1891 Winter Meetings: The Making of the Big League

This article was written by John Bauer - Dennis Pajot

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


Baseball's 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900The end of the Brotherhood war restored the status quo ante: two major leagues, the National League and the American Association, atop the sport’s pyramid. Yet, the principals of both leagues spent more of 1891 continuing war rather than securing an enduring peace.

The restoration of the two-league system proved untenable for the longer term. The 1891-1892 offseason resulted in the end of the familiar, and witnessed the creation of a single major league encompassing most of the great cities of the East and Midwest. To achieve this, baseball’s magnates engaged in a series of moves and countermoves, originally intended to thwart their rivals, but ultimately leading to a 12-team partnership that endured for eight years.

Resolution of the 1891 League pennant

Before planning for the 1892 season, the League needed to resolve unfinished business from its 1891 campaign. The final standings showed Boston in first place with a .630 winning percentage (87-51) and Chicago in second place at .607 (82-53). Chicago alleged, however, that Boston’s championship resulted from a corrupt bargain in a late-September series between Boston and New York. Chicago accused the Giants of not trying to win in order for Boston to secure the title at its expense. Boston, in the midst of a late-season charge to the pennant, swept five games from a weakened Giants squad over three days from September 28 through 30. Boston Globe columnist Tim Murnane judged the series “a farce,” declaring, “I never saw a worse exhibition of baseball put up by a professional team in fielding and base running than the Giants gave here in the last five games.”1

The complaints about the Giants’ conduct related to personnel absences and substitutions: Amos Rusie not pitching, Roger Connor missing for three games, Danny Richardson being taken out for the final two games, “unknown amateur” Buster Burrell catching instead of regular Dick Buckley, and Buck Ewing not playing. Further, two games had been added to the series, making up dates lost earlier in the season in New York. While League rules required the consent of two-thirds of the clubs in order to schedule the extra games and the requisite six clubs consented, Chicago was not asked. New York manager Jim Mutrie noted that he scheduled the extra games for the financial benefit of the Giants.2 He explained away the personnel decisions, noting that Rusie was left at home at the pitcher’s request and with President John B. Day’s consent; Buckley was injured; and Connor was allowed to rest.3 While individual circumstances might be explained away, rumors that the series was taken off poolroom gambling boards helped fuel suspicion.4

New York’s Executive Committee, which included J. Walter Spalding, brother of the former Chicago president, met in early October to consider the accusations. Seven players, among them Ewing, Connor, and Rusie, “assert[ed] that they played with as much desire and with every effort to win games from the Bostons as any other games that they ever played.”5 The committee’s report to the club’s board of directors exonerated the Giants players from the charges of crookedness. The Board accepted the report, which it forwarded to League President Nick Young, and also adopted a preamble and resolution stating that the club was not weakened for the purpose of losing games.

Chicago President James Hart led the charge against New York. The Giants were predictably indignant over Hart’s claims, believing their reputations damaged, and one player claimed to have consulted an attorney.6 Heading into the League’s November meeting, The Sporting News suggested the non-awarding of the pennant as a possible outcome, but doing so might acknowledge the occurrence of fraud.7 Indeed, during the November 11 meeting at New York’s Fifth Avenue Hotel, Hart prosecuted the case against the Giants and sought to have the extra games thrown out.

Considering the charges, the League Board made several findings that it forwarded to the League as a whole. The Board determined two “double games” in Boston to be legal. Because six clubs consented, Chicago’s approval was unnecessary. The weakened condition of the team was not known to management, and the Giants were considered to be complete with the exception of Rusie and Ewing.8 In fact, Rusie had not been effective in earlier games against Boston, so his excuse was not consequential.9 Ewing, in fact, was injured. As for Connor, the Giants excused their first baseman for the first day of the series, and a railroad wreck delayed Connor’s arrival by a day. Buckley was injured by a foul tip in the first game, rendering him unavailable for the remainder of the series. The Board subsequently adopted a resolution awarding the pennant to Boston, a decision ratified by the League delegates.10

Aggressive moves and countermoves between NL and AA clubs

Concurrent with the League resolving the controversy over last season’s championship, the League and Association engaged in a series of moves and countermoves with continuing hostilities in mind. In truth, the latest round of bad blood traced its roots to the beginning of the prior season when the Association withdrew from the National Agreement in a dispute over two players awarded to League clubs at the conclusion of the Brotherhood war.

As the 1891 season came to a close, overall dissatisfaction had clubs considering their options and otherwise preparing for renewed conflict. Baltimore considered jumping from the Association to the League (with Kansas City eyeing an open spot in the Association), and Brooklyn was said to be considering moving back to the Association because profits had not materialized as hoped.11 Aside from membership shifts, each side appeared to be bracing for a settling of accounts.

Among League teams, Boston and New York wanted a “war of extermination,” although Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Pittsburgh desired peace.12 The Association appeared to be planning major moves into Chicago and New York as a means of challenging the League. Philadelphia Athletics (AA) President J. Earle Wagner favored fighting the League, claiming that the League talked settlement while trying to induce clubs like Baltimore and St. Louis to jump.13

Association expansion plans advanced rapidly with respect to Chicago. Association President Zach Phelps, Wagner, and Boston’s Julian Hart met with Chicago interests on October 8. Within one week, articles of incorporation for the new club were filed and capital stock was established at $50,000.14 Rumors circulated that several Colts players, including pitcher Bill Hutchinson, were looking to jump across town.15 Fred Pfeffer was also expected to jump, amid reports that he would manage the new club. Poaching players was made easier by the Association no longer being party to the National Agreement. Relations were so strained that the hitherto annual postseason contest between the respective champions, both Boston clubs in this case, did not occur with Young declaring that the lack of an Agreement made such a series impossible.

Various permutations for an expanded Association were reported. One rumor suggested an expanded circuit that would include Chicago, Kansas City, Omaha, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Another, reported to be the favored choice of Phelps and the Browns’ Chris Von der Ahe, would have seen an expanded Association embracing New York, Brooklyn, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Chicago.16

The Association had no shortage of suitors. Phelps claimed he received an application from Sioux City.17 Buffalo wanted in. Kansas City wanted in, and its president, J.W. Speas, stated that Phelps informed him that club’s application would be considered at the next Association meeting.18 Kansas City was eager to escape the Western Association, with the city stated to be “clamoring for major league privileges … undoubtedly sick and tired of the fluctuation of a minor league.”19 At the same time, an eight-team grouping remained just as likely, leading to questions about which club would be dropped to accommodate Chicago.

The Association met at the Wellington Hotel in Chicago on October 23. In addition to the eight holdovers from the 1891 season and prospective newbies from Chicago, representatives from Kansas City and Minneapolis attended at the Association’s special invitation.20 Phelps, who would be re-elected as Association president, struck an aggressive tone against the League. Noting the League’s disputed pennant, Phelps delivered a report that “developed into a scathing arraignment of the League and its alleged methods”21 and offered congratulations to his members in avoiding such chaos. Phelps stated that peace overtures involving League counterparts failed, which “makes necessary and proper that we formulate and execute our plans for the ensuing season without the expectation of any alliance.”22

After the business formalities, the Association proceeded with implementing its Chicago expansion plans. On Von der Ahe’s motion, Chicago’s application was accepted. One of Chicago’s backers, George H. Williams, declared the action “a body blow to the National League.”23 Pfeffer’s appointment as manager and captain was later confirmed.

Opposition was rumored from Milwaukee and Columbus, the clubs most threatened with contraction if the Association continued as an eight-team circuit.24 Milwaukee had only recently joined the AA for the final 36 games of the 1891 season after King Kelly’s money-losing Cincinnati entry suspended operations in August. For its part, Columbus smelled a rat and felt “marked as a lamb of slaughter”25 when the Association also voted to eliminate gate-sharing for visiting teams. Milwaukee and Louisville may have felt similarly uneasy with the move seen as targeting low-drawing clubs for a freeze-out; however, if Association owners wanted to shed clubs, it would be necessary to pay for the privilege for eliminating any clubs deemed in compliance with Association rules.26 Phelps floated the idea of a 10-team Association, remarking that “[t]he Columbus folks are too suspicious.”27

The Association reached no definitive conclusions about its structure during the Chicago meeting. Von der Ahe, Philadelphia’s Billy Barnie, and Columbus’ Gus Schmelz were appointed to a committee to consider the question of league size. Kansas City, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Buffalo submitted applications, and Brooklyn and Indianapolis reportedly wanted membership.28 Of the applicants at the Wellington Hotel, Speas assured a “wild” reception in Kansas City and Minneapolis’s Hy Hack offered “not the slightest doubt” that $60,000 in stock would be taken by Twin Cities interests.29

On the player front, the two sides both sought to recruit talent from the other league while retaining their own talent. The Association adopted Barnie’s resolution to blacklist 10 players who purportedly jumped contracts to sign with League clubs. St. Louis appeared in danger of losing most of its team to the League, and Charles Comiskey weighed offers from League clubs in Cincinnati and Philadelphia to pay what Von der Ahe would not.30

When Comiskey appeared likely to sign with Cincinnati, Von der Ahe declared he had no objection and added that Reds President John T. Brush will be “badly fooled” if he expects Comiskey to win the pennant.31 In turn, the Athletics successfully recruited Connor and Richardson from the Giants with offers of three-year contracts. Others were also interested in raiding the Giants.

Recently deposed Giants manager Jim Mutrie assisted Association efforts to plant a new club in Manhattan. Reports stated that Mutrie, having secured $30,000 of the $50,000 believed necessary to do so, was searching for a place to play.32 Mutrie said he could raise money for a franchise and that several sites for grounds were available. In a few days there were preliminary discussions on leasing grounds on the bluff just west of the Polo Grounds. Association backers in New York apparently made an offer to Rusie, and the New York Times named Buckley, Jack Glasscock, Charley Bassett, Jim O’Rourke, and Tim Keefe as likely to join Rusie on Gotham’s nonexistent Association team. Most saw this as a huge bluff on the part of the Association, “intended to force the League to come down off its high horse and agree to terms favorable to the Association.”33

New Giants manager Pat Powers, taking over from Mutrie, faced an urgent need to thwart player defections. Boston’s Arthur Soden expressed a willingness to help his rival. He claimed to have spoken with Day about a deal for Mike “King” Kelly, but “if the transfer is made it will be solely because of Boston’s desire to assist the New York club.”34 The Giants also eyed Columbus’s Jack Crooks as well as Hughie Jennings and Harry Taylor from Louisville.

Elsewhere, Bill Dahlen claimed he was underage when he signed his contract with the Colts in order to jump to Milwaukee.35 Chicago’s Hart, already annoyed about Dahlen, also considered seeking an injunction to stop Pfeffer from setting up shop across town. Pfeffer, on the other hand, received favorable legal advice to the effect that his prior contract with Hart contained a defective option clause.36 Rumors had Jake Beckley leaving Pittsburgh to join Pfeffer’s new team.37 By mid-November, The Sporting News tallied the defections at 11 moving from the League to the Association, with seven moving in the opposite direction.38

Movement toward the big league

As readily as the rival leagues prosecuted their war on each other, peace negotiations occurred in the background. The two sides had met informally and intermittently since the summer without success, but those contacts never died completely. In early November, Boston rivals Soden and Charles Prince held several informal peace conferences, the primary subject matter of which appeared to be the formation of a single 12-team league.39 Similarly, Von der Ahe reportedly traveled east to meet with an unnamed League acquaintance with a peace conference the likely outcome.40

With both leagues only one year removed from the Brotherhood war, it seemed likely that the “bad financial condition of baseball in general have caused backers of clubs to look forward to the conference with considerable pleasure.”41 The players, profiting from high salaries through the interleague conflict, were not likely to share any enthusiasm among the magnates for peace.

Prince attended the League’s annual meeting on November 12, and met with several League dignitaries, including Soden, Walter Spalding, Brush, Brooklyn’s Charley Byrne, Philadelphia’s Al Reach, and Cleveland’s Frank Robison.42 Discussions occurred about possible settlements to two-team situations presently in Boston and Philadelphia. Prince was amenable to selling out to the Triumvirs, but price needed to be decided. Reach and John I. Rogers were receptive to Philadelphia as a two-team city, which seemed consistent with an Athletics team looking to play ball.

Club Treasurer George Wagner, brother of President Earle, said, “[W]e want peace. We think there is room for us in the baseball business, and we have as much right to enter into baseball as any other business. … We are not looking to get the best deal, but we want a fair, equitable settlement.” Wagner claimed the Athletics made a little money in 1891 and said he was looking forward to the new season.43

It became quickly apparent, however, that peace was not imminent. The leagues’ principals talked peace while continuing to posture. Soden stated that “[t]he League is in a good position for a fight, and I am confident we can stand it better than the Association. I certainly hope for a settlement, as the present condition of affairs hurts the game.”44 Von der Ahe declared that the Association’s willingness to compromise hinged on its getting the better of any deal.45 Moreover, with the Association holding 51 percent of each club’s stock in trust, any potential defector would be thwarted. The meeting broke up on November 13 without a settlement of differences, with peace deemed “apparently as far off as ever.”46

After the League meeting, reports varied about the prospects for a settlement. Receiving no further proposals from the League, however, Phelps envisioned an independent 10-club Association.47 The Association president saw “no probability of a consolidation,” which would “result disastrously to base ball.”48 Von der Ahe favored a 12-club Association with Kansas City, Brooklyn, and New York completing the circuit.

Disputes within Brooklyn’s ownership group threatened to have the collateral effect of opening a new front in any League-Association conflict. Discouraged by infighting among the Grooms owners, Gus Abell reportedly met with an Association representative about backing a rival club in Brooklyn.49 Schmelz proposed 16 clubs divided into two leagues with the teams drawn by lot from a hat.50

On the League side, Hart believed there would be a 12-team combination, although he personally favored an eight-team league.51 Robison favored settlement: “The obstacles are such as can be overcome if business judgment prevails.”52 President Young agreed with the 12-club sentiment, declaring, “I am still and always shall be for harmonious action between the associations.”53

At the start of December, momentum increased toward consolidation of some sort but there remained many open questions. Some of these questions were stated in the most general sense; for example, with respect to the Association, “it is plain to be seen that the Association magnates … do not know just what they want.”54 There existed no agreement on the number of clubs or who would buy out whom and in which cities. Additionally, issues that helped define the differences between the leagues, such as Sunday baseball and admission prices, would require resolution.

Preparations within the Association were beginning to bring about a merger. In early December, Von der Ahe traveled to Columbus to get an idea of what it would take to buy out that club. The Columbus people expressed a willingness to sell “at a reasonable figure.”55 The Association was apparently attempting to settle matters with Milwaukee at the same time. A Milwaukee law firm received a communication from some Eastern men, instructing the firm to buy a controlling interest in the Brewers at any price. A proposition was laid before the directors of the club, who considered it and offered to sell a controlling interest of the stock for $25,000, with the proviso that the club should remain in Milwaukee. If not, the stock was not for sale.56

On December 4 George Wagner agreed to head a committee to talk of a merger. With his lawyer, Frank S. Elliott, Wagner traveled to St. Louis to talk with Von der Ahe. The next day, Byrne, Brush, and Robison met Wagner, Elliott, and Von der Ahe.

After a two-day session, a tentative agreement for the basis for a merger was brought about. This proposed agreement called for four Association clubs (Baltimore, Washington, St. Louis, and Louisville) to be admitted to the new 12-club League. Philadelphia, Columbus, and Milwaukee were to be bought out. The Chicago AA club was to be reimbursed for actual expenses incurred. Sunday games would be optional with each club. The general admission fee would be 50 cents, with 25-cent seating an option for any club desiring it. Gate receipts would be divided for 10 years upon the basis of a 45/45 split, the remaining 10 percent going into a league guarantee fund. Regarding players, all contracts would be honored as they stood, with each club retaining 15 players. The remaining players would be turned over to the league to be assigned to teams that were willing to assume the existing contracts. All disputes over players were to be referred to an arbitration committee of two disinterested men, who would select a third when no agreement could be reached. A double-season plan was recommended, as were adoptions of measures for the protection of all minor leagues.

Byrne was delegated to present these plans to the Eastern clubs of the League, while Brush and Robison were to sell the proposal to the Western clubs of that circuit. Wagner and Francis Richter, editor of Sporting Life (who was instrumental in bringing the agreement about) were to get Baltimore and Washington in line and explain all to Charles Prince in Boston. Von der Ahe was assigned the task of meeting with AA President Phelps, getting the Louisville club on board, and settling with Columbus, Milwaukee, and Chicago.57

On December 11 Prince, Albert Spalding, his brother Walter, and Day met Wagner, Byrne, and Richter in New York. The above agreement was explained and approved. Wagner and Richter then met with Harry Von der Horst of Baltimore and secured his hearty approval of the deal. Rogers was also satisfied with everything, except the settlement to be made with the Wagner brothers in Philadelphia. Von der Ahe quickly and quietly arranged everything with the Louisville people, and managed to make terms with the Columbus ownership.58 Columbus was a sticky point in any merger proposal, as club President Conrad Born was saying, “We won’t sell out at any price and they can’t force us out. We propose to stick it out until the cows come home.”59 Soon, however, Born said that if the other clubs made a bona-fide proposition to buy the club, it “would be carefully considered.”60

League and Association magnates agreed to meet in Indianapolis on December 15 in what was expected to be the definitive meeting on consolidation. The division within the League about Sunday baseball, however, threatened hopes for a settlement. Presented with the question of whether League clubs were willing to play Sunday games in cities where allowed by authorities, there was an even split. Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh (all of which were former Association cities) consented to Sunday baseball, with Boston, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia opposed.

For their part, Association clubs in Philadelphia and Boston appeared ready to relent on achieving a one-team solution. Earle Wagner was willing to buy or sell out to the Phillies or complete a merger with his rivals.61 Boston’s Prince was losing more money than he liked, and his employers were telling him he spent too much time on baseball. If his partners agreed, Prince was willing to sell out to the Triumvirs.62 If an amalgamation was truly at hand, that left the question of which clubs would be dropped. Speculation now focused on some combination of Columbus, Milwaukee, Louisville, and Washington. There also remained the issue of the new Association entry in Chicago, which had just approved architect John Addison’s plans to construct grounds at a cost of $26,000.63

During the Indianapolis conference, the magnates finalized an agreement on a 12-club consolidated league. With 17 clubs existing in the two leagues before the meeting, five required disposal. Milwaukee and Columbus indeed were dropped. The Brewers would have their franchise fee (paid upon joining the AA in August 1891) returned and additional costs in building a team for the 1892 season reimbursed, totaling approximately $10,000.64 Milwaukee was expected to rejoin the Western Association.

Von der Ahe and Columbus officials were charged with agreeing on a price for the Solons, which was ultimately settled at $18,000.65 It was reported Prince was in the hole anywhere from $12,000 to $20,000 on his baseball ventures in Boston, and “had all the annoyance that he could stand in the business.” He reportedly held two-thirds of the stock in the Reds — 178 out of 300 shares.66 The Triumvirs bought out the Boston Reds for $37,500. The Wagners received $50,000 for their franchise, with the Phillies contributing $25,000 of the payoff.67 For the trouble of selling out, George Wagner intended to take over Washington (which he did) and took Billy Barnie with him to serve as manager.

Chicago’s Association club would never play a game, but its backers were to be returned the money spent launching the club, believed to be around $10,000.68 Williams was not mollified, blaming the Association’s “con men” and adding, “We are made the victims, and it is very shabby treatment from a crowd of men we supposed to be friends and partners.”69 Von der Ahe adopted a different approach, stating that “by the removal of the weak spots and a general cleaning out of both organizations, the union of the two is the best result that could be obtained.”70 These events occurred during the Gilded Age, after all. For an estimated $130,000, baseball had a trust to call its own.71

Despite the framework agreed in Indianapolis, questions lingered about the viability of certain clubs. First, the combined league appeared not to have shed all of the weak spots as Von der Ahe claimed. Although the Colonels survived the chop, there was “a strong feeling against Louisville.”72 Sentiment in certain League quarters favored admitting Buffalo ahead of Louisville. There were also doubts about Baltimore’s competitiveness in the new circuit, and there was recognition that Washington required strengthening.73 Wagner intended to remedy the latter.

Also, as expected, Sunday baseball proved an issue. Thinking that clubs like St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Louisville required Sunday baseball as a matter of survival, there was movement toward allowing former Association (and particularly Western) clubs to continue playing on Sundays.74 The issue was whether Eastern clubs would be willing to play Sunday games during any Western road swings. Boston and New York were not. Before leaving Indianapolis, the magnates stated that Sunday baseball would be a local option.

Development of the structure for the National League and American Association of Base Ball Clubs

The Indianapolis meeting, which began with a general agreement on consolidation and contraction, morphed into an organizational meeting for formalizing the new structure. To complete the formalities, the Association appointed a committee of Von der Ahe, Von der Horst, and Elliott, and the League appointed a similar committee of Byrne, Brush, and Robison.

Over December 17 and 18, the magnates formally established the “National League and American Association of Baseball Clubs” and adopted its constitution, which included several elements of the St. Louis pre-merger conference. Young was named president, secretary, and treasurer of the new league (which was really an expanded National League rather than a merger of two leagues). Phelps lost his job, but received the compensation of being named one of two legal advisers to Young; Philadelphia’s Rogers was the other.

The constitution provided for a 10-year period of existence, with the clubs bound together by the so-called ironclad provision that required unanimous consent to drop a fellow club. Otherwise, league membership could be terminated only upon resignation, failing to present a team at the start of the season, allowing the sale of pools at club grounds, and throwing games or permitting the throwing of games. Midseason vacancies, if they occurred, could be filled by a three-fourths vote. Clubs granted themselves territorial exclusivity for five miles beyond city limits and the ability to reserve up to 15 players each season.

With respect to admissions, gate receipts were to be divided evenly after 10 percent (later increased to 16 percent) was deducted for a league maintenance fund to pay for the costs of consolidation, and general-admission prices were set at 50 cents with special admission prices of 25 cents for some areas of the grounds.75 Home teams would be required to provide a dressing room for visiting clubs at their grounds, a change intended to address complaints from hotels refusing service to baseball clubs due to spikes tearing up carpets and players riding elevators in dirty clothes.76

Committees were appointed to address scheduling, players, rules, and a new national agreement. The drawing of lots determined the composition of the new board of directors, which led to a grouping of Brush, Von der Ahe, Hart, Von der Horst, Soden, and a Washington representative to be named later (who turned out to be Michael Scanlan).77 The scheduling committee was charged with submitting schedules of 132 and 154 games for consideration in March. The committee on players met in executive session before leaving Indianapolis to begin dealing with those who jumped leagues as well as those left without a club because of consolidation.

On December 18 at 10:30 A.M., the Association met to dissolve formally. After some minor business, at 11:10, Phelps asked if there was any further business. There was no response, but Von der Ahe wept and Barnie mournfully sighed. Phelps then said: “I declare the American Base-Ball Association adjourned sine die.” The meeting of the new NL/AA was adjourned that afternoon. By the following morning, all owners and representatives were gone, except a few who stayed to tie up loose ends. The editor of Sporting Life ended his report on the meeting with: “All’s well that ends well.”78

Von der Ahe, perhaps the man whose name was most associated with the American Association, had this to say: “I feel sorry that the Association fell through, and at the same time am glad that we see our way clear to make money for ourselves as well as the players. I am confident that the League end of the new body are acting in good faith, for there is no object nor reason for them to do otherwise.”

Von der Ahe talked a little on the settlement for the clubs left out, particularly Chicago: “The circumstances surrounding the deal are peculiarly unfortunate for Chicago, but there was no underhand work at all, and the necessities of the situation were such that, work it anyway you chose, you couldn’t retire Mr. Williams without incurring his anger and humiliation. I admit that I may have made a number of mistakes in the preliminary work of closing out the retiring cities, but the errors were brought about through anxiety on my part to make harmony all around.”79

Player allocations

In the agreement players under contract on December 5 remained with the clubs with which they had signed. All contracts signed after this date were declared null and void. Each club submitted a list of 15 players under contract, or desired. The remaining players were to be placed in a pool and later assigned to teams by Young and Phelps, doing the best they could to equalize the strength of all teams. Previously signed players of the dropped clubs could not be held to their contracts. Once this was completed, it was felt (at least by Sporting Life) that the allotment of players “was made so judiciously that all clubs are placed on a fair fighting basis.”80

In early January, Young and Phelps prepared a plan of allocation for players. The notable assignments included Pfeffer and Dahlen returned to Chicago, Harry Lyons to New York, Hugh Duffy to Boston, and Duke Farrell to Pittsburgh, and Danny Richardson would be joining Wagner in Washington.

The allocation plan annoyed many of the affected parties. Pittsburgh President William Temple received Farrell but was about to be asked to return John Grim to Louisville. He was not satisfied by the explanation that Pittsburgh received Farrell in order to facilitate Grim’s move. Temple dropped his claim to Grim, but weighed legal action over Lyons.81 Temple argued that Lyons was improperly assigned, but the League Board tabled his claim in March, effectively ending the matter.82

Pfeffer refused to return to Chicago, asserting, “I will not play under Anson another year, and my release is the only thing that will satisfy me.”83 He also preferred to attend to business interests in Louisville.

Although negotiations dragged on for months, the Colonels sent Jim Canavan and $1,000 to Chicago in April to secure Pfeffer. The Richardson case occupied the magnates for part of the March annual meeting. Signed originally by Wagner to play for the Athletics, Richardson was scheduled to join Wagner in Washington. Richardson now wanted to return to New York, and Day wanted him back. Richardson announced he would not play for the Senators for a million dollars, but Wagner declared, “I will not let go of the man.”84 New York attempted to reach a deal for Richardson before the start of the season, but failed. With the start of the season approaching, Richardson signed with Washington.

Formulation of a new National Agreement

After Indianapolis, as chair of the relevant committee, Rogers began preparing a draft National Agreement. In late January, without consulting his fellow committee members Young and Phelps, Rogers released his draft to much derision. Rogers claimed Brush pushed him to release the document and stated that his draft was intended to “evoke amendments and modifications,” but “the contents … are obnoxious to several elements in the big league as well as to all minor leagues.”85

Opposition centered around three issues: fees for drafting a minor-league player being too low, fees for receiving the protection of the Agreement being too high, and the lack of restrictions on midseason drafting.86 Minor-league clubs were concerned that their squads would be decimated by midseason procurement of their players by League clubs. Speaking for the Western League clubs, Kansas City’s Speas said the new league would oppose the agreement. Hart and Robison informed Rogers of their opposition to the agreement, and Brush, who apparently instigated the draft’s release, was also reported to be opposed.

A drafting session on a new National Agreement was set for the March 1 League meeting. Phelps and Rogers presented different versions of prospective agreements, and a five-man committee led by Byrne was appointed to resolve matters. When presented for adoption the next day, the new agreement significantly reduced the amount of protection money from minor-league clubs, as Class-A league clubs (assumed to be the Western League and Eastern Association) would pay $150 each and Class-B league clubs (everyone else) would pay $75 each. Drafting would be allowed from October 1 to February 1, and the minor leagues would submit their reserve lists on or before October 10. League clubs would pay $1,000 for players drafted from Class-A clubs and $500 for players from Class-B teams. Organized Baseball had its governing document.

Minor rules changes for the 1892 season

After Indianapolis, the rules committee of Reach, Von der Horst, and Brush evaluated possible changes to the game on the field. Some proposals were more radical than others. The Sporting News reported that the rules committee would be asked to consider a proposal to remove the pitcher from the batting lineup. This was not a designated-hitter proposal before its time, but would have relied on the other eight players to handle the batting.87 Ultimately, the rules committee agreed on relatively minor changes.

Making its report during the League meeting on March 2, the committee proposed placing the players’ benches 25 feet from the baseline; providing the umpire with discretion to declare a forfeit if teams engaged in “dilatory practices” to get a game called on account of rain or darkness; and declaring that the umpire is the “absolute judge of the plays” and that only the captain may approach the umpire to seek an interpretation of the playing rules.88 Additionally, a batter would be entitled to only two bases if the ball cleared a fence less than 235 feet from home plate. Otherwise, the batter would be credited with a home run.

Further, a baserunner would be credited with a stolen base when he advanced more than one base on a single or infield out and when he advanced a base on a fair or foul fly out, “provided there is a possible chance and a palpable effort made to retire him.”89 In another rule, that batter was to be called out if he attempted to hinder the catcher from catching or throwing the ball “by stepping outside the lines of his position or otherwise obstructing or interfering with that player.” A batter was to be allowed first base if “his person or clothing” was hit by a pitched ball “excepting hands or forearms, which makes it a dead ball.” A baserunner was now declared out for hindering a fielder, and all runners had to return to the bases last held.90 The League approved these proposals.

By a vote of 10 to 2 (with Cleveland and Philadelphia in the minority), the League rejected a proposal to decrease the number of balls required for a walk from four to three.91 Young had forwarded to Reach a new point system for scoring victories that would have awarded between one and four points across a range of one- to eight-run wins.92 The proposal appeared not to have advanced beyond the rules committee.

Schedule development

The schedule committee (Byrne, Hart, and Von der Ahe) dealt with two primary issues in devising the League’s fixtures for 1892. The first issue concerned the length of the schedule. The committee was charged with presenting two scheduling models, with the 154-game schedule emerging as the preferred option. Some believed that increasing the length of the season could lead to a split schedule (which had been discussed in early December), with Chicago’s Hart among the proponents.

The second issue related to Sunday baseball. In mid-January, Byrne stated that most clubs communicated their preferences regarding Sunday baseball. Comments ran the spectrum: Some wanted to play on Sundays, some would do so away from home, and others refused to play on Sunday at all. It was not clear whether the schedule would include Sunday games or whether clubs would have to agree mutually to move games to Sunday.

The scheduling committee met several times during February. Baltimore, Washington, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Louisville, all cities with former Association ties, declared for Sunday baseball; Brooklyn and Pittsburgh backed off their earlier interest.93

Meeting on March 1, the committee considered a draft schedule prepared by St. Louis’s George Munson and Brooklyn’s Charles Ebbets.94 With only minor changes as well as confirmation that preferred holiday dates were spread among clubs, the committee advanced the schedule for League adoption. There were few notable complaints beyond New York and Brooklyn’s displeasure that their home dates conflicted 63 times. Accordingly, on March 3, the League adopted a schedule of 154 games divided into two distinct competitions. The first half would begin April 12 and conclude July 13, and the second half would run from July 15 through October 15, with the champions of each half to meet in a postseason series.

The 154-game schedule would be the longest in the League’s history, but the slate was seen as appropriate for the era. “In this busy, bustling age of American ideas, push and energy, 154 games are not considered too many to play in one championship season.”95

The magnates approached 1892 with a sense of optimism. Conflict from the previous two seasons appeared relegated to the past, and the League believed the foundation existed for a return to the heyday of the 1880s. “So, if 1892 is not the most successful and greatest base ball year the game has ever had, it will indeed be strange.”96 By that standard, as events did not unfold as hoped, 1892 would prove “strange” indeed.

 

Sources

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

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

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: University of Alabama Press, 2006).

Reach’s Official Base Ball Guide, 1892 (Philadelphia: A.J. Reach Co., 1892).

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

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

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

 

Notes

1 “Tim Murnane’s Opinion,” The Sporting News, October 10, 1891: 3.

2 Gotham, “The Giants Feel Aggrieved,” The Sporting News, October 17, 1891: 1.

3 Ibid.

4 “There Will Be a Protest,” The Sporting News, November 7, 1891: 7.

5 “They Play Honest Ball,” New York Times, October 14, 1891: 8.

6 Gotham, “The Giants Feel Aggrieved,” The Sporting News, October 17, 1891: 1.

7 “There Will Be a Protest.”

8 Gotham, “The League Pennant,” The Sporting News, November 14, 1891: 1.

9 Ibid.

10 “Base Ball Men Meet,” New York Times, November 12, 1891: 2.

11 “Byrne Disgusted,” The Sporting News, October 3, 1891: 2.

12 “Boston Wants War,” The Sporting News, October 3, 1891: 2.

13 H.W.L., “Wagner Out for War,” The Sporting News, October 3, 1891: 3. This club was one of several that have been known as the Philadelphia Athletics. It played the 1890 Players League season as the Philadelphia Quakers, whose primary backers were brothers J. Earle and George Wagner. The Quakers replaced a Philadelphia Athletics club that played in the American Association from 1882 until it went bust late in the 1890 season. The AA admitted the Quakers as part of the “postwar settlement” that ended the PL, and the Wagners’ club adopted the Athletics name. Other clubs known as the Philadelphia Athletics include the prominent amateur-era club founded in 1860 that adopted professionalism before joining the National Association and playing the inaugural National League season before its expulsion after the 1876 season, and the club that was a charter member of the American League and exists today as the Oakland Athletics.

14 [Author illegible] “The New Chicagos,” The Sporting News, October 17, 1891: 1.

15 “Latest News,” The Sporting News, October 17, 1891: 1.

16 “Next Year’s Association,” The Sporting News, October 17, 1891: 7.

17 “Sioux City’s Aspirations,” The Sporting News, October 17, 1891: 1.

18 “Its Admission to Be Decided Soon,” The Sporting News, October 17, 1891: 7.

19 “As to Kansas City’s Proposals,” The Sporting News, October 10, 1891: 1.

20 Ell, “The New Chicagos,” The Sporting News, October 24, 1891: 1.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 “A Chat with Williams,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1891: 2.

24 Ell, “The New Chicagos.”

25 Buckeye, “The Columbus Club,” The Sporting News, October 31, 1891: 1.

26 Ibid.

27 Ell, “The Chicago Meet,” The Sporting News, October 31, 1891: 2.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid.

30 “The Browns Quit Us,” The Sporting News, October 31, 1891: 1; New York Times, November 5, 1891.

31 Buckeye, “Chips from Columbus,” The Sporting News, November 14, 1891: 1.

32 Gotham, “Vondy in New York,” The Sporting News, November 14, 1891: 6.

33 Sporting Life, November 14, 1891, 3.

34 Gotham, “Lots of Fun at the League Meeting,” The Sporting News, November 14, 1891: 1.

35 Ell, “Doings in Chicago,” The Sporting News, October 31, 1891: 1.

36 “Caught on the Fly,” The Sporting News, November 14, 1891: 3.

37 Reddy, “J. Whiskers O’Neill,” The Sporting News, October 31, 1891: 1.

38 “Local and General Gossip,” The Sporting News, November 14, 1891: 4.

39 “For a Twelve Club League,” New York Times, November 6, 1891: 5.

40 “Another View of the Situation,” New York Times, November 8, 1891: 2.

41 Ibid.

42 Gotham, “Lots of Fun.”

43 Sporting Life, November 21, 1891: 4.

44 Gotham, “Lots of Fun.”

45 Ibid.

46 “League Magnates Adjourn,” New York Times, November 14, 1891: 8.

47 [Author illegible], “In the Falls City,” The Sporting News, November 14, 1891: 7.

48 “Local and General Gossip,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1891: 3.

49 Gotham, “The League Pennant.”

50 “Schmelz’s Plan,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1891: 1.

51 Ell, “Hart and Uncle Anson Return,” The Sporting News, November 21, 1891: 1.

52 “The Chicago City League Is Up in Arms,” The Sporting News, November 21, 1891: 1.

53 B.L., “‘Little Nick’ Talks,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1891.

54 “The Real Situation,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1891: 1.

55 Sporting Life, December 12, 1891: 1.

56 Ibid.

57 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 14, 18: 1891; Sporting Life, December 19, 1891: 1.

58 Sporting Life, December 19, 1891: 1

59 Sporting Life, November 14, 1891: 1

60 Sporting Life, November 28, 1891: 1

61 “The Twelve Club League,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1891: 1.

62 Ibid.

63 Frank Brunell, “Certain to Be a Failure,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1891: 2.

64 “Baseball Consolidation,” New York Times, December 17, 1891: 2.

65 “Baseball Consolidation.”

66 Sporting Life, November 21, 1891: 3, 4, 11, and December 26, 1891: 9; The Sporting News, November 21, 1891: 1.

67 O.O. Young, “Late Indianapolis News,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1891: 1.

68 “Baseball Consolidation.”

69 O.O. Young, “Chickens Fly High,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1891: 1.

70 “A Chat with ‘Vondy,’” The Sporting News, December 26, 1891: 2.

71 The precise figures differ across newspapers and publications about the amount of each buyout. The total cost of consolidation appears to be in the neighborhood of $130,000.

72 “Baseball Consolidation.”

73 C. Mears, “The New Richmond,” The Sporting News, December 26, 1891: 1.

74 “The Baseball Conference,” New York Times, December 15, 1891: 9.

75 C. Mears, “The New Richmond.”

76 “That Twenty-Five Cents Admission,” The Sporting News, December 26, 1891: 1.

77 “The New Ball League,” New York Times, December 19, 1891: 2.

78 Sporting Life, December 26, 1891: 4.

79 Sporting Life, January 2, 1892: 3.

80 Sporting Life, December 26, 1891: 1, 4.

81 “Baseball Legislation,” New York Times, January 25, 1892: 2.

82 “Richardson and Lyons,” The Sporting News, March 5, 1892: 1.

83 “Caught on the Fly,” The Sporting News, January 16, 1892: 3.

84 “Doings of the Baseball Men,” New York Times, March 3, 1892: 2.

85 “Baseball Legislation”; “That National Agreement,” New York Times, January 29, 1892: 2.

86 “Baseball Legislation”; “Baseball Notes,” New York Times, January 28, 1892: 2.

87 “Shall the Pitcher Bat?” The Sporting News, January 16, 1892: 4; see also John Thorn’s detailed post on this issue at ourgame.mlblogs.com/2016/03/07/the-origins-of-the-designated-hitter/.

88 George Munson, “The United League,” The Sporting News, March 5, 1892: 1.

89 Ibid.

90 Sporting Life, March 5, 1892: 3; complete rules printed in 1892 Reach Base Ball Guide, page 106 ff.

91 Munson.

92 Ibid.

93 “As to Sunday Games,” The Sporting News, February 20, 1892: 7.

94 Gotham, “The New Schedule,” The Sporting News, March 5, 1892: 1d.

95 Munson.

96 Editorial, The Sporting News, March 5, 1892: 4.

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