Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"So are they all, all honorable men"

Among the rules laid out in the Hamilton Club’s by-laws was the provision that team captains for “field exercise” had “absolute direction” of the players.  The need to spell this out suggests that while all members were gentlemen, they were no less human than the general population.  This self awareness is laid out even more explicitly by the establishment of at least 10 offenses (on and off the field) that carried a financial penalty.

The list included:

Leaving a meeting without permission – 25 cents

Profane or improper language – at practice or at a meeting – 10 cents

Disputing or anticipating an umpire’s call – 25 cents

Disobedience to a captain – 25 cents

Use of any ball in practice other than the one in play – 25 cents

Disorderly conduct – 25 cents

At least the Hamilton Club didn’t go as far as the Knickerbockers who even included a fine for entering a teammate’s locker without permission, even if it were to retrieve a game ball.

                                Anticipating umpire Sam Bernstein's call wouldn't be a good idea

These amounts seem almost laughable today and it is hard to know how much of a burden they really were.  If the average worker made $300 a year, a 25 cent fine would be equal 4% of his $5.76 in weekly wages or about $38 of the weekly income of a $50,000 annual salary today, hardly a major deterrent to bad behavior.  What seems more likely is the premise that the combination of an out of pocket cost and negative notoriety in the club records would make members think twice before become stepping off the straight and narrow a second time.

Fines on the playing field were to be recorded in a book by the umpire – if such a book was maintained, it hasn’t survived.  Based on the minute book, it appears that lapses in conduct were punished impartially.  One meeting in September of 1859 saw 25 cent fines for disorderly conduct levied against John Christie and A. B. Shafer, two prominent members of the first nine as well as score keeper, C. F. Alger.  Given the spotless character of score keepers, then and now, the last one seems a little excessive. 

Later that ssame year, the club even fined club president Coursen 25 cents for leaving a meeting without permission.  According to the minute book Coursen turned the meeting over to another member and then temporarily left the room.  It’s total speculation, but it may be the temptation to enforce the rules against the rules enforcer was too much to overcome.

Based on the minute book, it appears fines weren’t used too frequently.  And if fines didn’t work, there was at least one other alternative. In April of 1860, the club simply voted, without explanation, to expel E. B. Wakeman.

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