Posts Tagged ‘Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players’

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Dan Brouthers

March 18, 2013
Big Dan Brouthers

Big Dan Brouthers

1. He was born Dennis Joseph Brouthers in Sylvan Lake, New York (not far upriver from New York City) in 1858.

2. While playing semipro ball in 1877, he had a collision at the plate with the catcher. The catcher suffered head injuries and died a month later.

3. Part of the reason Brouthers was unhurt in the collision was his size. He stood 6′ 2″ and weighed 207 pounds, a large man in his day. It got him the nickname “Big Dan..”

4. In 1879 he began playing for nearby Troy in the National League. He remained there through 1880, when the franchise was liquidated and the players disbursed to other teams. Brouthers ended up in Buffalo.

5. He played in Buffalo from 1881 through 1885 establishing himself as a premier hitter. He led the NL in hits, triples, home runs,  and RBIs at various times. He also led the Nl in batting, OBP, and total bases twice; in slugging, OPS and OPS+ four years.

6. In 1886 he went to Detroit for a salary of $4000, a massive salary for the 1880s.

7. In Detroit he led the NL in various categories including adding runs scored and doubles titles to his list of accomplishments.

8. In 1887 Detroit won the NL pennant and faced St. Louis in the 1880s version of the World Series. Brouthers played in only one game, but Detroit won anyway 10 games to 5 (it was a 15 game series and all games were played).

9. He was vice president of the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, so in 1890 he jumped to the PLayer’s League (he’d been sent to Boston in 1889). where he won the OBP title.

10. After the end of the Player’s League, Brouthers won two more batting titles, an RBI title, and while playing with Baltimore helped lead them to the 1894 pennant. He also played a handful of games with the pennant winning 1895 Orioles, but spent most of the season with Louisville. He retired after the 1896 season.

11. After retirement, he played some minor league ball, then hooked up with the Giants as the press gate man (he was in charge of letting the press into the park and checking their credentials). While there he got into two games in 1904, playing in the field in one of them. He went 0-6.

12. He died in 1932 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945.

13. For his career his triple slash numbers are .342/.423/.519/942 with an OPS+ of 170.  He managed 2296 hits, 440 doubles, 205 triples, 106 home runs (fourth highest in the 19th Century), for 3484 total bases. He scored 1523 runs and had 1296 RBIs. He led his league in runs twice, hits three times, doubles three times, triples once, home runs twice, RIBs twice, in batting five times, in OBP five times, in slugging seven times, in OPS eight times, in OPS+ also eight times, and in total bases four times. He was considered a mid-range first baseman and pitched a little (he wasn’t very good at it). He gets my vote as the best hitter of the 19th Century and he also gets this great card:

Brouthers card from his Detroit years

Brouthers card from his Detroit years

I’m not certain if the card is legitimate. Brouthers was a left-handed hitter and the card has him hitting right-handed. It’s still a great little card.

The Brotherhood Revolts

March 26, 2010

Sometimes you’ve just had enough. You’ve had those days, right? It’s one damn stupid thing after another. It’s one thing too many, it’s…well, you know, it’s your Howard Beale moment, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” (See the movie Network). The same kind of thing happened in baseball way back in 1889. It was just one too many slaps at the players by the owners. They responded by forming a new league, the last league run by players.

During the late 1880s the leaders of both major leagues, the National League and the American Assoiciation, tried to control costs by setting the equivilent of the modern salary cap. They announced that no player could earn more than $2500 a season. It’s not a great salary in 1890, but not an awful one either.  Just prior to this announcement, John Montgomery Ward had formed the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, the first sports union (love it or hate it). Many, but certainly not all, the players joined. Their anger at the salary cap was such that they decided to act.

The late 1880s is not a particularly good time for labor unions. They were seen as rabble rousers, as anarchists (The very idea of Monte Ward as an anarchist is laughable.), as not knowing their place, etc. There were no federal laws protecting them, no law granting a right to strike in certain circumstances, no binding arbitration. So many of the modern ways a union can attack what it perceives as an evil were not available or were illegal at the time. Ward came up with an alternative. They players would form their own league and would call it the Player’s League.

The Player’s League began operation in 1890 in the following cities: Boston, Brooklyn, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buffalo. Every team except Buffalo was in direct competition with a National League team, and Brooklyn had three teams. With only a smattering of new players, the new league drew most of its players from the established Major Leagues. As an example of what happened here’s the starting eight for the 1889 winner of the “World Series,” the New York Giants: Jim O’Rourke, Mike Tiernan, and George Gore in the outfield; Roger Connor, Danny Richardson, Monte Ward, Art Whitney in the infield; and Buck Ewing catching. In 1890 only Tiernan was still with the Giants, who slipped all the way to sixth. Connor, Richardson, Whitney, O’Rourke, Gore, and Ewing were now all with the Player’s League team in New York, with Ewing as manager. Ward was the manager of the Player’s League Brooklyn entry.

The team from Boston, the Reds, won the pennant going 81-48 and winning by 6.5 games over Brooklyn. Hall of Fame players Dan Brouthers, King Kelly (who also managed), and Charles Radbourne played for Boston along with a number of stars of the day. Pete Browning won the batting title, Billy Shindle led in total bases, Connor in home runs, Harry Stovey in stolen bases, Mark Baldwin in pitching wins, and Silver King in ERA. King also threw the only no hitter in the league (besting Brooklyn).

In the stands, the new league did well, sort of. By June the Player’s League led in attendance by about 10,000 over the NL (and almost 20,000 over the Association). The gap, particularly with the Association continued to grow. But there was a problem developing. The United States of 1890 simply couldn’t sustain three Major Leagues. Most teams were hemorraging money, especially the bottom few teams in all three leagues. Salaries were up, especially among the Player’s League teams, and there just weren’t enough fans in the stands to pay for it. In the National League in particular, the owners had much larger sums of money to weather the storm than the players. When the season ended with a World Series between NL winner Brooklyn and Association winner Louisville, the Player’s League was shut out, thus losing another source of revenue.

The Player’s League went under 14 January 1891. The Brotherhood simply didn’t have the funds to keep going. They managed to get, everything considered, a reasonably good deal. Most of their players got back into the two established leagues (but more of the truly superior players ended up in the NL, to disastrous consequences for the Association). Brotherhood president Ward became the new manager of the NL team in Brooklyn (I guess that means he didn’t have to move). Two teams, Boston and Chicago, were not scrapped. They shifted into the Association. They were the final pieces of the Player’s League. They, like the American Association, lasted one more season.

The Player’s League was the second league formed by the players. It met the same fate as the 1870’s National Association. The  players, even with well educated men like Monte Ward leading them, simply lacked the expertise to make a league go. They also lacked financial backing to survive. Before we take too much time and criticize the players, it should be noted that there were five “Major” Leagues formed in the 19th Century: National Association, National League, American Association, Union Association, and the Player’s League. Only the National League survived. If both player organized leagues failed, so too did two of the three owner organized leagues. It was a tough business, owner or player.

Before there was Marvin Miller…

March 13, 2010

John Montgomery Ward

…there was John Montgomery Ward. He was a lawyer, a ballplayer, a union man, and an organizer. He was, in short, the players best friend and the owners worst nightmare.

First, let’s clear up something. He is not to be confused with the retail magnate Aaron Montgomery Ward who started the first mail order catalogue business in 1872. When I was growing up we had a bunch of “Monkey Wards” stuff in the house, but it had nothing to do with a baseball player.

Our Ward was born in Pennsylvania just prior to the Civil War in 1860. By 1873 he was attending Penn State University (yes, that makes him age 13), but left in 1874 when his parents both died. He wandered around some, working as a salesman and minor league pitcher until 1878 when the Providence Grays of the National League signed him to pitch for them. He stayed there until 1882 (two years before Providence won the pennant) playing outfield, pitching, and hurling a perfect game in June 1880 (the second one in Major League history). In 1883 he was sent to the New York Gothams (now the San Francisco Giants) where he became a full-time shortstop occasionally patroling the outfield and pitching 43 games.

While with the Giants, Ward attended law school at Columbia in New York City. He became the leading player spokesman for detailing grievances. By 1885 he was vocal in opposing the reserve rule and demanding more money for the players. This didn’t hurt his playing ability. Between 1883 and 1889 his batting average was as low as .226 and peaked at .338.  He averaged 130 hits, 86 runs, stole a bunch of bases (remember stolen bases were figured differently then). OK, he wasn’t Honus Wagner, but those aren’t bad numbers for the era. In 1888 and 1889 the Giants won the National League pennant and won the 19th Century version of the World Series both seasons.

By 1890, Ward had enough. He had already helped form the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players, the first sports union, and served as both its leader and spokesman. After a particularly bitter fight with management over salaries (the NL adopted a rule that capped player’s salaries at $2500 in 1889), Ward decided the Brotherhood would form a new league, called the Player’s League.

The Player’s League was run by the union, with Ward as it’s major spokesman. They placed teams in eight towns (New York, Brooklyn, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buffalo), with Ward managing the Brooklyn team. He finished second, 6.5 games out. He played short, hit .337, scored 134 runs, and  had 189 hits as the player-manager. Unfortunately, the league was not entirely successful. Baseball simply couldn’t afford three leagues, The Player’s League drew reasonably well, but not well enough for the bottom handful of teams to survive.  With all three major leagues suffering, and the American Association almost moribund, the players blinked first. On 14 January 1891, Ward and the Brotherhood gave up the Player’s League and returned to the other two leagues (in such a way that it was fatal to the American Association). I want to do a post on the Player’s League at a later date and will detail what happened at that time. Ward ended up with the National League Brooklyn team (one day to become the Dodgers) and was player-manager for two seasons. He finished his career back with the Giants as player-manager in 1893 and 1894. 

For his career, Ward hit .275 with 2107 hits, 1410 runs, and 869 RBIs. His career fielding average is .887, not bad for the 1880s. All in all a nice little career, but not really first rate.

He spent the early years of his retirement as an attorney representing players against management, then joined the Boston Beaneaters (now the Atlanta Braves) as a joint owner prior returning to the law. He was actively involved in the Federal League of 1914-15 (you knew he would be), handling the business affairs of the Brooklyn team. He turned to golf after his retirement and did well in a number of amateur tournaments (I wonder if Tiger Woods can pitch). Fittingly, he died in Augusta, Georgia in 1925 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964.

Ward, for better or worse, invented the sports union. He worked tirelessly to improve the lot of players, and used his legal skills to upset management’s plans on a number of occasions. Without him there would be no Player’s Union today. There would be no strikes, but there would be no free agency either. When you look at baseball as a business, you look at it thanks to the vision of John Montgomery Ward.