resumed on January 17 and ended with a decision.

“The baby has been born, and its name is Kansas City,” the New York Sun reported. “For hours did the orators of the American Association talk about that bothersome vacancy, and when the vexatious question was finally settled, the chandelier shook for very joy. It was midnight last night before the flow of eloquence was stopped, and naturally enough the delegates took a vacation all this morning. Not until this afternoon did they reconvene, and then it was to hear the response from Kansas City to the proposition made by Director James Whitfield. It was favorable. … The Kansas City’s franchise is brand new, while that of the Metropolitan Base Ball Company is still held by the Association. …”28

On March 5, 1888, the American Association held its schedule meeting in Brooklyn. In addition to the 1888 schedule the members also finalized the tariff issue.

“The Athletic Club made an effort to have their admission fee kept at the old figure of 25 cents, but the vote was seven to one against them,” the Brooklyn Eagle reported. “They were, however, granted the privilege to charge the old rate if the Philadelphia Club did not raise their admission fee. But the [National] league has insisted upon Philadelphia placing their tariff at 50 cents, so the Athletics will have to the same. This year, therefore, it is 50 cents all round in every league and American Association city.”29

The Sun disclosed that the day after that regular, one-day meeting, Association members held a secret meeting to discuss the Metropolitans.

The members passed a resolution to eliminate speculation regarding the franchise: “[T]he American Association hereby publicly avows and declares that it is their purpose and intention to continue the Metropolitan Base Ball Club in New York City and that while the said corporation shall remain located in said city, still leave is given the company to discontinue play of games temporarily until some suitable grounds can be obtained on which plays its games; that there is no purpose or intention of abandoning or relinquishing their franchise and right to play in said territory, and that said club shall be and is allowed further time to procure grounds and arrange to play, when a schedule will be so arranged as to allow them to take part in the contests for the championship.”30

One delegate to the meeting told the Sun, “This resolution was adopted to counteract the many opinions which have been expressed to the effect that the franchise of the Metropolitan Club had been forfeited. By this resolution the American Association recognized the Metropolitan Club as being fully qualified to be a member of the Association, and as long as the Association to which this club belongs recognizes it, the club’s franchise cannot be forfeited.”31

As the Sun pointed out, the resolution regarding the Metropolitans seemed to contradict the Association’s feelings about the franchise:

“This is quite a change, for only two years ago the Association tied to expel this club for no cause. Then it had a good team of players. Now the Association has made as noble a fight to keep the franchise of this same club, whose players are phantoms and whose grounds consist of a little 6 by 9 office in one of the biggest buildings in the lower part of this city.”32

John B. Day, the president of the National League’s Giants, was asked what he thought about the resolution.

” ‘I think just this,’ said he, ‘It cannot be done. The Metropolitan franchise is a thing of the past. If the American Association attempts to put a club in New York city it will violate a clause in the national agreement, and you know what that means. The League men would then turn around and put clubs in certain American Association cities. I know some League men who would be only too happy if this is done, and we would at once put clubs in two American Association cities which I could name, but won’t.’”

A little over a month later, the two leagues opened their regular seasons — the American Association on April 18 and the National League on April 20. Von der Ahe’s revamped Browns lineup went on to win its fourth consecutive title. It was his last championship team. The New York Giants won the National League title.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com, retrosheet.org, and sabr.org.



1 Wyckoff’s name is spelled several different ways in the publications of the day. His grave marker has “Wikoff,” as does David Nemec’s Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900.

2 David Nemec, The Beer and Whiskey League (New York: Lyons & Burford, Publishers, 1994), 137.

3 “Gossip of the Ball Field,” New York Sun, October 16, 1887: 10.

4 “A Corner in Base Ball,” New York Sun, October 25, 1887: 3.

5 Nemec, 141.

6 Nemec, 145.

7 “Departed,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 11, 1887: 10.

8 “Balls, Hits and Strikes,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, November 15, 1887: 1.

9 Ibid.

10 “A Great Day for Deals,” New York Evening World, November 17, 1887: 1.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 “The League Meetings,” The Sporting News, November 19, 1887: 7.

14 “Gossip of the Ball Field,” New York Sun, September 4, 1887: 6.

15 Victory for the Players.”

16 Ibid.

17 “The League Meetings.”

18 “The Annual Meet.,” The Sporting News, December 10, 1887: 1.

19 “The Association Meeting,” The Sporting News, December 3, 1887: 4.

20 Ibid.

21 “Pritchard Withdraws,” The Sporting News, December 3, 1887: 4.

22 “American Association,” Minneapolis Tribune, December 9, 1887: 4.

23 “The Annual Meet.”

24 “Departed,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 11, 1887: 10.

25 Ibid.

26 Francis C. Richter, Richter’s History and Records of Base Ball, the American Nation’s Chief Sport (Jefferson. North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc., 2005), 422-423.

27 Ibid.

28 “The Indians Turn Cowboys,” New York Sun, January 18, 1888: 5.

29 “Base Ball Men,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 6, 1888: 1.

30 “Base Ball Men Meet Again,” New York Sun, March 8, 1888: 5.

31 Ibid.

32 Ibid.