By April of 1877, Thomas McNeary was finished with baseball and announced that his club, the Red Stockings, would not take the field for the upcoming season.i The reason that he was quitting the game and folding his club was that the new, emerging structure of professional baseball, which had been taking shape over the last several years, made it impossible for the Reds to compete financially.
The developing baseball establishment, McNeary believed, had treated his club unfairly over the last few seasons. In 1875, the Reds, who had been, arguably, the best baseball club in St. Louis over the previous two seasons, joined the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, competing for the national championship. While the team was remarkably uncompetitive and finished a distant tenth among the thirteen clubs entered for the championship, there was some evidence that the more successful clubs had refused to schedule McNeary's team.ii Going into the 1876 season, those same clubs, including the Brown Stockings of St. Louis, who had not scheduled a game with the Reds after May of 1875, organized the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, leaving smaller clubs, such as the Reds, outside of the new professional baseball power structure.
While these smaller clubs attempted to form an independent organization of their own in the form of the International Association, this minor uprising against the new baseball reality came to nothing and, by 1877, many of these minor clubs had joined the League Alliance, accepting League governance.iii McNeary refused to join the League Alliance, believing that the terms imposed upon his club to be unacceptable. While probably sharing the general concern that most clubs had regarding accepting League governance, McNeary's main complaint was that his club, under the rules of the Alliance, would be unable to schedule any League clubs other than the Brown Stockings, who had shown an unwillingness to schedule the Reds.iv By joining the Alliance, McNeary would have been giving up the possibility of bringing in the top drawing baseball clubs to the Compton Avenue Grounds, home of his Red Stockings. He would have been giving up the possibility of return dates against those clubs. This would have meant a decrease in gate revenue which would have placed the club at a disadvantage when trying to sign players.v Joining the Alliance and acquiescing to the new baseball power structure would condemn his club, McNeary believed, to a second-class status.
Thomas McNeary had not gotten involved in baseball to put a second-class product on the field. He had not gotten involved in baseball to play second-fiddle to the Brown Stockings in St. Louis. McNeary had put together his Red Stocking club to win the championship of St. Louis and of the state of Missouri. He had entered them into the National Association to compete for the national championship. His 1876 club was one of the best baseball teams outside of the League and had traveled across the country proving that. So, rather than accept a second-class status – a status as a minor club – within the baseball hierarchy, where he would not be allowed to compete financially or on the field against the best baseball clubs in the country, McNeary decided to fold the club.
How, exactly, McNeary came to be involved in the game is a bit of mystery but a look at his life prior to 1873, when the Reds first took the field, offers some interesting clues.
i St. Louis Globe-Democrat; April 1, 1877.
ii St. Louis Globe-Democrat; August 20, 1875 and September 11, 1875.
iii Helander, Brock; The League Alliance; www.sabr.org/bioproj/topic/league-alliance.
iv St. Louis Globe-Democrat; April 1, 1877.