New York Mutual, 1872
Back when I was a kid, my Grandfather once told me that there were three things you never discussed in public: politics, religion, and sport. Because you never discussed them, you ended up arguing them. And even worse was to combine any two. Back a long time ago (in blog years) I combined religion and sport when I did a post on Billy Sunday. It’s time to throw in politics with sport and see what we get.
In the 1850s Brooklyn provided the great teams in New York baseball. There were the Atlantic, the Eckford, the Excelsior. They were arguably the three finest teams in the US and none of them were in New York City. That changed in 1857 with the founding of the Mutual. Named for the Mutual Hook and Ladder Company (a local fire brigade) the team began play in 1858. From the beginning it had an advantage that no other New York team could top, it had money. It had lots of money. Why? Glad you asked. You see, the Mutual quickly became the darling of Tammany Hall.
Tammany Hall about 1870
Founded in the 18th Century, Tammany Hall began as a gentleman’s club and quickly became the gathering place for the elite of the Democratic-Republican Party (Vice President Aaron Burr served as President for a while). Now a brief foray into 19th Century politics is in order. The Democratic-Republican Party was the political party formed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The party splintered in 1824 and the part that joined Andrew Jackson’s campaign became the modern Democratic Party. The Jeffersonian Republican Party has nothing to do with the modern Republican Party (which got its start it 1854). Got all that?
Tammany Hall was (into the 1930s) the centerpiece of the New York Democratic Party. If you wanted to be in politics in New York, you had to have Tammany support if you were a Democrat. If you saw the recent movie Lincoln, Fernando Wood, played by James Pace, was one of the principal speakers in the House of Representatives opposing the 13th Amendment. Wood was head of Tammany for a while. Of course one thing that goes with political power is money and that meant that a lot of money ended up in Tammany Hall. One of the things they did with it was support the Mutual.
The Mutual won the National Association of Base Ball Players title in their initial campaign (1858) and did well throughout the period of the Civil War (although never quite up to the level of the Atlantic). The team board of directors, all Tammany men, made sure that the team had the best uniforms, and equipment. Although the league was supposed to be amateur, most clubs had at least one professional and with Tammany money, the Mutual were no exception.
When the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed in 1871, the Mutual joined the league, making them one of the acknowledged professional teams and, because of their backers, one of the most well-financed.
By this point William M. Tweed, known as “Boss” Tweed and leader of the “Tweed Ring” was head of Tammany. Tweed was among the first of a group of political “bosses” who dominated urban (and in some cases state) politics for long periods. The “machine” was a major factor in politics for around 100 years and are generally seen as corrupt, graft-ridden organizations that are one of the country’s shames. But most “machines” had their benevolent side. Tweed was known for his aid to immigrants arriving in New York. His “ward heelers” were noted for finding new arrivals housing, jobs, midwives, etc. Of course they also pushed the immigrants to obtain citizenship and then vote for “machine” candidates for various offices. Some, like the Pendergast machine of Kansas City were noted for making sure one honest man was elected to office, leave him alone, let him do his job properly, then hold him up as proof the “machine” wasn’t corrupt. In Kansas City, the honest guy was named Harry Truman (whatever happened to him?). So the urban machines were a mixed bag. States like Louisiana had statewide machines (the one in Louisiana being led by Huey Long) that had corruption problems but also built roads and bridges and provided free school books to students. Again, something of a mixed bag. But, as far as I can determine, only the New York machine had a baseball team.
Although Tweed served on the Mutual board, he was not President of the board, so it’s difficult to say how much clout he had in team decisions (although it’s difficult to believe that the board would go against him too often). What Tweed and the board did was to pump money into the team. It did some good, but as George Steinbrenner discovered later on, it didn’t guarantee pennants. The Mutual never won an Association pennant, They finished fourth in 1871. The 1872 team (pictured above) came in third. They managed to reach second in 1874, then dropped to seventh in 1875.
What happened? Simply, the Tweed Ring was in trouble. By 1875 the machine had crumbled and Tammany Hall was fighting for its political life. They needed money for survival, not for baseball. Economically they pulled the rug out from under the Mutual and the team suffered tremendous loss of players. They managed to survive the season and when the National League replaced the Association in 1876, they were the team chosen to represent New York in the new league (despite their problems, they were still the dominant team in New York). But their financial problems remained. By late in the 1876 season they were broke, too broke to make the final western swing of the season. This got the attention of National League owner William Hulbert, who moved to have them thrown out of the league. With no league and no financial backing, the team folded. Its name was resurrected in the 1880s American Association team, but that was a different team.