This article was written by James K. Flack
This article was published in the Fall 2018 Baseball Research Journal
In the first years of the American League, its eight clubs added to their ranks by drawing away players from the older National League. Baseball had been slumping, a situation stemming from the country’s economic depression and the failed leadership of team owners. Attempting to snap out if it, the NL magnates had pared down their monopoly — “the great circuit reduction of the spring of 1900” — from 12 teams to eight, thus rendering surplus talent available. But the American League owners wanted popular veterans, not merely whoever was on hand. This meant luring players to jump contracts binding them to clubs in perpetuity.
Since 1883, baseball’s owners had steadily strengthened their “reserve system” so that all but a few players on each roster were held by the club that originally signed them until they were transferred or released. Consequently, players were prevented from negotiating for their services. The American League, as Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills have written, ignored the repressive contract clause, and players in demand were quick to realize that the situation could be worked to boost their salaries as well as enhance their dignity. Seizing new opportunities, National League contract jumpers soon filled more than half of American League rosters. One of them was Deacon Jim McGuire.[fn]Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills, Baseball: The Early Years (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), 104–15, 305; David Quentin Voigt, American Baseball: From Gentleman’s Sport to the Commissioner System (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1983), 168, 225–40, 306–308; Benjamin G. Rader, Baseball: A History of America’s Game (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 70–79; Patrick K. Thornton, Legal Decisions that Shaped Modern Baseball (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012), 44.[/fn]
The Brooklyn catcher was beginning his 18th major-league season. After an 1884 rookie year with Toledo, there were stops at Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Rochester, and Washington, interrupted by a couple of minor-league stints.[fn]Nemec, Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871–1900, Volume 1: The Ballplayers Who Built the Game (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2011), 255– 57; Robert W. Bigelow, “Deacon McGuire,” SABR Biography Project, http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/62d7cf30.[/fn] The first of these made him Detroit property and, in the process, introduced him to the business maneuverings of big-league baseball.
In 1885, McGuire was playing in the financially wobbly Western League for Indianapolis. On June 13, he doubled and caught the Hoosiers’ 2–1 home win against Kansas City. After the next game, the league folded. (Soon it would become the American League under President Ban Johnson.) At the time it lost its affiliation, Indianapolis occupied first place and was picked to win the championship. Detroit had finished last in 1884 and started the 1885 season 5–25, so the club was determined to rebuild by whatever means necessary. In order to capture the disbanded league’s top talent, Detroit’s directors moved boldly: They went to Indianapolis and bought the franchise for $5,000 — with payment contingent upon players signing Detroit contracts. All but four Wolverines were replaced, making McGuire and nine other ex-Hoosiers, plus skipper Bill “Wattie” Watkins, the core of Detroit’s suddenly formidable club. Sporting Life editor Francis C. Richter wrote: “They are, as a whole, a much stronger playing team…and the Detroit public may look forward to some excellent work in the near future in this new aggregation.”[fn]Sporting Life, June 24, 1885; June 17, 1885; Detroit Free Press, June 16, 1885; June 23, 1885.[/fn]
Pulling this off required creative machinations. Teams technically were not allowed to bargain with released players until after a 10-day waiting period; but the likelihood of surreptitious bidders for McGuire and his teammates had to be thwarted. “As managers began to put in an appearance and tempt players to jump their obligation,” reported the Detroit Free Press, “it was deemed best to remove them from outside influence, and the entire team came to this city yesterday morning with the Detroit directors. From Detroit they proceeded by rail to Toronto and will there take a steamer for a pleasure trip down the St. Lawrence to the Thousand Islands.”[fn]Detroit Free Press, June 17, 1885; Seymour and Mills, Baseball: The Early Years, 110. Watkins’ role in the Indianapolis part of this deal, which “demonstrated both his ingenuity and the traits that would make him one of the most despised NL managers in the nineteenth century,” is discussed in: Nemec, comp. and ed., Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871–1900, Volume 2: The Hall of Famers and Memorable Personalities Who Shaped the Game (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2011), 149.[/fn] After it was safe to dock and to sign contracts, the new players had a dramatic impact. The Wolverines finished June with an 8–33 record, but in early July, a week after the arrival of the new players, they began a streak of 12 wins in 13 games, and were roughly a .500 team from the consolidation to the end of the season.[fn]“The 1885 Detroit Wolverines Regular Season Game Log,” Retrosheet, https:// www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1885/VDTN01885.htm.[/fn] Deacon Jim was again a big-leaguer, following an unusual journey that must have taught the 21-year-old a lesson about wily magnates.
Certainly his half-season with Detroit was a learning process. Charlie Bennett, the Wolverines’ number one catcher, furnished exceptional instruction for continued improvement at the position. McGuire’s apprenticeship coincided with overhand pitching. As pitchers threw harder, catchers began using heavier padded gloves, catching the ball primarily in the pocket, rather than wearing thin leather gloves with the fingers cut off and grabbing the ball with both hands. The earliest citation for the word “receiver” meaning catcher comes from 1885, and Bennett exemplified the position’s changes.[fn]Peter Morris, Catcher: How the Man Behind the Plate Became an American Hero (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2009), 327; David Nemec, The Rules of Baseball: An Anecdotal Look at the Rules of Baseball and How They Came to Be (New York: Lyons & Burford, 1994), 152; John Richmond Husman, “Charles Wesley Bennett,” in Nineteenth Century Stars, ed. Robert L. Tiemann and Mark Rucker (Kansas City: Society for American Baseball Research, 1989), 12.[/fn] His understudy that year fit in well. As a local account put it: McGuire was “a fellow with abundance of nerve, cool head and a fine thrower to bases. He promises to make a valuable relief for Bennett, our inimitable catcher.”[fn]Sporting Life, July 8, 1885.[/fn]
Additionally, he no doubt got Bennett’s advice about what to expect from employers. Bennett could reference his recent experience based on “baseball’s first real case of contract litigation.”[fn]Thornton, Legal Decisions, 33; Allegheny Base Ball Club v. Bennett, 14 F.257 (W.D. Pa., 1882), https://law.resource.org/pub/us/case/reporter/F/0014/0014.f.0257.pdf.[/fn] Toward the end of the 1882 season, he had signed a preliminary agreement with the Alleghenys of the American Association for his personal services for the next year. But then he had a change of heart, chose to stay in Detroit, and refused to sign the 1883 contract. The Alleghenys’ principal owner, Harmar Denny McKnight, sued, seeking a federal court injunction compelling Bennett to sign a formal contract and restraining him from playing for Detroit. The court dismissed the charge, deciding in Bennett’s favor that a preliminary arrangement did not amount to a final agreement; and, furthermore, the contract that was presented for signature lacked mutually equitable terms between club ownership and the ballplayer. Bennett’s case was “one of the first attacks on the legality of the reserve clause.”[fn]Voigt, American Baseball, 155; Seymour and Mills, Baseball: The Early Years, 142. At the end of the 1885 season, the magnates cut salaries to $2,000 maximum and increased the number of scheduled games from 112 in 1885 to 126 in 1886. David Stevens, Baseball’s Radical for All Seasons: A Biography of John Montgomery Ward (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998), 42.[/fn] McGuire’s would mirror it two decades later.
McGuire’s disposition to resist the magnates’ absolute authority had to have been affected by Detroit’s team captain, center fielder Ned Hanlon. Captains at that time took responsibility for on-field decisions, and Hanlon was on his way to becoming a savvy practitioner of “inside,” or “scientific” baseball, which relied on pitching, tight fielding, and aggressive baserunning. He also was a vital organizer of the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, formalized in 1885 by John M. Ward, New York’s shortstop and captain who had graduated from the Columbia Law School.[fn]David Quentin Voigt, Baseball: An Illustrated History (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1987), 137; Voigt, American Baseball, 113; Nemec, Profiles, vol. 2, 34; Stevens, Baseball’s Radical for All Seasons, 42–43; Bill Lamb, “John Montgomery Ward,” SABR Biography Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/2de3f6ef.[/fn] Chapters emerged throughout the league. Detroit, with Hanlon and Bennett, was the second to join, in May 1886. McGuire, who was then Philadelphia property, joined two months later.[fn]Players’ National League Base Ball Guide (1890), 8, courtesy of Matt Rothenberg, Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame (hereafter cited as HOF).[/fn]
The Brotherhood’s aims evolved from encouraging better player deportment to asserting players’ basic rights. In 1887, Hanlon and others appeared at the National League winter meetings seeking recognition of their organization, modifications to the standard contract, and elimination of the reserve system. The club owners responded by recognizing the Brotherhood and granting a few contract concessions pertaining to blacklisting and suspensions, but refused to get rid of the National Agreement clause, which now bound 14 rather than 11 men to their employers. A year later they introduced a five-tiered rating scheme for all major-leaguers: Players would be categorized according to “habits, earnestness, and special qualifications” and paid between $1,500 and $2,500 depending on how they were graded.[fn]Seymour and Mills, Baseball: The Early Years, 129–32, 224–25. The categories were lettered A through E in descending order and class E men were tasked with sweeping ballparks after games. Stevens, Baseball’s Radical, 79.[/fn]
There was some sentiment for a strike, but Ward counseled otherwise. The membership voted it down, opting instead to launch a separate Players League. Its eight teams were run cooperatively, with profit-sharing and personnel decisions arrived at by joint consent. Ward and Hanlon were player-managers of the 1890 Brooklyns and Pittsburghs, respectively. The league lasted for only one season. Attendance lagged, financial backers reneged, most clubs crumbled, and the Brotherhood collapsed.[fn]Stevens, 89.[/fn]
Yet the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players occupies an enduring place in late-nineteenth-century US history. As the major leagues’ first union, it derived its ideas from trade associations, producers’ cooperatives, and an array of wage-earners’ organizations. It channeled those impulses into progressive acts resisting complete domination by the magnates and collective efforts to reform its small sphere of industrial society. “To be sure,” historian Peter Levine writes, “the struggle between competing groups of capitalists for baseball’s marketplace, the demands of ballplayers and the risks they undertook to achieve them, and the ultimate triumph of the better organized and better financed side hardly matched the stakes or costs of workers or entrepreneurs in other industries. When major league ballplayers bolted their clubs to form their own league, however, they set the stage for events that announced, if less grandiosely, these significant themes.”[fn]Peter Levine, A.G. Spalding and the Rise of Baseball: The Promise of American Sport (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 58–59.[/fn] Ned Hanlon’s prominent role in the union surely influenced Jim McGuire’s viewpoint toward management in the years ahead.
For the time being, his development as a complete player was shaped by Philadelphia’s Harry Wright, one of professional baseball’s founding fathers and its foremost early manager.[fn]Andrew J. Schiff, “The Father of Baseball:” A Biography of Henry Chadwick (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008), 6, 115–23; Warren Goldstein, Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), 113–14, 151–52.[/fn] Wright’s reputation had been growing since 1869, when he built the first openly professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. It was not just that his club was “better trained and more practiced,” as Henry Chadwick wrote.[fn]Voigt, American Baseball, 26.[/fn] In a deeper sense, Wright’s teams were guided by their leader’s benevolent paternalism, maintaining discipline over his players — both in and out of uniform — for their own good. How did McGuire, under Wright’s tutelage between 1886 and 1888, respond to this parent-like authority? His own father, born in Ireland, had died before the future big-leaguer turned seven. Were Wright’s British-accented words of wisdom heard with special meaning? Was the void left by his father, George McGuire, filled in some manner by Harry Wright?[fn]Eighth Census of the United States: 1860 — Population, Aurora, OH, M653_1025, image 33; and 1870 — Population, Youngstown, OH, M593_1239, image 602, National Archives Building; Schiff, Father of Baseball, 184; “Wright, a native of Sheffield, England, spoke with a British accent,” Lee Allen, Cooperstown Corner: Columns from The Sporting News 1902–69 (Cleveland: Society for American Baseball Research, n.d.), 88; Jerrold Casway, “A Monument for Harry Wright,” The National Pastime, No. 17 (SABR, 1997): 35–37.[/fn] As his career advanced, Deacon Jim, as he came to be known, would emulate Wright’s ethos of respecting the game whether he happened to be on a winning or losing team.
The Washington Senators, the team McGuire played for throughout most of the 1890s, fell into the latter category. During his eight and one-half seasons with them, they never finished close to .500; they finished in the lower third of the 12-team National League every year except 1897, when they managed a 61–71 record and a sixth-place tie with Brooklyn. Washington’s won-lost record may have been woeful, but the decade yielded less quantifiable aspects that kept local interest alive. In 1892, McGuire’s club began playing at Boundary Field — later the location of Griffith Stadium — where President Benjamin Harrison became the first sitting chief executive to watch a major-league game (the Senators lost to Cincinnati 7–4, in 11 innings). Beyond the left-field fence, team owner Jacob Earl Wagner pastured his horse, Phil. Home fans considered it an auspicious omen if Phil faced the diamond when a comeback was needed, calling him the “Rally Horse.” “Reliable Jim McGuire behind the bat” provided another hopeful sign, as told by one Frederic Tyler, a die-hard follower of those perennial “disappointments.”[fn]Jonathan Fraser Light, The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1997), 586; Kevin and Karen Flynn, “The 1897 Ladies Day Riot,” Nats News, No. 59 (July 2012): 13; Frederick S. Tyler, “Fifty-five Years of Local Baseball, 1893-1947,” read before the Society, October 21, 1947, Records of the Columbia Historical Society of Washington, D.C., 1946–47, (1949): 265–67.[/fn] In 1895, McGuire’s reliability was manifest when he caught in every one of his team’s games, a record that will never be broken.
Fifty-five games into the 1898 season, he became Washington’s player-manager, taking over from first baseman Dirty Jack Doyle. The new skipper had scarcely settled in when Wagner began encroaching on his prerogatives. “I will suggest certain ideas and exchange views with McGuire as to points of play,” the boss said in early July, “such as the selection of certain pitchers to work against certain clubs and other details involved in the conduct of a team.”[fn]Rich Eldred, “Umpiring in the 1890s,” Baseball Research Journal, No. 18 (SABR, 1989): 75; Shirley Povich, The Washington Senators (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1954), 26.[/fn] That arrangement produced a 21–47 record and, with the Senators in 11th place and only a couple of dozen games left on the schedule, McGuire resigned. His popularity, however, did not suffer. At the home opener the following season, it was reported that “McGuire’s reception indicated his hold on local fans.”[fn]Washington Evening Star, April 19, 1899.[/fn] Nonetheless, his situation with another owner had been adversarial.
Deacon Jim’s exit from Washington brought him back together with Ned Hanlon, who had become a part-owner of Brooklyn, along with Charles Ebbets and others, as well as the club’s manager. In 1899, “Foxy Ned” sought to solidify his catching position by trading for Washington’s Duke Farrell and McGuire.[fn]Zack Triscuit, “Edward Hugh Hanlon, [Brooklyn] Manager 1899–1905,” in Deadball Stars of the National League, ed. Tom Simon (Cleveland: Society for American Baseball Research, 2004), 273; John Saccoman, “Charles Hercules Ebbets, [Brooklyn] Owner 1898–1925,” in Deadball Stars of the National League, 271; Voigt, American Baseball, 267–68.[/fn]
McGuire no doubt had mixed feelings. Though the Senators were pathetic, his long service with them — 900 games played, including almost 800 caught — and professionalism had earned him the admiration of his peers. Brooklyn’s Superbas, on the other hand, held out the promise of finally being on a first-place club. The closest he had come had been in 1887, when Harry Wright’s Phillies were runners-up to the Wolverines, finishing three and one-half games behind. Now in his 15th major-league season and approaching age 36, McGuire had a chance to put years of frustration behind him. As a Superbas booster confidently rhymed:
And let me emphasize the fact, and say it once again,
That we’re bound ter[sic] win the Pennant with Hanlon and his men.[fn]Lawrence William Westholm, “Our Base Ball Winners,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 23, 1899.[/fn]
Thanks to Hanlon, McGuire joined these men in July. And win they did, finishing first in 1899 and 1900, then capping their repeat by garnering a postseason win. For four years during the mid-’90s, the top two teams had played-off, with Hanlon’s Baltimore Orioles being involved each time. After a two-season hiatus, the Pittsburgh Chronicle-Telegraph donated a handsome silver and gold punch bowl bearing the inscription “Presented to the Winner of the World’s Championship of Base Ball [best-of-five series].”[fn]Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 11, 1900. In 1965, the Hall of Fame accessioned the Pittsburgh Chronicle-Telegraph Cup (also known as the McGinnity Cup), describing it as “a missing link between the Temple Cup and and the modern World Series.” Twenty-Sixth Annual Program (Cooperstown), July 26, 1965.[/fn] Brooklyn took the trophy three games to one in 1900, Manager Hanlon racking up another title and McGuire, in baseball parlance, going from the outhouse to the penthouse.
Yet the celebrations were somewhat muted by financial and personnel concerns. The Brooklyn club was less profitable in 1900 than it had been the prior year due to smaller home attendance, thus shrinking rewards for the winning Superbas. According to McGuire’s recollection of how players expected increased bonuses: “We were drawing bigger [away] crowds than the season before so naturally we thought we would draw a bigger stake than we received for copping the first one, but when we finished, instead of a cash donation, each player received a pair of gold cuff links.”
He said this with a chuckle.[fn]Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 13, 1900; Guy M[cIlvaine] Smith, “He Could Catch Anything and Anybody,” photocopy of an undated typescript, HOF; Don Doxie, Iron Man McGinnity: A Baseball Biography (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009), 55. Smith (1872-1950) was a Danville, Illinois, baseball writer and Sporting News correspondent who apparently interviewed McGuire in the early 1930s.[/fn] But the American League was no laughing matter for team management. At the same time Brooklyn was wrapping up its championship in Pittsburgh, plans for a revamped circuit were being finalized in Chicago. Following the series, Joe McGinnity jumped to the American League’s new Baltimore Orioles — the National League version of the team having been one of the four shut down in 1900. After the next season, his former batterymate did the same in favor of American League Detroit.
“McGuire was long noted as a big league catcher, serving with the Brooklyn National club in the zenith of his career.”[fn]Photocopy of an untitled newspaper clipping, May 8, 1911, HOF.[/fn] This 1911 newspaper description archived at the Hall of Fame has gained twenty-first century credibility through Stats Inc. rating him the 1901 National League All-Star backstop. The Superbas’ best years, by contrast, were behind them. After their championship season, they dropped to third, below Philadelphia and the pennant-winning Pirates; in 1902, Pittsburgh won again, finishing 27½ games ahead of the second-place Superbas. A few members of Hanlon’s club who had brought the Chronicle-Telegraph trophy back to Brooklyn remained, but decline was reflected in the shrinking number of Brooklyn All-Stars between 1901, when there were five (Tom Daly, Bill Donovan, Joe Kelley, Jimmy Sheckard, and McGuire), and the club’s lone All-Star in 1902 (Bill Dahlen).[fn]Deadball Stars of the National League, 17.[/fn]
Ebbets had underestimated the impact of the American League, as well as a new players organization, the Protective Association of Professional Baseball Players, which came together in June 1900 with delegates from every National League team. Its purpose was to improve the terms and conditions of employment, particularly the length of time that a player could be reserved. The emergent American League seemed prepared to accept most of its demands, but entrenched National League owners stood adamantly opposed. Any compromise with the upstarts was out of the question, insisted Ebbets: “They’re only bluffing.… The demands of these fellows are simply preposterous.”[fn]Seymour and Mills, Baseball: The Early Years, 311. “The Players’ Association has achieved all it set out to do,” concluded Francis C. Richter, Sporting Life, April 20, 1901.[/fn]
On September 25, 1901, McGuire re-signed with Brooklyn. According to the standard Articles of Agreement, his contractual obligations would run from April 15 until October 15, 1902, with the club’s option to renew for 1903 at a salary of $2,600. Just before the contract was to take effect, on March 14, 1902, he signed American League Articles of Agreement with Detroit for two years, from March 20, 1902, until October 5, 1903, which would pay him $3,500 per season.[fn]Brooklyn Base Ball Club v. James T. McGuire, 116 F.782 (3d Cir. 1902), case file scans from the National Archives at Philadelphia (hereafter cited as Brooklyn v. McGuire, NAP); “a renewal clause (reserve)” had been part of the revised contract for 10 years, Seymour and Mills, Baseball: The Early Years, 256.[/fn]
Not only were Detroit’s contract terms considerably better, but the team’s third-place finish in 1901 promised a brighter immediate future than Brooklyn’s. The Superbas’ roster was decimated; the Tigers had a solid core of veterans and prospects. These were practical considerations. Comparing contracts, sizing up rosters, and doping out how teams were likely to perform in the next few years called for businesslike calculations.
Personal factors probably further motivated McGuire. For one thing, going to Detroit would put him close to home. Albion, Michigan, where he had resided since boyhood, was only a two and a half-hour train trip away. Not that he would be able to chug back and forth on the Michigan Central Railroad very often during the season, but proud local citizens could come to see him. The industrial town of slightly over 4,500 people in 1900 also counted among its population his wife, May, as well as George and Lizzie McGuire, his older brother and sister-in-law. The two families were immediate neighbors and the brothers jointly owned a main-street tavern. (At the beginning of 1901, the Pittsburgh Chronicle-Telegraph [McGinnity] Cup was displayed at McGuire Bros. where an enlarged portrait of Deacon Jim, wearing his 1885 Detroit uniform, hung above the bar.) Albionites cheered their hometown hero wherever he played, but their chests would puff out especially if he came to the Tigers.[fn]George J. and James T. McGuire were born in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1858 and 1863 respectively, and settled in Albion, where the latter apprenticed as an iron molder; the Albion Recorder, January 10, 1901, reported that the championship trophy was on exhibit, which was also documented in an undated photograph, Frank Passic, “McGuire Brothers,” pt. 3 (1995), http://www.albionmich.com/history/histor_notebook/950730.shtml.[/fn]
Getting to play at Bennett Park must also have impacted his decision. Formed as he had been by Charlie Bennett, being able to compete on the grounds named for his original mentor would hold special meaning. (Not all of Detroit’s home games were at Bennett Park because Sunday baseball was prohibited, so the Tigers had to use a park outside of the city limits, near Dearborn.) Bennett Park was located at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull Avenues — a hallowed site in the making — and honored the fan favorite whose career ended abruptly in 1894 when he lost his left foot and right leg below the knee in a freak offseason railroad accident. Two years later, Bennett caught the ceremonial first pitch, personifying the positive attitude McGuire shared.[fn]Michael Betzold and Ethan Casey, Queen of Diamonds: The Tiger Stadium Story (West Bloomfield, MI: A&M Publishing, 1992), 29–30, 32; Philip J. Lowry, Green Cathedrals (Cooperstown, NY: Society for American Baseball Research, 1986), 51; Ron Selter, “A History of Bennett Park — Detroit’s First Major League Ballpark,” pt. 1, The Inside Game 5, no. 4 (November 2005): 2–3; pt. 2, 6, no. 1 (February 2006): 3, 7.[/fn]
His other important 1885 Detroit teammate did not seem so admirable. Since acquiring a financial interest in Brooklyn, it looked like Ned Hanlon had joined with the conniving owners. Once instrumental in the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players — as well as a director of the cooperative Pittsburgh Players League team — he now epitomized syndicate maneuverings. To boot, he and Ebbets were both angling to get the better of each other. And, worst of all, respect for him as a manager had diminished. Years later, Sam Crawford related how Hanlon would “start telling some of those old-timers [former National League Orioles who had been transferred to Brooklyn] what to do. They’d look at him and say, ‘For Christ’s sake, just keep quiet and leave us alone. We’ll win the ball game if only you shut up.’”[fn]Lawrence S. Ritter, The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It (New York: Macmillan, 1960), 52–53.[/fn] After 1900, Hanlon never won another pennant. He did enter the Hall of Fame posthumously, though, in 1996, upon the vote of the Committee on Veterans.
The clubhouse at Washington Park in South Brooklyn hardly overflowed with feelings of loyalty toward management. Only a few Superbas showed up at the October 25, 1900, testimonial dinner at the exclusive men’s Carleton Club in Park Slope, sponsored by boosters, honoring the championship team. “Many of the leading citizens of the Borough have subscribed for the event,” the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported. “The pennant of 1900 will occupy the prominent place…and the World’s Championship Cup…will grace the occasion. …A vaudeville entertainment has been arranged, and the Twenty-Third Regiment Band in full uniform will serenade the players.” For the finale, “gold sleeve buttons would be presented to the players.”[fn]Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 25, 1900; Ebbets mailed these “tokens of the rooters’ esteem to the men who found it impossible to attend,” however some Superbas “were told by Ebbets that they were not entitled to them,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 29, 1900; December 4, 1900.[/fn] Except only Willie Keeler and pitcher Harry Howell were there.
This was the second display of disregard for the organization in a week. On the previous Friday, when the Chronicle-Telegraph trophy was presented by Pittsburgh Mayor William J. Diehl, there had been no-shows. Joe Kelley, Brooklyn’s captain, received the cup with: “Ladies and gentlemen, I beg that you will pardon the absence of some of our members,” conspicuously among them McGinnity and McGuire. His conclusion — ”I also ask your indulgence for our hasty departure. We are about to start for Cuba and the time of preparation is short” — indicated another situation that would not redound to the advantage of the Superbas.[fn]Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 20, 1900.[/fn]
Their postseason trip — Kelley did not go — lacked total team support. Club secretary Tommy Simpson arranged for players from Brooklyn and the New York Giants to play eight exhibitions against each other in Cuba during November 1900; games against Cuban teams were scheduled for off days. Simpson’s National League contingent arrived to find preparations somewhat lacking, and in mid-month 10 of his group hastily returned to New York. That left barely enough men to take on Cuban and US military teams. Nonetheless, “The net result of the Cuban trip [was] a pleasant time and valuable experience, but no financial profit,” Sporting Life reported. Others agreed with Keeler: “The next time that I go to Cuba, I am going with a party of excursionists.”[fn]Sporting Life, December 8, 1900; November 24, 1900.[/fn]
One can imagine McGuire perusing news reports from Havana as he was readying his Albion tavern to exhibit the championship trophy. Something that would have grabbed his attention concerned Brooklyn’s first baseman and the secretary of the Protective Association: “[Hughie] Jennings from far off Cuba has written his associates not to do business for 1901 before December 10 when he will be back.”[fn]Sporting Life, December 8, 1900, after he got back, Jennings resumed his law studies and baseball coaching at Cornell University, to the displeasure of Ebbets and Hanlon, C. Paul Rogers III, “Hughie Jennings,” SABR Biography Project, http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/c9d82d83.[/fn] This, of course, pertained to teammates who were considering various bids. Jennings’ status was uncertain (Hanlon would sell him to the Phillies six months later). Another Superba on Simpson’s trip was right-hander Harry Howell, soon to jump to the American League’s Orioles. Fielder Jones signed that winter with the Chicago White Sox, Lafayette Cross jumped to the Philadelphia Athletics, and McGinnity refused more money offered by Ebbets so that he could reunite with John McGraw in Baltimore. While admiring the McGinnity Cup, and mulling over the Superbas’ questionable state, other options surely crossed Deacon Jim’s mind.
At present he belonged to Brooklyn, but 1901 would turn out to be his last year in the National League. McGuire’s decision to breach his contract mingled pragmatic considerations and personal interests. By early 1902, tough-minded thinking and responses to sentiment convinced him that the time was right.
His start in Detroit was complicated by Brooklyn Base Ball Club v. James T. McGuire. On May 26, the club asked the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to enjoin its catcher “from playing base ball with or giving his services as a ball player for the season of 1902 to any other club or organization.” The complaint averred that because Brooklyn’s ballclub was a corporation
which has elevated the game…to high standards of respectability, integrity and popularity [through] securing and maintaining a team of skillful players to compete [in] popular exhibitions. …That if the Defendant be permitted to… give his services…to a rival organization…it will not only result…in the withdrawal of a large portion of…customers…it will also cause great deterioration in the combined…“team work” of…other skillful players. [Moreover], the Defendant was and is a very expert, experienced and skillful player [contractually bound to fulfill his obligation and…prohibited] from performing such duties for any other party.[fn]Exemplification of Record No. 4265, docket entries, Court of Common Pleas No. 1 for the County of Philadelphia, State of Pennsylvania, May 26, 1902, Brooklyn v. McGuire, NAP.[/fn]
A bill for injunction was served on May 28 notifying McGuire that he had 15 days to enter an appearance in court and answer charges, or the bill would be “taken pro confesso.”[fn]Exemplification of Record No. 4265.[/fn]
The time and place of Brooklyn’s filing reflected considered calculation. Less than a month earlier the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had ruled in favor of a club that had brought suit against a jumper. That was when the Phillies stopped Napoleon Lajoie (and others) from playing for the Athletics and sought his return. Litigation in that case also had begun in the Court of Common Pleas. The arguments were basically the same as those used against McGuire, and Colonel John I. Rogers (co-owner of the Phillies and the National League’s lawyer) represented the plaintiff in both proceedings.[fn]The relevant cases of Lajoie (1901–02) — the first court-ordered injunction enforcing a sports contract — and of John Ward (1890), too technically detailed for discussion here, are elaborated in, Thornton, Legal Decisions, 21–40, 51–57, Robert Berry and Glenn Wong, Law and Business of the Sports Industries, Vol. 1 (Dover, MA: Auburn House, 1986), 71–73, and Richard L. Irwin, “A Historical Review of Litigation in Baseball,” Marquette Sports Law Review, 1 (Spring 1991): 283–88, http://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/sportslaw/vol1/iss2/6; in something of a twist, Ward — who 15 years earlier likened the reserve rule to a “fugitive slave law” — assisted Rogers in the McGuire case, “ironically, hypocritically, he argued on the side of management,” Bryan DiSalvatore, A Clever Base Ballist: The Life and Times of John Montgomery Ward (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999), 372–73.[/fn] William Jay Turner was the defendant’s counsel for each case; his handling of McGuire’s would prove most effective.
If Rogers’ strategy was to take advantage of the recent high-profile outcome in the Pennsylvania state court system, he was several steps behind Turner and his associate, William Y.C. Anderson. First, McGuire’s attorneys successfully petitioned for the case to be removed to federal court on the grounds that the civil suit involved citizens of different states.[fn]Petition for Removal of Case No. 4265, Court of Common Pleas No. 1, to United States Circuit Court in and for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, May 29, 1902, Brooklyn v. McGuire, NAP.[/fn] Then they countered Rogers’ argument that the plaintiff’s player had irreplaceable skills and that losing him would cause irreparable harm to Brooklyn.
On Monday June 23, 1902, at 10 o’clock in the morning, the United States Circuit Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania began its examinations of the complainant and the respondent, Judge George M. Dallas presiding. It was immediately clear that Rogers would stress the jumper’s extraordinary playing ability and turnstile appeal, as he had done in winning the Lajoie case.
Q. [Rogers] Kindly state, as Mr. McGuire has been a player since 1899, what kind of a player, as to his skill.
A. [Ebbets]… a very skillful player.… He did not have any one [sic] to excel him.… It is impossible almost to replace him.
Q. [Rogers] What is the extent of your financial loss owing to the withdrawal of Mr. McGuire from your team?
A. [Ebbets]…unless you have first class attractions…they [the public] do not turn out to attend your games the way they otherwise would.
Hanlon’s testimony underscored McGuire’s reputation as being “one of the best we have in the game,” and there was no catcher “not under contract with another club who could be secured to replace him.”[fn]Motion for Preliminary Injunction, U.S.C.C., E.D. of PA., June 23, 1902, 4–5, 14–15, Brooklyn v. McGuire, NAP.[/fn]
Turner voiced objections and raised cross examination questions. Then he and Anderson read 10 remarkable affidavits sworn to the effect that “There were numerous other catchers…who were the equals of Mr. McGuire, if not his superior.”[fn]Sporting Life, July 5, 1902.[/fn] These statements had been written only three days before the hearing, when Boston arrived in Detroit for a weekend series. Five Bostons (including Cy Young, his batterymate Lou Criger, and third baseman-manager Jimmy Collins) and five Tigers (including manager Frank Dwyer and pitcher Win Mercer) affirmed that the defendant was not exceptional at his position. Mercer added that Brooklyn’s drawing power would not be impaired by McGuire’s absence.[fn]Counter Affidavits on Behalf of Defendant sur Application for Special Injunction, Wayne County, Michigan, June 20, 1902, Brooklyn v. McGuire, NAP.[/fn] Such downgrading of McGuire would seem absurd — especially in light of him later being ranked the National League’s best catcher the year before. Judge Dallas (without the benefit of SABR’s Deadball Era Committee’s research) found it persuasive, though, and the counter affidavits submitted by Turner and Anderson informed his decision.
On June 25, the court denied Brooklyn’s motion for a preliminary injunction. Judge Dallas ruled that the club had not suffered injury due to McGuire’s jumping: “The evidence adduced is by no means conclusive upon the question whether the services which the defendant contracted to render were so unique and peculiar that they could not be performed, and substantially as well, by others engaged in professional base ball playing, who might be easily obtained to take his place.”[fn]Opinion Denying Motion for Preliminary Injunction, June 25, 1902, Brooklyn v. McGuire, NAP.[/fn] A more significant issue in the decision was that the National League’s contract lacked mutuality, thus making it unenforceable. The plaintiff could terminate its obligations upon giving the defendant 10 days’ notice, whereas the defendant’s obligations remained in effect at the plaintiff’s discretion.[fn]Gary D. Hailey and Douglas R. Pappas, “Baseball and the Law,” in Total Baseball, ed. John Thorn, Pete Palmer, Michael Gershman, and David Pietrusza, 5th ed. (New York: Viking Books, 1997), 495.[/fn] Brooklyn Base Ball Club v. James T. McGuire had national scope in its application.
Afterward, Rogers spoke respectfully of the judge and his ruling. Although sweeping, it failed to mention the Lajoie case, “completely ignoring the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.”[fn]Sporting Life, July 5, 1902.[/fn] He was silent on the question of whether there would be an appeal to the US Supreme Court.
That definitely would have added a special feature to this study of McGuire the contract jumper. But it would not answer deep-seated questions concerning how and why his court case came about. Viewed historically, McGuire’s 1902 decision stemmed from a multitude of events over the course of 17 big-league seasons. Some of them were instrumental in shaping his outlook and actions. Moreover, these personal experiences and influences provided him with an abundance of firsthand anecdotes for telling as he grew older. After retiring to his home in Michigan — with 26 seasons of major league service, the all-time record for catchers — venerable Deacon Jim coached the Albion College team. Think of the baseball stories those young men must have heard.
JAMES K. FLACK retired from the University of Maryland in 2004 after 37 years teaching American History and, between 1982 and 2000, being an assistant baseball coach. Prior to that he had similar high school responsibilities in Michigan where he also coached an American Legion team. Since 1966 he and his family have lived in Washington, D.C. (Bob Davids was a neighbor). In 1985, he received a SABR membership as a birthday present. That gift led in large part to his research on Deacon McGuire.