Posts Tagged ‘John Montgomery Ward’

A Dozen Things You Should Know About John T. Brush

December 27, 2014
John T. Brush

John T. Brush

1. John Tomlinson Brush was born in Clintonville, NY on 15 June 1845.

2. He served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

3. In 1875 he opened a department store in Indianapolis. It’s main item was clothing.

4. In 1887 he became part owner of the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the National League. He wasn’t particularly a baseball fan, but he saw the open spaces on the outfield fences as a way to advertise he store.

5. In 1889 he came up with a plan to categorize players in five categories. Players in the highest category (Class A) would be paid $2500 with players in class B would receive $2250, class C would receive $2000, class D would get $1750 and class E would receive $1500 for a yearly salary. This was supposed to stop high salaries and, because salaries were uniform, stop players from trying to change teams. As a result, John Montgomery Ward formed the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players.

6. In 1890 Brush became part owner of the New York Giants (Indianapolis was dropped  from the NL). In 1891 he became owner of Cincinnati. In Cincinnati he crossed paths with Ban Johnson, a local reporter. The two men hated each other so much that Brush nominated Johnson to head the Western League in 1894 just to get Johnson out-of-town.

7. In 1901 he proposed the NL become the National League Base Ball Trust. The trust would assign players to team, determine umpires and managers, and make all teams be owned by the trust. In the annual league meeting the Trust was defeated (although it gained four votes).

8. In 1902 Brush began running the Giants and in 1903 took over control of the team. Still owner of the Reds and also owner of the Baltimore Orioles of the American League (now the Yankees), he pulled all his good players from the Reds and Orioles and formed the Giants team that would win pennants in 1904, 1905, 1911, and 1912. Among other things, he brought John McGraw to New York. BTW “syndicate baseball” (owning interest in 2 or more teams), was only outlawed in 1910.

9. In 1904 he refused to let his pennant winning Giants play the American League’s Boston team in a second World Series. Ban Johnson was President of the AL and Brush was still angry over the 1890s conflict with Johnson.

10. In 1908 his team ended up on the wrong side of the Merkle Boner game. When NL President Henry Clay Pulliam ruled the game had to be replayed (and NY lost) Brush attacked Pulliam mercilessly. Some sources contend Brush’s attacks were a major factor in Pulliam’s 1909 suicide.

11. In 1912 he was injured in an automobile accident. In November 1912, while on the way to recuperate in California, Brush died on a train while passing through Missouri.

12. He has never received much support for the Hall of Fame.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1910

December 1, 2014

And now for the final installment of My Own Little Hall of Fame for this year. I’m doing this a little different this month. I’ll tell you who I’m adding and why they made it, but I’m saving most of my comments for a later post. I want to spend some time explaining what I’ve learned from this process and how it affects how I’m going to do it next year and the next, which should be the final year as it will take me to about the time the actual Hall opened. Here we go:

Addie Joss

Addie Joss

Adrian “Addie” Joss was a star pitcher for the Cleveland Naps until his untimely death. He led the American League in Earned Run Average twice, in wins once and produced a .623 winning percentage. He also pitched a no-hitter.

Monte Ward

Monte Ward

John Montgomery “Monte” Ward arrived in the as a pitcher. He pitched a no-hitter and led the National League in Earned Run Average as a rookie. The next season he led the league in both wins and strikeouts. Switching to the infield he became a superior shortstop. Later, he served as a manager and executive.

Now the commentary.

1. I was surprised how much Joss was admired in the era. There is almost universally positive press after his death. Much of that is to be expected, but to me it seemed to go deeper than just saying the standard “he was a hail fellow, well met” type of fluff that usually shows up in eulogies (and hopefully my own will have some kind things to say). I decided that the outpouring of good will would have probably gotten him an exemption to the five-year rule and he might have been elected to a 1910 Hall of Fame very easily. He seems to have been not only a quality pitcher, but genuinely admired. I’m not sure, if I were a voter in the period when Joss was elected, I would have voted for him, but Joss is one of those guys that I’m fairly sure would make an early Hall of Fame, but am not so sure he’d get into a later one (remember, it was very late when he made the real Hall).

2. Say, didn’t you forget something about Ward? Something about a union, maybe? Nope. I purposefully left out the Brotherhood. In the stuff I found on Ward there tended to be a great separation between how contemporaries saw him as a ballplayer and how they saw him as a rabble rousing union organizer (and the idea of Ward as a “rabble rouser” is a bit absurd to start with). It’s an age in which labor unions are not well liked (to put it mildly–you should read some of the comments on them), but Ward seems to have found a niche that set the union at a different level from his playing, managing, and executive work. Some of you might remember that he owned the Giants (co-owner), but that was later. Also his Federal League work hadn’t occurred yet. It seems to me that there is a short period of time in which Ward might have been elected to an existing Hall of Fame, after the Brotherhood memory had begun to fade and before he began to have trouble as an owner and assisted in forming the Federal League. I took advantage of that to put in a man who truly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

3. Something interesting I found is that ERA isn’t all that well-known in 1911 and when it is it is frequently spelled out (Earned Run Average) rather than abbreviated (ERA). So I did it that way for this post. My guess is that spelling it out helped explain it to people who’d never heard of it (that’s a guess).

4. I could find nothing referring to a perfect game as a “perfect game.” No hitter” showed up, so I decided to err on the side of caution and use no-hitter for this. I may have missed the first reference, so don’t take it to the bank that “perfect game” didn’t show up until after 1910.

Other comments to follow. These will be more in the nature of a look back at a year of doing this.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Bobby Mathews

May 5, 2014
Bobby Mathews

Bobby Mathews

1. Robert Mathews was born in Baltimore in 1851.

2. In 1869 he became both a professional and the main pitcher for the Marylands of Baltimore, one of the first professional clubs in Maryland.

3. With the forming of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, Mathews joined the Keokuk Westerns in 1871. On 4 May he threw the first pitch in a fully professional league (and to some people’s thinking, the first Major League) game. His team won 2-0 making him the first pitcher to win a game in the National Association.

4. After one season at Keokuk, he joined the Baltimore Canaries as their primary pitcher in 1872, then joined the New York Mutual where he pitched from 1873 through 1875.

5. In the NA he won 131 games, lost 112, gave up 2593 hits in 2221.2 innings, struck out 329 men while walking 196. His ERA was 2.69 with an ERA+ of 107 and a WAR of 39.7 (all stats from Baseball Reference dot-com and WAR is BR.com’s version).

6. He stayed with the Mutual in 1876 when they joined the newly formed National League. With the Mutual being tossed out of the league at the end of 1876, he joined Cincinnati in 1877.

7. In 1878 he pitched for the independent Brooklyn Chelseas until tossed from the team for public drunkenness (a recurring problem for Mathews throughout his career). He was later reinstated.

8. In 1879 he got a chance back in the National League with Providence as the backup pitcher to John Montgomery Ward. Mathews won 12 games and Providence won the pennant by five games. In  1880 he went west to play in the Pacific League (not the Pacific Coast League of later fame). The league folded before the year ended. In this period the NL was not considered, by many players, to be significantly superior to other leagues, some of which paid better. So Mathews’ actions in 1880 were not uncommon.

9. He was back in the National League in 1881 pitching for Providence and later for Boston.

10. With the establishment of the American Association, Mathews jumped to Philadelphia in 1883 where he stayed through 1887, his final season. He helped Philly to the AA pennant in 1883.

11. During the offseason Mathews, with no college education and a serious drinking problem, became an assistant coach for the University of Pennsylvania. Some sources credit him as the first college pitching coach.

12. By 1895 he was working for Joe Start (Providence first baseman in the 1870s and 1880s) at a “roadhouse” near Providence. His drinking was catching up with him and he died in 1898 at age 47.

13. For his career (NA, NL, and AA combined) Mathews won 297 games, lost 248, gave up 5601 hits in 4956 innings. He walked 532, struck out 1528, had an ERA of 2.86, an ERA+ of 104, and a WAR (BR.com version) of 62.2. He’s never gotten a lot of backing for the Hall of Fame. Primarily because he is 60-75 in the National League, 106-61 in the AA, and 131-112 in the NA. The latter two leagues are almost totally forgotten today with MLB not even recognizing the NA as a Major League.

Opening Day, 1914: The Feds

March 21, 2014
Benny Kauff

Benny Kauff

With opening day scheduled for God knows what time in Australia on Saturday, it’s time to look at what the Major League landscape looked like 100 years ago. For the first time since 1890, there were three big leagues: the National League, the American League, and the Federal League. The Feds started their season first (13 April Buffalo at Baltimore), so it seems like a good idea to begin with the upstarts.

The Feds put eight teams in the field in 1914. Many of the players were over-the-hill types like Three-Finger Brown who were hanging on for one last fling. Others like Benny Kauff were new guys trying to make it in the big leagues. Most teams had something of a mixture of both kinds. There were teams in Chicago, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, all well established Major League cities. But the Federal League also ran teams in Indianapolis, Baltimore, Buffalo, and Kansas City, towns that didn’t normally see Major League quality play.

With no previously established rosters, it’s hard to say that any team was favored on opening day 1914. Indianapolis would eventually take the pennant by a game and a half over Chicago with Baltimore and Buffalo rounding out the first division. The Hoosiers won 88 games and featured six of their starting eight position players hitting over .300. The big name was Kauff who led the FL in runs, hits, doubles, stolen bases, batting, OPB OPS and total bases. He also played a decent center field. Bill McKechnie, future Hall of Fame manager, played third and hit .304. He was in the middle of what had been, so far, a mediocre career. Thirty-four year old Cy Falkenberg was the ace, going 25-16 and leading the league in shutouts and strikeouts. But the biggest name to come out of the team was a 21-year-old fourth outfielder with only nine games Major League experience. His name was Edd Roush and he would go on to win National League batting titles, a World Series with the 1919 Cincinnati Reds, and earn a spot in the Hall of Fame in 1962.Despite finishing first Indianapolis had no postseason play as neither the National nor American League acknowledged their existence as a Major League.

Hall of Fame shortstop Joe Tinker, at the end of his career, managed Chicago to second, while Baltimore featured long time pitcher Jack Quinn who, at 30 was still only mid-career. A few other notables did well for the Feds. John Montgomery Ward, long retired from playing and running the Brotherhood union was involved with the Brooklyn team as their business manager. As mentioned, Three-finger Brown split time between Brooklyn and St. Louis going a combined 14-11 and serving for a time as manager in St. Louis. The Terriers (St. Louis) finished dead last but did feature both Fielder Jones, winning manager from the 1906 World Series, as their second manager and 22-year-old Jack Tobin hit .270. He would go on to be one of the stalwarts in the Browns outfield of the 1920s.

In many ways 1914 was a success for the Feds simply because the survived. There was a major overhaul for 1915, champion Indianapolis being dropped for one. That didn’t bode well for the continued existence of the league. Never able to garner first-rate players and having major problems drawing in most of their cities, they hung on for only one more opening day. There have not been three Major Leagues since.

The Tragedy of Dave Orr

December 18, 2012
Dave Orr about 1888

Dave Orr about 1889

Baseball is full of heroic tales; Ruth and his called shot, Gibson’s ninth inning home run, Larsen’s perfect game. It is also full of tragic stories; Clemente’s death, Gehrig’s illness, Addie Joss’ collapse on the field and  subsequent death. Few, short of those leading to death, are more tragic than the tale of Dave Orr.

Orr was born in September 1859 in Richmond Hills, a section of Queens, New York. He got through elementary school then seems to have dropped out of  school to help his dad, a stone cutter. He played baseball locally, and by 1883 had established himself locally as a good hitting player who could pitch a little. He played for a series of Minor League and semi-pro teams and was spotted while playing for Hartford. There is some dispute whether Jim Mutrie (Gothams manager) saw him personally or if he signed Orr on the advice of scout (scouting was much less formal in 1883). Either way, the Gothams (now the Giants) picked up a giant player (for the era). Orr stood 5’11” and weighed  250 pounds. He played first base and was noted, despite his bulk, as a slick fielding first baseman (again for the era).

Orr played one game for the Gothams then was sent to the Metropolitans for the remainder of the season. The same man (John Day) owned both clubs and he frequently raided one team to prop up the other. In 14 games he managed to hit .302 with an OPS+ of 175. It was a harbinger of things to come. From 1884 through 1887 Orr was the regular Metropolitans first baseman. He continued to hit over .300 and led the American Association in hits, triples, total bases, and slugging percentage twice each. He picked up a batting title, and RBI title, and led the AA in OPS+ once. During his stay in New York, the Metropolitans won a pennant in 1884 and participated in the first primitive version of the World Series. Providence beat them three games to none with Orr getting a solo single in nine at bats.

During Orr’s period with the Metropolitans, the Gothams (now the Giants) became the premier New York team and the owner kept raiding the Mets to help the Gothams. With Roger Connor at first, Orr remained with the Mets and even managed eight games (he went 3-5) in late 1887. At the end of the season, the Mets folded. Orr ended up in Brooklyn.

He did well enough in Brooklyn, putting up a .305 average, but nagging injuries held him to 99 games. Feeling they could do better, Brooklyn traded him to Columbus. He hit .327 at Columbus with a .786 OPS. But Orr was one of  a number of players who was tired of being poorly treated by management, being underpaid, and having to face the reserve clause. In 1890 he joined many of the other players in bolting to John Montgomery Ward’s Player’s League. He ended up back in Brooklyn playing for Ward’s team. Orr hit .371, and established a career high with 124 RBIs. Although the Player’s League folded after just the one season, Orr was still much in demand. This is when tragedy struck him.

In October 1890, Dave Orr suffered a massive stroke while playing an exhibition game. He was 31 and his left side was paralyzed. His baseball career was over. He managed to rehabilitate his left side enough that he could walk with some difficulty, but he could not play baseball. He did some umpiring, served as a night watchman, worked with the maintenance crew at Ebbets Field, and was a press box attendant for the Brooklyn Federal League team in 1914. In 1915 his heart gave out. He was 55 and was buried in the Bronx.

For his career, Orr hit .342 (tied with Babe Ruth), had an on base percentage of .366, slugged .502, and had an OPS of .867 (OPS+ of 162). In 791 games he had 536 hits, , 198 doubles, 108 triples, 37 home runs, 637 RBIs, and 1650 total bases. He led the AA in putouts, assists, range factor, and fielding percentage during his time in baseball.

Orr only played eight seasons, so he is ineligible for the Hall of Fame, and what follows is not a plea to put him in, as I’m not sure he belongs. I am concerned that there are certain situations that make it possible to at least consider waiving the 10 year standard for Hall of Fame induction. They’ve already done it for Addie Joss (who only played nine seasons) who died before he could complete 10 years. Had either Clemente or Gehrig died short of 10 seasons would that diminish their contributions so much that they could not enter Cooperstown? It seems to me that in very specific circumstances that the Hall could take the ten-year rule and put it in its pocket. Those circumstances are very few, but surely death, a debilitating disease, a stroke, a war wound, are things that should be considered.

It was a great tragedy that Dave Orr only had eight seasons in the big leagues. Surely had he gotten just a few more, he would be considered a much greater player. As is, he was pretty good.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Tim Keefe

June 6, 2012

Tim Keefe as a Giant

1. Tim Keefe was born New Year’s Day 1857 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the same town as his contemporary rival John Clarkson.

2. His Major League debut was in 1880 at Troy (New York). He pitched in 12 games, won six, and won the ERA title with a record low 0.86 and an ERA+ of 293.

3. When Troy folded after the 1882 season he moved to New York of the American Association where he pitched for two seasons, including the 1884 pennant winning campaign. In the first postseason play between Major League teams, he was 0-2 as his team lost to Providence in three games.

4. Between 1885 and 1889 he played for the New York Giants leading them to a pair of pennants and postseason triumphs in 1888 and 1889. He was 4-1 in the two postseasons.

5. He was the brother-in-law of John Montgomery Ward (they married sisters), head of the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, the first sports union. Keefe supported the Brotherhood and took his services to the Player’s League in 1890.

6. With the folding of the Player’s League in 1891 he went back to the Giants, did poorly and was traded to Philadelphia.

7. He stayed in Philly through 1893 and the transition to a pitching distance of 60′ 6″. At was 36 and with a new set of pitching regulations, he finished 10-7 with a 4.40 ERA and retired at the end of the season.

8. His Triple Crown season was 1888. He went 35-12 (.745 winning percentage), had an ERA of 1.74 (ERA+156), and stuck out 335 men (while walking 90). He also led the National League with eight shutouts. And we should remember that the pitching distance at the time was 50′ and there was no mound.

9. For his career he was 342-225 with an ERA of 2.63 (ERA+126). He had 2564 strikeouts, 1233 walks, gave up 4438 hits, and 1474 earned runs in 5050 innings pitched. At his retirement the 342 wins was second only to Pud Galvin.

10. He is  credited with inventing the change-up in 1883. I’m not sure that’s true because it implies no one changed speeds prior to 1883. My guess is he figured out how to throw both his fastball and a slower pitch with the same arm motion. That’s strictly a guess.

11. After retirement he umped a little then coached at Harvard, at Princeton, and at Tufts University.

12. He died in 1933 in Cambridge and is buried in the same cemetery as Clarkson.

13. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964, 31 years after his death.

John K. Tener: Pitcher, Governor and League President

March 28, 2010

John Kinley Tener's baseball card

Horatio Alger has come under fire in the last century or so. His stories of ragamuffin boys rising to greatness were never really true. Oh, it did happen, but not as frequently as Alger’s strories implied. One of the men it happened to was John Kinley Tener.

Tener was born in Ireland in 1863. His widowed mother brought the family to the US. She died the same year leaving Tener an orphan. He managed to complete his schooling and started work in a steel factory in Pittsburgh, where he played for the local ball team. He spent the years 1885-1888 pitching for semi-pro and local teams. He was good enough to come to the attention of Chicago manager Cap Anson. He played for the second place White Stockings, going 11-7 with more strikeouts than walks and an ERA of 2.74 in 12 games. The season ended with a world tour to promote baseball. Tener went along, was chosen the team treasurer, and came to the attention of John Montgomery Ward. Ward made him Secretary of the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players and he followed the union to the Player’s League in 1890. He left baseball following the collapse of the Brotherhood’s league with a record of 25-31 and 174 strikeouts in 506 innings.

Governor John Kenley Tener

He tried banking and was successful. He became a major civic leader, serving on the board of a bridging company and a railway line. In 1908 he ran for election as a Republican to the US House of Representatives from the 24th Congressional District of Pennsylvania. He ousted seven term congressman Ernest F. Acheson. In Washington his chief claim to fame was the creation of the Congressional baseball game which is still held. In 1911 he was elected Governor of Pennsylvania with 42% of the vote (there were three candidates), becoming the first Governor of Pennsylvania born outside the US since the 18th Century.

As Governor, Tener was a mild Progressive, supporting road improvement, regulation of public utilities, and public school reform. He set up an old age pension program for widows, one of the first in the nation. This made him popular and somewhat polarizing. In 1913, baseball came calling again.

The National League was having severe problems in the middle of the decade. The American League was outstripping them in both attendance and in playing skill. Much of the problem was supposed to be a lack of firm leadership at the top. In 1913 the league moguls decided not to renew the term of league President (Thomas Lynch). They offered the job to Tener. He accepted, but refused to take salary ($25,000 per year) while also receiving his salary as Governor of Pennsylvania. He held both jobs until April, 1915.

As NL President, Tener had to face the growing clout of the AL and the 1914 challenge of the newly formed Federal League. He did better against the Feds than against the AL. He attacked the Feds at every opportunity, and was instrumental in pushing through the settlement that led to the collapse of the new league in 1915. He vigorously opposed gambling and issued stringent rules againt umpire-baiting by players and managers. This led inevitably to a confrontation with Giants manager John J. McGraw. In June 1917 he suspended McGraw for striking an umpire. McGraw drew a 16 day suspension and a $500 fine. McGraw, being McGraw, told anyone who would listen, including the newspapers, what he thought of Tener and where Tener and all his relations could go. Tener responded by upping the fine to $1500 (this is more or less equivalent to Judge Landis suspending Babe Ruth in the 1920s).  That helped him get a one year contract extension as NL President. He served the year and retired in 1918, one year before the Black Sox scandal occurred and two years before it exploded into the headlines. His worries about gambling seemed to be true.

In retirement he returned to his business interests, ran again for Governor of Pennsylvania (he lost, coming in third), and ultimately becoming a director of the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1930s. He died in 1946, aged 82.

Tener led an interesting and involved life. He moves from baseball to banking to politics and back to baseball with ease. His Horatio Alger story is true. But more importantly,  as far as I can tell he’s the only state Governor to have a baseball card (an 1880s cigarette card). Now that’s worth celebrating.

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.