America's National Game/Chapter 20

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TO describe in detail the battle royal for the control of professional Base Ball, which raged with unabating fury throughout its entire course, would require a book of double this size. No general ever planned campaign or conserved his forces with more painstaking care than did the commanders of the League and Brotherhood warriors. It was announced at the beginning that it was to be a fight to the death, and it was carried to a finish along these lines. In place of powder and shell, printers' ink and bluff formed the ammunition used by both sides.

If either party to this controversy ever furnished to the press one solitary truthful statement as to the progress of the war from his standpoint; if anyone at any time during the contest made true representation of conditions in his own ranks, a monument should be erected to his memory. I have no candidates to recommend for the distinction. As to my own case, I am sure that I can establish an alibi from the realms of truth. At any rate, if one on either side should now appear laying claim to the lonesome honor of telling the truth in those days, I could convict him by the testimony of many witnesses of having been guilty of disobeying "general orders."

General Sherman said "War is H——l," and he doubtless knew what he was talking about. At least I am prepared to endorse his views as applied to the Brotherhood War. Well, it's all over now, and forgotten by many, while only the pleasant and amusing incidents remain in memory. No one cared for the score of yesterday's game; nobody looked for the championship record of 1890. All eyes were centered on the question of attendance. Along with other practices peculiar to the Ananias Club, both sides then engaged in that of "faking" attendance reports. The Chicago papers, for instance, would appear every morning with figures—furnished by club officials–and reading something like this:

"Brotherhood attendance—8,000."
"League attendance—2,000."

Round figures are always suspicious, and the constant reiteration of these attracted my attention. I knew that the National League games at that time were drawing very meager crowds, and while at first I was aware that the Brotherhood games were more popularly attended, I was unwilling to believe that there was so much difference in the size of the crowds as appeared upon "the face of the returns." I waited a while, certain that the time would oome when the Brotherhood fakirs would lay themselves open. The day came soon. The published attendance began to drop. From 8,000 it fell to 7,000; then 7,000 to 6,000. Of course, I knew what that meant, and had inspectors stationed at the Brotherhood grounds with instructions to count every one passing the turnstiles and report. This was done for some time and the reports sent in.

Securing the services of a bright young Chicago reporter, who had a string of influential newspapers for which he syndicated Chicago specials, I placed in his hands the statistical information which had been procured as to faked attendance at Brotherhood games. He published, side by side, the figures as given out by the Brotherhood managers and the true figures as sworn to by my agents.

The publication produced a profound sensation and resulted exactly as had been anticipated. It discounted the claims made by the Brotherhood and impeached the integrity of their reports. When explanations reflecting in a like manner upon the League's attendance were attempted no one paid any attention to them. The Brotherhood had been put on the defensive. The fact had been made clear that no dependence could be placed upon their statements, nobody cared to hear the put object to the complexion of the kettle, and soon newspapers refused to publish attendance figures at all. Thus was attention diverted from the pitifully small number of patrons who through all the struggle remained loyal to the League.

As showing the straits into which we were led in those days, I recall being present at a League game one day at Chicago when the attendance was particularly light. At the close of the contest, I was talking to Secretary Brown, when a reporter came up, asking:

"What's the attendance?"

Without a moment's hesitation the official replied: "Twenty-four eighteen."

As the scribe passed out of hearing, I inquired: "Brown, how do you reconcile your conscience to such a statement?"

"Why," he answered, "Don't you see? There were twenty-four on one side of the grounds and eighteen on the other. If he reports twenty-four hundred and eighteen, that's a matter for his conscience, not mine."

It was with very great satisfaction, therefore, that in the fall of 1890, at the close of that season, I received a delegation from the management of the Players' League, bearing a flag of truce. I was not President of the National League, but, as chairman of its "War Committee," I was fully authorized to treat with those who came asking for terms. Of course, I was conversant with existing conditions in both organisations. I knew that they were on their last legs, and I was equally aware that we had troubles of our own. We had been playing two games all through—Base Ball and bluff. At this stage I put up the strongest play at the latter game I had ever presented. I informed the bearers of the truce, that "unconditional surrender" was the only possible solution of the vexed problem. To my surprise, the terms were greedily accepted. I had supposed that they would at least ask for something. Then, not to be outdone by the hero of Appomattox, whose terms I had appropriated, I agreed that we would furnish places for all the seceding players, under a reinforced National League of twelve clubs, which was duly organized for the following year. with these cities represented: Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Louisville, New York, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Washington.

I was President of the Chicago Club at the time of the Brotherhood War, and also Chairman of the "War Committee " of the National League. I naturally had a good deal to do with affairs, and was quite conversant with the inside workings of the scrap machine. Under these circumstances, and knowing that I might be charged with being a prejudiced historian, I have decided to introduce here a story of the causes that led up to the Brotherhood defection of 1890, from an account written by the late Henry Chadwick, the original manuscript of which I found in the library received from his wife after his demise in 1908, as follows:

"The chapter of League history covering the revolt of the League players, which was inaugurated in New York in 1889, is one which not only began a new era in professional club management, but it also exhibits some of the peculiar characteristics of the majority of the fraternity in a very striking light. The fact, too, that the secession movement had its origin in the New York Club's team of players, which club had petted its players for years, only emphasized the fact of the ingratitude for favors done which marks the average professional ball player.

"The revolt of the League players unquestionably grew out of the ambitious efforts of a small minority to obtain the upper hand of the National League in the control and management of its players. Added to this was the desire for self-aggrandizement which influenced a trio of the most intelligent of the players, headed by one man who was the master mind of the whole revolution scheme in connection with the Brotherhood, to its culmination in the organization of the Players' League; and it was the former organization which the leader of the revolt used as a lever to lift them into the position of professional club magnates.

"The methods adopted by the originator of the revolutionary scheme were of a nature well calculated to mislead the majority of the players. It would not have done to openly seduce the leaders of the League from their club allegiance; so it was deemed necessary

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to first combine all of their players under the banner of the Brotherhood organization, the ostensible objects of which were the mutual benefits of its members, and to aid those who needed aid from sickness or misfortune. This was a very plausible plan, and apparently devoid of guile; but, in building up the Brotherhood, care was taken to bind its members by an ironclad oath—something unnecessary in the case of an organization designed exclusively to serve benevolent purposes. This oath, in fact, was the carefully disguised seed of the revolt, from which was developed the full-grown plant of the Players' League.

"Once having gathered the League players within the fold of the Brotherhood, the chief conspirator soon began to draw aside the mask of his disguise, and securing the cooperation of the more intelligent of his confreres in aiding the revolt, a quartette of leaders assumed the direction of affairs. These 'big four' of the great strike, correctly estimating the weakness of character and lack of moral courage of the average Brotherhood member, knew that he would be loath to break the oath of allegiance to the Brotherhood, however willing he might be to violate his National League obligations, and they went quietly to work on this basis to complete their plans looking to the ultimate declaration of war upon the National League and the establishment of the rival Players' League.

"It is a fact that cannot be gainsaid that fully two-thirds of the members of the Brotherhood, up to the close of the League campaign in 1889, had never contemplated the disruption of the National Agreement and the organization of a Players' League as the outcome of the Brotherhood scheme, or they would not have joined it. Naturally enough, the players' sympathies were with the success of the Brotherhood as an association of players for benevolent objects. But not until they had been influenced by special pleadings, false statements and a system of terrorism, peculiar to revolutionary movements, did they realize the true position in which they had been placed, and then a minority, who possessed sufficient independence and the courage of their convictions, returned to their club allegiance in the National League.

"A step in the progress of the revolt, which the leaders found it necessary to take, was that of securing the services of such journalists in each League club city as would lend their pens as editors of Brotherhood organs. This movement was deemed essential in order to bring a special influence to bear on such capitalists among the wealthier class of patrons of the game as were eager to join in a movement calculated to gain them a share in the 'big bonanza' profits of the money-making League clubs. Another use these organs and writers were put to, in forwarding the interests of the leaders, was that of denouncing every player who was independent enough to think for himself in the matter of revolt as a deserter or a 'scab.' Of course, this system of terrorism had its effect on the weaker class of the Brotherhood, and the result was that only a few refused to become slaves of the 'big four.' And thus was started the League of Professional Ball Players.

"The original plan of organization of the Players' League embraced cooperation by the players in the matter of gate receipts and profits; and one of the inducements held out to players to secede from League clubs was the alluring one of sharing in the proceeds of the season's games. The bait proved to be a tempting one and it was readily taken. But after the Players' League had been started, and the bulk of the players had committed themselves by contract to the revolt, the leaders, in order to secure the required financial aid of sympathetic capitalists, seceded from their plan of cooperation, and a change was made in the new League's constitution, the feature introduced being that of obliging each player to depend upon the gate receipts for the payment of his salary—after all necessary expenses outside the salary list had been paid. This new clause proved distasteful to several players who had taken the oath of allegiance to the Brotherhood, but who had not legally signed Players' League contracts, and these men were not sldw in returning to the National League after discovering the trickery they had been subjected to by the leader. But others, lacking in moral courage, and who still had faith in the movement to make them magnates instead of $5,000 a year slaves, remained obedient to the Brotherhood taskmasters.

"The leaders had originally declared that their war was against the National League and that only; but when their plan of campaign met with its first failure, resort for recruits for their revolutionary army was had to the ranks of the American Association, and the early disruption of this organization was due to the influence exerted by the revolt. This was the return made to the Association for the neutral position they had occupied in the differences which had occurred between the League and the Brotherhood. Had the Brotherhood followed the honorable course of holding a conference with the League at the end of the championship campaign—the only appropriate time for such a conference—there is no questioning the fact that every grievance, real or imaginary, alleged by the Brotherhood would have received due consideration by the League, and all enactments calculated to antagonize the best interests of the players would have been removed from the League's statute books, for it was too plainly to the interest of the National League to place their club players in the position of making their interests and welfare identical with those of the League management."

Now and then, in the course of these reminiscences, I have had occasion to speak of the loyalty of professional ball players, one to another, and of the quality of their integrity as a rule. A conspicuous illustration of these traits occurred during the Brotherhood imbroglio. I must plead in extenuation of the part I played in this incident that, as before stated, the revolt of the players had precipitated a struggle of intense bitterness. As time passed on, and the interests of both the National League and the Players' League were placed in jeopardy, feeling became fierce. It was, indeed, a war to the death.

The League was determined to win if it took every dollar that had been made and saved; and the Players were willing to resort to anything to achieve success or spare themselves the humiliation of defeat. Meanwhile the public had become utterly disgusted with both sides to the controversy, and all clubs were losing money right and left.

With these conditions present, there came a time in the life of the contest when the National League managers believed that an assault should be made with a view of breaking through the ranks of the Brotherhood in the hopes of capturing some of their players. Let it be remembered that there was no agreement of any kind between the contending forces, but that disagreement on every point was rampant. No scruples were entertained regarding the securing of players in any way from the opposition by either side. The League, having been robbed of nearly all its men, was perfectly willing to engage in any act that would sow discord in the ranks of the Brotherhood and secure a return of some of the stars.

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To me was delegated the task of approaching the enemy with a view of making a capture. I was given a carte blanche in the matter, with instructions to pay the price necessary to produce the result. I didn't fancy the job a little bit. The enterprise was not at all to my liking. I tried to beg off; but it was no use. It was urged with force that I had been a player, knew all the boys, and could gain a hearing where no one else could, and that hopes of success would be greater with me than with any other.

So I reluctantly consented, and determined to go after big game. I sent a note to Mike Kelly, the "King,"—then at the zenith of his popular career—whose sale I had manipulated at Chicago, to whom I could talk unreservedly, and whose defection from the ranks of the enemy would cause greater consternation than that of any other, I thought. I invited Kelly to meet me at my hotel. He came. We passed the usual conventional civilities, talked about health, the weather and kindred exciting topics, until at length I opened the ball with the question.

"How are things going with the game, Mike?"

"Oh, the game's gone to —————."

"What? You don't mean to say that the managers are getting discouraged?"

"Aw, ————— the managers!"

"Why, what's the matter?" incredulously.

"Everything's the matter; everybody's disgusted; clubs all losing money; we made a ————— foolish blunder when we went into it."

I thought the time was ripe. Placing a check for $10,000 on the table, I asked, "Mike, how would you like that check for $10,000 filled out payable to your order?"

"Would Mike Kelly like $10,000? I should, smile."

"But that's not all, Mike. Here's a three years' contract, and I'm authorized to let you fill in the amount of salary yourself."

His face blanched. "What does this mean? Does it mean that I'm to join the League? Quit the Brotherhood? Go back on the boys."

"That's just what it means. It means that you go to Boston to-night."

"Well," said he, "I must have time to think about this."

"There is mighty little time, Mike. If you don't want the money, somebody else will get it. When can you let me know?"

"In an hour and a half," he answered.

"What are you going to do, meanwhile? Consult a lawyer?"

"Lawyer? Naw; you're good enough lawyer for me," and, saying that he would be back in an hour and a half, he left the room.

At the appointed time I was awaiting him—and he came, true to appointment. I didn't see much of encouragement in his face. His jaw was set, and there was a bright sparkle to his eye that somehow seemed to augur ill for the success of my mission.

"Well, Mike, where have you been?" I asked.

"I've been taking a walk," he answered. "I went 'way up town and back."

"What were you doing?"

"I was thinking."

"Have you decided what you're going to do?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied without hesitation; "I've decided not to accept."

"What?" I ejaculated. "You don't want the $10,000?"

"Aw, I want the ten thousand bad enough; but I've thought the matter all over, and I can't go back on the boys. And," he added, "neither would you."

Involuntarily I reached out my hand in congratulation of the great ball player on his loyalty. We talked for a little while, and then he borrowed $500 of me. I think it was little enough to pay for the anguish of that hour and a half, when he was deciding to give up thousands of dollars on the altar of sentiment in behalf of the Brotherhood.

From 1876 to 1899 the National League of Base Ball Clubs occupied the unchallenged position as the great major organization, to which all minor leagues looked for advice and protection. But in 1899, owing to financial conditions growing out of the Spanish-American War, the game was not profitable, and the League managers, mistaking the true cause of the trouble, attributed it to the carrying of so many clubs, and decided to return to the eight-club system, dropping Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville and Washington from the League, though holding League franchises in those cities.

This was just exactly what had been hoped for by a certain bright young enthusiast who was at that time dominating the affairs of the Western League. Mr. B. Bancroft Johnson saw his opportunity and was not slow to avail himself of it. He at once proceeded to the organization of a new rival to the National League, which he named the American League. This organization, made easy by the dropping of four cities from the roster of the major League, was rendered still easier by the abrogation on the part of the National magnates just at that time of the Reserve Rule.

Thus was introduced into Base Ball history a new and formidable rival to the National League, and one which has prospered ever since its introduction into the arena, under the capable management of one of the ablest and most consistent Base Ball men the game has ever produced.

The cities of Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville and Washington, dropped from the National League, were not at once seized upon by President Johnson, who had loftier ambitions; but he immediately perfected an eight-club league, with the following cities represented: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington.

With these cities, each having excellent teams, the American League began the first decade of the 20th century.