Sunday, November 29, 2015

Not Your Average Day at the Ballpark

When 16 year old Samuel Arnold plunked down his two quarters for a grandstand seat at Philadelphia's Huntingdon Street Grounds (later Baker Bowl) on August 28, 1911, he probably anticipated little more than an enjoyable day at the ball park.  Certainly he couldn't have had any idea his enthusiastic rooting for his beloved Phillies would set off a chain of events which would reach a meeting of the National League owners.  Arnold's support for the home team was understandable, led by rookie sensation, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Philadelphia was enjoying a successful season, comfortably in the first division.  And, if that wasn't sufficient attraction, the young fan was doubtless looking forward to a pitching match up between two future Hall of Famers the aforementioned Alexander and Cub star, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, both of whom would win 20 games that season.  While Arnold's Phillies at 8.5 games out of first were a long shot to catch the first place Giants, the defending National League champion Cubs approached September only 1.5 games back of McGraw's men.  Another intense pennant race between the two arch rivals seemed highly likely, lending even more anticipation to the day's events at Huntingdon and Broad Streets.

Philadelphia Inquirer - August 29, 1911

From his seat on the third base side, just behind the box seats, reportedly filled with a large number of ladies and gentlemen,  Arnold must have joined in the cheering when the home town heroes took the lead by scoring once off Brown during the bottom of the second, a lead Alexander preserved through five frames.  As the game headed to the sixth, the Philadelphia fans may have been hoping for a shut out from their young ace (he would record seven for the season), but the Cubs quashed those hopes and the Phillies' lead with a four run uprising.  Understandably depressed by this turn of events, Arnold and his fellow fans took heart as Philadelphia staged their own sixth inning rally, culminating with a Hans Lobert single which plated Sherry Magee with the tying run.  With two on and only one out, Brown was clearly on the ropes, and it was at this point that Arnold became more than just another fan.  With Fred Luderus coming to the plate for the Phillies, future Hall of Fame umpire, Bill Klem stopped the game and directed acting Philadelphia manager, Otto Knabe and the police to eject a fan, one Samuel Arnold or he would forfeit the game to the Cubs.

Baker Bowl 

Accounts of exactly what happened differ.  Writing in the Chicago Daily Tribune, Sam Weller, no doubt writing from a Dickensian moral view, claimed that Arnold had been "insulting the Cub players personally all through the game" before moving on to a "vicious and vulgar attack"on Klem himself.  According to Weller, however, the umpire's order to eject the obnoxious fan was based not on the verbal abuse directed at Klem, but concern about ladies being subjected to such reprehensible and unmanly behavior.  From the Philadelphia perspective, however, Jim Nasium (Edgar Forrest Wolfe) of the Philadelphia Inquirer dismissed Arnold's actions as nothing more than someone "trying to get more than his money's worth of yelling."  Nasium, who illustrated his game accounts with his own cartoons, said the whole thing was an overreaction on Klem's part, sarcastically wondering if instead of watching a a major league game, he was witnessing a contest between the "Fifth Ward Juniors and the Newsboys Home."  Perhaps not surprisingly, the fans strongly objected to the ejection, but unexpectedly the police all the way up to the captain in charge also resisted enforcing Klem's order.  So incensed were the umpires that Klem's partner, Bill Brennan went into the stands to pick out the miscreant.  After lengthy debate, Arnold was escorted outside the grounds and refunded his 50 cents which supposedly was forced upon him.

Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown

Given his passion for the Phillies and/or against the Cubs, Arnold may have been better off missing the rest of the game.  Brown retired the Phillies without further incident to end the sixth and Chicago scored four times in the eighth to defeat Alexander 8-4.  Nasium, however, was not willing to drop what seemed to be an unjustified ejection and after some investigative reporting, wrote that while the 16 year old had called Brown, "yellow," he never used profanity or any language that bothered the ladies seated nearby.  As the Inquirer writer and cartoonist understood it, Brown complained to Klem about the name calling which triggered everything that happened afterwards.  If the Cubs star was that sensitive to taunting, one wonders how he felt when Nasium referred to him as "Mr. Minus Digit" in print.  It's not clear whether the reporter ever spoke directly with Arnold, but regardless of where the idea may have come from, the ejected and no doubt humiliated fan was also unwilling to let the matter drop.  Less than two weeks later, the Inquirer reported that Arnold had sued the Philadelphia club for $5000, claiming the ejection was illegal and breached the contract established by the ticket purchase.

Bill Klem

Most club owners would have worked the whole thing out behind the scenes, but Horace Fogel, the Phillies president was no ordinary owner, if, in fact, he really was the owner.  A former sportswriter, sports editor and baseball manager, Fogel had purchased the Phillies in 1909, although it appeared the acquisitions was financed by Charles Taft, the half-brother of President William Howard Taft.  According to an article by Steve Steinberg in the fall 2012 issue of "Baseball: A Journal of the Early Game,"  Fogel was "a protege of the outspoken and acerbic" Charles Murphy, the owner of the Cubs, also reportedly financed by Taft.  Like his mentor, Fogel wasn't reluctant to share his opinions with his fellow magnates.  With the Arnold trial scheduled for February 29, 1912, Fogel wrote at length to National League president, Thomas Lynch and then raised the issue of the pending lawsuit at the owners meeting in early February.  In his letter, the Philadelphia magnate shed further light on what happened that August afternoon.  According to Fogel's account, Brown denied he had ever said a word to Klem about Arnold.  Taking responsibility instead was Chicago catcher Tom Needham who admitted he had fanned the flames because Brown was in trouble and needed time to recover.  In other words, Needham had simply "put a job up on Klem."

Horace Fogel 

If Klem didn't recognize he was being manipulated, the Philadelphia fans, according to Fogel, knew exactly what was going on.  Rather than being offended by Arnold, those sitting near him were "amused" by how he cheered and none of it was "in the slightest degree offensive."  That explained why the fans opposed Arnold's ejection so vehemently and the police were unwilling to enforce it since comments like "Take him out," "He is weakening" and the previously mentioned "yellow" characterization were hardly grounds for ejection.  None of this, however, was why Fogel was raising the issue with Lynch and the other owners.  Before finally giving in on the ejection which he knew would further infuriate the crowd, the police captain in charge, asked Klem if the National League would assume liability for any claims arising out of the incident, to which the umpire responded in the affirmative.  Such a claim had now been made and Fogel with a marginal franchise financially didn't want to be on the hook if a jury sided with the increasingly sympathetic looking fan.  Nor surprisingly, president Lynch and the owners took the position that crowd control was the club's problem and declined any liability.

Tom Needham

To date nothing has been discovered about the outcome of Arnold's lawsuit.  The apparent lack of newspaper accounts about the result of a lawsuit which attracted extended media attention when it was filed, suggests some kind of out of court settlement.  If the young man was as enthusiastic as it appears, he might willingly have accepted tickets for 1912 games in exchange for dropping his lawsuit and a commitment to moderate his vocal comments.  In any event, by the end of 1912, the lawsuit was the least of Horace Fogel's problems.  Fogel began his letter by suggesting the inappropriate ejection was another example of the umpires' prejudice against the Phillies.  While that was bad enough, Fogel was even less discreet later in 1912 when he wrote in the Chicago Daily Post that the National League pennant race had been fixed in favor of the Giants.  Understandably, the other owners couldn't and wouldn't tolerate such outbursts and Fogel was tried, convicted and banished from baseball in November of 1912.  How Samuel Arnold felt about this is hard to say, but one hopes that a few years later, in 1915, he was once again in the stands, cheering for his Phillies as they won the National League pennant.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Ebbets Guards the Gate - the Free Pass Gate

Anyone familiar with Charles Ebbets lengthy stewardship of the Brooklyn Dodgers knows the squire of Flatbush had the reputation of being a cheapskate.  The stories told in support of this characterization are legion, from his arguing over the cost of laundering the team's uniforms to his claim he was the only owner unable to afford a car.  Another incident contributing to this Scrooge like image was an interview that appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle early in the 1907 season.  As was typical for the day, the article didn't carry a by-line so its impossible to know if the writer was as naive about baseball and its ways as he claimed.  In any event, the self-proclaimed baseball novice asked Ebbets about his primary responsibilities as team president.  The Brooklyn owner responded by claiming his three highest priorities were to "dodge people who want passes to the base ball games" or if unsuccessful in dodging to "look pleasant and say agreeable things," but above all to "restrain myself from giving the requested pass."  Beyond dealing with this weighty problem, Ebbets dismissed the rest of his responsibilities as "merely perfunctory," which "give me no trouble whatever."

Baseball Hall of Fame Library - A. G. Mills Collection

Elaborating probably far beyond what most Eagle readers felt necessary, Ebbets claimed that over the last 25 years, he had granted only one pass that was truly justified and which wasn't even solicited.  That situation involved a disabled boy unable to reach the ticket window who was victimized by a wolf in Good Samaritan's clothing, who offered to take the boy's money and buy his ticket, but then absconded with the ducat.  Learning of the dastardly and unmanly deed,  Ebbets not only gave the lad a pass, but "put the little chap in the best seat in the grandstand."  Otherwise Ebbets claimed, he was importuned by everyone "from United States Senators to elevator boys and bootblacks," with "rich men ask[ing] for passes because they are rich, poor men because they are poor."  Ebbets did admit that no red-headed man had ever asked for a pass based solely upon his hair color, but, said Ebbets, "there is time for him yet."  There is, however, evidence that Ebbets was no soft touch for those seeking an "Annie Oakley."  The papers of F. C. Lane, editor of "Baseball Magazine," in the Baseball Hall of Fame Library, contain two letters from the Brooklyn president declining requests for a season pass.


Baseball Hall of Fame Library - A. G. Mills Collection

Clearly having spent most of the interview with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Ebbets finally admitted the club had "a regular free list of over 500 names," obviously a source of dismay and/or embarrassment to the supposedly tightfisted magnate.  If, however, Ebbets attitude toward free passes was evidence of his cheapness, it painted his fellow owners with the same miserly brush.  The pass issue was frequently discussed at owners meetings throughout the period and in no little detail.  Just one example is a proposal Phillies owner William Baker brought before the December 1915 National League owners meeting which was deferred for further consideration and action in February of 1916.  The debate on the proposal and the issue easily filled over 100 pages of the stenographic record with almost universal desire to reduce the number of "dead heads" going through "the sewer" of the pass gate.  Baker's proposal which provoked all the debate would have required the home team to pay the visitors their share of the base ticket price for free admissions.  Since the home club hadn't received any offsetting revenue, the possible net cash loss got everyone's attention which Baker indicated was the real purpose of his proposal.

                                        Baseball Hall of Fame Library - F. C. Lane Collection

Since the ensuing debate was recorded more or less verbatim and the magnates thought no one was "listening," they openly shared information that otherwise would likely have remained confidential.  Perhaps surprisingly the largest number of free passes were given not to politicians or business cronies, but to the local newspapers.  Ebbets refusal to issue passes to weekly and monthly publications was well justified by the apparently insatiable needs of the New York City press.  Brooklyn itself had four daily papers covering the Superbas which wouldn't have been so bad by itself, but he also had to provide for the hard to envision 16 daily newspapers in Manhattan.  Unlike the Giants and Yankees owners, Ebbets had to satisfy all 20 papers, a fact he never tired of sharing with his peers.  The problem was exacerbated by the fact that each publication got an average of 20 passes, not counting the reporters actually covering the game.  Nor was there much that could be done about it as the newspaper publishers considered the passes the only payment received for all the "free advertising" given to the baseball clubs.  One estimate was that theaters paid for 100 lines of advertising for every three purchased by the ball clubs.

                                        William Baker - owner of the Philadelphia Phillies

The second biggest group receiving free passes was also something of a surprise as the number of passes given to clergy also exceeded those given to politicians.   Ebbets didn't provide any figures, but the Cincinnati club reportedly gave out 300 passes to clergy which should have covered the complete ecclesiastical spectrum.  While the magnates might have been able to reduce the number in this category, there was unanimity that regular clergy attendance was worth the lost revenue.  Presumably clergy attending games was another form of free advertising, an endorsement that attendance at baseball games was a socially and morally acceptable activity.  Certainly Ebbets maintained good relationships with Brooklyn clergy including a Roman Catholic priest, a Rabbi and a Protestant minister who sometimes sat together in "clergy row" at Ebbets Field.  Ebbets also paid attention to elected officials as he felt local approval of Sunday baseball was on the horizon and he wanted the legislators on his side.  There were, however, limits in Ebbets largess in this regard as Phillies owner Baker and Boston owner, James Gaffney good-naturedly complained that Ebbets refused to give them passes when they held political office in New York City 

                             Typical Brooklyn Baseball Ad - Brooklyn Daily Eagle - June 1915

But for all the talk and complaining, how much did these lost admissions really cost Ebbets and his fellow owners?  Here again the meeting transcripts shed some light on the subject.  The Brooklyn owner told his peers that in 1915, non-paying individuals passed through his turnstiles some 24,361 times out of total attendance of about 300000.  If the average admission was 50 cents, that means total potential gate receipts were reduced by just over $12,000 or about 8% of total possible revenue.  It's not an insignificant amount, especially given the fact that 1915 was the height of the Federal League War and the Superbas in head-to-head competition with the Brookylyn Tip Tops of that circuit.  According to Ebbets, the Tip Tops were so desperate to be able to claim higher attendance than Ebbets' club that delivery trucks for Ward's bakeries (the owners of the Federal League club) were giving out free passes while delivering baked goods.  Ultimately, the National League owners adopted pass limits for 1916 with a maximum financial penalty of $500, but it certainly didn't end concern or debate over the issue.

Theater Ad - Brooklyn Daily Eagle - June 1915

Reading and thinking about the discussion, it appears the largest categories of passes were simply a cost of doing business that couldn't be avoided.  For the owners the real issue was passes the holder gave to someone other than the intended recipient.  Baker tried to solve this problem with some success by giving 40 game passes rather than the full 77, reasoning that no one person would use all 77, but if limited to 40 there would be less incentive to give the pass to another person who probably didn't merit free admission.   Was the attitude about passes and "dead heads" evidence that Ebbets and his brother (and one sister) owners were cheap?  The numbers above suggest it was a legitimate concern, reflecting once again how much the owners depended on gate receipts for revenue.  It's also important to note that when the issue is a large volume of quarters (small change to us today), each quarter lost is viewed not just on its own, but in multiples thereof.  All in all, it doesn't lead to definite conclusions about whether or not Ebbets was cheap, but it opens a window on his world and that of his fellow magnates.