America's National Game/Chapter 10

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Scan from book "America's National Game"

Hurley, Sub. G. Wright, s.s. Allison, c. McVey, r.f. Leonard, l.f.
Sweasy, 2b. Waterman, 3b. H. Wright, c.f. Brainard, p. Gould, 1b.




BEFORE the close of the decade of the 60's there were mutterings of discontent, disparagement, if not of actual disgust with existing conditions. It has already been noted that from the very beginning of Base Ball history betting had been openly, widely, almost generally indulged in at all contests of importance.

It is unnecessary, perhaps impossible, to catalogue all the evils that followed in the train of this pernicious practice. It is essential to the story, however, to mention the fact that one of the earliest legitimate effects of this illegitimate custom was to beget another practice even more prejudicial to the interests of Base Ball; for betting on the result of games naturally begot collusion between those who bet their money and some of those who played the game. Per consequence, it Was soon discovered that unprincipled players, under pretense of accident or inability to make points at critical stages, were "throwing" games.

Nor was this all. The determination of the founders of Base Ball to maintain it as an amateur pastime had been only partially successful from the start. The perfectly natural desire of every club to strengthen its playing corps found its earliest expression in the drafting, by senior clubs, from the ranks of local junior teams the best players among them. This absolutely legitimate practice was soon followed by that of inducing the best players in clubs of small cities and villages to join those of larger cities, the ostensible advantage being set forth as the increased opportunities of getting on in life.

It was, of course, but a very short step from this custom to that of offering to exceptionally good players positions in commercial or industrial enterprises, with the understanding that salaries would be forthcoming. These were usually paid in part by promoters of the ball clubs, and partly by the firms in whose employ the players were enrolled. It was always understood in such cases that, while the player was ostensibly engaged by the house he served, he was really expected to participate in all match games played by the club to which he was to become attached.

It will readily be seen that such a state of things could not long continue. The public lost confidence in a game the results of whose contests depended upon the interests of the gambling fraternity, or the presence of veiled professional players. Upright ball players knew that games were occasionally sold by their unscrupulous companions. Having lost faith in their fellows, they began to lose hope in the future of the pastime itself, and, one by one, conscientious players were dropping out. The system, too, of securing players by underhanded subterfuge also had a demoralizing effect on the sport, so that after a while players and public became outspoken in their criticisms of conditions existing everywhere, and violent in their denunciations of the management of the National Association of Base Ball Players, under whose regime these outrageous abuses obtained.

It should be stated in this connection that the evils complained of were not authorized by either the letter or the spirit of the National Association rules. On the contrary, all practices prejudicial to the game were not only not encouraged, but were vigorously forbidden by the language of the rules and violently denounced by delegates at each recurring convention of that body. But that the National Association of Base Ball Players was unable to deal with the problem of needed discipline confronting it was quite apparent. It either lacked the will or the courage or the ability to control the situation, and so, as always and everywhere, abuses unchecked became intolerable. Having lost respect for the governing body, players paid little heed to its mandates, interest in the sport subsided, attendance at games fell off, while the small number of clubs represented at annual conventions showed widespread demoralization.

In addition to the factors already named, that were rapidly leading up to the dissolution of the National Association of Base Ball Players, was the political propaganda. Under the original by-laws of the Association—which had never been amended as to this point—representation by proxy was provided for. This resulted in all kinds of trouble. Men of mediocrity from remote districts and obscure organizations were able to collect proxies enough so that they could and did have themselves

Scan from book "America's National Game"


elected to places of influence and importance that they were not qualified to fill, and this in order that they might manipulate the game to selfish ends. Thus the legitimate purpose of the sport, which was to provide entertainment for the public and healthful exercise for its participants, was prostituted to ends of graft and greed. The question prompting these mischief-makers was not "How may we perpetuate the game of Base Ball in its integrity and perfection?" but, "How may we secure the largest personal advantage while in office?" I do not make this charge of officers of the Association as a rule, but that there were present in power at this time officials who wrought havoc with the game will not be disputed.

Mutterings, loud and deep, showing the dissatisfaction that was present in the minds of the press and public, were heard everywhere from those who had any interest whatever for the welfare of Base Ball in America. It was quite apparent to everybody that something must soon occur to change the existing order of things—and in this one case it was the "expected" that happened.

The leading Base Ball club of Cincinnati, seeing the inevitable, unwilling to be bound by rules which nobody respected or obeyed, holding in utter contempt an organization that had failed to uphold the dignity and integrity of a game of which it was the nominal executive head, threw down the gauntlet of defiance to the National Association of Base Ball Players—not by a flaming pronunciamento, but by manly declaration that henceforth it would be known as a professional organization.

It required a great deal of moral courage on the part of Harry Wright and his confreres to take this step. There were at least three elements to be dealt with. First, that portion of the public—and it was at that time probably in the majority—who believed that Base Ball was simply an ordinary form of outdoor sport, a pastime, like cricket in England, to be played in times of leisure, and by gentlemen, for exercise, and only incidentally for the entertainment of the public, had to be reckoned with. This class felt that the game would suffer by professionalism; that it meant the introduction into the ranks of any man who could play the game skilfully, without regard to his "race, color or previous condition of servitude." It meant, they thought, the introduction of rowdies, drunkards and dead-beats. Somehow, it was felt that the game would lose in character if it departed from its original program, and they honestly deplored the proposed innovation.

Another class to be dealt with was the gambling element, and this opposition was not to be lightly considered. They had so long been a controlling influence, that anything threatening their ascendancy was sure to meet with stubborn resistance. Of course, their chief interest in Base Ball was what they could make out of it in the line of their nefarious profession. They feared that if the executive control of the game passed into the hands of men who also had cash at stake, it was a sure thing that just in so far as the management made money they must lose. They knew, of course, that the clubs must depend upon gate receipts for their income; that gate receipts depended upon the restoration of public confidence, and that public confidence could only be won back by the eradication of the gambling evil. So the gamblers would fight, and fight hard.

A third element, well worthy of sober thought, was that represented by players in other clubs still affiliating with the National Association, and obeying the letter, if not the spirit, of its non-professional requirements. What this class would do only the future could determine, though the fact that many of them were even then in an underhanded way practicing semi-professionalism gave force to the belief that they would not long hold out. Finally one club, actuated by the spirit that has characterized every pioneer movement in history, decided to blaze the way. Consequently, in 1869, under the management of Harry Wright, who had then been playing Base Ball for about ten years, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, formed in 1866 as an amateur team, now determined to organize as an out-and-out professional club, with a view of measuring skill with the heretofore invincible clubs of the East.

This club consisted of trained players, the best men procurable, and every one to receive a substantial salary. The players were Brainard, pitcher; Allison, catcher; Gould, first base; Sweasy, second base; Waterman, third base; George Wright, shortstop; Leonard, left field; Harry Wright, center field; McVey, right field.

A. B. Champion, a prominent lawyer of Cincinnati, was President of the Club, and to him very largely was due the success of the new professional movement.

The Eastern tour of the Red Stockings, in 1869, was

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preceded by a series of uninterrupted victories over Western clubs. The trip Eastward saw its first contest with the Buffalo Niagaras, after which the Cincinnati Club passed through Western New York to Massachusetts and then to New York City, where they played their first important game with the Mutuals. The result of this contest was a score, unprecedented up to that time, of 4 to 2, the Red Stockings winning. Next day they met and defeated the celebrated Atlantic Club by 32 to 10. The Eckfords were next to go down to defeat, and by a score of 24 to 5. From New York the Red Stockings went to Philadelphia, en route disposing of the Irvington, N. J., team by 20 to 4. At Philadelphia they encountered the Olympics, winning, 22 to 11, and following this by a defeat of the great Athletics of that city by 27 to 18, and the Keystones by 45 to 30. Later the Westerners visited Baltimore and Washington, easily defeating the best teams of both cities, the Marylands by 47 to 7, the Washington Nationals by a score of 24 to 8, and the Olympics of the capital city by 16 to 5.

Thus ended the first Eastern tour of a Western Base Ball club. It was also the first tour of a professional ball club in any direction. Every game played was won by the Red Stockings, presenting an important object lesson in professionalism, for it demonstrated at once and for all time the superiority of an organization of ball players, chosen and trained and paid for the work they were engaged to do, over any and all organizations brought together as amateurs for the simple purpose of playing ball for exercise and entertainment.

Returning to Cincinnati, the Red Stockings were visited by the Olympics, of Washington, which nine they defeated in three straight games, the score of one being 71 to 15. They then played visiting nines from the West for over a month, being victorious in every contest.

Next, they received the Haymakers, of Troy, New York, which club they had previously defeated, but which, on this occasion, played them to their first tie game, 17 to 17. About this time they won a close game from the Forest City Club, of Rockford. The score was 14 to 13 in their favor, the Red Stockings making three runs and winning the game in the ninth inning.

Having met every club in the East without a reverse, and having conquered every team in the Middle West, the Red Stockings now conceived the idea of visiting the Pacific Coast, stopping at St. Louis en route. At San Francisco they defeated the Eagles, Pacific and Atlantic nines of that city, every score but one being marked by fifty runs to single figures. Returning, they defeated clubs at Omaha and Nebraska City, and completed their triumphant record on their own home grounds by victories over the Philadelphia Athletics and the Mutuals.

This sensational record, without a parallel then, has never been equalled. Aside from its spectacular effect, in calling attention to the great players of a great club and their wonderful achievements, it exerted a tremendous influence, afterwards to be felt in the game itself, for it portended the birth of a new era in which professional ball should become thoroughly established, though not without its serious vicissitudes.

The Red Stockings had now played every prominent club from Massachusetts to California without losing a game, and this wonderful succession of victories was continued not only through 1869, but also from April to June in 1870, without a defeat.

From a record kept by Harry Wright, the great captain and manager of the Red Stockings, the following facts concerning that club, its players and its record are gleaned: Out of 57 games played the Red Stockings won 56 and tied 1. In these games they scored a total of 2,395 runs to 574 for their adversaries. The nature of the batting done is shown in a total of 169 home runs, or an average of nearly three to a game. The number of miles traveled by rail and boat was 11,877, without a serious accident of any kind. Over 200,000 people witnessed the games. The individual score of George Wright, the famous shortstop, was the highest of any player on the team. He played in 52 of the 57 games. His batting average was .518. He made 339 runs, of which 59 were home runs; one of them the longest hit up to that time.

Such is the story of the first professional Base Ball club, as taken from the records. Aside from the achievements of the Red Stockings during their brief but meteoric career, it will not be easy to estimate the influence of their performances upon the future of the game. The club, as organized by Harry Wright, passed out of existence in the fall of 1870, but it had paved the way for the introduction of new means, new measures, new methods, soon inaugurated, and which are an integral part of the system to-day.

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D. Allison, c.

A.J. Leonard, l.f.

Cal. A. McVey, r.f. C.J. Sweasy, 2b.

C.H. Gould

As pertinent to the question of professionalism, I recall very distinctly a bit of controversy with Harry Wright when, in 1871, he came to Rockford to secure the services of Roscoe Barnes, Fred Cone, and myself for the Boston Club. The professional Red Stockings, of Cincinnati, the pioneer professional club, had disbanded. That organization, under Mr. Wright's management, had demonstrated that professionalism not only stood for a marked improvement in playing, but that the dreaded opposition on the part of the public did not materialize, since the simple announcement that the Red Stockings were to appear had been sufficient always to attract crowds.

But the experiment had not yet been tried in an Eastern city. Hence, when Wright came with his overtures to Barnes, Cone, and myself, it was to join a club ostensibly amateur but really professional; for all were to receive good salaries. I knew, of course, that the manager of the Bostons felt exactly as I did with regard to the subject; but I could see that he was reluctant to break over the custom in vogue in New England and oppose the honest prejudice existing in that section and all over the East against professional Base Ball.

However, I was inclined to be obstinate in my views of the matter. I had determined to enter Base Ball as a profession. I was neither ashamed of the game nor of my attachment to it. Mr. Wright was there offering us adequate cash inducements to play on the Boston team. We were willing to accept his offer. Why, then, go before the public under the false pretense of being amateurs? The

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assumption of non-professionalism would not deceive anybody. It was not possible that any could be found so simple as to believe that George and Harry Wright, Cal McVey and the rest were in the game merely for healthful or philanthropic reasons. Then why engage in duplicity?

We went over the whole subject, threshed it out in all its bearings, and finally agreed to come out openly and above-board as a professional organization. The result was even more gratifying than we had hoped. Opposition in the East faded rapidly away. Soon after the organization, in 1871, of the National Association of Professional Ball Players, professionalism was firmly rooted and established.

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SOUVENIRS OF ATLANTIC VICTORIES Copyright 1911, by American Sports Publishing Co.