Sunday, September 20, 2015

All Muffins Are Not Created Equal

On Saturday, September 12th, the Neshanock traveled to Wilmington, Delaware and defeated the Diamond State Club by a score of 6-3 in a match that lasted 11 innings.  I understand it was an exciting game and I'm sorry that I missed it.  Much closer to home, at least for me, this past Saturday, Flemington made a rare north Jersey appearance in Nutley to play the Nutley Colonels, a team formed by the Kingsland Manor, a 1700's historic home.  Base ball doesn't appear to go back to the 1700's in Nutley, but in August of 1869, when Nutley was known as Franklin, the Long Star Club, the community's first base ball club took the field and defeated the Senecas of Bloomfield by a whopping 38-13 count.  Today's match was much lower scoring, not just by 19th century standards, but even within the context of the modern game, a tribute to both clubs, but especially to the Colonels in their first attempt to play by the rules of the 1860's.  The popular name for first time, inexperienced players was "muffins," because of their proclivity to miss or "muff" batted or thrown balls.  A team of first time players would by definition be a muffin club, but the Colonels quickly proved themselves to be no muffins.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Flemington scored one tally without a hit in their first opportunity at the striker's line, but the Colonels immediately responded with two runs of their own for a 2-1 lead they held until the 5th inning, primarily due to good defense which included throwing out two Neshanock runners at the plate.  The Neshanock broke through in their half of the fifth, however, tying the game on a hit by Joe "Mick" Murray and then taking a 4-2 lead on a two run single by Jack "Doc" Kitson.  The Neshanock added another run in the sixth when Rene "Mango" Marrero's second double of the game drove home Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner.  After that it was all about the Neshanock pitching and defense which allowed only one hit after the second inning with that runner put out on a double play.  From the second inning on the Neshanock retired 21 of the last 22 Colonel batters, with the only Flemington error, a second inning walk (Henry Chadwick counted walks as errors on the pitcher).  While Nutley struggled offensively, their defense was rock solid, making only one muff and that on the very first play of the game.  All told it was a well played game with the hope on both sides to do it again in 2016.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Writing Neshanock game accounts seldom involves discussing money, something that also hasn't entered into much of my writing about historic 19th century games. An exception was encountered while researching one of my current projects, four game accounts for a forthcoming SABR book about the Boston Red Stockings, the National Association's most dominant team.  Founded in 1871, the Association was the country's first large scale professional league, although, if I understand it correctly, its records are not recognized by Major League Baseball.  Flawed at many levels, the Association was probably doomed from the outset and passed out of existence after the 1875 season when it's five surviving clubs joined William Hulbert's fledgling National League.  After finishing second in 1871, the Boston club, under the management of Harry Wright, won the last four Association pennants including the 1875 season when the pennant race, such as it was, was over by June.  The Red Stockings on the field dominance isn't too hard to fathom since their lineup included Albert Spalding, George Wright (Harry's younger brother), "Deacon" White, Jim "Orator" O'Rourke, all of whom, in addition to Harry are members of the Hall of Fame.

Boston Red Stockings Stock Certificate 

While the team enjoyed great success on the field, the elder Wright's responsibilities didn't end with the final results on the scoreboard.  At the time, managers were also responsible for another score sheet, the club's financial ledgers and the bottom line difference between revenue and expenses.  In that arena, even though the club's won the 1872 pennant, the financial results were a disaster.  Bill Ryczek in his history of the National Association, Blackguards and Red Stockings, wrote that the Boston club finished the season with a $5000 loss, resulting in an equal amount of debt including unpaid player salaries.  No matter how well the club had played, these losses threatened the club's very existence and that winter it was not at all clear the Red Stockings would even attempt to defend their title in 1873.  Fortunately for everyone concerned, enough of the team's fans were willing to put up their money and invest in the club, money they might never see again.  In addition, while they might not have had much choice in the matter, the players chipped in by agreeing to have the balance of their 1872 salaries paid in installments.

With the sins of the past wiped away, not by divine intervention, but rather Boston bucks, Harry Wright was charged by the club's new investors, not just to bring home another pennant, but to do so without another flood of red ink.  Trying to manage both the team and the box office was probably more than a little challenging and most likely explains the detailed financial records, Wright entered in a notebook which is now part of the Albert Spalding collection in the New York Public Library.  Just one example, covers what was described as a "southern trip" during the first half of June in 1873.  Beginning on June 2nd and running through June 12th, Boston won eight games and lost two on a trip that took them to New York, Elizabeth, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore.  In addition to the game results, Wright also recorded Boston's share of the gate receipts which are as follows:

Brooklyn Atlantics   204.92
New York Mutuals   258.90
Elizabeth Resolutes      38.00
Philadelphia White Stockings   416.10
Baltimore Canaries   295.25
Washington Nationals                 55.65
Baltimore Canaries   228.16
New York Mutuals   231.17
Brooklyn Atlantics   129.83
Elizabeth Resolutes     86.67
Total 1944.65

Against the receipts, Wright also recorded expenses for the 12 man traveling party of $533.64, about half of which was for railroad fares with the balance for hotel expenses.  Some of the hotel items are for 3/4 of a day which probably reflects using local hotels for a locker or changing room before and after an overnight train ride.  Matching revenue and expenses reveals a "tidy" profit of $1411.01, before, of course, a base ball club's biggest expense, then and now, player salaries.  Recognizing this, and probably wanting to keep it in front of him, Wright entered a listing of the roster and salaries in his notebook which totaled $15700 for the season (six months).  Salaries ranged from $2000 at the top of the scale for Harry, brother George and star pitcher, Albert Spalding to rookie Jack Manning at the bottom of the ledger, earning a mere $400.  Adding 1/2 month's payroll of $1309 to the debit side of the ledger, put the trip's bottom line at $102 just over break even.

Jack Manning

One of the striking things about professional base ball through more than half of the 20th century, is the extent to which clubs depended on gate receipts as the only real source of revenue.  Good teams like the Red Stockings probably looked to their drawing power to at least break even on the road while generating even healthier returns at home.  Lower level teams probably struggled financially both at home and on the road with visits to and from front running clubs like Boston serving like manna in the wilderness if nothing else to meet payroll.  When all was said and done for the 1873 season, Boston again finished on top of the standings and at least avoided the 1872 financial disaster.  Understanding the club's finances is complicated by the fact that there were two separate organizations, the Boston Baseball Club and the Boston Association, but an article in the December 13, 1873 edition of the New York Clipper seems to indicate that gate receipts basically covered operating expenses with the proceeds of stock sales paying off old debts and improving the club's cash position.

1873 Boston Red Stockings 

Working with these numbers reinforces a concern I've had while researching Charles Ebbets' career with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  On the surface, the dollar amounts seem so small that it's hard to understand and appreciate their significance.  Take, for example, the Red Stockings $5000 loss/debt at the end of 1872.  While $5000 is still not an insignificant amount today, a business with that level of debt would hardly be driven to the wall as it seems was the case with the Boston club.  Thus far, the most valuable tool I've found in translating historic dollar amounts into modern equivalents is the web site, which compares the value of assets (or effectively liabilities) in three different ways.  The table below lists Boston's $5000 debt in each of those categories comparing 1872 to 2014.

Historic Standard of Living       $100,000
Economic Status    $1,380,000
Economic Power  $10,400,000
The first category looks at the purchasing power of an amount to buy a "bundle" of goods and services that the average household would buy.  While considering the $5000 1872 debt as equal to what $100,000 would buy today gives a better sense of the relative amount, it still doesn't seem to be at the crisis level that was experienced.  Economic status, on the other hand, measures the prestige value between two periods and  the 1873 debt expressed as $1,380,000 in 2014, gives a better sense of the crisis.  Perhaps even more persuasive is the economic power option which measures the relative influence of an amount in the economy so that $5000 owed in Boston in 1872 would be like owing $10.4 million today, an amount that would have major impact on any local or national economy.  I recognize that this is one of those subjects that can make people's eyes glaze over, but a sense of the real significance of these relatively low dollar amounts is essential to understand base ball finances in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and, ultimately, the important role of ownership in the history of the game.

No comments:

Post a Comment