America's National Game/Chapter 19
FIRST NOTABLE REVOLT OF PROFESSIONAL BASE BALL PLAYERS—ORGANIZATION OF THE PLAYERS' LEAGUE—WHY SUCH AN ORGANIZATION COULD NOT SUCCEED.
IN TREATING of the sensational episode that ushered in the last decade of the 19th century I would not be misunderstood. I accord to most of the players who at that time suddenly abandoned the National League the utmost sincerity of motive. They argued that the people who patronized Base Ball paid to see them play. They were the star performers, the actual "producers" of the entertainment. They held, and truly, that no one would give up a farthing to the man at the box-office; nobody would part with a ticket at the turnstile; none would contribute a nickel at the grandstand, so far as the men presiding at those posts were concerned; and as for the owners of clubs, what did the public care for them?
The inference drawn by the players, and sought to be conveyed by them, was that they ought to manage the game themselves, have all the honor of its success, and reap a much larger portion of the proceeds of their skillful services. They claimed, moreover, that under the Reserve Rule and National Agreement they were deprived of their just rights as American citizens.
I did not believe then, nor do I now believe, that their contentions were based upon safe or sane business theory, As one who has been connected with both ends of the Base Ball problem—with reasonable success I may fairly claim—it has ever been my fixed belief that, like every other form of business enterprise, Base Ball depends for results upon two interdependent divisions, the one to have absolute control and direction of the system, and the other to engage—always under the executive branch—in the actual work of production. The theory is as true in the production of the game of Base Ball as in the making of base balls or bats.
As a surface proposition, it was true, of course, that nobody would give up money to the "office force" of Base Ball for its services alone. But it was equally true that the game had to give up something to the men in these positions; for the man in the box-office, the man at the turnstile and the man at the grandstand are just as essential to the game's prosperity and perpetuity as is he in the pitcher's box or he on first base. And especially is the man absolutely essential who has a bank account to meet pay-rolls, ground rents and the multiplied expenditures on account of the game, which those not called upon to face them are too prone to overlook.
The National Brotherhood of Base Ball Players had been originally organized by John M. Ward in 1885. Its declared purpose, at the beginning of its career, was simply fraternal, and had to do rather with the relations between players, as such, than with those between players and the clubs to which they belonged. The effect of this organization, however, was to breed dissatisfaction; for its meetings afforded most excellent opportunities for the men to rehearse to one another their real or fancied grievances, and to plan and plot measures to secure relief.
After the world's tour, in 1888-9, when the prosperous season of '88 had ended, the Brotherhood of Players, finding fresh cause for complaint in the classification rule adopted by the League in 1888, and more reason for a hopeful outcome of their venture in the large attendance at games during the season just closed, issued a manifesto to the public.
It ought to be stated here that, previous to this time and in deference to protests against the Reserve Rule, the League had asked for a Committee from the Brotherhood to consider the subject and submit a rule to take the place of the obnoxious one. The Committee, consisting of Ward, Hanlon and Brouthers, after due deliberation, confessed, in a report made to the League, their inability to make any improvement. Indeed, in a published interview, in 1887, Mr. Ward had said upon this very subject:
But the manifesto issued Nov. 4th, 1889, declared:
TO THE PUBLIC.
At last the Brotherhood of Base Ball Players feels at liberty to make known its intentions and defend itself against the aspersions and misrepresentations which for weeks it has been forced to suffer in silence. It is no longer a secret that the players of the League have determined to play next season under different management, but for reasons which will, we think, be understood, it was deemed advisable to make no announcement of this intention until the close of the present season; but now that the struggles for the various pennants are over, and the terms of our contracts expired, there is no longer reason for withholding it.
In taking this step we feel that we owe it to the public and to ourselves to explain briefly some of the reasons by which we have been moved. There was a time when the League stood for integrity and fair dealing. To-day it stands for dollars and cents. Once it looked to the elevation of the game and an honest exhibition of the sport; to-day its eyes are upon the turnstile. Men have come into the business for no other motive than to exploit it for every dollar in sight. Measures originally intended for the good of the game have been perverted into instruments for wrong. The reserve rule and the provisions of the National Agreement gave the managers unlimited power, and they have not hesitated to use this in the most arbitrary and mercenary way.
Players have been bought, sold and exchanged as though they were sheep instead of American citizens. "Reservation" became for them another name for property right in the player. By a combination among themselves, stronger than the strongest trust, they were able to enforce the most arbitrary measures, and the player had either to submit or get out of the profession in which he had spent years in attaining a proficiency. Even the disbandment and retirement of a club did not free the players from the Octopus clutch, for they were then peddled around to the highest bidder.
That the player sometimes profited by the sale has nothing to do with the case, but only proves the injustice of his previous restraint. Two years ago, we met the League and attempted to remedy some of these evils, but through what has been politely termed "League diplomacy" we completely failed. Unwilling longer to submit to such treatment, we made a strong effort last spring to reach an understanding with the League. To our application for a hearing, they replied that "the matter was not of sufficient importance to warrant a meeting," and suggested that it be put off until fall. Our committee replied that the players felt that the League had broken faith with them; that while the results might be of but little importance to the managers, they were of great importance to the players; that if the League would not concede what was fair, we would adopt other means to protect ourselves; that if postponed until fall we would be separated, and at the mercy of the League; and that, as the only course left us required time and labor to develop, we must therefore insist upon an immediate conference.
Then, upon their final refusal to meet us we began organizing for ourselves, and are in shape to go ahead next year under new management and new auspices. We believe that it is possible to conduct our national game upon lines which will not infringe upon individual and natural rights. We ask to be judged solely by our work, and believing that the game can be played more fairly and its business conducted more intelligently under a plan which excludes everything arbitrary and un-American, we look forward with confidence to the support of the public and the future of the national game.
The National Brotherhood of Ball Players.
The revolutionary manifesto promulgated by the National Brotherhood of Base Ball Players, under date of November 4th, 1889, was answered by the National League, under date of November 21st, 1889, as follows:
TO THE PUBLIC.
The National League of Base Ball Clubs has no apology to make for its existence, or for its untarnished record of fourteen years.
It stands to-day, as it has stood during that period, sponsor for the honesty and integrity of Base Ball.
It is to this organization that the player of to-day owes the dignity of his profession and the munificent salary he is guaranteed while playing in its ranks.
The good name of this League has been assailed, its motives impugned and its integrity questioned by some of the very men whom it has most benefited.
The League therefore asks the public to inspect its record and compare the following statement of facts with the selfish and malicious accusations of its assailants:
The National League was organized in 1876 as a necessity, to rescue the game from its slough of corruption and disgrace, and take it from the hands of the ball players who had controlled and dominated the "National Association of Professional Base Ball Players."
No effort was made by the old Association to control its members, and the result was that contract-breaking, dissipation and dishonesty had undermined the game to such an extent that it seemed an almost hopeless task to attempt its rescue.The League, upon its organization, abolished pool-selling and open betting on its grounds, prohibited Sunday games and prohibited the sale of liquors. A better class of people were invited to attend the exhibitions, and a more systematic way of conducting the game was introduced. But the old customs and abuses were not to be crowded out without a struggle. At the end of the season of 1876, two of the strongest clubs, the Mutuals, of New York, and the Athletics, of Philadelphia, were arraigned before the League for violating their scheduled engagements. This was the first crisis the League was called upon to meet, and the world knows how promptly and vigorously it faced the issue by expelling those two prominent clubs, representing, as they did, its most populous and best-paying cities. The following season, 1877, was a disastrous one financially, and ended with but five clubs in the League, in one of which, Louisville, were players publicly accused of dishonesty. The League promptly investigated these charges, and when the four players of that club—Devlin, Hall, Graver and Nichols—were proven guilty of selling games, they were promptly expelled and have never been reinstated. These two steps, boldly taken, when the League was struggling for existence, settled the question as to a club's obligations to the League, and forever banished dishonesty from the ranks, stigmatizing the latter as an unpardonable crime.
The struggle for existence for the next three or four years was desperate, and at each annual meeting there occurred vacancies difficult to fill, because of the almost certain financial disasters threatening clubs in the smaller cities.
Finally, as a check upon competition, the weaker clubs in the League demanded the privilege of reserving five players who would form the nucleus of a team for the ensuing season. This was the origin of the "reserve rule" and from its adoption may be dated the development of better financial results. The system of reserve having proven beneficial, both to clubs and players, the reserve list was increased to eleven, and then to fourteen, or an entire team. Under this rule the game has steadily grown in favor, the salaries of players have been more than trebled, and a higher degree of skill has been obtained.
Out of, and as an incident to, "reservation," arose releases for pecuniary considerations. The right of reservation being conceded, the club's claim on the player's continuous services must be of some value. But, except in cases of disbanding or retiring clubs, that right has never been transferred without the player's coöperation and consent, usually at his request, and for his own pecuniary emolument.
In the exceptional case of the disbandment or retiring of a League club, the involuntary transfer of a player to a new club was the subject of complaint by a committee of the Brotherhood, in November, 1887. But, after several hours' conference with the League Committee, the former were obliged to admit that such involuntary transfer was essential to the welfare, if not the existence, of the League, and, while it might work apparent hardships to one or two individuals, its abolition would imperil the continuance of full eight club memberships and the employment of perhaps thirty fellow players. The Brotherhood Committee, therefore, wrote into the contract they had formulated that 15th paragraph, by which each signing player expressly concedes such involuntary transfer of the right of reservation to his services from his club—if it should disband or lose its League membership—to "any other Club or Association," provided his current salary be not reduced.
And the necessity for such power of preserving the circuit of a League, by approximately equalizing its playing strength, is recognized by the new League, which the seceding players have temporarily organized; for they give this "extraordinary power" of transferring players, with or without consent, and with or without club disbandment, to a central tribunal of sixteen, whose fiat is final.
In view of these facts and concessions, the use of such terms as "bondage," "slavery," "sold like sheep," etc., becomes meaningless and absurd.
At the annual meeting of the League in November, 1887, the Brotherhood asked and received recognition upon the statement of its representatives that it was organized for benevolent purposes and desired to go hand in hand with the League, in perpetuating the game, increasing its popularity and elevating the moral standard of its players. They disavowed any intention or desire to interfere with the business affairs of the League, the salaries of players or the "reserve rule," simply asking that the contract be so revised that it, in itself, would indicate every relation between a club and its individual players.
This "Brotherhood Contract," then accepted and adopted, has never been violated by the League, either in letter or spirit, and we challenge proof in contradiction of this declaration.
To correct a misapprehension in the public mind as to the alleged "enormous profits" divided among stockholders of League clubs, it may be interesting to know that during the past five—and only prosperous—years, there have been paid in cash dividends to stockholders in the eight League clubs less than $150,000, and during the same time League players have received in salaries over $1,500,000. The balance of the profits of the few successful clubs, together with the original capital and subsequent assessments of stockholders, is represented entirely in grounds and improvements for the permanent good of the game, costing about $600,000.
The refusal of the Brotherhood Committee to meet the League in conference at the close of the season proves incontestably that the imperative demand for a conference in mid-summer, to redress grievances that have never yet materialized, was a mere pretext for secession.
They knew there was no urgency for the consideration of their claims, and knowing that the League could not, without sacrifice of time, money and other conflicting interests, convene its clubs in midsummer, and anticipating and desiring a refusal, to cover the conspiracy, which it now appears was then hatching, they started the organization of a rival association while receiving most liberal salaries from their employers. Under false promises to their fellow players that they would only secede in the event of the League refusing them justice, they secured the signatures of the latter to a secret pledge or oath to desert their clubs at the bidding of their disaffected leaders. Upon the publication of their plot, September T, 1889, they and their abettors denied, day after day, that there was any foundation for the story, and repeatedly plighted their words that the League should have a chance to redress their alleged grievances before they would order a "strike."
How false their promises and pledges, how evasive, contradictory and mendacious have been their every act and deed, from first to last, we leave to the readers of the daily and weekly press for verification.
An edifice built on falsehood has no moral foundation, and must perish of its own weight. Its official claims to public support are glittering generalities, that lack detail, color and truth, and the National League, while notifying its recalcitrant players that it will aid its clubs in the enforcement of their contractual rights to the services of those players for the season of 1890, hereby proclaims to the public that the National Game, which in 1876 it rescued from destruction threatened by the dishonesty and dissipation of players, and which, by stringent rules and ironclad contracts, it developed, elevated and perpetuated into the most glorious and honorable sport on the green earth, will still, under its auspices, progress onward and upward, despite the efforts of certain overpaid players to again control it for their own aggrandizement, but to its ultimate dishonor and disintegration.
By order of the National League of Base Ball Clubs,
|A. G. Spalding||Committee|
|John B. Day|
|Philadelphia, November 21, 1889.||John I. Rogers,|
On November 6th, two days after the promulgation of their manifesto, representatives from eight chapters of the National Brotherhood of Base Ball Players, viz.: J. M. Ward, New York; D. Brouthers, Boston; C. J. Buffinton, Philadelphia; E. Andrews, Brooklyn; E. Hanlon, Pittsburg; John Strieker, Cleveland; John Rowe, Buffalo; Fred Pfeffer, Chicago, met with E. A. McAlpin, Charles B. Cory, Henry M. Love, A. L. Johnson, M. Shire and John Addison, to form an eight-club Players' League in opposition to the National League. On the advice of their lawyers, however, the organization was deferred and not effected until January, 1890.
From the ranks of the National League clubs the following players seceded, joining the Players' League.
Boston—Kelly, Kilroy, Brouthers and Storey.
Brooklyn—Ward, Andrews, Seery, Bassett, Beerbauer, McGeachy and Tucker.
Buffalo—Wise, J. Irwin, A. Irwin, Mack, Carney, Keefe, Beecher, Howe and White.
Chicago—Pfeffer, Baldwin, King, Boyle, Dwyer, Tener, Bastian, Bartson, Darling, Farrell, Williamson, Latham, Ryan and Duffy.
Cleveland—Snyder, Strieker, Sutcliffe and Radford.
New York—Ewing, Murphy, Welch, Keefe, Crane, O'Day, Conner, Richardson, Whitney, O'Rourke, Slattery and Gore.
Pittsburg—Hanlon, Staley, Beckley, Kuehne, Galvin, Miller, Morris, Fields, Dunlap and Maul.
Philadelphia—Wood, Thompson, Milligan, Cross, Hallman, Foreman, Buffinton, Farrar, Myeus, Mulvey, Shindle, Griffin, Delehanty and Fogarty.
The players who remained, signing with the National League, were:
Boston—Clarkson and Ganzel.
Chicago—Anson, Hutchinson and Burns.
Indianapolis—McKean, Beatin, Zimmer, McAleer, Glasscock, Boyle, Somer, Rusie, Buckley and Denny.
Philadelphia—Decker, Clements, Schriver, Gleason.
Pittsburg—Sowders and Sunday.
Tom Daly refused to go to the city to which he was assigned, and joined the Brooklyn American Association club.
For two years the fight continued. It was intensely acrimonious. It did no good to any and infinite injury to many. It resulted in the death, in 1892, of the American Association, which for nine years had been pursuing a prosperous career. It caused serious financial loss to promoters of the National League and wrought ruin to the moneyed backers of the Brotherhood, while many Brotherhood players lost their all in the venture. It occasioned the utmost bitterness of feeling between players and club owners. It afforded opportunities for unscrupulous mischief-makers to ply their arts, and it utterly disgusted the public with the whole Base Ball business. It set Base Ball back from five to ten years in its natural development. It was a mistake from every standpoint.
But the Brotherhood War did accomplish two things:
First—It settled forever the theory that professional ball players can at the same time direct both the business and the playing ends of the game.
Second—It established the absolute honesty and integrity of professional Base Ball, for in such a fierce conflict, in which no quarter was asked or given by either side, if there had been any previous connivance for the selling of games between club officials, managers and players, it would certainly have come to the surface during those strenuous times.