Ned Cuthbert has got up a team, and a strong one it will be if the boys stick together. His nine are as under: McSorely, pitcher; Baker, catcher; Bowles, McDonald and J. Gleason on the bases; W. Gleason, short-stop; and Morgan, Cuthbert and Kreymeyer in the outfield; Overbeck, substitute. It is expected that the two teams will play some very pretty games together this season, as both are evenly matched. It will be noticed that six of the original Browns remain with the old organization, while the other four have joined Cuthbert's crew. The new team will play at the Red-stocking Park, on Compton avenue.
-New York Clipper, May 22, 1880
All of this raises some really interesting questions:
-When, exactly, did Von der Ahe get involved with the Brown Stockings? We know that he was involved with the Grand Avenue Club by 1876, at the latest, and that he picked up the lease to the Grand Avenue Grounds after the 1880 season. I think the conventional wisdom is that Von der Ahe's involvement with the Brown Stockings began when he picked up the lease on the grounds and formed the Sportsman's Park and Club Association. But, obviously, this information from the Clipper shows that he was the president of the club in 1880. What was he doing between 1877 and 1880? Was he still involved with the Grand Avenues? Was he involved, in some capacity, with the minor, independent, Interregnum Brown Stockings during that period? I don't have answers to any of these questions but, if I had to speculate, I'd guess that Von der Ahe's involvement with the Brown Stockings predates 1880.
-What role did Cuthbert play in getting Von der Ahe involved in baseball? Now Von der Ahe, himself, said that Cuthbert got him involved in the game but, given his involvement with the Grand Avenues (which, I believe, predates Cuthbert's arrival in St. Louis), I think it's clear that Von der Ahe was involved in club management before he ever met Cuthbert. I've always taken Von der Ahe's statement to mean that Cuthbert was the guy who got him involved with the Brown Stockings. But is that even true? I don't know. Von der Ahe knew everyone involved with managing the Brown Stockings, from his time with the Grand Avenues, and it seems natural that this group of people (Solari, the Spink brothers, etc.) would value Von der Ahe's involvement, as they transitioned from running the Grand Avenues to running the Interregnum Brown Stockings. Cuthbert, of course, was part of that group, in 1878 and 1879, and his friendship with Von der Ahe could have been key in getting him involved with the club but Von der Ahe was already part of that milieu. It just seems natural for him to have joined Brown Stockings' management during this period. I don't mean to knock Cuthbert or his importance in the history of St. Louis baseball but the whole "Cuthbert got Von der Ahe into baseball" story just has very little to stand on, other than the statement Von der Ahe made decades after the fact. The more we learn about the period, the more we find the extent to which Von der Ahe was involved in baseball prior to 1881. He was already involved in the game prior to meeting Cuthbert and was a part of the group that was running things on Grand Avenue in the mid to late 1870s. Cuthbert was also a part of that and I think it's difficult to sort out what everybody's role was and who was influencing whom.
-What was Cuthbert doing in 1880? Why did he split from the Grand Avenue group? When Richard passed this information along to me, I think that this was his main question and he speculated that there was an attempt to form two clubs, create a rivalry, and gin up some much-needed excitement around the game in St. Louis. I didn't originally think that this is what was going on and speculated on the idea that Cuthbert was unhappy with Brown Stockings management and decided to strike out on his own. That makes some sense, given how things were going for the club financially. But, looking into it, Richard might be on to something. Jon Cash, in Before They Were Cardinals, writes a little bit about the 1879 season and specifically stated that one of the problems in St. Louis was the lack of competition for the Brown Stockings. He goes on to note that when the club was able to schedule a decent club, they drew a decent crowd. But scheduling was a problem and they had no real competition. This may very well have been an effort by the Grand Avenue group to create competition. But, if that's true, why were the Cuthberts playing their games at the Compton Avenue Grounds? If this was all part of a big plan, why wouldn't they play on Grand? If this was some kind of Machiavellian plot, who wouldn't the Grand Avenue group have their new club playing at the Grand Avenue Grounds? Why would they forfeit the gate money that they new club would generate and give it to the McNeary brothers? It doesn't make sense to me and I still lean towards the idea that Cuthbert was striking out on his own. The thing that I keep saying to myself and anyone that will listen is that, when it comes to history, things didn't have to happen the way they happened. Nothing was preordained. There was nothing inevitable about the rise of Von der Ahe and the Browns. The St. Louis baseball market was completely up for grabs and there is no reason why a guy like Ned Cuthbert couldn't have seized control of it, given the right circumstances. Now, the Cuthberts were immediately handicapped by playing on Compton Avenue. It wasn't a good location for the fans because, unlike the ballpark on Grand, it wasn't on the main streetcar line. So Cuthbert didn't have the right circumstances to succeed and, in the end, Von der Ahe did. But we could very easily be talking today about Cuthbert as a foundational figure in St. Louis baseball if things had gone differently in 1880. Von der Ahe could have just been a footnote in St. Louis baseball history. But, in the end, Von der Ahe succeeded and Cuthbert came back to the fold.
-This piece from the Clipper raises a lot of questions and gives me a lot of things that I need to look into. It's a great find by Richard.