The heavy eight ton roller was used all day yesterday on Sportsman's Park. The diamond is now as level as a table. Superintendent Solari has the base lines in fine condition. They will be covered with tarpaulins in wet weather, as will also the battery and batters' squares. The new growth of grass came up very quickly and the grounds are looking in their handsomest form.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 30, 1884
I thought this was a rather unique look at the kind of things that August Solari did to get his field in shape for baseball. The infield tarp, according to best evidence, was an invention that Solari came up with for the 1884 season.
The game of base ball advertised to take place yesterday afternoon, at the Grand Avenue park, between the Chicago White Stockings and Philadelphias, did not come off, as neither club put in its appearance. At least twenty thousand people visited the grounds, thinking that they would enjoy a treat, but they were doomed to be disappointed. As to who is to blame, our reporter gained the following from a reliable source: Mr. Williams, secretary of the reds of this city, has been correspounding with the Chicagos for some time, in regard to getting up a game, and at last succeeded so far that he turned the game over to Mr. Solari of the Grand Avenue park, thinking it would be an advantage to the club in drawing a large crowd, on account of its proximity to the Fair grounds. Then Mr. Thos. Bryan, corresponding secretary of the Empires, received from the Philadelphia club, October 1st, a communication stating that the Chicagos and Philadelphias would play a game in this city on October 8th, and that the Philadelphias, after playing a return game in Chicago, would come back and play two games on Sunday, the 11th of October, one in the morning with the Nationals, if so arranged, and the other with the Empires in the afternoon. Mr. Bryan answered the telegram, and told them to come on, as all the arrangements were being made, and the games were advertised. Then came Mr. Williams on the morning of October 8th, the day the game was to come off, and told Mr. Solari of the park that he had received a dispatch from Chicago, signed jointly by the managers of the Chicago and Philadelphia clubs, that it would not be possible for them to play in St. Louis, and that they would write and give the cause. Lastly a dispatch was received at 3:10 P.M., yesterday, by Mr. Solari, signed Jim Woods, stating the Philadlephias refused to play in St. Louis.
What's of interest here is the fact that this game was being advertised as the first game played in St. Louis between two professional clubs and it certainly would have been the first game played between two openly professional teams. Also, the reason given for moving the game from the Compton Avenue Grounds to the Grand Avenue Grounds is interesting and it's the first contemporary reference I've ever seen suggesting why the Grand Avenue Grounds was considered a better park than the Compton Avenue Grounds.
Regardless, it's kind of odd that this game wasn't played. Chicago played a lot of games in St. Louis in 1874 and it's kind of surprising that they weren't able to get Philadelphia to go along with playing it. There's probably something else going on here that we don't know because the reason given for not playing the game is not very satisfying.
The game played last Sunday between the Resolute and St. Louis Base Ball Clubs, for a silver ball, offered by Mr. Solari, of St. Louis Base Ball Park, was won by the Resolutes. Score, 33 to 22.
It's great to find some information about baseball in St. Louis in 1868 that doesn't involve the Unions or the Empires. Baseball in the city at this time was more than just those two clubs or just the clubs that were members of the state association. I understand that those were the big clubs, they played the big games, drew the big crowds, and it was natural to focus coverage on them. But I love to find stuff about the smaller clubs because it gives us a fuller picture of what was happening in St. Louis during the period. The game was popular and there were clubs like the Stonewalls and the Adventures playing all of the time. Their games just generally weren't covered during this period and that's kind of a shame.
A breeze is said to have been stirred up in base ball circles because the officers of the Brown Stocking Club desire to manage that organization in their own way. Some interested individual has seen fit to furnish a one-sided version of the affair to the press. It is claimed that the Brown Stocking Club gets half of the gate receipts, and that the St. Louis Sportsman’s Club gets nothing for the use of its grounds. Such is far from being the case. The association gets 10 per cent of the gross receipts, the proceeds from the sale of reserved seats, the profits for refreshments and the income from all other privileges. The team which, by its superb play throughout the season, has earned the liberal patronage of the public, never cost the association a cent. The boys were solicited to play at the park at the beginning of the season, and a complete outfit, uniforms, etc., for the players was offered as an inducement. The Brown stockings are under no compliment to any organization nor do they propose to be. They have put a small fortune into the treasury of the association alluded to, and are not indebted to it or any one, except a generous public, in the slightest. The President of the Brown Stocking organization stated last night that no complaints had been brought to his notice, and added that if any dissatisfaction existed the club was ready to sever its connection with the park at once. He also stated that the unprecedented base ball boom was due to the brilliant and reliable work of the home team on all occasions, and that the slurs cast at the playing of the Browns were entirely undeserved. The fact that they had lost but one Sunday game this year was because they are enabled to present their full team on that day, while it is a difficult matter to do so at other times. If any complaint has been made it is because the team has been a much greater success than was anticipated when the season opened. It is certainly entitled to all that it has earned, and lovers of the game, with fair play in view, will undoubtedly look at the question in that light.
Before we get into all the juicy details of this article, I want to remind you of the timeline of events:
So...things were happening and the restoration of major league baseball in St. Louis was nigh. Von der Ahe was in negotiations to place a St. Louis club in a new major league but the only problem was that he didn't have a club. My interpretation of all of these events is that Von der Ahe was attempting to get control of the Brown Stockings in order to place them in the new league and had begun to do this as early as August 24, 1881, at the player's meeting which was held at his saloon.
At this point, you have to remember that there are two entities: the St. Louis Base Ball Association - which was the club itself - and the Sportsman's Park and Club Association - which controlled and operated the ballpark. Von der Ahe, at the end of the 1881 season, would buy out his partners in the SPCA and have sole control of the ballpark. In this article, we are seeing a fight between the StLBBA and Von der Ahe's SPCA coming to light. It was a fight for control of the suddenly lucrative St. Louis baseball market. This fight would end with Von der Ahe having control of not only the ballpark but also of the best baseball club in the city, which he would then place in a new major league.
Von der Ahe had a vision for the St. Louis baseball market and saw a way forward to achieve that vision. I think it's really interesting that this article begins by stating that the directors of the Brown Stockings wanted to manage their club in their own way. That statement assumes that there is someone outside of the directorate attempting to control things. That someone was obviously Von der Ahe, who was, it appears, at loggerheads with the club directors over the future operation of the club. The article presents the argument as a fight over the division of money and I have no doubt that this was an issue. However, I don't believe that it was the paramount issue. The most important issue were the future direction of the club, returning major league baseball to St. Louis, and who would run this new St. Louis major league baseball club.
Of course money was an issue and I think it's obvious that Von der Ahe recognized the lucrative nature of the St. Louis baseball market. I also believe that he was attempting to gain sole control over club and ballpark in order to profit from that control. But this article leaves open the possibility that Von der Ahe was willing to go forward with the AA project and the restoration of major league baseball in St. Louis with the StLBBA as partners, if they were willing to increase the share of profits going to the SPCA. I think this article shows that if there had been negotiations to that effect, they had gone poorly. And that was very shortsighted on the part of the club directors. VdA had the upper hand in this situation. He had the best ballpark in the city. He was the one involved in the formation of the AA. He just needed a club and, obviously, he wanted the Brown Stockings. If the StLBBA and the SPCA had been able to come to an agreement over profit-sharing, the history of St. Louis baseball would have been rather different. But that didn't happen.
But what did happen? How did Von der Ahe end up with both club and park? I believe that VdA had been talking to the players as early as the end of August about forming a new club, under his control and playing at his ballpark. He had friends among the players and I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that he and Cuthbert had more than a few conversations about this. I absolutely believe that VdA had Cuthbert on his side and that made everything which happened a lot easier. I also believe that VdA attempted to negotiate with the StLBBA. I doubt that Von der Ahe's offer was particularly palatable to men like Augustus Solari and Al Spink as I have to think the offer included most of the profit and control going to VdA. But I do believe that these guys talked about all of this. Solari had been involved in St. Louis baseball for a long time and he and Spink had, in many ways, saved baseball in St. Louis. They had been through some rather difficult times and now, with the market improving and good times on the horizon, here comes VdA to steal everything that they had worked towards. I completely understand why they would have rejected any overture from Von der Ahe that took control of the club away from them. But, as I said earlier, VdA was holding pretty much all of the cards. He had the ballpark and an invitation into a new major league. He could get players anywhere. There was no way Von der Ahe was just going to give this slot in the AA to the StLBBA without getting something in return. He wanted substantially more money and probably wanted control of the club. If he didn't get it, he would get another club.
So at this point, VdA probably already has plans to buy out his partners in the SPCA. He's getting ready to go to Pittsburgh to form a new major league. It looks like he was unable to reach a new agreement with the StLBAA to gain control of the Brown Stockings but he had already made inroads to the Brown Stockings' players. Von der Ahe was going to have his baseball club, one way or another. And next week, we'll see how he got it.
Welcome to This Game Of Games, a website dedicated to telling the story of 19th century, St. Louis baseball.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.