Posts Tagged ‘Chris von der Ahe’

The 2015 Veteran’s Committee Election: the Contributors

October 16, 2015

This year the Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee is charged with making a decision on the worthiness of four contributors for enshrinement at Cooperstown. Here’s a short look at each.

Doc Adams

Doc Adams

Daniel “Doc” Adams was a medical doctor who can be legitimately designated as one of the founders of baseball. An early member of the Knickerbockers, he served as club president, later serving (and heading) the committee that drafted a set of rules under which the National Association of Base Ball Players operated. He claimed credit for inventing the shortstop position (although we have no contemporary evidence he did). It is provable that he did help foster a series of rules that made the game work much like the modern game.

Samuel Breaden

Samuel Breaden

Sam Breaden was a successful auto dealer who purchased a part of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1917. In 1920 he took control of the team and the team that had been a perennial loser since the 1880s became a National League powerhouse and arguably the second most successful franchise (behind the New York Yankees) in baseball. While owner his team won nine pennants and picked up a World Series victory six times. He understood and utilized the talents of initial manager Branch Rickey by moving Rickey to the front office. He further understood Rickey’s idea of a “farm system” would benefit the Cardinals, and ultimately all of baseball. He made Rogers Hornsby, the team’s star player, the manager and the Cards won a pennant and a championship. He later moved Hornsby to another team when it became evident the manager was alienating the entire clubhouse (not to mention disagreeing with Breaden over exhibition games). In 1947 he joined NL President Ford Frick in stifling a player revolt in St. Louis over the arrival of Jackie Robinson in the majors. He sold the team in 1947.

August Hermann

August Hermann

August “Gerry” Hermann was a wealthy Cincinnati political figure who purchased part interest in the Cincinnati Reds in 1902. He became chief of baseball operations and team President. In 1903 he helped broker the “Cincinnati Peace Treaty” that ended the war between the National League and the new American League. He was chosen President of the National Commission, the executive group that ran baseball, and remained President until the Commission was dissolved in 1920. He is sometimes, erroneously, called “The Father of the World Series.” He did push for the reinstatement of the World Series after it was not played in 1904 and had backed Barney Dreyfuss in creating the original Series in 1903. He remained owner of the Reds until 1927.

the statue on Chris von der Ahe's grave

the statue on Chris von der Ahe’s grave

Chris von der Ahe may have been the most colorful man to ever own a Major League team. He ran a grocery and saloon and in 1892, seeing an opportunity to make money on tickets and selling beer, purchased the St. Louis Browns (now the Cardinals). Knowing nothing about baseball when he initially purchased the team, he built a successful franchise that won four consecutive American Association pennants in the 1880s by listening to his manager (Charles Comiskey) and having a shrew knowledge of finance. He is alleged to have invented the ballpark hot dog and to have established the first recreational area at a ball park (it was a beer garden). Both of those statements may or may not be true. In 1891 he moved his team to the National League (the American Association folded), but the team was unsuccessful competing in the new league and he was forced out as owner in 1898. The statue accompanying this blurb originally stood in front of the Browns stadium in St. Louis and is currently located above von der Ahe’s grave.

Again, where do I stand on these four? I have personal rule that, as a rule, I don’t like to see more than one contributing non-player elected to the Hall of Fame in a single year. It’s not hard and fast, so I’m quite willing to bend it this time. “Doc” Adams is an easy call for me as one of the true pioneers of the game and Hermann deserves to be in for his handling of the “League War” of 1901-03, his determination to reestablish the World Series, and for his leadership of the National Commission. Although the Black Sox scandal happened on his watch, as the Cincy owner he was more than willing to overlook the innuendos of fixing because he believed his team had genuinely won fairly. I think eventually Breaden ought to go in, but not this time.  And as for von der Ahe, frankly I don’t have any idea exactly how to separate a character like him from his baseball achievements (but, heck, how many owners have a stadium statue?). He’s one of the more fun people in baseball to study, but I don’t think that makes him a Hall of Famer.

That concludes this year’s look at the Vets ballot. Fell free to either agree or disagree.

2015 Veteran’s Ballot Announced

October 9, 2015

According to “This Week in SABR”, the email notification I get each weekend the 2015 Veteran’s ballot is out. Here’s the list in the order they give it:

Doc Adams, Sam Breaden, Bill Dahlen, Wes Ferrell, August “Gerry” Hermann, Marty Marion, Frank McCormick, Harry Stovey, Chris von der Ahe, Bucky Walters.

Several are holdovers from the last Segregation Era ballot but some are new. FYI and commentary to follow at some point.

The Pride of the Association

July 29, 2013
Browns third baseman, Arlie Latham

Browns third baseman, Arlie Latham

I’ve contended on this site that there are five true dynasties in the 19th Century: 1870s Boston Red Stockings, 1880s Chicago White Stockings, 1880s St. Louis Browns, 1890’s Boston Beaneaters, and 1890s Baltimore Orioles. Over the years I’ve done posts on four of them. It’s time to take a look at the last, the Browns.

First, to clarify something, this team has nothing to do with the American League St. Louis Browns who are now in Baltimore as the Orioles, which are also not the 1890s Orioles. The 1880s Browns played in the American Association, a league that no longer exists. The team is still around but it’s now the Cardinals (got all that?).

The American Association put a team in St. Louis in 1882. Owned by Chris von der Ahe, a local beer mogul, the team became a contender in 1883, finishing second. It slipped to fourth in 1884, then dominated the Association for the rest of the decade. With the small rosters of the era, much of the team remained consistent through the entire period.

Pat Deasley did the bulk of the catching in 1883 and 1884. In 1885 Doc Bushong took over as the primary backstop with Deasley going to the Giants. Bushong remained with the team through 1887, spending the first two years as the primary catcher and backing up Jack Boyle who remained the starter into the 1890 season. None of them were particularly distinguished, although Boyle did manage to crack 23 home runs over 13 years.

the infield corners consisted of Charlie Comiskey at first and Arlie Latham at third. Comiskey doubled as manager and was considered an above average fielder for is day. He wasn’t an especially good hitter. Latham led off, scored a lot of runs, stole a lot of bases (pre-1900 definition of stolen base), and was generally considered one of the more obnoxious players in the league by his opponents. For most of the era  Bill Gleason handled short. He led the Association in putouts and assists a couple of times, but also led in errors. By the end of the period (1888 and 1889) Bill White (obviously not the 1960s Cardinals first baseman) and Shorty Fuller replaced him. Neither are much remembered today and neither especially deserves to be recalled. Second base went through a series of players. George Strief, Joe Quest, and Sam Barkley all spent one season at second (1883-1885). In 1885 Yank Robinson  showed up as a utility infielder. By 1886 he had the second base job holding it to 1890. His average wasn’t all that great, but he walked a lot and scored over 100 runs four times (three with St. Louis).

There was great consistency in the outfield also. Hugh Nicol held down one corner spot from 1883 through 1886. He was another player whose average wasn’t all that high, but who scored a lot of runs and was considered a fine fielder by 1880s standards. He left for Cincinnati in 1887 and was replaced by first Bob Caruthers (see more on him in the pitcher section of this post), then by Hall of Fame outfielder Tommy McCarthy. The other corner slot was held down, after the 1883 season, by Tip O’Neill. O’Neill is one of the handful of players who can legitimately be called the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame. He hit .326, won the triple crown in 1887 (.425 average, 14 home runs, 123 RBIs), led the Association in hits, average, and RBIs a couple of other times, and was deemed a so-so outfielder. The center fielder in 1883 was Fred Lewis, an early switch hitter who hit .296 for his career. He was replaced in 1885 by Curt Welch, who wasn’t as good at hitting, but was a better outfielder. Welch was gone by 1888, replaced by Harry Lyons in 1888. Lyons managed to hit all of a buck-94 and 1889 found Charlie Duffee in center. A rookie, Duffee managed to lead the Association in strike outs.

As usual with 1880s teams, the pitching staff showed a lot of turnover. Pitchers threw a lot of innings and many of them didn’t last all that long. The 1883 team featured Tony Mullane (who just appeared on the latest Veteran’s Committee Hall of Fame ballot). It was his only year with the team. Jumbo McGinnis Served as the two pitcher. McGinnis stood 5’10” and weighted 197 pounds, hardly a “Jumbo” by today’s standards, but a big man in 1883. He had good years in both ’83 and ’84, then his career came unglued. Dave Foutz joined the team in 1884, replacing Mullane. He remained through 1887 winning 114 games (told you these guys pitched a lot). In 1885 he was joined by Caruthers (see the outfield above). Caruthers remained through 1887 (he and Foutz both went to Brooklyn) winning 106 games, playing 86 games in the outfield (and 23 at first), and hitting .357 with eight home runs in 1887. In 1887 Silver King showed up, earning a spot in the rotation when Caruthers was in the outfield. He became the ace the next season and remained with the Browns through the 1880s. He won 203 total games, 113 with the Browns.

St. Louis finished second in 1883, fourth in 1884, then ran off four consecutive pennants, They finished second in 1889 and had two more good years, although the team changed in 1890 due to the Player’s League. The 1880s produced a proto-World Series and the Browns were involved in one each of the years they won pennants. In 1885 they faced the Chicago White Stockings. Foutz went 2-2, Caruthers 1-1, and the seventh game was a disputed tie. In an 1886 rematch, they defeated Chicago four games to two with O’Neill hitting .400 and blasting two home runs. In 1887 the Series consisted of 15 games with Detroit (a team that included newly elected Hall of Famer Deacon White) winning 10 games while St. Louis picked up only five wins (they played all 15 games, although Detroit got to eight wins quickly). Finally, in 1888 the Giants beat them six games to four. Giants pitcher Tim Keefe set a record by winning four games in postseason play.

Throughout its existence, the American Association was usually viewed as the weaker of the two professional major leagues (the National League being the other). that’s probably true. But that weaker league did produce one of the truly great teams of the 19th Century in the 1880s St. Louis Browns.

My Top List of Terrible Owners

September 19, 2011

Where these guys belong

Baseball is full of terrible players and coaches. I guess it’s not fair to call any player who makes it to the Major Leagues “terrible”, but there’s definitely a lot of players that are at best marginal. And coaches and managers can be real duds. But somehow owners tend to get overlooked by casual fans. Most people don’t seem to pay much attention to the impact of ownership. Well, baseball has had some really awful owners too. Here’s my Mount Rushmore (4 guys) of terrible owners in no particular order.

Charles Comiskey: The only owner who ever had his team mutiny to such an extent it was willing to dump a World Series. Ultimately the players themselves must take blame for their own actions, but Comiskey did more than his share to help them along with their choices. Comiskey was cheap, but so was Connie Mack. What Comiskey lacked was a shred of respect for his players, and that makes him lower on the ownership scale and thus higher on the Rushmore scale. And I’m not sure I understand it exactly. Charles Comiskey was a former player, actually a pretty good one. He was first baseman and manager of the St. Louis Browns team that won pennant after pennant in the 1880s. Having been a player, having seen the tussles with ownership and the league offices, I find it strange he seems to have had no sympathy at all for the plight of his players. Maybe it was an “I went through it, so can you” attitude. Maybe he was just a jerk. Whatever it was he gets a spot on my Mount Rushmore. And for what it’s worth, although Clifton James doesn’t look at all like Comiskey, his portrayal of the White Sox owner in “Eight Men Out” is pretty close (except that the flat champagne episode occurred in 1917, not 1919).

The Robison Brothers: Because there were two of them, the Robison brothers occupy two spaces on Mount Rushmore. Frank was the older brother. He married the daughter of the man who ran the Cleveland, Ohio streetcar company, Charles Hathaway. Today that doesn’t sound like a way to make a great deal of money, but in an era without subways, cars, or buses, the streetcar was the quickest, easiest way for someone to get across town to see the doctor or go to work or whatever. So the Robison’s made a lot of money, a whole lot of money. Very early on Frank brought in younger brother Stanley to help run the business. Between them they got very rich. Frank Robison was also a baseball fan (as was Stanley to a lesser degree). He decided that Cleveland should have a big league team and in 1887 he started up the Cleveland Blues, later renamed the Spiders. They joined the National League the same year. Mostly they weren’t very good. In 1892 that changed. Among other things, they picked up (the year before) a youngster named Cy Young who seemed to have some potential. It was the year of the first split season. Cleveland won the second half, then lost the playoff to Boston. In 1895 and 1896 they played for the Temple Cup, winning in ’95. It was the apex of the team and so far so good for the brothers as owners. But the Robison’s had a plan to make more money. In 1898 the National League forced St. Louis owner Chris Von Der Ahe to sell the Browns. The Robison’s bought the team. In 1898 it was legal to own two teams. It was called “syndicate baseball” and there were three of them, including the Robison’s. With St. louis being a much larger market (4th largest US city at the time),  the Robison’s immediately began stripping the Cleveland team of its best players and sent them, Cy Young included, to St. Louis. The Browns didn’t do any better and the Spiders were awful. At the end of the year, the NL shut down the team. Frank died in 1908, leaving Stanley in charge. In 1905 Stanley had tried his hand at managing the team. He went 19-31 (which was better than Ted Turner’s foray into managing). Now in charge, Stanley proceeded to watch his team continue to flounder. He died in 1911, leaving the team to Frank’s daughter.

The Robison’s make my Mount Rushmore because of their callous disregard for the fans and the city that made them, Cleveland. They had gotten rich off Cleveland and then they caused the town to lose its team and its finest players. Did it bother them? Apparently not. And they didn’t make St. Louis any better in the long run. The team went from last to fifth (but they had two rosters, theirs and Cleveland’s to use), but then stagnated topping out at fourth in 1901. About the only positive thing the Robison’s did was to change the uniform color from brown to cardinal red, thus giving the team its current nickname, Cardinals.

Emil Fuchs: Fuchs was the Giants attorney. In 1922 he joined with Christy Mathewson in buying the Boston Braves. Mathewson’s ill-health put Fuchs in charge. He proceeded to run the team into the ground. He knew nothing about baseball other than what he’d picked up as attorney for the Giants, couldn’t evaluate talent, couldn’t be bothered with the small details of keeping up a stadium. In 1928 he bought Rogers Hornsby as manager, found a way to make money, and sold Hornsby the next season to the Cubs. With no manager, he tried his hand at running the team on the field himself. They finished dead last. In 1935, out of money, unable to pay rent on the stadium, he bought Babe Ruth from the Yankees. He promised Ruth a vice presidency, a managerial job, and a share of the profits. Well, there were no profits, the vice presidency was nominal, and Fuchs admitted he wasn’t going to fire his current manager, Bill McKechnie  (who ended up a Hall of Fame manager). Ruth, not unreasonably, quit. At the end of the 1935 season, broke, short of players, out of options, Fuchs sold the team back to one of the men he’d bought it from in 1922.

So there they are, my four Mount Rushmore lousy owners. There are a lot of other people available; Arthur Soden who destroyed the great Beaneaters dynasty of the 1890s, Arthur Freedman who almost managed to destroy the Giants before John McGraw got there, Harry Frazee who sold away a rejuvenated Red Sox, Earle Mack who almost destroyed his dad’s Athletics, Frank McCourt who is currently destroying the Dodgers, the guys who’ve run the Royals and Pirates into the ground. And a host of others too. But for my money, these four are the guys I’d least like to see run my team.

My Diamond’s Bigger Than Your Diamond

March 27, 2010

Baseball has had a lot of interesting owners. Some have been saints, some downright evil. Some have been clowns, some have been thoughtful. Then there’s Chris von der Ahe.

Born in Germany, von der Ahe ended up in St. Louis with it’s large German community. He clerked in a grocery, bought the place, then added in a saloon. He began to make good money and started looking around for more investments. He realized that some of the biggest crowds in the city gathered at the ballpark when the local Browns were playing and that a spillover to the bars after the game was common. So the solution to his problem? Buy the team.

n 1882 he bought the Browns (they are now the Cardinals) for $1800 and joined the fledgling American Association. Von der Ahe had a good team already, but didn’t know it. In fact, he knew almost nothing of baseball, except that the park was a good place to sell beer. His manager was Charles Comiskey, who had to manage the team, play first base, watch what von der Ahe was doing, and teach the owner how the game worked.

It worked pretty well for a while. The Browns won four stratight Association pennants 1885-1888, and picked up a “World Series” win (or two depending on how you figure forfeits and ties). They fell on hard times at the end of the 1880’s but survived and joined the National League in the fallout of the collapse of the American Association.

Von der Ahe got rich on the deal. He made a vast sum off the Browns and his beer. By charging 25 cents for the cheapest tickets, he managed to keep the stands full. In fact, they overflowed. So von der Ahe built a new, state of the art for the 1880s park. It was big, it was gaudy, there were bands, an amusement park, a water slide, a beer garden (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?) a few cushioned seats, and a larger-than-lifesize statue of von der Ahe at the entrance. That may be my favorite von der Ahe story. Most of us would put a statue of our best player there, but not the head Brown. According to legend he invented the ballpark hot dog at this point as a way to make more money.

Also according to legend, the man never could quite understand the game. With his new park he announced he now had the biggest diamond in the world. Comiskey kept reminding him that all the diamonds were the same size: 90 feet to a side. The outfield might be bigger, the stands larger, but not the diamond. To von der Ahe it was always the biggest diamond in the world.

He tried his hand at managing. Considering how little he understood the game, the results were predictable. He went 3-14 in stints in 1895, ’96, and ’97.

The Statue over Von Der Ahe's grave

By this point his world was coming unglued. The new park was expensive to maintain, the team wasn’t very good, his wife was divorcing him. He went deeper into debt and in 1898 fire gutted part of the ballpark. He was forced to sell the team and ended up tending bar. He lngered into 1913 before dying of cirrhosis. When they buried him, they found the park statue and erected it over his grave. It stands there today, a fitting monument to one of the most fun people who ever found himself associated with baseball.