Sunday, April 24, 2016

Another Saturday - Another River to Cross

Saturday saw the Neshanock on the road again (that's actually a little redundant since we're always on the road) one week after crossing the Hudson River, this time crossing the Delaware to visit the Brandywine Club of West Chester, Pennsylvania at their home grounds in East Goshen Park.  Last year the two clubs met in the final game of the Gettysburg Festival which was such a good experience that it was decided to play a regular season match.  If today was any indication, it was the first of many to come.   Danny "Batman" Shaw got the day off to a good start for Flemington by winning his third consecutive bat toss, putting the Neshanock in the field.  Although Brandywine scored once in the top of the inning, Flemington quickly answered with two tallies and gradually built a 6-2 lead after four innings as the Neshanock were once again very strong on defense.

William Cauldwell - Editor of the Sunday Mercury

In the bottom of the fifth, Flemington again used a big inning to break open a match, scoring six times for a 12-2 lead on the way to a 15-2 final score.  Before giving any other details, it's essential to report (at least according to him) that the highlight of the game was when Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw eschewed the use of a pinch runner and actually stole a base!  Also contributing to the Neshanock attack was Dan "Sledge" Hammer who earned Flemington's third clear score of the season with four hits, scoring four times in the process.  Playing in his first match of the season, Gregg "Burner" Wiseburn chipped in with three hits, followed by "Batman," Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner, Dave "Illinois" Harris and Chris "Low Ball" Lowry with two apiece.  As noted the defense was solid, marred by only one muff.  Catching the first game, "Sledge" matched Mark "Gaslight" Granieri's feat from last week, throwing out three runners trying to steal, but doing so without divine intervention.

After a brief respite, Brandywine took the field for the second game and it was clear from the outset that this was going to be a very different contest.  In fact, it was almost the mirror opposite through five innings with the local team taking a 6-1 lead into the top of the sixth.  The Neshanock came back with three runs and had the bases loaded with no one out, apparently setting the stage for another big inning.  Brandywine recovered, however, to put the next two strikers out and looked like they might escape still in the lead.  Fortunately for Flemington, a clutch two out hit by "Jersey" Jim Nunn not only kept the inning alive, but sent the Neshanock on the way to very big inning indeed, scoring nine times in total for a 10-6 lead.

Even with the lead, no one on the Flemington bench was feeling especially comfortable and the tension rose considerably when Brandywine rallied for two in the seventh and two in the eighth. Although the West Chester club did shut down Flemington in the seventh and ninth innings, the Neshanock had one moderately big inning left in them, putting four tallies across the plate in the top of the eighth, taking a 14-10 lead into Brandwine's last at bat.  No one expected Brandywine to go quietly and they quickly scored twice and put two runners on when Flemington took full advantage of a big break and were able to hold on for a 14-12 win.  "Sledge" again led the Neshanock attack with three hits, aided by "Burner" who had two big doubles.  All told it was a balanced effort with every member of the Neshanock scoring at least once.  Although Flemington won both games, there was general agreement that everyone enjoyed the experience which ended with renewed promises to make this a regular affair.  Now 4-0 on the young season, the Neshanock will make their initial New Jersey appearance next Sunday at Ringwood Manor State Park, the originally scheduled match in Lambertville on Saturday has been cancelled.

The beginning of any base ball season is full of adjustments, for me as a base ball historian, it means starting to again learn about the 19th century by watching it being played in addition to whatever archival research I might be doing.  Nothing, of course, substitutes for documented, contemporary evidence, but watching the game being recreated complements what's found in old books, documents and newspapers.  A case in point is something I've been working on this past winter, two essays for a book to be published by the 19th Century Base Ball committee of the Society for American Baseball Research.  The essays are for a book about the off season meetings of the National Association of Base Ball Players which began in the late 1850's.  My essays are about the meetings that took place in December of 1860 and December of 1864 when one of the major issues was the fly game vs. the bound game, that is allowing an out for any fair batted ball caught on a bounce.

Those arguing for the change in 1860 included the prestigious Knickerbockers and Henry Chadwick, the Father of Base Ball himself.  In spite of their efforts the proposed change was voted down in 1860 and again in 1863 before it was finally adopted in December of 1864.  On the opposite side of the question in 1860 was William Cauldwell, the editor of the Sunday Mercury who actually preceded the better known Chadwick in giving extensive newspaper coverage to the emerging competitive game.  Cauldwell was opposed to eliminating the bound out in 1860 because he felt the incentive of retiring a batter on one bounce led to extraordinary defensive efforts which would be lost if the rule was changed.  Four years later, the New York writer had changed his mind and was in the uncomfortable position of arguing against himself.  While Cauldwell gave a number of reasons for the change, the primary one was that outfielders were playing very deep in order to take the easy, and perhaps unmanly, approach of catching the ball on the bounce.  According to Cauldwell, this was happening with such frequency that the disadvantages of continuing the bound out exceeded the relatively limited number of outstanding bound catches.

Almost a decade of watching vintage base ball has shown me that there is a lot to both what Cauldwell believed in 1860 and his new position some four years later.  I've seen more than a few extremely athletic attempts to come up with a ball on one bounce that sometimes meant the difference between killing a rally or the other team going on to a big inning.  And I've also seen how playing deep and taking the easier catch on the bounce, can abuse the spirit of the rule and makes the game far less interesting to watch, and I would think, play.  Cauldwell's change in opinion in some ways simply reflected how the game was evolving, the bound out originally had a place, but as the game developed it started to hurt the game and needed to be eliminated.  It's a part of the process of evaluation and change that has been with base ball at least since the beginning of organized competition, a process that will most likely never change which is probably a very good thing.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Cup Stays in New Jersey (With Some Help from New Yorkers)

Picture by Mark Granieri

One of the early events of the vintage base ball season is the annual New Jersey - New York Cup played at the birthplace of vintage base ball, Old Bethpage Village on Long Island.  Even though it's only the middle of April, it's still one of the most pristine and enjoyable venues we play at over the course of a season.  Typically the Neshanock go into the event having played at least one prior match, but this year Flemington's first two games fell victim to the weather, making the first games of the season more competitive than usual.  For at least the past few years, the same four teams have competed for the cup, the Neshanock and the Hoboken Nine from New Jersey with the Gotham Club of New York and the New York Mutuals making up the New York contingent.  Flemington won the cup in 2013 and 2015, and retained possession in 2014 when the event was rained out. The Mutuals are the host team and although it's a much smaller event than their early August festival it's always well run.

Picture by Mark Granieri

As if the uncertainty of the first game of the season wasn't enough, the Neshanock were extremely shorthanded with only six players making the long trip across the Verrazano - Narrows Bridge to Long Island.  Fortunately some members of the Mutuals graciously helped out, special thanks to "Big Bat," "Samurai" (interesting name that), "Crazy Mike" and Danny for playing with Flemington at various points in the two games.  Today also marked the premiere of the Neshanock's new uniforms (at least in some cases), long pants instead of knickers, reflecting the reality that most of Flemington's matches are played by 1864 rules and long pants were the norm of the period.  Base ball players are nothing, if not superstitious so success in the new garb was important in it's first outing.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The new pants may or may not have been a good omen, but it was definitely a positive sign when captain Danny "Batman" Shaw won the bat toss for the Neshanock's first game against the Mutuals.  Mark "Gaslight" Granieri quickly established a pattern for the match, retiring the first Mutual striker on a foul bound out and New York went out without scoring.  Led by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn and "Batman," Flemington quickly put two tallies on the board and led 3-0 after two innings.  The Mutuals broke through in the top of the third, however, scoring twice to close within one before Flemington broke things open in the bottom of the inning.  When the dust had cleared, the Neshanock had recorded seven tallies, opening up a 10-3 lead and coasted the rest of the way to a 16-5 win.  "Gaslight" recorded nine put outs on foul flies or bound outs, one short of his and the team's unofficial record and also recorded two assists on fair ground balls.  "Batman" not only pitched the whole way, but led the offense with five hits, recording a clear score by reaching base six times without making an out.  "Gaslight" didn't neglect the offensive end either, contributing four hits while Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner wasn't far behind with three.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

After a brief respite Flemington moved bag and baggage to another field to take on the Gothams who had defeated the Hoboken Nine in their first match which meant the winner of the Flemington - Gothams match would take home the cup.  Although "Batman" again won the bat toss, things didn't get off to a particularly auspicious start when the Gotham's lead off striker hit a home run.  However, the damage was limited to that single tally and the Neshanock quickly got that back, adding two more in the bargain.  Strong defense on Flemington's part held the Gothams relatively at bay through the first six innings and when the Neshanock tallied seven times in the fourth and five in the sixth to take an 18-5 lead, it looked like another lopsided match.  The Gothams, however, are far too good a team to go quietly and they rallied for six runs in the seventh cutting the margin to an uncomfortable, 18-11.  But Flemington was far from done, scoring five times in the bottom of the seventh for a commanding 23-11 lead which held up even though the New Yorkers scored five times in the ninth before going down to a 24- 18 defeat.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Obviously when a team scores 24 times, there's a lot of offense going on and the Neshanock were again led by "Batman" who not only matched his first game feats, but exceeded them, reaching base all eight times he came to the striker's line and scoring seven runs.  It marked two clear scores on the same day for "Batman," meaning he batted 14 times and didn't make a single out.  Rene "Mango" Marrero also had a big offensive game with six hits including a double and a triple coming only one at bat short of his own clear score.  "Thumbs," "Sideshow," and "Jersey" Jim Nunn each added four hits to the Flemington attack.  The Neshanock also played strong defense throughout the match highlighted by "Gaslight" who while he didn't record as many foul outs, actually threw out three runners trying to steal.  None of them were exactly things of beauty, but each one ended an inning, cutting off the Gotham's efforts to get back in the game.  It's hard to imagine a better start to the season, playing two solid games and retaining the New Jersey - New York Cup for another season, not to mention breaking in the new pants.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Next Saturday, Flemington travels to West Chester, Pennyslvania to take on the Brandywine Base Ball Club before making its inaugural 2016 New Jersey appearances in Lambertville on April 30th and in Ringwood, the very next day.  Come out and join us!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Opening Day - A Hundred or so Years Ago

It was sometimes suggested, partially in jest, that Charles Ebbets' middle initial "H," stood for holiday because the Brooklyn magnate was always looking for special days he could use to promote attendance.  Although it's limited to the baseball world, opening day was one occasion Ebbets didn't have to flog in order to attract fans to the ballpark.  Even though the Brooklyn club spent a lot of time in the first 15 years of the 20th century mired in the second division, the season opener was still a big occasion in Brooklyn.  Certainly it was important enough to catch the attention of Brooklyn Daily Eagle which always took notice through a special drawing or photos.  What follows, in honor of opening day 2016, are a series of drawings and pictures (click to enlarge) depicting the game's return to the City of Churches after a long hard winter.

At the time, the season didn't open until about mid April and some like Charles Ebbets felt that was about two weeks too early.  In 1904, an even colder than usual forecast had the Eagle concerned about possible sub arctic conditions, but as indicated in the below picture, it was cold, but not that bad.  Either way the Brooklyn club was cold, falling to the Giants 7-1 on the way to a sixth place finish.

A few years later in 1907, the theme was about dreams or some combination of hope and faith.  Certainly the World Championship vision was more than a little over the top although the club did climb to the top of the second division.  Once again opening day was something less than successful, a 4-1 defeat again at the hands of the Giants.  Since Washington Park was a wooden ballpark, the knothole idea of young entrepreneur in the lower left wasn't totally unrealistic.

By 1911 the Superbas had been down for so long that the Eagle apparently thought it better to focus on the game's overall appeal than indulge in any wishful thinking about Brooklyn's chances.  The paper was wise to be cautious as after finishing 6th in 1910, the club fell to 7th in 1911.  Opening day was prophetic for the entire season with Brooklyn falling to the last place Boston Rustlers by a 9-5 count.

By opening day 1912, the Eagle had progressed to an all picture approach to their opening day feature.  It had little impact on the field as the opener was a disaster at every level except the box office.  On the field, the Giants hammered Brooklyn 18-3 partially because the large crowd spilled on to the field leading to extraordinary ground rules and another bad start with the team again on the way to a 7th place finish.  The chaotic scene gave Charles Ebbets one more reason to be glad that next year his team would have a new home.

Things had improved dramatically for Brooklyn by the time the 1914 opener rolled around.  Not only were they in a new park, pictured below, but they had a new manager, Wilbert Robinson and would climbed to 5th place.  On opening day they overpowered the not yet miracle Braves by an 8-2 count.

Just 100 years ago this month, Brooklyn opened the 1916 season, again with a loss, this time to Boston, but the club was soon in first place and stayed there almost the entire season to bring home Brooklyn's first 20th century pennant.  A decisive victory against Philadelphia in late September was largely due to an unlikely out of the park home run by Casey Stengel off of Grover Cleveland Alexander who won 33 games, threw 16 shut outs (still a record) with a 1.55 era.

Interestingly the above picture includes Brooklyn's iconic trolley, but clearly names the club the Superbas after a turn of the century vaudeville act.  In fact, through 1925 the paper seldom, if ever, called the team the Dodgers and the club's stationary read simply Brooklyn Baseball Club.  But by whatever name, the team was well loved and hope always sprang eternal as it does for base ball fans throughout the country on opening day 2016.

Friday, March 18, 2016

By the Numbers

In writing about baseball owners of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it seems important, at least to me, to try to understand and explain club finances.  At the same time, I also recognize that mere mention of the subject can cause eyes to glaze over and abruptly end any interest in reading further.  What's important, of course, about baseball finance, is not the ledger books and green eye shades, but the insights the numbers might give us about that era of baseball. Unfortunately, prior to 1920 there's a distinct lack of reliable data, making it difficult to draw conclusions, definitive or otherwise.  As a result any hard data that does come to light is an opportunity not to be missed.  About a year ago, I had such an chance when I learned that the Robert Edwards auction house was selling the financial records of the Brooklyn Superbas for 1899 and 1900.  I was pretty sure the item was far out of my price range (it ultimately sold for over $50,000), but the people at the firm were kind enough to allow me to spend several hours taking notes and pictures.  There were well over 100 pages of ledger sheets forcing me to be selective in note taking so I made it a point to take complete notes on gate receipts for each home game since ticket sales were a crucial part of any club's financial success.

Brooklyn Superba financial records supposedly recorded by Charles Ebbets himself

To my knowledge no other financial records for the 27 plus years of Charles Ebbets' stewardship of the Brooklyn club survive or are available in any form, so it's fortuitous that these records cover an especially important time in club history and Ebbets' ownership.  When Ebbets took over the club presidency in January of 1898, he inherited a ballpark that was considered inaccessible and a club that was basically unwatchable, a deadly combination that threatened the club's very existence.  There wasn't much the new magnate could do about the roster before the season began, but he did engineer a move back to South Brooklyn, building the second incarnation of Washington Park in just about a month.  That made it far easier for people to get there, but what they saw on the field didn't encourage them to come back so Ebbets and majority owner, Ferdinand Abell opted for drastic action.

The 1899 Brooklyn Superba payroll 

Their solution was something unthinkable today, an alliance with another team in what was known as syndicate ball where one group of investors owned two teams at the same time.  Although the concept wasn't especially well thought of at the time, it wasn't against the rules and it was popular in 1899 when the league was bloated with 12 teams and the owners hadn't figured out how to deal with repeated top heavy, short-lived pennant races.  The two primary 1899 syndicates were Cleveland/St. Louis and Brooklyn/Baltimore and in both cases the ownership groups gutted one team's roster moving the best players to the city that had the potential for the highest financial returns.  In the latter case, Baltimore had the players as well as the manager while Brooklyn had the far larger population.  The net result was two clubs owned equally by Baltimore owners, Harry Von der Horst and Ned Hanlon, and Brooklyn magnates, Ebbets and Abell.  In addition to Baltimore's best players, Brooklyn also got future Hall of Famer, Ned Hanlon as manager.

Gate Receipts

Unlike the Brooklyn cranks who were focused on the on the field prospects, the owners were probably even more excited about the potential financial returns.  The Eagle speculated that average home attendance of just 4,000 would generate profits of $70,000 ($1.4 million today) while 5-6,000 would produce unthinkable six figure profits even for crowd sizes that seem ridiculously low today.  In the end the quality of the on the field product was not only successful, but probably excessively so as the team went 37-5 during May and June ending any potential pennant race before it began and probably limiting any incentive to attend late season games.  Looking at the actual attendance as recorded in the ledgers, supposedly by Ebbets himself, the excitement over the team's potential drew over 20,000 fans to the April 15th opener, something the club didn't come close to sustaining throughout the season.  The opener was one of only three games all season when total attendance reached five figures.  Even more disappointing was that average attendance not only didn't come close to the 5-6,000 figure, but didn't even reach 3,500, much less the lower number of 4,000.

The Baltimore - Brooklyn Syndicate

The poor financial return, which was even worse in 1900 when the club supposedly lost money at home, proved that syndicate ball didn't work, or at least not in Brooklyn.  More important, perhaps from an historical perspective is what these numbers suggest about the business side of the game at the beginning of the 20th century.  First is that major league baseball was basically a small business.  Total attendance of just over 252,000 at an average admission price of .50 cents generates total gate receipts of just about $126,000, a very small amount which doesn't increase that much ($2,520,000)  even with the 20 times multiplier recommended by historian Charles Alexander.  Any small business has a lot risks, those risks increase dramatically in a business almost totally dependent on one source of revenue, in this case gate receipts, subject to the whims of people who in Brooklyn couldn't even be lured by on the field excellence.  It's no wonder, that the owners spent a lot of time on what seem today like petty expenses, such as the cost of baseballs lost in the stands,

Anticipating large crowds the syndicate owners expanded the seating at Washington Park

Another impression is how few people actually saw major league baseball game in person in 1899.  It's impossible to know how many of the 252,458 admissions to Washington Park were the same people making multiple visits, but even if we assume a fan base where everyone saw five games a season that means only a little over 50,000 people from a Brooklyn with a 1900 population of 1,167,000 or about 4% of the population actually saw a baseball game that year.  That also assumes everyone who went to Washington Park was from Brooklyn.  If these figures are even relatively accurate it suggests that baseball may have been the national pastime, but at the major league level it was one very few people enjoyed in person.  To some degree it's not that surprising since all games were day games played at times only middle class workers and others with some control of their time could get to the ballpark.  Throughout this period, Sunday games, the one day most people had off, were illegal.

Mal Eason, Brooklyn pitcher (and future umpire) is arrested when Brooklyn attempts to play a Sunday game in 1906, marking one of the last attempts to play on the Sabbath until the laws were changed in 1919, New York Tribune, June 18, 1906

Although Charles Ebbets tried various ploys to play Sunday baseball, all of the attempts were thwarted by the Sabbatarians and it wasn't until 1919 that attendance at a major league game was even a realistic possibility for working people who had a quarter or so to spend.  How did baseball maintain and even expand its popularity during that 20 year period when access was so limited?  At least part of the explanation rests with the sports writers of the day who used words to paint a verbal picture for those who couldn't see for themselves.  To do that effectively meant not just providing facts in a Gradgrindesque kind of way, but using language which helped those who weren't there feel like they had been.  There were a number of well known writers such as William Cauldwell, Henry Chadwick and the Rankin brothers in the 19th century as well as the even more famous names in the Deadball Era like Grantland Rice, Ring Lardner and Damon Runyan, but it still feels like there is work to be done in understanding how the sports writers of the period contributed to the game's development.  An important part of doing that, at least to me, is to look not just at what they did, but how they did it, because words, just like numbers, can teach us far more than their literal meaning.


Friday, February 26, 2016

On Being a Baseball Team Owner - the Wrong Stuff

 In his book, The New York Giants Baseball Club, James Hardy wrote that the major problem with late 19th century baseball club owners was their failure to understand that while they may have owned the club, the team really belonged to the fans.  The concept was most likely far too subtle for what were effectively a group of small businessmen who operated, if not nationwide, at least across a large area of the country.  It was, after all, their money that built the ballparks which fans paid as little as a quarter to enter, to watch players who the owners also paid.  Yet the wise magnate recognized that the cranks willingness to put down that quarter was, in fact, the final determination of the owner's success or failure, at least financially.  Unlike today's game with multiple revenue streams, 19th century owners were at the mercy of one solitary spring that could dry up quickly in the space of one drought of wins.  It was not a business for the financially faint of heart.

Cover of the Players' League Guide for the League's One and Only Season

In spite of these obvious warning signs, however, the profits of the late 1880's and the limited upfront capital outlays along with the beginning of the Players' League War, attracted people totally unsuited for club ownership.  Such owners had the potential to destroy major league baseball in a specific locale.  A case in point is the three lead owners of Brooklyn's Players' League franchise, Wendell Goodwin, Edward Linton and George Chauncey, with Goodwin and Chauncey going on to become minority owners in the team that is known to history as the Brooklyn Dodgers.  The story of the Players' League has been well told in appropriate detail by Harold Seymour, David Voigt and others so what follows is a brief summary.  The seeds of the conflict were sown during the profitable late 1880's when the owners foolishly tried to control player salaries beyond any reasonable level.  In an attempt to better their lot, the players formed the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players, a union led by John Montgomery Ward, a star player and, very unlikely for the time, a college graduate and attorney.

Prior to the 1889 season while Ward was out of the country on Alexander Spalding's world baseball tour, National League owners led by John Brush arbitrarily imposed a salary scale from $500 to $2500 based upon five different classifications of playing ability.  Not surprisingly the players were furious and considered boycotting the season which was about to begin.  Upon Ward's return, however, he convinced the players to honor their 1889 contracts while he worked on a radical, more permanent solution.  The result was the formation of the Players' League, which as the name implies gave the players an ownership role designed to facilitate more equitable long term treatment.  Each of the eight clubs were governed by an eight man board chosen equally by the players and those who were variously called contributors, investors and ultimately capitalists, in other words those with money to build the ballpark, hire the players and operate the ball club.

John T. Brush

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately in the long run, investors weren't hard to come by.  As often happens in any business, a run of profitable years highlighted the rewards and downplayed the financial risks.  The local Brooklyn club had not only won the 1889 American Association championship on the field, but at the box office as well, more than sufficient incentive for a group of investors led by the three men, none of whom had any business being in the baseball business, to invest in the formation of the Brooklyn Players' League club.  Chauncey was the only one with a baseball background, having played for the Excelsior Club at the end of that organization's baseball playing days around 1870.  His playing career now long behind him, Chauncey, reportedly a "never failing booster of Brooklyn," was a broker in his family's real estate business.  Earning his living in real estate, Chauncey had a vested interest in anything that increased or expanded the value of property in the then independent city of Brooklyn.

Unlike Chauncey who was born in Brooklyn and never left, both Linton and Goodwin were native New Englanders.  Linton's father had been the associate editor of "The Liberator," the abolitionist newspaper founded by William Lloyd Garrison.  Supposedly the younger Linton escaped from Charleston on the last boat in April of 1861, enlisted in the 11th Massachusetts and after the war founded the Unexcelled Fireworks Company in Brooklyn.  Linton's description of his company as "unexcelled," suggests he wasn't troubled by excessive modesty.  Severely injured in a fire at his factory, Linton sold the company and began developing real estate in the less than picturesquely named village of New Lots.  Absorbed into Brooklyn in 1886, the area became Brooklyn's 26th Ward with the more seemly, but geographically unhelpful name of East New York.  Supposedly in 1890, the time of the Brotherhood War, Linton "literally owned half of East New York."  Perhaps not surprisingly for a real estate developer, Linton reportedly had "no trouble promoting himself or his causes" with a reputation of being "rather contentious and difficult at times," offending someone on almost a daily basis.

One of the challenges facing Linton's development efforts was East New York's relatively remote location.  Helping overcome that obstacle beginning in 1888 was Wendell Goodwin, an executive of the Kings County Elevated Railroad which ran only one line, but "one of the most lucrative in Brooklyn," In 1891, the line carried almost 1.6 million passengers at a profit of $278,000 or about $5.5 million today.  So with lead owners who were a real estate broker, a developer of East New York and a transportation executive, could there be any doubt where their new ball park would be located?  Certainly not some place convenient to the fans, but in East New York, of course, generating more traffic for the subway line and hopefully increasing local real estate values.  Taking no chances the three new magnates not only located the park in East New York, but built it on land owned by one of their real estate companies insuring rental income from their baseball investment regardless of the profitability of the team itself.

Brooklyn Player's League Club Team Picture 

In the end the location of the team's grounds may not have made much difference in the ultimate results, at least on the field.  Both clubs were successful with Charles Byrne's team winning the National League pennant and the Players' League club coming in a respectable third under the on the field leadership of Ward himself.  At the box office, however, it was another story with both clubs losing money, a common experience in 1890 which made peace look very attractive to all concerned except the players.  Ultimately the negotiations in cities like Brooklyn with two competing clubs took the form of a club by club settlement.  Not surprisingly given the Eastern Park magnates' agenda, their major priority was for the consolidated club to play its games in East New York, so much so that they promised to put $30,000 into the new venture.  What is surprising is that Charles Byrne who had made very few bad decisions as Brooklyn president, agreed in the end to take the money and desert much more accessible south Brooklyn.  Even at more than a 100 years distance, it's a hard decision to understand.  At an National League owners meeting almost ten years later, Charles Ebbets and Ferdinand Abell cited the Eastern Park move as evidence of their willingness to put National League interests before their own.suggesting their may have been outside pressure.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - April 4, 1893 depicting the upcoming pennant race, but perhaps also capturing the difficulty for Charles Byrne of making Eastern Park work financially

Even surrender on the ballpark issue wasn't enough for Edward Linton who got an injunction to hold up the deal until he got what he wanted - to be bought out.  Given his personality and Linton's future financial problems that was probably a blessing in disguise.  Even so, not only did Byrne make a bad decision in agreeing to go to Eastern Park, but he never realized the promised benefits as only $22,000 of the $30,000 investment was ever paid.  Furthermore, Goodwin, Chauncey and the other investors refused to put any more money into the club, understandably infuriating Ferdinand Abell who had to keep covering losses including rent payments to the minority partners real estate company. The experience may have contributed to his supposed refusal to put in additional funds during the American League war, a decade in the future which caused major problems for the Brooklyn teams of the early 20th century.  Brazenly both Goodwin and Chauncey denied that they were unwilling to cooperate, Goodwin was clearly bluffing since like Linton, he too ran into financial difficulties and had to make an assignment for the benefit of his creditors.

Ferdinand Abell - Majority Owner and Unofficial Banker of the 1890's Brooklyn Teams

The Brooklyn team finally got rid of their unhelpful partners in late 1897 when Chauncey, acting as trustee for the minority shareholders, sold the entire interest to Charles Ebbets, who only a few weeks later would become club president upon the death of Charles Byrne.  Although Chauncey doesn't seemed to have contributed much to major league baseball in Brooklyn, he and Ebbets became good friends with the former named as one of the trustees of a bequest from Ebbets' will to organize a memorial dinner on the Brooklyn magnate's birth anniversary, something Chauncey did until his own death a few years later.  Having sold his interest, the Brooklyn real estate broker could do no further damage to major league baseball in Brooklyn.  The problem with the Brooklyn Players' League owners was perhaps just as much in "their stars" as in "themselves." A few years after the Players' League war,  the Eagle wrote that Linton promoted the team, "not that he was particularly interested in the sport,but it accomplished his end."  Too many owners of that ilk would have killed major league baseball before it could be fully developed as a national business.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"Till Lower Manhattan comes to Brooklyn"

In the Scottish play, Shakespeare uses the three witches to give the doomed Macbeth, a false sense of security by promising, among other things, that he need not worry till Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane, a physical impossibility.  Another unlikely movement of the earth's surface would be shifting the tip of lower Manhattan into the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, but what's impossible physically can take place metaphorically.  None of this, it's safe to say, was on the minds of the people who gathered at the Real Estate Exchange in lower Manhattan on May 20, 1886.  Among those present were Civil War veteran, George Bissell and his wife, Charlotte, James Quick and his wife as well as other relatives and friends of the Quick family which had deep roots in New York City.  So deep, in fact that they went all the way back to the 17th century when Manhattan was New Amsterdam, a Dutch colony before it became a British colony in 1664.  Like most of the Dutch immigrants trying to make a new life in a new world, the Quicks were involved in different commercial enterprises including real estate development at the extreme southern end of Manhattan Island. The purpose of the gathering at the real estate exchange, more than 200 years after the Quick family had arrived on these shores, was to witness the sale of two properties, all that remained of the estate of William Quick who had died more than 60 years earlier in 1823.

An early 18th century map of lower Manhattan

The properties in question were located at 473 Greenwich Street, apparently a residence, and more importantly, a commercial property at 41 Broad Street in the heart of New York's and increasingly the country's, financial district.  According to a 1914 article in the Wall Street Journal, the property on Broad Street was acquired by Jacobus Quick in 1698 and was used for a number of different commercial purposes.  The building that was on the site in 1698 lasted a long time including surviving the fire of 1835 which was important and not just from the owner's perspective.  Reportedly the fire was stopped not long before it would have reached 41 Broad which at that time was being used to store a large quantity of brandy which if it had caught fire would have made what was already a major disaster even worse.  Ironically after the surviving that cataclysmic event, just thee years later, the building at 41 Broad was destroyed in the explosion of some saltpeter stored in the building across the street. A new four story brick building was erected on the site and it was that property, along with 473 Greenwich that was about to come under the auctioneer's hammer.

Drawing of a Dutch grocery, purported in one publication to be the building at 41 Broad Street

 It may seem strange that it had taken over 60 years to sell these properties after the prior owner's death, but at least in the case of 41 Broad Street, it represented the 19th century equivalent of a pension.  At a time when sound long term investment alternatives were very rare, rent generating real estate was a relatively safe way of providing long term income.  By 1886, the four story brick building was renting for $5,000 a year, roughly the equivalent of something like $100,000 today with the income being divided among William Quick's heirs. And unlike many people, then and now, William was not only very clear about who he wanted to provide for, but also took the time to spell it out in detail in his will.  The two properties would first benefit William's widow, Sarah, who died in 1833 with the estate to then be divided equally among his four children, James, John, Maria and Joanna.  Even more specifically William's will provided that if any of his four children died without issue, that is, without children, their share reverted back to the remaining children and/or their heirs.

A map of Broad Street and area around 1914

As fate would have it, of the four, only James had children, but the details of William's will didn't stop some of the heirs from trying to subvert their father's intentions.  James Quick had died not long after his father, leaving three surviving children and their families.  Also deceased by the early 1880's were James' siblings, John and Joanna, who had, in fact, died without issue, leaving only Maria who at 81 was also childless.  For whatever reason, however, both John and Joanna used their own wills to try to leave their 1/4 interest in the properties to their surviving sister, Maria.  The net result would have been that Maria would have 75% of the income/assets for the balance of her life with only 25% going to James' heirs instead of the 75% (and at some point 100%) to which they were entitled.  Not surprisingly at least one of James Quick's heirs, not only objected, he filed a lawsuit against these clearly illegal actions as well as against his other relatives, just in case anyone else had similar ideas.  Once the matter got into the legal system in 1883, the court decided, probably with little debate, that the William Quick's original intent was clear and couldn't be changed.

What happened next isn't known, but it seems most likely the heirs decided they wanted money now rather than a share of the rental income so they agreed to have the properties sold with 41 Broad Street going for $81,000 and 473 Greenwich for $15,000 or a total of $96,000 before commissions which probably reduced the net proceeds to around $85,000.  If you've read this far and can't figure how any of this is related to Brooklyn and/or baseball, the Quick heir who instituted the law suit was one James T. Ebbets, the older brother of future Brooklyn Dodger magnate, Charles Ebbets.  Mrs. George Bissell was Charlotte Ebbets, the oldest of the Ebbets children.  Both the maternal (Dutch) and the paternal (English) lines of the Ebbets family go back literally hundreds of years in New York City. By the time of the property sale, three years after the lawsuit was resolved, Maria Quick had died so the full amount went to James Quick's three children and/or their descendants. It seems likely that the estimated net proceeds of $85,000 would have been divided equally so that the Ebbets family would have gotten about $28,000 which again would have been divided equally among the six Ebbets children so that Charlie would have received about $4,700.

Charles Ebbets about 1920

Charles Ebbets' share in the proceeds is not without significance as in October of 1920, the Brooklyn baseball magnate told Frederick Boyd Stevenson of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that his share was the beginning of the $125,000 he had accumulated by the time he started buying the land on which Ebbets Field was built.  If the share was a little as is indicated above, it's a little hard to see how Ebbets could have come up with over $120,000 more since he certainly wasn't making that kind of money from baseball.  However much Ebbets received as his share of 41 Broad Street, he must have winced more than a little in 1903 when it sold for $200,000 more than twice the 1886 price and then for $300,000 just three years later.  But in the end, however, no matter how much or little Ebbets got out of 41 Broad Street, an historic part of old New York, or at least its financial equivalent was now part of an even more historic ballpark in Brooklyn.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hey! Get your Scorecard!

While going through the "hits" for  "Ebbets" or, in this case, "Ebbetts" in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of March, 1888, I found the following brief, but enticing entry:

"Charles Ebbett's new score card book will be the handsomest in the association or the league"

A slightly longer article 10 days later reported that the new version, which the paper called "a decided improvement," provided pictures and sketches of all the players and gave the credit to "Charley Ebbetts, who edited it."  The attraction for an Ebbets' biographer lies in the possibility of comparing the two scorecards, to see the nature of the improvements and perhaps find some insights into the capabilities of the then relatively young baseball executive.  Obviously the practical question was where to find copies of the two scorecards.  One possibility was the Hall of Fame or perhaps closer to home, the Brooklyn Historical Society which I knew from prior visits had some 19th century scorecards for the Brooklyn club.  I'm dating myself by not thinking first of trying the Internet and while it shouldn't have been that surprising, I was pleased to find the full 1888 card and a number of pages from the new and improved 1889 version on the web sites of different auction houses.  While the following pictures may not be worth the promised 1000 words, they do give a sense of Ebbets' creation.

The 1888 program pictured above and below consisted of only the four pages that are shown.  While the front cover is quite colorful, the scorecard provides only the bare necessities necessary to keep track of the game plus a few ads as well as making sure the purchaser knows about other home games he or she might attend.

The examples provided below from the 1889 program suggest that calling the new product a "decided improvement" may well have been an understatement.  Totaling some 32 pages, it is really more of a combined scorecard and yearbook anticipating by decades the issuing of two separate publications.

Although not serving any functional purpose, the below picture showing the record crowd at a Browns - Brooklyn 1888 Decoration Day doubleheader reminded fans of an exciting day from that year's pennant race and perhaps holding out the hope that 1889 might be different, which, in fact, it was.  Looking at it over 125 years later also gives a sense of what that first version of Washington Park looked like before the May 1889 fire.  That conflagration was limited to the enclosed grandstands behind home plate at least limiting the amount of work needed to rebuild the park which took only about 10 days.  If I understand it correctly, there were actually two covered grandstands behind the plate, one of which was built when the park opened in 1883 with the other being added later.

In more modern times, one incentive for a fan to go into his/her pocket to buy a scorecard is because you "can't tell the players" without one.  Since numbered uniforms didn't become the norm until the 20th century, Ebbets, as can be seen below, offered the next best thing by providing a reasonably sized picture of each player or at least most of the team's basic roster.  In almost every case, the opposite page contains an ad, in the below example, D. E. Harris was the contractor who built the first Washington Park and would complete the 1889 rebuilding in what seems like record time even for a wooden ballpark.

Examining the new publication makes it clear that no small amount of work went into the project.   It's not clear whether Ebbets came up with the idea on his own or it was assigned to him, but it must have kept him very busy.  Among other things, he had to have the pictures taken, or at least collect them, write the biographies, or again, collect them, sell the ads and arrange the layout.  The bottom of the left hand side of the below page shows that the team also used the program to push other sources of revenue, in this case, pictures of the team, doubtless suitable for framing.

Based on the number of ads in the score card/program, it seems likely the paid advertising covered the publishing cost and may have even generated a small surplus.  The selection below gives a sense of the baseball promotions of the day.

Ebbets was not one to rest on his laurels as just three years later, the media was praising him for another scorecard, better even than what had come before.  All I've been able to find from that program is the below pictured front cover which is certainly colorful.  It also subtly refers to one of Ebbets other great 19th century achievements.  The printed schedule on the cover is broken down into spring and fall championships as the 1892 season was divided into split seasons to accommodate the absorption of four American Association teams into a 12 team National League.  On Ebbets fell the daunting and thankless task of preparing the schedule and he once again emerged triumphant.