Above is presented an excellent likeness of the new president of the famous St. Louis Club, Mr. Benjamin S. Muckenfuss. Mr. Muckenfuss is German by birth, of a distinguished family and a graduate of Heidelberg, the most famous university in the world. He is therefore in every sense of the word a gentleman and scholar. Between Mr. Muckenfuss and Mr. Von der Ahe there exists the closest bond of sympathy and friendship. When Mr. Muckenfuss came to this country to seek fame and fortune he fell upon evil days, but fortunately for him he found in Mr. Von der Ahe a steadfast benefactor and friend, who placed the struggling and aspiring youth upon his feet and kept him there. In 1893, Mr. Von der Ahe gave Mr. Muckenfuss a minor position with the St. Louis Club. A year later he appointed the young man secretary-treasurer of the corporation, and to-day he is the president of one of the famous institutions of the country. Mr. Muckenfuss on his part has rewarded Mr. Von der Ahe's interest and friendship with unswerving loyalty and steadfast devotion, even in the darkest days of the period of adversity that has overshadowed the unfortunate St. Louis magnate of recent years. When under the stress of the financial storm Mr. Von der Ahe's fair-weather friends fell away from him by the score Mr. Muckenfuss clung steadily to the sinking ship, until only he and the "boss president" were left to steer it into calmer waters, which they now bid fair to succeed in doing. For the sterling quality of loyalty alone Mr. Muckenfuss deserves the consideration of the base ball public. But apart from that he is entitled to a fair chance of success in his new field as a League magnate. He is young (being but 35 years of age), energetic, honest, intelligent and hopeful. He has a fine knowledge, theoretically, of the national game, and the public will watch with interest his effort to lift the St. Louis Club out of the slough of despond. He is also fairly well versed in League politics, having represented the St. Louis Club at the Philadelphia meeting and made a very favorable impression upon the magnates. Altogether Mr Muckenfuss has a great opportunity before him to distinguish himself in a new field, and we have not the slightest doubt, knowing the man as we do, that he will improve it to the utmost.
-Sporting Life, February 26, 1898
That is, indeed, a most excellent likeness of Benjamin Muckenfuss and a nice write-up accompanying it in Sporting Life. The shame of the whole thing, of course, is that Muckenfuss would spend his entire, short career as a baseball magnate dealing with the St. Louis Muddle and the collapse of Von der Ahe's baseball empire. Having been with the club for several years, he must have known what he was getting himself into but it's still a shame.
President Von der Ahe's condition has aroused the sympathy of his fellow magnates of the National League and American Association, and the wires have been kept busy during the past few days for the purpose of raising a sufficient amount of money to get the St. Louis man out of his troubles at Pittsburg. Frank De Haas Robinson, president of the Cleveland Club, was the first of the magnates to take an interest in the matter, and President Freedman, of the New Yorks, quickly fell into line. Mr. Freedman says that the New York Club would pay its pro rata share in raising money - between $4,000 and $5,000 - towards liquidating Von der Ahe's debt. Mr. Freedman said his club would provide its share, either in the way of a loan to the St. Louis man or would donate it outright, which ever the major league agreed upon. It is therefore evident that, if the other ten clubs show the same willingness to assist a member in distress as the New York Club, Von der Ahe will soon be free of his Pittsburg trouble. As we go to press we have received word that President Brush, of the Cincinnati Club, and other magnates have decided to relieve Mr. Von der Ahe from his present dilemma.
Not much new here but I do like the phrase "forcible detention and abduction" to describe what happened to Von der Ahe. Much more accurate than "kidnapping."
The hearing in the habeas corpus proceedings was held Feb. 9 by Judge Buffington, of the United States District Court. Mr. Ferguson, Von der Ahe's attorney, showed by his client's testimony that the abduction had been forcible, and that Von der Ahe had not been permitted to see his attorney at St. Louis. The attorney for W.A. Nimick, Von der Ahe's bondsman in the Mark Baldwin suit, cited several Supreme Court decisions to show that a bondsman has the right to go into any State and take therefrom the defendant without a requistition.
How many victims of kidnapping do you know who were ordered, by a court, to pay the expenses of their kidnappers? Again, we have to say that "kidnapping" is simply not the proper word for what happened here. I'm personally fond of the phrase "forcibly abducted" to describe this incident.
And one has to say that the court decided that this was not a kidnapping. According to the legal dictionary at Free Dictionary.com, kidnapping "occurs when a person, without lawful authority, physicall asports (i.e., moves) another person without that other person's consent, with the intent to use the abduction in connection with some other nefarious objective." The court decided that Nimick's detectives had the legal authority to remove Von der Ahe from St. Louis to Pittsburgh. So, not a kidnapping.
Circuit Attorney Eggers has looked up the law on the matter, and to-day [February 9] declared the abduction of Chris Von der Ahe, the base ball magnate, by a Pittsburg detective a high-handed outrage. He announced his intention of issuing warrants for every person concerned in it as soon as he can find out who personally saw Von der Ahe forcibly taken from the St. Nicholas Hotel and carried out of the State. As soon as the warrants are made out application will be made to Governor Stephens for a requisition on the Governor of Pennsylvania for the return of the kidnappers to Missouri.
I guess it speaks to Von der Ahe's stature that his troubles would get the Circuit Attorney in St. Louis and the Governor of Missouri involved. Also, the last paragraph above, regarding Von der Ahe's divorce, just speaks to the cumulation of difficulties that Von der Ahe faced. And things were only going to get worse for him as 1898 went along. It was a tough year for the guy.
Chris. Von der Ahe was allowed $150 by Judge Spencer Saturday morning for his services as trustee of the St. Louis Club. This was all that Chris. gets out of the wreck of his once profitable base ball property. Before Von der Ahe's claim was allowed he made a hot fight through his attorney, William Kinnerk, against the acceptance and final approval of Receiver Muckenfuss' report. Judge Spencer in conclusion spoke sharply for the first time during the entire litigation to Mr. Von der Ahe's attorney, stating that his objections had no weight. The receiver's report was approved and the Court ordered his discharge. Muckenfuss was allowed the sum of $1404.83 in addition to what he has heretofore been paid for his services as receiver.
Think for a moment about Chris Von der Ahe in October of 1886. He was on top of the world. His club had just won the World's Series against the hated Chicago White Stockings and he was rolling in the money. Everything was perfect and Von der Ahe, the German immigrant who came to the United States with nothing, was the toast of St. Louis. He was a major player and power-broker on the national baseball scene. His voice was heard and his utterances had weight. He was flush with cash and had more women than he knew what to do with. Chris Von der Ahe was living the American Dream in the Gilded Age.
A little more than a decade later, all he had was $150. And I image that his lawyer took that.
When the League met late in the day…St. Louis had no delegate and no proxy, and here is where another piece of political strategy came into play. Mr. Muckenfuss was absent but Mr. Becker was in attendance. The latter, however, did not enter the meeting, as he claimed he had no right to do so, not being an officer of the club, although it subsequently developed that he might have entered had he been disposed to do so by virtue of authority delegated by Muckenfuss. In the position assumed by Mr. Becker, St. Louis was left without anyone to offer resignation, as had been the supposed programme and this apparently made expulsion necessary, if the St. Louis muddle were to be settled then and there.
This was really the end of the line. Von der Ahe's fall was complete, as the League expelled the Browns and admitted the new St. Louis club.
One thing I've been thinking about and want to point out is that the St. Louis Cardinals date their existence to 1892, when the Browns joined the National League. Now, I've always said how stupid that was because they were dismissing a decade of the club's history, including four championships. Their reasoning, I believe, comes down to marketing and the difficulty of quickly explaining the American Association to your average baseball fan. It's easier to just print "1892" on a t-shirt than to explain the complexities of baseball in the 1880s.
However, if we want to be really honest about this, we should date the founding of the Cardinals to 1899, when the Browns were expelled from the League and a new St. Louis franchise was created. Von der Ahe's Browns ceased to exist after the 1898 season and were replaced by the Robisons/Becker Perfectos, who changed their name to the Cardinals after one season. But try fitting that on a t-shirt. Given that I've just spent a couple of months explaining the whole thing to myself, I could only imagine Mike Shannon trying to explain it to Cardinal Nation. Good luck with that.
We really are just about done with this and I'm going to try and wrap it all up soon. We're pretty much at the point where the club gets sold, the League creates a new St. Louis franchise and Von der Ahe is finally and completely out of baseball. But before I get to that, I want to take a step back and post some stuff I found in my notes the other day. This is really just a big information dump to make sure we obsessively cover all aspects of the subject.
President Von der Ahe, of the St. Louis Base Ball Club, last week elected his Board of Directors. Of course, the stock holders went through the form of an election, but as Mr. Chris Von der Ahe owns about seven-eighths of the stock the election was merely a matter of courtesy. Anyhow the following directors were elected for the ensuing year or rather as long as they do what is right with the great base ball interests of Mr. Von der Ahe: Chris Von der Ahe, J.W. Peckington, Charles Higgins, Benjamin Steward Muckenfuss and Edward Becker...
I can't remember if I posted this article from Sporting Life or not so I'm making sure I include it in this little series. This is an important piece because it gives a good look at the VdA's financial situation prior to the 1897 season and before things completely fell apart in 1898.
Things to note:
- Von der Ahe still had complete control of the Browns going into the 1897 season, controlling "seven-eights of the stock" and Edward Becker was already on board as a minority stockholder.
-The Browns were a profitable organization from a baseball perspective. The financial difficulties that pushed the team into receivership were a result of outside economic interests rather than a failure of the Browns to make money. Now this may have changed going forward and the club almost certainly lost money in 1897 and 1898. The lack of a positive cash flow from the ball club in those years exacerbated VdA's financial problems but I think we can state that the club's financial situation was not VdA's biggest problem.
-Based on the information from the Republic, it looks like Von der Ahe over-expanded between 1892 and 1896 (the new ballpark, the racetrack, etc) and was unable to generate enough cash flow to cover the debt that he took on in that expansion. In January of 1898, the total liabilities of the club would be listed as $58,718 and most of that was what was owed on the ballpark bonds and money lent to the club by Becker in an attempt to keep Von der Ahe afloat. A total debt of $127,000 was listed for the corporation itself and that included the investments in the racetrack and the chutes as well as the debts of the club. If my math is correct (and assuming the chutes brought in another $10,000 in 1897), the investments in the ballpark, the racetrack, and the chutes alone were responsible for more than seventy percent of the debt of the SPCA. Becker's loans to the club (which were a direct result of Von der Ahe's over-expansion) amounted to about ten percent of the debt.
As The Sporting News goes to press, the stockholders of Sportsman's Park and Club are holding their annual meeting for the election of five directors, puruant to a warrant issued by Justice of the Peace Henry S. Harmon, at the request of E.C. Becker and B.S. Muckenfuss, two of the stockholders. The majority of the stock is held and will be voted by Mr. E.C. Becker, who acquired it from Chris Von der Ahe to secure advances. Neither Chris or any of his retainers will be elected to the Board and thus Von der Ahe will be without any claim to recognition from the League, should he attempt to represent the local club at the meeting.
Again, I can't remember if I posted this little squib but I'm putting it here because I want to compare and contrast the stock situation in January 1897 to that in February 1899. In two years, VdA went from holding almost all of the stock of the SPCA to being, at best, a minority shareholder. Also, compare this to yesterday's post, where VdA stated that it couldn't be proved that he didn't hold the majority of stock in the SPCA.
I want to say that there is no doubt that Becker was the majority shareholder but I'm not certain. He may have been the largest shareholder but I don't think he owned a majority of the stock. If he did, why didn't he just boot VdA out and why was he trying to purchase the club in the summer of 1898? If Becker was the majority shareholder in 1898, he, rather than VdA, owned the club. It doesn't add up. I think that VdA still owned a large number of shares in the SPCA and had enough friends and supporters among the other shareholders to have majority control.
That explains a lot about what was going on between VdA, Becker and Muckenfuss. VdA had lost clear-cut, majority control of the organization and Becker, by 1898, was the largest shareholder. VdA, however, still controlled the organization through the shares that he owned and those of his supporters. Muckenfuss' authority originally came from VdA, who had him named president of the SPCA, and then from the courts but he had no real authority because he didn't own the club.
The Major League magnates have arrived (in Baltimore) and will begin their spring session at the Hotel Rennert at noon to-day. Rumors of a sensational order are flying thick and fast. They involve the transfer of the Cleveland Club to St. Louis and the location of the Browns in that city...Von der Ahe, who arrived this morning, is accompanied by Mr. E.C. Becker, a St. Louis capitalist, who is regarded as Chris' "Angel." It is said that he has already secured 25 per cent of the Browns' stock and is here to protect his holdings in case Robison makes a deal for the Browns.
This is noteworthy because TSN is stating that the VdA and the Browns were in trouble after the 1896 season, which is probably the earliest mention of the situation that I have. Also, they give us a number for the amount of stock that Becker owned going into the 1897 season. As the situation got worse, VdA sold Becker more of his stock and borrowed more money from him, with even more stock used as security. Eventually it got so bad that VdA had to promise Becker all of the gate money in exchange for a loan to pay the players.
Late Wednesday afternoon Sportsman's Park and Club filed a chattel deed of trust securing liabilities in excess of $108,000. Chris Von der Ahe is named as trustee. He is also a preferred creditor in the aggregate of $91,000. Thirty other creditors are named with claims ranging from $100 to $3,075. The largest sum is due to the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company.
The situation had deteriorated badly between January 1897 and January 1898.
There are two different sets of numbers in the article. The first comes from the "chattel deed of trust" establishing Von der Ahe as the club's primary creditor. The second set of numbers come from "the Muckenfuss statement." These numbers came out of "recent" negotiations between Von der Ahe and an Indianapolis syndicate regarding the potential sale of the Browns. During the negotiations, Muckenfuss "submitted to (the syndicate) an itemized statement of the club's indebtedness..."
Von der Ahe elected himself president of the Sportsman's Park and Club last Thursday afternoon, and also selected a Board of Directors to his liking. Under a decree of the Courts a meeting of stockholders was held for the purpose of electing officers. Chris and his friends were there in force, and when the meeting organized Chris was elected chariman and appointed tellers. He presented 1678 shares of stock, which with others he controlled made 1716.
This was a meaningless victory for Von der Ahe. So he got himself elected president of a bankrupt organization whose assets were about to be sold at public auction. And on top of that, the election was most likely not legal. You have to give the man credit - he fought to the end to keep control of his club. There was no quit in Chris Von der Ahe.
In VdA's eyes, this was an important win. He believed, as per the League constitution, that the St. Louis franchise could not be transferred by sale. Therefore, if the SPCA was the rightful franchise holder and VdA was the head of the SPCA, he would have legal control of the franchise rights, regardless of the public sale of the SPCA's property.
His real fight, at this point, was with the League, which was determined to dissolve the St. Louis franchise and reconstitute it under the ownership of Robison, et al. He probably believed that he could go the League meeting and convince a majority of the owners to vote against dissolving the franchise, allowing him to soldier on in some form or another. But Von der Ahe, of course, was sadly mistaken about that.
The situation in St. Louis remains unchanged, except that during the past week Receiver Muckenfuss took steps to repair a serious oversight. When he was deposed - illegally, he claims - by Mr. Von der Ahe from the Sportsman's Park and Club presidency, he neglected to call a meeting of the stockholders, in order to secure a legal president for the bankrupt club. This has been done now, with a view to supplanting Mr. Von der Ahe entirely and leaving him no chance to come in officially at any stage of the final settlement, both with creditors and National League. The controversy over the title to League membership of the corporation which is to be disposed of at public sale March 17, by order of the court, still rages, not only in St. Louis, but to some extent all over the circuit. Varying opinions have been given, colored, of course, to suit the purposes and plans, hopes and fears of the various deliverers.
Mr. Von der Ahe's latest retaliatory move against Receiver Muckenfuss has been the bringing of a suit against Muckenfuss in Justice Harmon's court for the possession of the residence at 3613 St. Louis ave., and for $150, alleged due on a note. This may cause both the parties interested more or less trouble. The note is dated October 21, 1898, signed by B.S. Muckenfuss, who promises to pay Moffitt & Franciscus $150 for five months' rent on the property at 3613 St. Louis avenue. Both Von der Ahe and Muckenfuss are making admissions that may cause them some trouble in court. Muckenfuss said that he gave Von der Ahe the bar and lunch privileges at Sportsman's Park, despite the fact that the Court gave him orders to get $100 a month for the same. When he goes to make his report to the Court as receiver he may be called upon to explain his action in disobeying the Court's orders.
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