America's National Game/Chapter 17
DECADE OF THE 80'S—THE AMERICAN AND UNION BASE BALL ASSOCIATIONS—THEIR FRUITLESS EFFORTS TO SUPPLANT THE NATIONAL LEAGUE—A. G. MILLS THE RIGHT MAN.
THE decade of the 80's began and continued an era of multiplied clubs and organizations. In April, 1881, three clubs from New York City, the New Yorks, Metropolitans and Quicksteps; the Athletics, of Philadelphia; the Atlantics, of Brooklyn; and Nationals, of Washington, several of them having been famous in former years, organized the Eastern Championship Association. Only three clubs finished the season. The Metropolitans made the best record, winning 32 and losing 13 games.
In the year 1882 William A.. Hulbert, of Chicago, President of the National League, died of heart failure, at his home in Chicago.
In the same year Richard Higham was expelled on charges preferred by the Detroit Club, for collusion with pool-sellers.
In 1882 the Northwestern League, which later produced several major league players, was formed at Chicago. It comprised a circuit composed of the following cities: Peoria, Springfield and Quincy, Illinois; Bay City, East Saginaw and Grand Rapids, Michigan; Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Toledo, Ohio. Toledo won the pennant.
The Inter-State Association, another minor league, had its organization in 1882. Its clubs were from Brooklyn, Gamden, Harrisburg, Pottsville, Reading, Trenton and Wilmington. Brooklyn won the championship.
The early years following the opening of the decade of the 80's witnessed a continuation of the struggle of the National League to maintain control of the game and preserve its integrity. Despite the fact that the League management had displayed an iron will as regards the eradication of old abuses; notwithstanding that, for the first time in the history of Base Ball, discipline had been strictly administered to refractory and dishonest players and to defaulting clubs; although protests against desirable innovations introduced by the League had failed to produce any effect in the way of causing their withdrawal, the backbone of opposition was not yet broken. There was slumbering discord among certain players. There was jealousy on the part of ambitious would-be magnates. There was the ever-present hostility of the gamblers, and there was open criticism of League methods by the class that is always "against the government."
In 1882 an organization was formed whose avowed purpose it was to rival the National League. This was the American Base Ball Association, and its leading spirits were H. D. McKnight, of Pittsburg, and Chris. Von der Ahe, of St. Louis. Mr. Von der Ahe was proprietor of a pleasure resort in the suburbs of his city, and he came to be interested in Base Ball from the fact that games constituted one among other attractions to his place.
The American Association made its appeal for public sympathy and support by proposing an admission fee of twenty-five cents to all games, instead of fifty cents, as charged by League clubs. It was claimed by promoters of the new association that League magnates were coining wealth through an unreasonable charge at the gates; that this exorbitant fee was prohibitive so far as the "poor laboring man" was concerned; that the League was making of Base Ball a rich man's game; that none but nabobs could see a game of professional ball any more. The effect of this competition was serious to the interests of the game in some ways. Unrestricted Sunday games in violation of law and the wide-open liquor traffic could not but be prejudicial. However, that "competition is the life of trade " seldom had a better exemplification, for business in both associations was immediately improved.
The defect in the argument in behalf of the institution of the new competitive organization was, that its premise was false. It was not true that League managers at the time of the formation of the American Association were making fortunes. On the contrary, many had been steady losers. But that was not all, nor was it the most serious difficulty. The old system of "revolving," based upon the natural antagonism of the rival organizations, neither of which at first recognized the rights, rules or existence of the other, was at once renewed, and under particularly trying conditions. A certain class of players, standing upon their alleged rights as American citizens to make the best possible bargain in their own interests, would go from one club to another, as prospects of a raise of salary presented themselves. And so distrust and general demoralization were present everywhere.
But the League management never faltered in its purpose. It kept its price of admission at fifty cents, though gate receipts at the beginning fell off. Did a player deserve discipline, he received it, though next day he joined a rival team. Was a club lax in its payment of fines or dues, it was promptly dropped from membership in the League. The liquor law was strictly enforced upon League grounds, and Sunday games were not permitted upon them.
The American Base Ball Association was organized with clubs in the following cities: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Louisville, Philadelphia, Pittsburg and St. Louis. Cincinnati won the championship.
The American Alliance, organized about the same time as a minor association of the American, had clubs at Brooklyn, Camden, Cincinnati, Harrisburg, Reading, Wilmington, Pottsville and Covington.
One year after the formation of the American Association, more trouble developed for the League in the organization of the Union Association, whose avowed mission it was to fight the reserve rule. This Association was born in 1883, at Pittsburg. Its first President was H. B. Bennett, of Washington. But at the following annual election Henry V. Lucas was elected to succeed Mr. Bennett. Mr. Lucas embarked in this enterprise on the declaration that the reserve rule was "an outrageous and unjustifiable chain on the freedom of players."
The cities embraced in the Union Association circuit were Altoona, Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Washington.
Mr. Lucas succeeded in securing promises and contracts from a number of prominent players; but most of them betrayed his confidence in one way or another. The season was a humiliating failure. Only the Washington Nationals, of all the clubs in the Union Association, made enough money to pay expenses. Frequent changes, caused by clubs dropping out, characterized the season and kept Mr. Lucas busy finding teams to fill their places. The Union Association finally disbanded in January, 1885, only two clubs being willing to enter a second contest. Mr. Lucas then retired, with his fortune dissipated and his combativeness destroyed. All players in the Union Association who had deserted the National League were expelled.
The following gentlemen are of record as having been prominent in the Union Association: W. Rilz, Altoona; I. W. Lowe and B. F. Matthews, Baltimore; Frank E. Winslow, George Wright and T. H. Murnane, Boston; A. H. Henderson and E. S. Hengle, Chicago; Justus Thorner, Cincinnati; Thomas J. Pratt, Philadelphia; Henry Lucas and Theodore Benoist, St. Louis; H. B. Bennett and M. B. Scanlon, Washington.
Most fortunate, indeed, was the National League that, when William A. Hulbert was suddenly removed by death from heart failure in 1882, one so eminently qualified as A. G. Mills was found to take his place. It needed just such a man to carry on the work of the League so ably begun. At the annual meeting of the League, held in December of that year, Mr. Mills was elected President, and Mr. N. E. Young for the seventh time was chosen Secretary.
Mr. Mills was peculiarly equipped for the duties now put upon him, in that he was a player of marked capacity, before and during the Civil War, having been for years actively connected with the sport; a lawyer of splendid ability, as immediately demonstrated by the formulation of the National Agreement, a document that has stood the ravages of time and the wearing warfare of the courts; and an executive of sterling endowments in the way of administering affairs and managing men.
The National Agreement, made between the National League and the American Association, which latter body soon learned the necessity of some means of controlling the game, with amendments up to 1889, was in the following words:
THE NATIONAL AGREEMENT OF PROFESSIONAL BASE BALL CLUBS.
This Agreement, Made between the Association known and designated as the National League of Base Ball Clubs, of the one part, and the Association known and designated as the American Association of Base Ball Clubs, of the other part, witnesseth, that
I. This document shall be entitled The National Agreement, and shall supersede and be a substitute for all other Agreements, similarly or otherwise designated, heretofore existing between the parties hereto.
II. (a) No contract shall be made for the service of any player by any club member of either party hereto for a longer period than seven months, beginning April 1st, and terminating October 31st, and no such contract for services to be rendered after the expiration of the current year shall be made prior to the 20th day of October of such year, nor shall any player, without the consent of the Club to which he is under contract, enter into any negotiation or contract with any Club, Club agent or individual for services to be rendered in an ensuing year prior to the said 20th of October. Upon written proofs of a violation of this section the Board of Arbitration shall disqualify such player for and during said ensuing year, and shall inflict a fine of five hundred dollars, payable forthwith into the treasury of the Board, upon the Club in whose interests such negotiations or contract was entered into.
(b) Every regular contract shall be registered and approved by the Secretary of the Association of which the contracting Club is a member, who shall forthwith notify the Secretary of the other Association party hereto, and the other Club members of his Association.
III. When a player under contract with or reservation by any Club member of either Association party hereto is expelled, black-listed, suspended or rendered ineligible in accordance with its rules, notice of such disqualification shall be served upon the Secretary of the Board of Arbitration by the Secretary of the Association from whose Club such player shall have been thus disqualified, and the Secretary of the Board shall forthwith serve notice of such disqualification upon the Secretary of the other Association party hereto. When a player becomes ineligible under the provisions of this Agreement, the Secretary of the Board of Arbitration shall notify the Secretaries of the Association parties hereto of such disqualification, and from the receipt of such notice, all Club members of the parties hereto shall be debarred from employing or playing with, or against, such disqualified player, until the period of disqualification shall have terminated, or the disqualification be revoked by the Association from which such player was disqualified, or by the Board of Arbitration, and due notice of such revocation served upon the Secretary of the other Association, and by him upon his respective Clubs.
IV. Upon the tenth day of October in each year the Secretary of each Association shall transmit to the Secretary of the other Association a reserve list of players, not exceeding fourteen in number, then under contract with each of its several Club members, and of such players reserved in any prior reserve list, who have refused to contract with said Club members, and of all other ineligible players, and such players, together with all others thereafter to be regularly contracted with by such Club members, are and shall be ineligible to contract with any other Club member of either Association party hereto, except as hereinafter prescribed.V. Upon the release of a player from contract or reservation with any Club member of either Association party hereto, the services of such player shall at once be subject to the acceptance of the other Clubs of such Association, expressed in writing or by telegraph, to the Secretary thereof, for a period of ten days after notice of said release, and thereafter, if said services be not so accepted, said player may negotiate and contract with any other Club. The Secretary of such Association shall send notice to the Secretary of the other Association of said player's release on the date thereof, and of said acceptance of his services at or before the expiration of the ten days aforesaid. Provided that the disbandment of a Club or its expulsion from membership in either Association party hereto shall operate as a release of all its players from contract and reservation, but the services of such players shall at once be subject to the acceptance of the other Ciubs of such Association as hereinbefore provided.
VI. Each Club member of either Association party hereto shall have exclusive control of its own territory, and no Club shall be entitled to membership in either Association party hereto from any city or town in which a Club member of either Association party hereto is located. Provided, that nothing contained herein shall prohibit any Club member of either Association party hereto from resigning its membership in such Association during the month of November in any year, and being admitted to membership in the other Association with all rights and privileges conferred by this Agreement.
"VII. No game shall be played between any Club member of either Association party hereto, or any of its players under contract or reservation with any other Club or "team" while presenting in its nine any ineligible player. A violation of this section shall subject each offender to fine or expulsion in the discretion of the Board of Arbitration.
VIII. Each Association party hereto shall have the right to make and enforce all rules and regulations pertaining to the control, discipline and compensation of all players under contract with and reservation by its Club members, provided such rules and regulations shall in no way conflict with the provisions of this Agreement.IX. A Board of Arbitration, consisting of three duly accredited representatives from each of the Associations parties hereto, shall convene annually at a place mutually to be arranged, and shall organize by the election of a chairman, secretary and such other officers and committees as to them shall seem meet and proper. They may make, and from time to time revoke, alter and repeal all necessary rules and regulations not inconsistent with this Agreement, for their meetings, procedure and the general transaction of their business. Their membership oh said Board shall be determinable at the pleasure of their respective appointing Associations upon duly certified notice thereof. A quorum shall consist of at least two representatives from each Association, and all questions shall be voted upon separately by the respective delegations, and no such changes or additions shall be made unless concurred in by a majority of the delegates of each Association.
X. In addition to all matters that may be specially referred to them by both of the Associations parties hereto, the said Board shall have sole, exclusive and final jurisdiction of all disputes and complaints arising under and all interpretations of this Agreement. They shall also, in the interests of harmony and peace, arbitrate upon and decide all differences and disputes arising between the Associations parties hereto and between a Club member of one and a Club member of the other Association party hereto. Provided that nothing in this agreement shall be construed as giving authority to said Board to alter, amend or modify any section or part of section of the Constitution of either Association party hereto.
Ex-President A. G. Mills, of the Washington Olympics, in an article on the subject of the national game, said:
"When we behold what a revolution Base Ball has wrought in the habits and tastes of the American people we may well denominate its advancement a 'good work.' But a generation ago that large body of our people whose lives were not spent in the forest or on the farm was marked as a sedentary race, with healthful recreation denied to all but a favored few. Now, not the least of our claims to distinction among the peoples of the world is our general love of and devotion to healthful outdoor sports and recreations. The deterioration of the race has ended, and the rising generation is better equipped for the duties, the conflicts and the pleasures of life than were their fathers and mothers. And can it be doubted what has been the most potent factor in achieving this beneficent revolution? We have seen Base Ball steadily growing from its notable beginning before the war, accompanying our soldiers in the field, spreading like wildfire through the West, until now it is known and loved and practiced in every city and town within the borders of the United States. Base Ball is essentially the people's game, in that it is equally accessible to the sons of the rich and poor, and in point of exhilarating exercise to the player and healthy enjoyment to the spectator—whether played on the village common or the splendidly appointed grounds of the modern professional club—it satisfies and typifies the American idea of a manly, honest, entertaining recreation."