The action of the League in expelling the Sportsman’s Park and Club from the association and recognizing the new organization formed by Robison and Becker has aroused the greatest enthusiasm (in St. Louis) and the fans already see the pennant flying from the flagstaff at the ball grounds. The deal means the transfer to this city of the Cleveland Club in its entirety.
The new Browns will have Tebeau on first base, Childs at second, Cross at third and Wallace at short. The outfielders will be Burkett, Griffin, and Stenzel. O’Connor, Criger, Schrecongost and Clements will be the catchers and the pitching staff will consist of Young, Cuppy, Powell, Wilson, Bates, Jones and Hughey. Ed McKean will remain with the Cleveland team. So will Zimmer and Blake. The other St. Louis players, including Hill, Carsey, Sudhoff, Stivetts, Sugden, Tucker, Quinn, Harley, and Dowd will be transferred to the Forest City to fill the other places. Stanley Robison will be the president of the Cleveland Club.
It was leaked out that the new St. Louis Club was organized about a week ago when the following officers were elected: President Frank de Haas Robison, of Cleveland; vice president Edward C. Becker; Stanley Robison; secretary William Schofield. Mr. Becker will have no interest in the Cleveland Club. He is satisfied with his holdings in the local club, which are exactly equal with Robison. The statement already made that Mr. Robison holds a slight excess of stock, just enough to give him control, is not correct. Mr. Becker and Mr. Robison hold share and share alike in the new corporation…
Chris Von der Ahe does not propose to give up the fight for the possession of the Browns franchise. The publication on Sunday of the Rogers-Muckenfuss letter has convinced the boss that he is the victim of a conspiracy and he proposes to have the sale of the Sportsman’s Park and Club set aside, if possible. To-day he filed his notice of an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court from the decision of Judge Spencer ordering the property sold to satisfy the creditors. Under this decree the property was sold, then later transferred to E.C. Becker, who in turn took into partnership Frank Robison, thus, it is said, confirming all that was admitted in the Rogers letter…
-Sporting Life, April 1, 1899
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.
The St. Louis muddle has at last been settled and settled just as Sporting Life, with its usual perspicuity and inside knowledge, said it would be settled. Mr. E.C. Becker purchased from the creditors syndicate the franchise and other property of the club. The consideration is not named but from the fact that Frank R. Tate, representing a local syndicate, offered $35,000 cash and agreed to pay the league dues…the price is thought to be about $40,000.
Well, the muddle wasn't completely settled. There was still a little matter of the official franchise rights to be dealt with but the League would take care of that.
One thing that I don't think I've really mentioned in all of this is the question of franchise rights. The reason for that is that the idea of a baseball franchise as a piece of property still didn't really exist in 1899. You could see that in the League constitution, which stated that franchise rights couldn't be sold. Franchise rights were something more along the lines of membership in the League, rather than something real that was owned.
VdA, I think, was trying to argue that the St. Louis League franchise was something that he owned, separate from the property of the SPCA. Nobody bought that argument. One of the reasons for this was that franchise rights was not something you owned but, rather, it was something granted to you. It was something given. It was something temporal and ephemeral.
I think a good area of study would be the development of the modern idea of franchise rights. I'm not the guy to do that but somebody should get on it. The Von der Ahe situation would certainly be something that would merit a look when trying to trace the development of all of that.
St. Louis, March 14.-Under the foreclosure of a deed of trust, Sheriff Pohlmann sold at public auction to-day the Sportsman's Park and Club, including the franchise held by the St. Louis Browns, to G.A. Gruner, one of the Directors of the club, for $33,000. Mr. Gruner is Treasurer of the Phil Gruner & Brother Lumber Company. After the sale he said: "I bought the property for the creditors and bondholders." Ramell & Muerch, attorneys for the bondholders, said: "This is a bona fide purchase of the property by the creditors who will probably run the club themselves."
St. Louis, March 17.-Edward C. Becker, a capitalist of this city, has purchased the St. Louis Browns from the creditors who bought the club's assets last Tuesday at Sheriff's sale.
Now that we reached the point where the club was sold at a public auction, it feels kind of anticlimactic. Regardless, it should be noted that the St. Louis Browns were owned, for a day or two, by Gustave A. Gruner.
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.
One of the lawyers for the Mississippi Valley Trust Company said: "The franchise of the Sportsman's Park and Club will probably be sold early in March at the Court House door to the highest bidder. Von der Ahe's attorneys will likely move for a new trial, and the motion will probably be passed upon Feb. 2. Then there will have to be the thirty days' notice given before the sale can be made, which will make it occur about March 4 or 5. I don't think my clients will be offered anything for their judgement. Who the purchaser of the club will be I have no idea.
The prediction is marked and noted to have been wrong.
When Mr. Von der Ahe's cross-examination in the St. Louis case before Judge Spencer on Jan. 18 was concluded, J.P. Reichers, the architect, was the first witness sworn in rebuttal. His testimony was to the effect that Von der Ahe had told him the bonds covered the base ball franchise, which was worth $100,000, and that their value was far in excess of the amount they called for. Charles P. Reichers, the junior member of the firm, said that after his firm had built the stands and fences at Sportsman's Park, they presented their bill to Von der Ahe for payment, but were unable to get a settlement. The plans and specifications, he said, were in the name of Sportsman's Park and Club.
Becker's testimony here is really interesting and contains excellent information about the club's inability to pay the players in the summer of 1898. But, nerd that I am, I was most excited by the fact that the article names J.P. Riecher & Son as architects of New Sportsman's Park. I actually have that information in an earlier post about the hearing but missed the significance of it.
Chris Von der Ahe recited his base ball valedictory in Judge Spencer's court [on January 19.] For two hours he occupied the witness stand and explained his complicated role of president of the St. Louis Base Ball Association, owner of the St. Louis Club League franchise, and president of Sportsman's Park and club, which operated the club. Al Spink was the first witness called and testified to the organization of the St. Louis Base Ball Association, by his brother, James Pennoyer and himself. He conducted the Browns during the summer of 1881 and then transferred their interest to Von der Ahe.
I'm not willing to call it perjury but there was a bit of revisionism in both Spink and VdA's testimony, especially with regards to how VdA got control of the StLBBA and how the AA was founded. Having said that, Spink and VdA were both correct in that, in 1881, there was a distinction between the StLBBA, which ran the club, and the SPCA, which ran the ballpark. The former was run by the Spink brothers and the latter by Von der Ahe. But, of course, VdA seized control of the club late in the 1881 season and, at that point, it became a distinction without a difference.
The case was called Friday morning and Mr. Von der Ahe's counsel asked for a continuance on the ground that President Nick Young, of the National League, had evaded giving a deposition, with which they expected to prove many of Mr. Von der Ahe's contentions. Judge Spencer, however, refused the request, setting the case for trial at 2 P.M., with the assurance that if Mr. Young's testimony should prove to be essential it can be secured later. Receiver Muckenfuss was the only witness called Thursday, and was on the stand all afternoon. He went into the history of the affairs of Sportsman's Park and Club, telling how it finally reached a stage of bankruptcy, and how Chris Von der Ahe was appointed trustee. He told the history of his subsequent appointment to the receivership, a condition in which Mr. Von der Ahe apparently acquiesced for some time before the action was set on foot to have him ousted.
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.