"Whoap! Get up, Bill!-That's the way, Bob, let loose on them!-Whoa!-All pull together now, boys!-Now, Robbie, keep your eyes open!-Make 'em dance-that's it, whoa!-Look out for Mr. White, boys!-Whoap!-Doctor, line it out!-That's right, Bush, I'll bring you around, old man!-Take your time, Charley, only tire yourself out!-Whoa!" Thus chattered the exuberant third baseman of the Browns during the whole of yesterday's memorable contest. There is a blending of audacity and pure cheek in Latham's performance that amuses the crowd for a few innings and then makes it weary.-[Detroit Free Press.]
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 15, 1887
I think that Latham's act has now been mentioned in the coverage of all the world series that the Browns were involved in. We'll see about 1888. I also think that the coverage in all of the series was pretty much the same: the act is amusing for a short period but gets old quick. If this is an accurate portrayal of Latham's act, I think that's a fair point.
I dug up a couple of more posts I had put up about the Browns' refusal to play the Cuban Giants in 1887 and I'm reposting them for the same reasons I mentioned yesterday - it's an important story and it gives context to what was happening going into the 1887 Series.
For the first time in the history of base-ball the color line has been drawn, the the "World's Champions," the St. Louis Browns, are the men who have established the precedent that white players must not play with colored men. There have been little dissensions before, but only about a player here and there. The Browns were in open revolt last night. There are times when even the well oiled machinery of so well disciplined a club does not work smoothly, and one of these times seems to have struck the St. Louis club. Some time ago President Von der Ahe arranged for his club to play an exhibition game at West Farms, near New York, with the Cuban Giants, the noted colored club. He was promised a big guarantee, and it was expected that fully 15,000 persons would be present. The game was to have been played to-day, and President Von der Ahe yesterday purchased railroad tickets for all his players and made all the arrangements for the trip. While he was at supper at the Continental Hotel last evening, thinking over the misfortune that had befallen Capt. Comiskey, he was approached by "Tip" O'Neil, the heavy-slugging left fielder, who laid a letter on the table and then hastily slipped out of the room.
A few notes before I get to what's bothering me about this whole thing:
-There's nothing really new here. I've posted accounts of this incident from other sources and most of the information is similar. I think the only real difference is that the Globe has a statement from Von der Ahe.
-Based on the Globe's account of Comiskey's injury at the end of the article, I think that Comiskey was in Philadelphia when all of this went down. I had believed that Comiskey had already left for St. Louis when the club gave their letter to Von der Ahe and had argued that this wouldn't have happened if Comiskey was still with the team. I may be wrong about that.
-I really like Von der Ahe's response to the players, who didn't have the courage to explain themselves. It drips with disappointment and irony.
Now here's the thing that's really been bothering me about the Browns' refusal to play the Cuban Giants. I have, on more than one occasion, argued Comiskey's point that the players simply wanted, and needed, a day off. I've argued that this incident was less about the relationship between blacks and whites in 19th century America and more about a beaten-up, short-handed, over-worked baseball club that needed a day off. I've argued that the players, after the actions taken by the International League, seized on the racial issue as an excuse to not play the game. And I believe that that argument is still valid. But regardless of intent, this incident can not be dismissed for one simple reason: the baseball club involved.
The St. Louis Browns were the best team in baseball. They were probably the most famous team in the country. This was a club with some of the biggest stars in the game. Comiskey and Latham and Caruthers and Foutz and King and Welch and O'Neil. These are some of the biggest stars of 19th century baseball. This is the FOUR TIME CHAMPIONS, in all caps. They fought the Chicagos to a draw in the World Series in 1885 and beat them handily in 1886. They were getting ready to take on Detroit in the series in October. These weren't just some guys saying they wouldn't play a black club. This was the best, most famous baseball club in the United States saying they wouldn't play a black club and, regardless of intent, that was a statement that made news across the country. That was a statement that reverberated throughout the history of baseball and helped change the development of the game for the worse.
In my thinking, the significance of the event is a result of who made the statement, not that the statement was made or why the statement was made. If the Madisons of Edwardsville had refused to play a black club, nobody would have cared. But the fact that it was the Four Time Champions who did "not agree to play against negroes" and signed their names to a letter stating that makes this a significant milestone in the development of baseball's racial policy.
I've argued against this incident being significant for reasons I've already stated but I've changed my mind. Putting the event in the context of the Browns' history and understanding that this was the best and most famous club in the country refusing to play against a black club forces me to re-evaluate the incident and reach a different conclusion. It's a shameful incident in the history of St. Louis baseball and the history of the St. Louis Browns.
This morning Manager Von der Ahe held a private consultation with Gleason, the short stop of the team, and informed him that he was going to New York, and that he should handle the men. Von der Ahe's visit to the metropolis is understood to be for the purpose of settling the Cuban Giant affair. The club was to have played this aggregation at West Farm on Sunday, but failed to fulfill their engagement because the players entered a protest against playing with colored people and declined to visit West Farm. Von der Ahe, from all accounts, does not favor a suit, which is threatened, and wants to amicably adjust matters.
Just one more thing and I'm going to let this go and get back to the 1887 series.
I think the Globe did a poor job of covering "the Cuban Giant affair." When compared to their coverage of the fixing scandals of 1877, they were rather lax in covering what, in retrospect, turned out to be a significant event in the history of baseball. I think they did a decent job in reporting the event itself but, once that was done, they basically let the matter drop. The event was only mentioned in passing a few times after that. There was no follow-through and they basically gave the players a free pass on their actions. I would very much liked to have heard from the players themselves but we didn't get that from the Globe. They mentioned the International League and a few individual black players but I would have liked to have seen the Browns' decision put into a contemporary context.
I know this is unfair but imagine if this had happened today. Pick a team. Pick a group of people that they refuse to play against for racial or political reasons. Add the instantaneous media. Stir. How long would we be hearing about it? That story would get covered from every angle possible until we were sick of it. But this is a different day and age and you can't hold the 1887 Globe to the standards of the modern media.
My point, I guess, is that there are a lot of unanswered questions pertaining to this story and the Globe was remiss in not pressing those questions.
I put this up at the old website about eight years ago and linked to it in Friday's post about the 1887 Series. I'm reposting it here for two reasons. First, I can't believe I've never repost these here at the new site. It's a good piece and, I think, an important one. Second, it's relevant to what was happening with the Browns leading into the 1887 Series. I'll be talking more about that tomorrow so it's important that we establish the context. So here you are:
A COLOR LINE IN BASEBALL
I think that the significance of the Browns' refusal to play the Cuban Giants in 1887 has been overstated and, while it does not reflect well on the club, the reasons for it are more complex than is usually stated.
Comiskey, who due to injury was not with the team at the time, said that the reason for the Browns' refusal to play the Cuban Giants was that the players did not want to give up their day off just to play an exhibition game. The Browns were in Philadelphia at the time, playing the Athletics. They had a game on September 9th and 10th, a day off, a game on the 12th, had to travel to Baltimore , and then play three games against the Orioles on the 14th and 15th. According to the Globe-Democrat, several of the players had tickets to a Philadelphia theatre on the 11th. The desire for a night on the town, coupled with the team's schedule, and the injuries that the team was suffering led to the refusal to play the exhibition game.
Under this interpretation, the reasons stated in the letter to Von der Ahe for the refusal to play the exhibition game was merely a pretext. The fact that the desire not to play baseball with African-Americans would be a socially acceptable pretext says more about that day and age than it does about baseball in general or the Browns specifically.
The conventional interpretation of this event has the Browns in "revolt" or "on strike" because of the racism that was systemic in baseball. The incident is then used to support a specific narrative about the creation and sustainment of the color barrier. However, there is a very real possibility that the conventional interpretation is wrong. It's possible that all that was going on was that a physically beat up team in the middle of grinding road trip who had already clinched a pennant and were looking at a postseason series in a few weeks just wanted to enjoy their day off.
Comiskey, Dave Foutz, and Doc Bushong were all in St. Louis getting treatment for injuries and the Browns were down to nine players. Curt Welch, Bob Caruthers, and Yank Robinson were banged up but had to play because the team had no other option. The Browns couldn't put nine healthy players on the field but Von der Ahe wanted them to play an exhibition game on a scheduled day off.
Von der Ahe stated that "(if) it was a question of principle with any of my players, I would not say a word, but it is not." Comiskey reminded that Globe that the Browns had played the Cuban Giants, as well as other African-American teams, in the past with no problems and said that "I think some of the boys wanted a day to themselves." So at the time all of this went down neither Von der Ahe nor Comiskey believed that the players were refusing to play the Cuban Giants because of the color of their skin.
Von der Ahe obviously lost money because of the cancellation of the game but he also had to reach a financial settlement with Giant's owner John Bright. Supposedly, there was some kind of contractual arrangement with regards to the game and tickets had already been sold. Bright demanded financial compensation for his losses and Von der Ahe was forced to pony up. He told the Globe that "(the) refusal of my men to play the Cuban Giants cost me at least $1000..."
The idea that this event created the color line in baseball is simply not accurate. While I'm not an expert on the color line or black baseball, the above Times article states that the International League had already passed laws "prohibiting the employment of colored players" and as early as 1867 the National Association moved to exclude African-Americans from their league. These events are certainly more significant than the Browns' actions in 1887. While the Browns refusal to play the Cuban Giants can be seen as a milestone on the road to the establishment of the color line, if looked at in context the idea that the Browns "established the precedent that white players must not play with colored men" is ridiculous.
Chris Von Der Ahe is doing a great deal of mischief if he pays, as alleged, all the fines imposed by umpires on the kicking members of his team. This action nullifies the rules entirely.
You always hear the stories about how Von der Ahe would loss his temper and fine one of his players (and I'm looking at you, Arlie Latham) after a poor play or tough defeat. And, yes, Latham was absolutely one of the responsible parties in the spread of these stories that helped to form the historical image of Von der Ahe. And, yes, Von der Ahe did have a temper and would impose a silly fine for something like dropping a fly ball in a close loss. But what you don't hear about is how, after he calmed down or after Comiskey talked to him, Von der Ahe would often rescind the fine. You also never hear about how Von der Ahe would pay the fines that league imposed upon his players.
Von der Ahe was a complicated man with many different sides to him. Like I mentioned, he had a temper. He could be difficult to work with. But he was also extremely generous and kind-hearted. He was a flawed man but, I believe, a good man. He was like a lot of us, who struggle to hear the better angels of our nature.
Roger Connor's elevation as manager-captain and Myers' good showing at third base left no place open for Latham. "The Dude" could not play third base as well as a minor leaguer, and was put on the coaching line. He blundered there, and, strange to say, was made manager. He lasted just 36 hours and was again deposed. As a result Mr. Von der Ahe yesterday gave Latham his unconditional release. He is now free to sign with any club, but there is little doubt that he will find no other berth in the League, and will ultimately find his way into a minor league. Thus another historical figure fades out of the national game.
Latham had rejoined the Browns in 1896, playing for the club for the first time since he bolted for the Players League in 1890. But he was 36 years old and at the end of the line. He would play ten more games in the major leagues, six with Washington in 1899 and four with the New York Giants in 1909, when he was 49 years old, which is something that must be explained.
He had been a coach for the club and, for reasons that I've never discovered, Latham actually got into a few games. Although he didn't get any hits, walks, or hit-by-pitch, he did steal a base, so he was used a couple of times as a pinch runner. Latham did get into the field, at third base, twice but only had two at-bats in his four games. I don't know what John McGraw was thinking but Latham did play in the major leagues when he was 49 years old.
Now, as Sporting Life assumed, Latham did continue to play baseball after his release from the Browns. Between 1896 and 1898, he played with Scranton, Columbus, Mansfield, New Britain, and Hartford. Interestingly, he also played 24 games with Jacksonville in the Sally League in 1906, when he was 46.
Roger Connor's elevation as manager-captain and Myers' good showing at third base left no place open for Latham. "The Dude" could not play third base as well as a minor leaguer and was put on the coaching line. He blundered there, and, strange to say, was made manager. He lasted just 36 hours, and was again deposed. As a result Mr. Von der Ahe yesterday gave Latham his unconditional release. He is now free to sign with any club but there is little doubt that he will find no other berth in the League, and will ultimately find his way into a minor league. Thus another historic character fades out of the national game.
Latham would play ten more games in the major leagues: eight in 1899, with Washington, and six in 1909, at the age of 49, with the New York Giants. But his release by the Browns pretty much marked the end of his major league career.
Latham, to tie this to the stuff I'm working on, played a large role in forming Chris Von der Ahe's historical reputation. Latham was a talented raconteur and one of his favorite subjects was his old boss. While Latham's stories were not particularly mean-spirited, VdA was almost always portrayed as ignorant and foolish. And he was always the butt of the joke. Also, from time to time, Latham's VdA stories were cruel and it was obvious that Latham held a bit of a grudge against VdA.
To say the least, the two men had a history. They butted heads on numerous occasions, when Latham played for the Browns, and there are stories where the two were screaming at each other, usually after VdA had fined Latham for something or other. Latham left the Browns in 1890, joining the Brotherhood club in Chicago, and there was a great deal of bitterness on both sides about what went down that year. And here we find VdA essentially firing Latham as manager of the Browns, releasing him and ending his major league career. It was an interesting relationship.
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