America's National Game/Chapter 16
FIRST DETERMINED STRUGGLE AGAINST PREVAILING EVILS—HOW GAMBLING AND POOL SELLING WERE ERADICATED FROM THE GROUNDS AND FROM THE GAME.
THAT the men who took upon their shoulders the task of organizing and maintaining the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs realized the herculean proportions of the enterprise in which they were engaging is not to be believed; else they might never have undertaken it. They did know, however, that they would have opposition. They knew that an immediate and bitter struggle with the whole gambling fraternity would follow the inauguration of their plans; for the men who organized the National League were aware that gambling and Base Ball must be divorced. The union had never been legitimate. It had been forced upon the game by the weakness of its parents and the aggressiveness of its adventurous wooer. The alliance was an unholy one, and its offspring were bastards, all. The only hope for the future of the pastime was to separate it at once and forever from, its evil consort. That of itself would mean a struggle; but the new sponsors welcomed the conflict, because it was a fight for the very life of the sport they loved, and they were willing to make sacrifice for it.
They knew also that there would be opposition from another source. Quite conscious were they that there were players, and good players, too, who would not take kindly to the proposed League organization. Such dishonest players were comparatively few in numbers—probably not exceeding five per cent, of those active in the professional game; but they constituted a mischievous and demoralizing element. The new leaders could not expect sympathy or co-operation in their fight against gambling from those who had been in collusion with gamblers. How to secure the confidence and loyalty of this small class, and at the same time retain the respect of the many clean-handed players, was one of many vexed problems that came before the new League organizers. So long as ball-players had been managing the affairs of the game the salary question was not so serious. It resolved itself into a division of the surplus—had there ever been any, after necessary expenses had been paid—be the balance what it might. But, under League control, with club management of teams and fixed salaries; with the essential declaration that players were to play ball and the management would do the rest, there loomed large upon the horizon of the Base Ball game a legal responsibility to be assumed—and by somebody who could be found on pay day.
With these and other problems confronting them, the League managers entered upon the discharge of their onerous duties earnestly and vigorously. One of the first things they did was to dignify the sport by advancing the membership fee from a paltry $10 per annum to $100 for each club. They made certain the possibility of remunerative gate receipts by requiring a bona fide population of at least 75,000 from any city seeking a franchise. They adopted a form of player's contract that would do away with or lessen the practice, so generally engaged in, of "revolving." They provided a penalty of expulsion for any player violating his contract, and anyone thus expelled was to be forever ineligible to reinstatement in any League club. They forbade bookmaking or liquor selling on any League ball grounds, and players were made subject to expulsion for being interested in any side-bet or for purchasing pools on any game. True, both preceding Associations had forbidden gambling and pool-selling in their constitutions; but neither had enforced nor successfully attempted the enforcement of provisions along this line. It was yet to be seen whether the National League would rise to the emergency its predecessors had so signally failed to meet.
The cities represented in the first circuit of the National League were Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Hartford, Louisville, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis. The players of the respective teams were as follows:
Boston—Harry Wright, manager; J. E. Borden, T. H. Murnane, T. L. Beals, H. C. Shafer, A. J. Leonard, J. H. O'Rourke, J. F. Manning, F. T. Whitney, George Wright, John F. Morrill, Lewis Brown and T. McGinley.
Chicago—A. G. Spalding, manager; James White, A. C. Anson, Ross Barnes, C. A. McVey, J. P. Peters, J. W. Glenn, P. A. Hines, R. Addy, J. F. Cone, Oscar Bielaski and F. H. Andrus.Cincinnati—C. H. Gould, manager; S. J. Fields, W. C, Fisher, C. J. Sweasy, H. Kessler, E. Snyder, C. W. Jones, R. Clark, D. P. Pierson, A. S. Booth, Henry Dean and William Foley.
Hartford—Robert Ferguson, manager; D. Allison, W. A. Cummings, Thomas H. Bond, E. Mills, John J. Burdock, Thomas Carey, Thomas York, J. J. Remsen, J. Cassidy, Richard Higham and W. H. Harbridge.
Louisville—J. C. Chapman, manager; James A. Devlin, Scott Hastings, Charles N. Snyder, W. L. Hague, J. Gerhardt, Charles Fulmer, A. A. Allison, J. C. Carbine, George Bechtel, J. J. Ryan, W. H. Holbert, W. Somerville and H. Collins.
New York (Mutuals)—W. H. Cammeyer, manager; Robert Matthews, N. H. Hicks, Joe Start, James Hallinan, A. H. Nichols, E. Booth, W. H. Craver, James Holdsworth and Fred Treacey.
Philadelphia (Athletics)—A. H. Wright, manager; Alonzo Knight, W. R. Coons, W. D. Fisler, W. Fouser, D. W. Force, George Zettlein, E. B. Sutton, G. W. Hall, Levi Meyerle, David Eggler and Fergus G. Malone.
St. Louis—S. W. Graffen, manager; George W. Bradley, Lipman Pike, E. E. Cuthbert, J. V. Battin, R. J. Pearce, J. W. Blong, D. J. Mack, T. P. Miller, H. T. Dehlman, M. H. McGeary and John E. Clapp.
At the first annual meeting of the National League, held in December, 1876, a test of the quality of the management of that organization came in the fact that the Athletics, of Philadelphia, and Mutuals, of New York, clubs from the two largest cities represented in the League, relying upon the practice of former Associations in the way of condoning similar offenses, had declined to play their return games scheduled in the West, thereby forfeiting their membership in the League. They argued that these big cities were more important to the League than was the League to New York and Philadelphia. Very greatly to their surprise, both Athletics and Mutuals were summarily expelled! This left the League for 1877 to consist of six clubs only.
At this meeting of the League Mr. William A. Hulbert was elected to succeed Mr. Bulkeley as President, and N. E. Young was re-elected Secretary.
The championship pennant was won by Chicago, the teams closing the season in the following order: Chicago, Hartford, St. Louis, Boston, Louisville, New York, Philadelphia and Cincinnati. It is worthy of note in this connection that honors now were almost evenly divided, as between East and West, as shown by the alternating of the nines in the order of their standing in the race.
It should not be inferred that no other clubs than those composing the National League were in existence at this time. Reading, Pa.; Columbus, O.; Fall River, Mass.; Providence, R. I.; Binghamton, N. Y.; Syracuse, N. Y.; Indianapolis, Ind.; St. Louis, Mo.; Wilmington, Del.; Pittsburg, Pa., and many other cities, had formidable semi-professional teams that played regularly scheduled games.
The season of 1877 was one abounding in vicissitudes for the National League. Had its organization been no stronger; had its executives been no more determined than had been those of preceding Associations, the League would in that memorable year have joined the great majority, dying in infancy. As it was, the game made slow progress, not many new clubs were organized, while financial failures attended most ventures in a professional way. Not all League clubs lost money, but most of them did, and the gambling element was in high feather because of its assurance that the old order of things would soon be reinstated.
However, the League managers were immovable in their determination that the game should be kept clean and honest. Every case requiring discipline, whether of club or player, received it promptly, and in allopathic doses. So far as the executive heads of offending clubs were concerned, had they been rolling in wealth, no more unyielding temper could have been displayed by the League management. The effect was just what had been intended and hoped for. Confidence, always quick to take alarm in times of trouble and fly away, began slowly to return. It was evidenced in 1878 by an unexpected increase in the number of new clubs organized throughout the country, by unwonted interest and approval on the part of the press, and by revived activity at the turnstiles.
This renewed interest in the sport was doubtless due in part to certain changes introduced in the game itself under League control. Players and managers had been alike agreed for some time that the use of a "lively ball," that is, one containing so much rubber as to cause the sphere to bound inordinately, was prejudicial to the best presentation of the game. It made the exhibitions too long. Nightfall saw many contests unfinished that had begun early in the afternoon. The use of the "lively ball" made the game uncertain. A batted ball would strike the ground at a distance from the fielder that would make its capture under favorable conditions easy and sure; but, because of some inequality of surface, or the presence of some impediment unseen, it would be deflected and with such suddenness and unlocked for rapidity that it was impossible to prevent its escape, or to check the base running epidemic that almost invariably followed a mishap of this kind. Moreover, the "lively ball" was accountable for such ridiculous scores that its abandonment was decided upon as a means of making the sport more interesting to spectators and less enervating to players. It is of record that, in one of its games, the Niagara team, of Buffalo, won by a score of 201 to 11.
So, in place of the "lively ball," yielding a score of three figures to the winners, a "dead ball," containing no elasticity whatever, was tried, with the result that many games of nine innings were played without a run on either side. It was about this time that the expression, "fell with a dull thud," began to find a place in our literature, and there can be no doubt as to its origin; for that is exactly how the "dead ball" struck the earth. In a game between Harvard University and a team from Manchester, N. H., played with a dead ball in 1879, the score stood to at the end of twenty-four innings, and this because of the nature of the ball used, rather than the superiority of the players using it.
Like everything else in the evolution of Base Ball, the ball had gone to the extreme limit of liveliness and to the extreme limit of deadness, and now, taking advantage of these tried-out extremes, saner reasoning prevailed, and the ball was gradually brought around to a happy medium; not too lively, not too dead, but just about right as to liveliness.
Finally, about the beginning of the decade of the 80's, a model ball in size, weight and constituent elements, practically differing but little from that now in use, was adopted, with most gratifying results.
In order to secure balls of uniform quality, as to constituent elements and grade of workmanship, the National League found it necessary early in its career to adopt an "Official League Ball," made according to stipulated specifications, and to be furnished under long term contracts. This plan has since been adopted by the American League, only official balls being used in either.
The year 1877 witnessed the birth of two minor organizations, both acknowledging allegiance to the National League. These were the International Association, composed of clubs in the United States and Canada, and the League Alliance, a strictly United States association.
The International Association, which lasted under that title through only two seasons, was composed of the Alleghenys, of Pittsburg; the Buckeyes, of Columbus; the Live Oaks, of Lynn; the Manchesters, of Manchester, N. H.; and the Rochesters, of Rochester, from the United States, and the Tecumsehs, of London, and the Maple Leafs, of Guelph, Ontario. The Tecumsehs won the championship.
In 1878 the International Association changed its clubs materially, the circuit being composed of the following cities: Allegheny, Buffalo, Hartford, Hornellsville, Manchester, Rochester, Springfield, Syracuse, Utica, and the Tecumsehs, of London, Ontario. The Buffalo club won the pennant.
In 1879 George Wright left the Bostons, with which club he had played so long, and, taking with him O'Rourke, went to Providence, where, under his management, the championship of the year was won by Providence.
The most sensational event of the period between the formation of the National League and the opening of the next decade was the expulsion from its ranks of four players by the Louisville Club in 1877. These men were A. H. Nichols, William H. Graver, George Hall, and James Devlin. The evidence of their guilt was so strong that, when confronted with it, Hall and Devlin confessed, implicating Nichols and Graver. Upon being summoned before the directorship of the club, all but Graver signed an order on the telegraph company for telegrams alleged to have passed between them and the sporting fraternity. Graver was at once expelled. Upon receipt of copies of the dispatches, showing conclusively the guilt of all, the other three were summarily dismissed, in disgrace, and never reinstated, although many appeals, in every conceivable form, were presented, backed by petitions, entreaties, and sometimes accompanied by threats. Louisville has, therefore, the credit of being the first club, under the National League, to expel members for crookedness. Indianapolis followed in 1878, by dismissing Nolan, a pitcher, for desertion.
This, then, was the first great victory won over gambling and the gamblers. It was the direct result of the determination on the part of the founders of the National League to eradicate this evil. Its effect was instantaneous and has lasted from that day to this. It has proven that, under the system of club management introduced at the time the National League was formed, it is possible to control the integrity of the game in every department by the simple exercise of firmness along lines of constant watchfulness and care, and by the inflexible administration of discipline.
As illustrating how general is the determination by everybody, everywhere, to keep the game of Base Ball free from the gambling curse, the following, from the San Francisco Call of April 25th, 1911, is in point. Three men were arrested by the police, charged with gambling on the grounds of a local club. The case was not made out, but the Judge, in releasing the men, said:
I shall never forget a scene I witnessed one day in the office of President Hulbert, of the National League, as a sequence of the expulsion of the Louisville players. Mr. Hulbert's office was en suite, consisting of rooms connected by folding or sliding doors. I was sitting in the reception room and Mr. Hulbert was at his desk in the inner apartment, when the outer door opened and a sorry-looking specimen of humanity entered. It was midwinter and very cold, but the poor fellow had no overcoat. His dust-covered garments were threadbare and seedy. His shoes were worn through with much tramping, while the red flesh showing in places indicated that if stockings were present they afforded not much protection to the feet. Everything about the man's appearance betokened weariness and woe. His face was a picture of abject misery. The visitor passed me without a glance in my direction. His eyes were fixed upon the occupant of the farther room. He walked straight to the chair where Mr. Hulbert sat, and, dropping to his knees at the big man's feet, lifted his eyes in prayerful entreaty, while his frame shook with the emotion so long restrained. Then his lips gave utterance to such a plea for mercy as might have come from one condemned to the gallows.
The man was Devlin, one of the Louisville players. He had been a personal friend of Mr. Hulbert and, knowing that man's kindly heart, had felt that if he could only see him, face to face, his friendship and the memory of former days would cause him to relent in his purpose of punishment. How Devlin reached Chicago I never knew. There was everything in his condition and appearance to indicate that he might have walked all the way from Louisville. The situation, as he kneeled there in abject humiliation, was beyond the realm of pathos. It was a scene of heartrending tragedy. Devlin was in tears, Hulbert was in tears, and if the mists of a tearful sympathy filled my eyes I have no excuse to offer here.
I heard Devlin's plea to have the stigma removed from his name. I heard him entreat, not on his own account—he acknowledged himself unworthy of consideration—but for the sake of his wife and child. I beheld the agony of humiliation depicted on his features as he confessed his guilt and begged for mercy. I saw the great bulk of Hulbert's frame tremble with the emotion he vainly sought to stifle. I saw the President's hand steal into his pocket as if seeking to conceal his intended act from the other hand. I saw him take a $50 bill and press it into the palm of the prostrate player. And then I heard him say, as he fairly writhed with the pain his own words caused him, "That's what I think of you, personally; but, damn you, Devlin, you are dishonest; you have sold a game, and I can't trust you. Now go; and let me never see your face again; for your act will not be condoned so long as I live."
Among other acts of legislation at this era of the game was the adoption, in 1879, of the "reserve rule," under whose provisions each club was permitted to hold the services of five men. This rule has since had several amendments. The reserve rule has proven to be one of the fundamentals of successful Base Ball control, and it is now conceded by all familiar with management to be a requisite of professional ball.
In this year, also, the International Association, founded in 1877, ceased to exist, the Canadian clubs having both withdrawn, and in its place there arose the National Association of Base Ball Clubs, exclusively from Eastern cities, representing Albany, Holyoke, Manchester, New Bedford, Rochester, Springfield, Utica, Washington, and Worcester. This minor league only lasted two years, Albany winning the first championship pennant.
In 1879 was organized the first exclusively Western minor league, consisting of Davenport and Dubuque, in Iowa; Rockford, Illinois, and Omaha, Nebraska. The Dubuque club finished in first place.
Under the control of the National League, in the first years of its existence, many professional and semi-professional clubs came into being, but these, as a rule, were unattached to any league or association, played independently, and arranged games whenever and wherever they could. At that time National League clubs did not have regularly scheduled series, but depended upon local secretaries to arrange games for each club. The system providing for season schedules was not inaugurated until 1877—another of Mr. Hulbert's reforms.
The unattached clubs derived much of their revenue from exhibition games with National League teams, and it was not unusual for a League nine to visit a small city, sign up one or more of the. best players of the local organization and take them away. I recall one instance where a League club visited St. Paul and took from the "Red Caps" of that city five of their finest players, practically breaking up the team! A great outcry, of course, was raised over this high-handed proceeding, and, while there was no League rule forbidding such action on the part of League clubs, it became evident to the far-sighted Hulbert that, unless this custom was stopped, it would reflect discredit upon not only the League but the game itself. He at once set about to institute a reform in this direction.
It so happened at that time that Mr. A. G. Mills, who was then living at Chicago, appeared on the field of Base Ball reform. In a published article over his signature he severely criticised the reprehensible practice above referred to of League clubs visiting cities, accepting their hospitality, and then stealing their players. In this communication, as I recall it, he outlined a plan showing how this abuse could be done away with and called upon the officials of the National League to put a stop to the pernicious custom.
Mr. Hulbert was very much impressed with the article of Mr. Mills, and, as it conformed to his own ideas on the subject, he immediately sent an invitation to the writer, asking him to call at his office, as he would like to consult with him on Base Ball matters. Mr. Mills accepted the invitation, and thus these two great Base Ball leaders met for the first time, and from thence-forward were close personal friends.
Mr. Mills evidently made a good impression on Mr. Hulbert, for just after this interview I called on the latter at his office, when he said: "I have found just the man we are looking for, and he has kindly agreed to help me in shaping up a plan that will prevent League clubs from robbing any more struggling clubs of their players."I asked the name of the newcomer to the game, and when Mr. Hulbert told me, I replied: "That name sounds familiar. Why, A. G. Mills used to be the President of
OLYMPICS, WASHINGTON, D. C.
A. J. Leonard, l.f. G. W. Hall, c.f. H. W. Berthrong, r.f.
F. A. Waterman, 3b. C. J. Sweasy, 2b. E. Mills, 1b.
D. W. Force, s.s. Asa Brainard, p.
H. F. Borroughs D. L. Allison, c. J. W. Glenn
It proved to be the same A. G. Mills.
Out of this chance meeting, in 1876, between Hulbert and Mills, grew the original League Alliance, and then the Tripartite Agreement between the National League, the American Association and the Northwestern League, and then followed the National Agreement formulated by Mr. Mills when he became President of the National League upon the death of Mr. Hulbert in 1882. That strong document has been the bulwark of professional Base Ball, and with a broadened scope, through amendments to keep pace with the growth of the game, is the very foundation of organized Base Ball throughout America today.
An incident, somewhat embarrassing to me at the time, will serve to illustrate the indomitable energy of Mr. A. G. Mills in behalf of League interests. It occurred some time before he had become connected with the League in an official capacity, but bears directly upon the subject treated of.
As a former officer and player of the old Washington Olympics, Mr. Mills recognized the importance of some form of agreement whereby the interests of those who, under the new order of things, had capital invested might be protected against the whims, caprices and sometimes dishonesty of selfish, thoughtless and corrupt professional players and managers.
At the time I was the captain and pitcher of the Chicago Club, and believing that a document bearing my signature would have weight with the fraternity, Mr. Mills, who had been asked by President Hulbert to assist him, asked the privilege of attaching my signature to a circular letter he had written and which contained some essential matter bearing upon the importance of professional players standing by their contracts. It was a very urgent appeal to players, from one of their own number, and in the interests of the game, to remain absolutely loyal to the clubs with which they had signed, and under no circumstances whatever to play with any other organizations. To this document, of which several hundred copies were printed and sent by mail to managers and players, every one bore my name, though the real author was A. G. Mills.
Now, at this time in the history of Base Ball, it was not customary during the season's play to carry on trips around the circuit a lot of utility players, as at present. Ten or, at the most, eleven men constituted the limit. It was therefore of not infrequent occurrence, when players became ill or incapacitated through accident, to fill the team from the ranks of disengaged or surplus professionals in cities where visiting teams happened to be.
I remember that one day, our nine being scheduled to play at Boston, I found it necessary to go skirmishing for someone to take the place of a disabled man on our team, and met with a very sharp and unexpected rebuff.
"What?" said the player approached. "You ask me to play with your nine, when only yesterday I got a personal letter from you entreating me not to do the very thing you are now asking of me? I guess not. You can't catch me that easy."
And so it continued all season. Whenever I was in a particularly tight place, and seeking to fill the ranks of our crippled team, one of these circulars, written by Mills, but signed by me, would be thrust under my nose. Mr. Mills has told me that he issued five hundred of these, but it seems to me I saw more than that in my experiences during that season's play.
When I returned to Chicago from my barnstorming trips, I undertook to explain to Messrs. Hulbert and Mills some of the embarrassments occasioned by the literary bureau they were carrying on in Chicago under my name. However, I received but very little sympathy from either of the gentlemen; they seemed to regard it as rather a good joke. They knew, of course, that I was in sympathy with the objects they were seeking to promote, but they were certainly more deeply interested in their purpose than they were in my perplexities. Finally I said to them:
"It's all right, gentlemen. I am in this thing. I will continue to stand for the high moral precepts so beautifully expressed and of which you have made me the literary sponsor; but won't you do this much? Won't you please mail me an author's advance proof of the many letters you are sending out over my signature—not that I want to alter the magnificent phraseology in the slightest degree, but that when one of them is presented to me I may not appear so totally ignorant as now of the subjects of which I am supposed to be the author?"
I also suggested that it might be well to send a dictionary with each letter, as several of the players had complained to me that they could not understand some of the classical language emanating from my versatile pen, which college professors might successfully wrestle with, but which was somewhat ambiguous to the average ball player.