Ex-President Chris Von der Ahe spent another week in the Allegheny County jail in deference to the opinion of his lawyers that he could be speedily legally freed without sacrificing the large amount of money demanded of him. The design is to secure his release on bail, pending an appeal to and hearing by the United States Supreme Court as to the legality of Mr. Von der Ahe's kidnapping. This is all well, as it is worth some individual hardships to have the important questions of personal rights and privileges involved in this case passed upon by the highest tribunal in the land. Mr. Von der Ahe is still in jail at this writing, but is likely to be liberated in time to greet his fellow magnates in person at St. Louis next week.
-Sporting Life, February 26, 1898
I think the idea that Von der Ahe could be speedily released without having to pay the money demanded of him had, by February 26, 1898, been proven to be false. Two weeks is not my idea of speedily but Von der Ahe, fueled by stubbornness, anger, and spite, may have felt differently. Especially since he most likely didn't have the money that was demanded of him.
The second attempt to secure the release of Chris Von der Ahe on a writ of habeas corpus was made before Judge Buffington in the United States Circuit Court yesterday [February 23]. Judge Buffington took the case under advisement and will not render a decision for several days and in the meantime Chris will remain in jail. It was intimated before the proceedings opened that there was a side to the Von der Ahe story which had not been made public. It had been related that there was an agreement between W.A. Nimick, bondsman, and Von der Ahe back from St. Louis to surrender him to the Allegheny County authorities.
At this point, it had been over two weeks since Von der Ahe had been forcibly abducted and he had now spent twelve straight days in jail. His "friends" in St. Louis had failed to come up with the necessary money to free him and while the League had talked about paying off his debts, that seems to have come to nothing. His lawyers were arguing points of law and hoping to take the entire thing to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the owner of the St. Louis Browns was just sitting in a Pittsburgh jail.
When it comes down to it, we can talk about the significance of the Baldwin Affair with regards to the Players' Revolt and the trade war between the American Association and the National League in the early 1890s and that's all interesting and valid. That really is the background of the whole thing. But the true significance of the Baldwin Affair is the fact that it ended up with Von der Ahe in jail for a couple of weeks and the damage that this did to his historical reputation.
When I argue about Von der Ahe's significance and his historical legacy, it's difficult to overcome the damage that the "kidnapping" and his bankruptcy did to his reputation. It adds to the buffoonish caricature that is presented in the 20th century baseball histories. It's a tough thing to overcome and I usually deal with it by stating, simply, that Von der Ahe was a man with flaws, who made mistakes, but that shouldn't take away from his accomplishments.
Von der Ahe's fall - the end of his story in baseball - is ugly and it has done lasting damage to a historical legacy that is, in my opinion, second to none in history of St. Louis baseball. But truth is truth and fact is fact and I have no problem digging through the ugliness of Von der Ahe's fall. For me, it doesn't take away from what the man achieved. But it is really ugly.
The Von der Ahe case came before Judge Buffington in the United States Court again yesterday morning. Von der Ahe was not in Court, but was represented by Attorneys J. Scott Ferguson, of [Pittsburg], and John M. Glover, of St. Louis. The other side was represented by Attorneys O'Brien and Ashley. Mr. Glover had charge of the case for Von der Ahe, and did most of the talking. In arguing against the recaption of Von der Ahe by his bondsman, W.A. Nimick, Mr. Glover cited a Missouri statute which says no citizen shall be placed under arrest without due process of law except in cases where parties are caught in the act of violating the statutes. Mr. Glover claimed that under this law the kidnapping of Von der Ahe was a direct violation and that the whole proceeding was irregular and illegal.
It's been really cold in St. Louis the last few days and I'm feeling it in my bones. Just can't get warm. And we're supposed to get some snow. I really hate winter and the whole time I was typing the above article, all I could think about was how much I wished it was baseball season. I need to be out in the bleachers at Busch Stadium, sitting in the sun, drinking margaritas. I really need some sun and warmth and baseball and margaritas.
Cardinals pitchers and catchers report on February 17.
Chris Von der Ahe wants $50,000 for being kidnapped. Yesterday afternoon [February 14], in Judge Withrow's Court, his attorney filed a counter claim in the Baldwin suit against the man instrumental in having him abducted. Some time ago Baldwin filed suit against Von der Ahe for $2797.09, on the judgment recovered in Pittsburg. Von der Ahe, by his attorney, now files answer and counter claim that on Feb. 10, 1898, Von der Ahe was forcibly seized and illegally and with the consent and connivence of Baldwin taken out of the State. He prays for $50,000 and costs. Von der Ahe denies all the allegations in this additional suit and bases his counter claim on an averment that Baldwin instigated the kidnapping affair.
Best of luck with that new lawsuit. I don't think it's going to come to much because the underlying assumption that Baldwin was behind the forcible abduction was false. It wasn't Baldwin he should have been suing but, rather, Nimick.
Here's something interesting to consider: As Von der Ahe was sitting in a Pittsburgh jail, on a level of 1 to 10, where do you think his hatred of Mark Baldwin rated? Easily a 10, right? Probably an 11. I think Von der Ahe's hatred easily went to 11.
Chris Von der Ahe was not released from jail to-day [February 17], as he expected to be, because his attorneys could not shape matters up before Court adjourned. The papers, however, have been prepared to make another fight in Court for him. The intention is to have the Court review the habeas corpus proceedings before Judge Joseph Buffington, in the United States Circuit Court. The papers were taken to Von der Ahe at the jail by Attorneys Ferguson and Glover, and President Watkins, of the Pittsburg Base Ball Club, at 4 o'clock this afternoon. Von der Ahe signed them, and his affidavit was taken by a notary public.
There are two points I want to make here.
First, Sporting Life did a fantastic job of covering this story. For weeks, after Von der Ahe was forcibly abducted, they would do an entire page each week on what was going on. Just a great job by them.
Second, I'm not a lawyer but that last statement by Von der Ahe's lawyer doesn't make a lot of sense and makes me feel that he didn't have the best of representation during the Affair. I've had this feeling for awhile but this just hammered it home. Von der Ahe, as I've said many times during this series of posts, could have settled with Baldwin on numerous occasions but didn't. This was very likely because of Von der Ahe's Teutonic stubbornness but I think his lawyers played to that and were not giving him the best of advice.
Ex-President Von der Ahe, of the St. Louis Club, after a week of distress, humiliation and physical and mental agony, is to be again a free man, thanks, not to his former fair-weather friends and neighbors at home, but to his fellow League magnates, headed by lovyal and generous Frank Robison, of Cleveland. These gentlemen, when all others failed, decided to advance the funds to liberate Mr. Von der Ahe, thus placing one more noble action to the credit of the rulers of base ball. This will end the disgraceful Von der Ahe kidnapping case for the present, but Mr. Von der Ahe will doubtless not rest until all the instigators and participants in the flagrant outrage have been reckoned with. Though the abduction proceeding has been declared legal under common law, in itself a relic of mediaeval barbarism, nevertheless, the violent abduction, handcuffing and incarceration of an ordinary debtor like a common criminal will remain in the public mind a flagrant perversion of the spirit of the law and an outrageous subversion of citizen right, incompatible with boasted American nineteenth century civilization. If there is any way to obtain satisfaction for the ignominy heaped upon him Mr. Von der Ahe should leave no stone unturned to obtain it, if only to discourage future outrages upon others, to which the decision in this case opens wide the door.
This stage of the Baldwin Affair is certainly rife with irony. As noted before, we have Von der Ahe unjustly (according to the views of many) jailed, when it was the unjust jailing of Baldwin, perpetrated by Von der Ahe, which started the whole thing. Here, we have Robison getting Von der Ahe out of jail and being noted as a true friend when he was in the process of plotting to seize the man's franchise from him. I seriously doubt that, by August of 1898, Von der Ahe considered Robison to be a friend of his.
Chris Von der Ahe, the former president of the St. Louis Base Ball Club, is still in the Allegheny County jail awaiting with wonderful patience the efforts of his attorney and friends to obtain his release. He has been in prison five days and to-day [February 17] will spring a surprise on everybody. His attorneys do not think that the $3200 which his friends and the National League have arranged to advance him should be paid to satisfy Mark Baldwin's claim until the United States Supreme Court shall have an opportunity to examine into the merits of the case.
I can't count how many times, during the course of research the Baldwin Affair, I was screaming in my head "Just Pay The Man!" Just pay whatever they tell you to pay and make all of this go away.
I know Von der Ahe was broke but his attorney arrived in Pittsburgh with two grand and the League was going to give him the rest of the money. Pay Baldwin his $2500. Pay Nimick his grand or whatever it was. Pay the expenses of the detectives. Pay it and be done with it.
But no. We have to fight on. I admire Von der Ahe's fighting spirit. You see it when they were coming after his club. At some point, however, you just have to say that enough is enough. You have to accept the fact that you've lost. Von der Ahe was never willing to do that.
In the end, this stubbornness really hurt him. He could have settled with Baldwin for $2500 and saved himself the extra expenses and the humiliation of being abducted. He could have sold the club in the summer of 1898 and came out ahead financially. But Von der Ahe had to fight. It was his nature and it cost him everything in the end.
John T. Brush, owner of the Cincinnati Base Ball Club, was closeted with President Young yesterday at League headquarters for several hours, and it is understood that the League contemplates taking some action in the Von der Ahe case. Mr. Brush is here to meet Colonel Rogers, of the Philadelphia Club, and with him appear before the National Railroad Ticket Agents' Association, now in session in [Washington.]
I did a long series of posts on how Von der Ahe lost control of the Browns in 1898/1899 and started with contemporary newspaper accounts beginning in June of 1898. I should have started with this article from Sporting Life. I think we can see here, in February 1898, the beginning of the desire, among League magnates, for Von der Ahe to just go away.
The end, for Von der Ahe, was ugly and, honestly, it does detract from his record of achievements. I, personally, believe that that record is such that Von der Ahe was one of the most significant figures in the history of baseball but it's tough, sometimes, to make that point when you have to explain why the League took his club away from him. Von der Ahe had flaws. He had faults. He made mistakes. But, without excusing those and while being honest about them, I have to insist upon the fact that Von der Ahe was a figure of great historical significance whose achievements should not be denied.
Mr. Von der Ahe spent not only Sunday, but Monday also in jail, owing to the failure of his friends in St. Louis to come to his assistance with the amount necessary to liberate the magnate. It was reported from St. Louis that the cash was not forwarded because it was feared that other creditors of the embarassed St. Louis man might try to attach the funds before they could be paid on the Baldwin claim.
Call me cynical but I don't really see the actions of the League magnates here as being exactly big-hearted. I actually see it as setting a precedent that would aid any of these men if they ever found themselves in similar financial difficulties. But I take a rather dim view of human nature and never ascribe to altruism what can be ascribed to self-interest.
Mr. Von der Ahe last night [February 12] was sent to jail for the first time since his abduction last Monday night. He and his attorneys waited long and patiently, either for some one at arrive from St. Louis to release Chris or to send the money which is needed to square up the judgment against him. Neither arrived and Von der Ahe will stay in jail at least until Monday, when, he thinks, the money will arrive, as Attorney Glover wired that it would be here by Monday sure. Von der Ahe when searched by Deputy Warden Soffel gritted his teeth. His watch, rings and diamond studs were taken from him. He had very little money.
I don't know how you all feel about this but I find Von der Ahe to be a most sympathetic figure. Just a decade earlier, he was on top of the world, flush with money and a winning club. Here, we find him sitting in prison, broke and a broken man. The club that he had built was a mess on the field and in receivership. He was the ex-president of the St. Louis Browns at this point. He was in the process of divorcing his second wife. He couldn't raise $2500 to pay off the Baldwin judgment and one of his old friends had just had him forcibly seized and thrown in a Pittsburgh jail. Muckenfuss and his St. Louis lawyers were supposed to have already sent the money to settle everything but it hadn't shown. For that matter, it was never supposed to have come to this. In his mind, he should have won the suit against Baldwin and he should have been freed in Pittsburgh because his seizure was a gross violation of his rights. He was Chris Von der Ahe. He was the President of the Four Time Champions. He had helped found the American Association. He had come from nothing to become one of the most famous men in America. He had made a fortune in baseball. And here he was now - Chris Von der Ahe - sitting in a Pittsburgh jail with no way of paying the money he needed to pay to get out.
It's the definition of tragic.
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.