1889-90 Winter Meetings: The Establishment Responds

This article was written by John Bauer

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

Baseball's 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900Upon the conclusion of the 1889 season, attention in baseball shifted to preparations for the coming war between the owners and players. The Brotherhood, its complaints heard but basically unaddressed, positioned itself for a break with the principals of the National League and the American Association.

Although the Association was clearly affected by the events related to the players’ revolt and the coming upheaval, the main contenders were the League and the Brotherhood. The Association did itself no favors as it nearly tore itself apart for reasons unrelated to labor, but it entered the 1890 season with only two clubs in direct competition with the League and Brotherhood.

The League, on the other hand, fought the Brotherhood on every front: in going head-to-head in all but one city, in scheduling games to maximize direct conflict with Brotherhood games, in the fight for player signings, and in taking its defecting labor force to court. The 1889-1890 winter meetings witnessed the stage being set for a season of conflict.

Developments related to structure of both leagues during the 1889-1890 offseason

With a looming rupture between the Brotherhood and the established major leagues, there were questions about how the League and the Association would respond. The prospect of financial turmoil informed the response to some of those questions, and the structure of the two leagues and survival of its strongest clubs were two issues feeding into that. One proposed scheme included a 12-team league with “an immense guarantee fund which if the occasion demands will be used to wipe the Brotherhood clubs from the face of the earth.”1

Stalwarts of the two leagues, Chris Von der Ahe of the Association’s St. Louis club and Albert G. Spalding of the League’s Chicago club consulted about such plans.2 Von der Ahe viewed one league as inevitable and was resigned to fighting with the players, stating, “[I]f there is going to be a fight we might as well have it now and have it out.”3 Another consolidation plan would have resulted in a single eight-team combination with Brooklyn, Cincinnati, and St. Louis replacing Washington, Indianapolis, and Cleveland as League clubs.

As the two leagues prepared for their annual meetings in mid-November, intrigue centered on the possible defection from the Association of Brooklyn and Cincinnati. Cincinnati President Aaron Stern did little to dampen speculation when he commented that the Queen City “would, no doubt, make out well in the League.”4 An intraleague fight would turn speculation about Brooklyn and Cincinnati into reality. Before the Association meeting, Athletic, St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbus, and Louisville hatched a plan to make Kansas City’s L.C. Krauthoff the next Association president. The faction was seeking more favorable home dates as well as larger percentages of gate receipts.5 Brooklyn’s Charlie Byrne adamantly opposed the division of gate receipts sought by the five clubs. Krauthoff was willing to be their champion, but balked at demands to isolate Baltimore, Brooklyn, or Cincinnati from league committees. Kansas City then defected from the five, and joined Baltimore, Brooklyn, and Cincinnati in making Krauthoff their candidate for the presidency. Athletic, St. Louis, Columbus, and Louisville decided to nominate Louisville’s Zach Phelps. During the Association’s November 13 meeting, 23 ballots resulted in a 4-4 deadlock.

Frustrated, Brooklyn and Cincinnati now openly considered defection. It was believed that Byrne and Stern intended to apply to the League for membership, and “it was thought the request would be complied with instantly.”6 The Association reconvened on the morning of November 14, holding seven more presidential ballots with the same 4-4 result. The meeting descended into recrimination between St. Louis and Brooklyn, with each club accusing the other of wanting to run the Association for its own benefit. Von der Ahe accused Byrne of costing the Browns the 1889 pennant through methods including bribery and tampering, while Byrne thought Von der Ahe often sought to get his way through deception.7 Von der Ahe drew the League into the conflict, allegedly sending word that the Association would join with the Brotherhood in fighting the League if the League admitted Brooklyn and Cincinnati.8 Despite assertions that “[t]he League don’t like to be involved in any squabbles”9 and did not “relish the idea of weakening the Association,”10 the League met that day to consider the admission of Brooklyn and Cincinnati. By the end of evening, the League formally admitted the two clubs, an event that inspired a “love fest” and “the popping of champagne corks.”11

Although the League appeared stronger for its successful acquisition, the awkward 10-team lineup bedeviled the League until the spring. There existed some belief that Washington and Indianapolis would be dropped, thereby allowing the League to maintain an eight-club format. While Washington was “perfectly willing to withdraw,”12 Indianapolis’ John T. Brush was not. Brush claimed anyone seeking his franchise would have to meet his price, which he declined to name.

With Brooklyn and Cincinnati out, the Association finally elected Zach Phelps as its new president, secretary and treasurer. The Association’s defections did not stop, however. On November 15, Kansas City submitted its resignation and announced plans to join the Western Association. The Association had suitors to replace any defecting clubs, but the options were not as rewarding as the cities to be replaced. Syracuse applied for membership, and Detroit, Newark, Milwaukee, New Haven, Rochester, Toledo, and Toronto also made the list of possible replacements. Before adjourning their meeting, the remaining Association clubs appeared to select Syracuse for membership; however, Baltimore’s position in the Association now teetered. At this point, it was unclear whether Baltimore might attempt to jump to the League by purchasing the Washington franchise or join the minor-league Atlantic Association. President Harry Von der Horst saw little difference between minor-league and major-league status on attendance, believing fans would still come out to drink beer, dance, and picnic.13 Baltimore applied for League membership but was refused because the League did not wish to further weaken the Association.14

While the Association nearly tore itself apart, the League’s annual meeting proved tame by comparison. The League re-elected Nick Young unanimously as president, secretary, and treasurer. Finances and scheduling were the subject of a series of constitutional amendments it adopted. Visiting teams previously received 25 percent of gate receipts, but Cleveland, Indianapolis and Washington argued for doubling the allowance to 50 percent. Boston, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia had in mind a figure closer to one-third. Pittsburgh and Washington brokered a compromise at 40 percent that was ultimately embedded in the constitution. Anticipating conflict with the Brotherhood, the League increased its guarantee fund from $25,000 to $250,000, requiring each club to post a $25,000 bond in the event of litigation from the Brotherhood’s financial backers. Also, in a change that later would impact the 1891 pennant, clubs wishing to make up postponed games by playing two games in a single day would be required to obtain the consent of two-thirds of all League clubs. Finally, each club would be required to wear a distinctive color uniform for the 1890 season, and Young was charged with selecting the colors for each club.

In late November, the Association appeared angling for its own deal with the Brotherhood. Players’ leader John Montgomery Ward “happened” to be in Columbus at the same time Von der Ahe, Phelps, and other Association officials met to discuss their remaining vacancies. Speculation centered on a 10-team league that would include the eight proposed Brotherhood clubs along with St. Louis and Columbus from the Association. Athletic would be merged into the Philadelphia Brotherhood club, and Baltimore and Louisville would be dropped. With December meetings looming for the Brotherhood and the Association, the Association was tasked with signing its players in advance of joining with the Brotherhood in common cause against the League.

Meanwhile, back in the League, the status of Washington became increasingly tenuous. Baltimore’s owners, who moved the club from the Association to the Atlantic Association on November 29, purchased a stake in the Nationals and planned to transfer the Orioles’ better players to the capital in anticipation of moving the League club to Baltimore.15 Additional rumors surfaced regarding the makeup of the League. With most Giants players headed for the Brotherhood’s Players League, one proposal would have seen Indianapolis players transferred to New York to ensure a strong team in the League’s marquee city.16 Cleveland was slated to provide a similar service for clubs in Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia before joining the Hoosiers on the scrap heap.17

The Brotherhood prepared to meet in New York, beginning December 16, with expectations about a combination with Association clubs. Von der Ahe was in attendance, presumably to secure St. Louis’s spot in the AA/PL amalgamation. He reportedly “strode up and down the corridors … and seemed to think that the Brotherhood could not get along without his team.”18 Von der Ahe was even willing to acquiesce to his player-manager Charles Comiskey defecting to the PL’s Chicago club. By the conclusion of the Brotherhood meeting, however, it became apparent there would be no AA/PL amalgamation, leaving the Association to find a way forward and add to its roster of St. Louis, Athletic, Columbus, Louisville and (presumably) Syracuse.

In finding the additional clubs to field an eight-team league, Association focus returned to Toledo and Rochester. Meeting in Rochester on January 6, the Association formally admitted Syracuse on the application of George K. Frazier, who satisfied other owners that the Stars had the required performance bond. Rochester and Toledo were also admitted, bringing the Association up to seven teams. Billy Barnie wrote to the gathering that Baltimore, apparently rethinking the Atlantic Association, requested membership on the condition that the Association field a 12-team circuit. After discussion, the Association voted unanimously to field eight teams for the coming campaign and thus tabled Baltimore’s application. With the prospect of returning to Baltimore set aside, focus turned toward Brooklyn. Brooklyn interests submitted an application during the Rochester meeting. In a move motivated partly by a desire to preserve Brooklyn as an Association city, Brooklyn was admitted on January 9. Unlike the other new entrants being promoted from the minor leagues, the new Brooklyn team, the Ridgewoods, after their home ground, possessed no infrastructure, leading to the Association clubs pledging to contribute one to two players to assist efforts to field a competitive team.19

In the League, the “eight or 10” question lingered. Washington President Robert Hewett advocated an arrangement with his new investors in Baltimore similar to their original proposition: The better players would be assigned to a League entry and the lesser players would play for the Atlantic Association team.20 Speculation about Indianapolis persisted, but there existed some sentiment toward keeping President John Brush in the League for his “yeoman service in reclaiming players from the Brotherhood ranks.”21 Meeting in late January, the League received applications from Baltimore and Detroit, but “quietly let the matter drop.”22 Detroit’s Fred Stearns, however, claimed he could buy out Washington or Cleveland, if needed. By February 5, Hewett called off any possible Baltimore-Washington consolidation, leaving the League exactly where it had been since November. Nonetheless, the magnates continued to signal a preference for eight teams but seemed no closer to getting there.

Stearns was not through seeking League membership for Detroit. One plan suggested a Detroit-Cleveland combination that would split time in both cities.23 Another scheme suggested that Cleveland, Detroit, and New York purchase Indianapolis and Washington to facilitate an eight-team League.24 New York President John B. Day coveted the Indianapolis players, and suggested that Brush “must recognize that the good of the League demands” that Brush’s players be transferred his team.25 Motivating Day’s action was the concern that he would be outclassed completely by a rival Brotherhood club in New York.

With the season approaching, the League and Association headed into March meetings with several questions remaining about schedule and structure. The League held its spring meeting in Cleveland on March 4 and 5, and the delegates arrived “bent on business.”26 League delegates dismissed an offer received through Young to purchase the entire League for $1 million, some believing the offer to be a Brotherhood hoax. After it adopted a resolution confirming that 40 percent of gate receipts meant paying 20 cents on the turnstile count (but only 10 cents in Philadelphia) and approving a system to equalize travel expenses among the clubs, the meeting was dominated by talk about the League’s structure for the 1890 season.

The issue was playing havoc with attempts by the scheduling committee to devise a workable fixtures list. Sentiment still favored contraction to eight teams. It was believed that contracting Washington would require $20,000.27 Indianapolis reputedly possessed a strong team (despite its seventh-place finish in 1889), a reason Day coveted its players. Brush, however, was not prepared to go without a significant payoff, his price estimated at $75,000. He was equally unsympathetic to the dilemmas of structuring a 10-team League: “They ought to have thought of this trouble before they got themselves into it.”28 Brush and Hewett sensed they were targeted, and believed the proposed schedule had been drawn up deliberately to disadvantage their clubs.

They were not the only ones unhappy. The League, in fact, adopted a schedule before leaving Cleveland, but it “occupie[d] the singular and unprecedented position of pleasing nobody.”29 The number of games dropped from 140 to 126, with nine playing dates lost because of “awkward railroad jumps”; the financial toll of playing fewer games was estimated at $200,000.30

The dissatisfaction over the schedule and the difficulty of accommodating 10 teams led to a renewed push to contract. Reconvening in New York on March 22, the League agreed on terms of contraction with Indianapolis and Washington. The price was believed to be around $80,000, with most of that figure going to Brush and most of Brush’s figure paid by New York.31 Washington found refuge in the Atlantic Association. As for Indianapolis, nine Hoosiers signed with New York, including Jack Glasscock, Jerry Denny, young phenom Amos Rusie, and Henry Boyle; the rest were to be dispersed, with Pittsburgh having first choice of the leftovers.32

There was some thought that Brush might be waiting for another club to require bailing out during the coming season. With the roster of teams set, the scheduling committee received direction to create as many conflicts as possible with the PL schedule to send a message to Brotherhood financiers. The committee complied, releasing a schedule that had 58 such conflicts in New York and Boston and 62 in Brooklyn.

Compared to the League, the Association scheduling process was smooth. The scheduling committee agreed on a 140-game schedule, which was adopted during the Association’s March 14 meeting in Syracuse. During that meeting, the Association amended its constitution to increase the visiting team’s share of gate receipts from 20 percent to 40 percent, provide for equal shares on Memorial Day and Independence Day, and require a $100 guarantee to the visitors.33 In addition, the Association established a modest guarantee fund, with clubs to make $1,000 payments on May 1 and August 1.34

While the Association had restored its eight-team lineup with the admission of Brooklyn, it was not immune from machinations about its structure as the season approached. One rumored scheme included new members Syracuse, Rochester, and Toledo being dropped in favor of Detroit (leaving the International League), Washington, and Baltimore (the latter two leaving the Atlantic Association), and Indianapolis restoring its major-league status by purchasing Louisville.35 The scheme was widely denied, and time was lacking for its execution anyway. Sporting Life seemed favorably disposed toward the Association simply staying the course, “[I]t has nothing to do but attend strictly to its own business and devote its time and energies to building itself up, with a view to once more taking the commanding place in the baseball world to which its long and honorable history and its great achievements entitle it.”36

Capital vs. labor, and putting teams on the field

In addition to figuring out their lineups of clubs for the coming season, the League and Association also needed to make sure they had players on hand to stage the baseball games. The League in particular had no illusions that relations with the Brotherhood might descend into open conflict. One official commented in October that “[w]e anticipate trouble and for three weeks past have been preparing, as we will continue to prepare for a fight.”37

Some feigned indifference over the prospect of losing players to the Brotherhood. Despite his team’s second-place finish in the 1889, President Arthur Soden stated that next season Boston “will differ materially from the social organization which has masqueraded throughout the season. …”38 Another opined, “It may be a good thing for the League to get rid of all the dead wood it has been carrying for so long.”39

To replace that deadwood, League clubs, including Boston, held options for 25 to 30 minor-league replacements by mid-October and their agents were seeking more players.40 By late October, established players were not returning contracts to League clubs, as the vast majority allowed deadlines to pass without signing. In Chicago, Spalding’s longtime captain, Cap Anson, was the only one to sign for the White Stockings. At the League office, the only players returning contracts “are men who have yet to make reputation for themselves.”41 At this time, however, it was not certain whether players sought a complete break or a better deal. One player commented, “If our requests are complied with, then I suppose it will end the matter.”42

The Association seemed a bystander caught between the dueling antagonists. It was prepared to help the League, if needed, but intended to avoid direct conflict if possible. That loyalty was not necessarily returned. Rumors suggested that the League clubs intended to raid Association and minor-league clubs for replacement players. Following a meeting with Spalding on October 24, however, Von der Ahe declared himself for the League in the economic language of the day: “It is a question of capital against labor, and capital must stick by capital.” On the other side, Association labor seemed inclined to stick by labor. When it became clear in early November that Comiskey intended to leave Von der Ahe’s Browns to join the Brotherhood team in Chicago (whether or not Von der Ahe consented), it appeared other Association stars, including Arlie Latham, Silver King, Hub Collins, Harry Stovey, and Curt Welch, could be induced to jump.43

When the Brotherhood adjourned its November meeting without formalizing the structure of a new league, the League magnates hoped the threat had passed. Day boasted that it was “only a question of time before the majority of the Brotherhood men come to their senses.”44 Spalding scoffed, “The players expect to do in two months what it has taken us twelve years to accomplish. They cannot do it.”45

During the League annual meeting shortly after the Brotherhood meeting, Young claimed to have received contracts from seven Brotherhood players, whom he would not name.46 The Brotherhood, however, reportedly had 50 players signed.47 The threat had not passed after all. The decisive advantage for the Brotherhood began to cause tension among League ranks; “All are more or less worried.”48

It appeared the League would need to adopt stricter tactics to counter what was exploding into open revolt. The League adopted a resolution from Philadelphia’s John Rogers that it aid clubs in enforcing reservation rights for 1890, and Rogers, Byrne, and Day were appointed to a committee charged with formulating methods to do so. One method employed by Rogers, who was a lawyer, was to write to his players, question the validity of their Brotherhood contracts, and offer protection for any returning players. Phillies manager Harry Wright, considered a League loyalist despite his Brotherhood ties, and three of his players accepted Rogers’ offer and re-signed with the Phillies in November.49

The League decided to take its case directly to the public and charged a committee with developing a statement for wider consumption. The statement asserted that the League had been “assailed” and “impugned … by some of the very men who it has most benefited.”50 Casting the reserve clause as a source of growth in popularity and salaries, the Brotherhood purportedly recognized the value of the provision by agreeing to include it within player contracts in 1887.51 Further, the League rebutted claims that players were transferred against their will and claimed that Brotherhood contracts instilled a central tribunal with the power to do so.52 In conclusion, “[a]n edifice built on falsehood has no moral foundation and must perish of its own weight.”53

Ward and other Brotherhood leaders dismissed the statement in terms such as “brazenly false” and “characteristic effrontery.”54 Pitcher Tim Keefe declared the statement “a very shallow one,” while asserting that the Brotherhood would not recognize the reserve clause and would go after any player — League or Association — yet to sign a contract for 1890.55 In fact, Harry Stovey left Athletic for the Boston PL club. By mid-December, the Brotherhood advantage in player engagement relative to the League stood at 106 to 19. The League claimed few successes in retaining star players, as only Glasscock. Denny, and John Clarkson signed League contracts.56 Mike Tiernan followed, but the Giants had to offer a three-year contract to secure his return.57

Additional players began joining the League ranks. Tommy Tucker, formerly with Baltimore in the Association, broke his agreement to play for Ward’s Brooklyn club, to sign instead with the League’s Boston outfit. Pitcher Mickey Welch resigned his Brotherhood membership in order to rejoin the Giants, believing he would disadvantage himself by defecting.58 At his wife’s prodding, catcher Charlie Bennett re-signed with the League’s Boston club in mid-February. For his part, Young boasted of those players submitting applications to play with League clubs, finding them to be young and the “pick of the minor leagues.”59 During the League’s late January meeting in New York, Young reported that 300 men applied for spots with the League. While the Brotherhood could boast correctly of its success in signing most of the game’s top players, the League claimed to have 111 players under contract by mid-February. It remained to be seen whether quantity correlated to quality.

The League established its reserve lists for the season on March 28. To preserve their claims against the defecting Brotherhood players, the League lists included not just the new players signed for 1890 but also former players who jumped to the PL. The League clubs intended to preserve their claims to their players and ensure that no other National Agreement club (including Association clubs) could make a claim to their services should the PL fold. When the season began, PL rosters included 127 players; of those, 81 played for League clubs in 1889 and 26 played for Association clubs.60 League rosters had 140 players, but only 37 holdovers from 1889; the League also boasted 26 Association players, but almost all of these players came to the League with their Brooklyn and Cincinnati clubs.61 For its part, the Association retained 36 players from its 1889 rosters.62

Legal battles over the reserve clause and the legality of players’ contracts

In the background of the posturing over player signings existed the likelihood of litigation over the reserve clause and the player contracts. After the October deadline for returning contracts passed with few signees among the players, the magnates began to prepare for legal proceedings. Spalding made plans to sue his reserved players who refused to sign. “[W]hen the men signed our contracts last year, it was under the agreement that we had the right to reserve them for this year. Now, we wish to enforce the terms of that contract. …”63

Philadelphia’s Rogers made clear that the reserve clause would not be a future concession to the players, arguing that the players had agreed to the clause and the League would never abolish it.64 Blacklisting provided another tactic for taking on the players, but even the loyalist Anson found flaws in that approach. Anson stated that it “would not be fair to blacklist men looking after their own interests,” but cautioned that holding out “may result disadvantageously to them.”65

The League consulted with attorneys about the legality of the reserve clause. Day’s outside counsel, a noted corporate lawyer named Choate, opined that “[i]t was, of course, perfectly legal for the players to have bound themselves to the club by a contract for the season of 1889 and also for the season of 1890, and for further seasons if they so desired.”66 Section 18 of the standard player contract, it was noted, allowed clubs the right of reservation.

Choate rejected the argument that a player could sign with a club outside of the League, stating, “[I]f a player is reserved by a club under this contract for the season of 1890 his salary is due him from that club for that season, and it seems to us unwarranted to so interpret this contract that while the player could not play for any other club in the League, but could play for any club outside of the League.”67

In other words, the clause followed the player wherever he attempted to go. Potential remedies included injunctions, suits for damages against players, and suits for damages against outside parties inducing players to break their contracts. While the Brotherhood had not yet made its formal break at this time, the legal framework was developing for enjoining the players and suing their backers for damages.

By late November, as the number of signings broke decisively in favor of the Brotherhood, the League prepared for litigation. New York club officer Walter Appleton stated that the Giants would proceed “at once” against its defecting players and expressed confidence that courts would uphold the reserve clause. Philadelphia and Rogers appeared ready to do the same. The two clubs would prove to be the most aggressive in taking matters to court, and they consulted about which players would be the subjects of upcoming test cases.

As Brotherhood leader, Ward was an obvious target, and he was served with papers on December 23 from the Giants, which he “accepted … gracefully.”68 The parties were called before New York state court Judge O’Brien on January 9. The League position, expressed by counsel Mr. Beaman, was that baseball had to “adopt stringent means for self-protection,” including the reserve rule, which was incorporated into Ward’s personal contract with Day, thereby mandating the “court to compel [Ward] to live up to his agreement.”69

When Ward’s counsel, former Judge Howland, produced a “large number” of affidavits related to the National Agreement and baseball law, Beaman requested adjournment to allow for review. O’Brien granted one week. When the parties returned to O’Brien’s courtroom on January 16, Howland argued that Ward’s contract only bound him not to play for another League or National Agreement club; that is, the contract “could not affect his liberty to join a club not in existence at the time the contract was signed.”70 Giants counsel Choate posited that the question was whether players were subject to laws and bound by good faith and honesty. He said that if the reserve clause placed no obligation on Ward, why were the Giants required to pay him a salary?71

On January 28, O’Brien announced he would not grant an injunction to the Giants. Equity courts are loath to issue an injunction unless there is the “strongest probability” the plaintiff (here, the Giants) is entitled to relief.72 O’Brien opined, “I do not think it is entirely clear that Ward agrees to do anything further than to accord the right to reserve him upon terms thereafter to be fixed.”73 He added that the contract possessed a “want of fairness and of mutuality” as well as lacking certainty and definiteness, thereby lacking the necessarily qualities to allow for specific performance.74 The case would be set for a full trial, which O’Brien believed could occur before the start of the season.

Spalding threatened to join the litigation party in February, asserting that he would take his middle infield of Fred Pfeffer and Ned Williamson to court while also claiming indifference about player defections because of his confidence in young players.75 To this point, Spalding had adopted the pragmatic approach of a man with many business interests. In light of the advance money paid to players, which he estimated at $3,000 to $5,000 just to his players, he now wanted to know if the contracts at the root of those payments were legal.76 “Now if the contracts on which we pay such sums of money are not good in law we want to know it.”77 In the end, Spalding would refrain from litigating.

The Phillies’ bill for an injunction against shortstop Bill Hallman received a hearing in a Pennsylvania court in early March. Hallman’s lawyer argued that the Phillies had not presented any contract requiring the shortstop to render services in 1890. Rather, the most the Phillies could claim was an option to reserve Hallman on terms to be agreed. Moreover, equity courts in Pennsylvania generally refused to enforce personal-services contracts and would also not enforce contracts lacking mutuality, such as this “inequitous, unconscionable, damnable contract.”78 Rogers argued personally for the Phillies, claiming that baseball would not exist without contractual restrictions such as the reserve clause. Further, Rogers asserted that the Phillies were not seeking to force Hallman to play for them, but to prevent him from playing for another club.79

The judge announced his decision on March 15, refusing to grant the injunction against Hallman. Judge Thayer, examining the contract Hallman signed for the 1889 season, found “there is not a word in it binding Hallman to renew that contract for another season upon the same terms, or to sign for 1890 another contract which was to be in all respects the duplicate of that entered into for 1889.”80 Because the contract lacked such terms and conditions, “the contract of reservation [is] wholly uncertain and therefore incapable of enforcement. …”81 The fault rested with the Phillies “as the contract was drawn up entirely in their interests.”82 Thayer also took issue with the clause allowing Hallman to be “cast off” on 10 days’ notice.83 Accordingly, no court of equity would “lend itself to its enforcement.”84 For their troubles, the Phillies were also ordered to pay costs. A dejected Rogers stated, “This puts an end to all our cases against the players.”

The Giants saw their aggressive approach to litigation through to the bitter end. With the case against Ward waiting trial, they sued Buck Ewing in federal court on February 26. Back in state court, their lawyers pushed to get the Ward case on the trial calendar in March. While failing to see why this case should receive preference, Judge Lawrence set trial for March 24. Arguing again on behalf of Ward, Howland said of the contract during trial, “There is scarcely anything in the favor of the player. They bind him hand and foot.”85 Finding that there was nothing before him that was not before O’Brien, Lawrence stated, “I feel strongly inclined to follow his ruling.”86 He closed the hearing by taking the matter under consideration, but the day was a setback for the Giants. Lawrence officially dismissed the case a week later.

For the Giants, the news from federal court two days later was not any better. Judge Wallace considered the reserve clause to be a “coercive condition [in which the player] must contract with the club that has reserved him or face the probability of losing any engagement for the ensuing season. …”87 As a basis for an action for damages or specific performance, the contract was “wholly nugatory.” Wallace found that “[i]n a legal sense, it is merely a contract to make a contract if the parties can agree.”88 The League was now 0-for-3 against three different players in three different courts. The Giants held out the possibility of a conspiracy action against Ward and his Brotherhood backers, and the League as a whole intended to “make matters rather unpleasant for the men who are putting up the cash.”89 The courts, however, would not provide the League with a decisive preseason victory. Instead, the skirmishes between the League and Brotherhood would move to the field and the turnstiles on April 19. After an offseason of franchise machinations, internal conflict, campaigns for player loyalty, and contentious litigation, attention would turn to the games themselves and a season that carried over many of these offseason themes.



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

Koszarek, Ed. The Players League (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006).

Nemec, David. The Beer and Whiskey League (Guilford, Connecticut: Lyons Press, 2004).

Nemec, David. The Great Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Major League Baseball, Second Edition (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 2006).

Seymour, Harold. Baseball: The Early Years (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

Voigt, David Quentin. The League That Failed (Latham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1998).



1 “One Grand League,” The Sporting News, October 26, 1889: 1.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 J.K.M., “In the Queen City,” The Sporting News, November 2, 1889: 4.

5 “A New Deal in Baseball,” New York Times, November 13, 1889: 3.

6 Ibid.

7 “A New Deal in Baseball”; “A Dead-Lock in Baseball,” New York Times, November 14, 1889: 3.

8 “A New Deal in Baseball.”

9 “In the League,” The Sporting News, November 16, 1889: 4.

10 “A New Deal in Baseball.”

11 “Two New League Clubs,” New York Times, November 15, 1889: 5.

12 “A New Deal in Baseball.”

13 David Quentin Voigt, American Baseball, Volume I (University Park, Pennsylvania and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990), 49.

14 “Bad for the Brotherhood,” New York Times, November 20, 1889: 3.

15 “Baseball News,” New York Times, December 1, 1889: 3.

16 “A New Baseball Deal,” New York Times, December 4, 1889: 2.

17 Ibid.

18 “The Ball Players Meet,” New York Times, December 17, 1889: 3.

19 “A New Brooklyn Club,” New York Times, January 10, 1890: 8.

20 “Hewitt’s Big Figure,” The Sporting News, January 25, 1890: 1.

21 “The League’s Plans,” The Sporting News, January 25, 1890: 1.

22 “The League Meeting,” The Sporting News, February 1, 1890: 8.

23 “The League,” Sporting Life, February 19, 1890: 2.

24 Ibid.

25 A.G. Ovens, “Excited Hoosiers,” Sporting Life, February 26, 1890: 2.

26 “The League Convention,” New York Times, March 4, 1890: 3.

27 “The League,” Sporting Life, March 12, 1890: 1.

28 Ibid.

29 “The Official League Schedule,” Sporting Life, March 19, 1890: 5.

30 Ibid.

31 “The League,” Sporting Life, April 2, 1890: 2.

32 “Two Clubs Dropped,” New York Times, March 23, 1890: 5.

33 “The Association Schedule,” New York Times, March 15, 1890: 3.

34 “The Association,” Sporting Life, March 26, 1890: 3.

35 “The Association,” Sporting Life, April 2, 1890: 1.

36 “The Association,” Sporting Life, March 12, 1890: 4.

37 “The League Will Fight,” New York Times, October 14, 1889: 2.

38 “The Boston Team of 1890,” The Sporting News, October 19, 1889: 2.

39 “The League Will Fight.”

40 “From the Windy City,” The Sporting News, October 19, 1889: 4.

41 “New Men for the League,” The Sporting News, October 26, 1889: 1.

42 “Baseball Matters,” New York Times, October 22, 1889: 3.

43 “New Brotherhood Men,” New York Times, November 8, 1889: 5.

44 “Ball Players Desert,” New York Times, November 10, 1889: 2.

45 “In the League,” The Sporting News, November 16, 1889: 4.

46 “A Dead-Lock in Baseball.”

47 “The Brotherhood,” The Sporting News, November 23, 1889: 3.

48 “Only Five Clubs Left,” New York Times, November 16, 1889: 6.

49 “Bad for the Brotherhood,” New York Times, November 20, 1889: 3.

50 “The League’s Address,” New York Times, November 22, 1889: 2.

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid.

54 “The Ball Players Respond,” New York Times, November 26, 1889: 9.

55 “The League’s Manifesto,” New York Times, November 23, 1889: 9.

56 “The Baseball Situation,” New York Times, December 12, 1889: 8.

57 “Tiernan Joins the Giants,” New York Times, December 22, 1889: 16.

58 “Welch to Join the Giants,” New York Times, January 14, 1890: 2.

59 “In the Baseball World,” New York Times, January 19, 1890: 16.

60 “In Battle Array,” Sporting Life, April 12, 1890: 9.

61 Ibid.

62 Charles C. Alexander, Turbulent Seasons: Baseball in 1890-1891 (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 2011), 60.

63 “Brotherhood Plans,” New York Times, October 24, 1889: 3.

64 “Brotherhood Mutterings,” The Sporting News, October 26, 1889: 4.

65 “What Anson Says,” The Sporting News, November 2, 1889: 1.

66 “The Baseball Question,” New York Times, November 3, 1889: 13.

67 Ibid.

68 “Papers Served on Ward,” New York Times, December 24, 1889: 2.

69 “Shortstop Ward in Court,” New York Times, January 10, 1890: 8.

70 “Ward’s Test Case,” New York Times, January 17, 1890: 8.

71 Ibid.

72 “Ward Wins His Case,” The Sporting News, February 1, 1890: 1.

73 “Ward Wins His Fight,” New York Times, January 29, 1890: 2.

74 “Ward Wins His Fight”; “Ward Wins His Case.”

75 H.W.L., “In the Quaker City,” The Sporting News, February 15, 1890: 2.

76 “Spalding Wants To Know,” Sporting Life, February 19, 1890: 2.

77 Ibid.

78 “The Hallman Suit,” Sporting Life, March 12, 1890: 1.

79 Ibid.

80 “Law and Ball,” Sporting Life, March 26, 1890: 2.

81 Ibid.

82 “A Brotherhood Victory,” New York Times, March 16, 1890: 5.

83 Ibid.

84 Ibid.

85 “Beaten Again,” Sporting Life, April 2, 1890: 3.

86 Ibid.

87 Ibid.

88 Ibid.

89 “Only Eight Clubs,” New York Times, March 22, 1890: 2.