I have some thoughts on the whole Muddle over at the archive page, introducing the series, but I'll include a few more here, while I'm thinking about it:
- Von der Ahe badly mismanaged the Browns during the last few years of his tenure. Over the years, I believe that he had merged his personal finances with that of the club and, with his personal finances suffering in the late 1890s, VdA was taking a lot of cash out of the ball club. He took almost all of the insurance money that the club got from the ballpark fire at a time when the club was struggling to pay the players and the rent on the land where the ballpark stood. There was a report that he was taking $20,000 a year out of the club even when the club was struggling to break even or, more likely, losing money. If his personal finances had been in a better state, VdA wouldn't have needed to do this and he would have been able to weather the rough economic situation that existed in the 1890s. His actions, in taking this money out of the club when the club was struggling financially, was irresponsible.
- This irresponsible financial mismanagement is the greatest black mark against VdA's name. The man was no saint and had plenty of flaws. I've never denied that. Also, his management of the club on the field - just pure, regular, old baseball management - wasn't very good in the second half of the 1890s. The club lost 92, 90, 102 and 111 games in the final four years of his tenure as owner. The Browns were a bad ball club, which certainly had a lot to do with them not making money, and VdA was responsible for that. But his actions with regards to the club's finances was almost criminal and, at the very least, was a betrayal of fiduciary trust. The man borrowed $60,000 in the name of the Sportsman's Park and Club Association to build a new ballpark and only insured the ballpark for $30,000. That's insane.
- There was basically three problems that led to VdA's fall. The first was overexpansion by the SPCA. They built a new ballpark, a bicycle track, a horse racing track, a chute-the-chute ride and all of that stuff with borrowed money and then couldn't pay the money back. That was the bottom line issue. That was the driving issue behind all of this. Second, as I said earlier, the Browns were a bad ball club and that led to declining attendance, which then led to a decline in revenue. The SPCA borrowed all of this money when the club was drawing well with the idea that it would continue to do so. But the club certainly lost money in 1897 and 1898 and probably 1896 as well. When the club made money in the 1890s, it wasn't the kind of money that they were making in the 1880s. The club just wasn't as profitable as it had been, which led to a revenue problem. Finally, VdA was a victim of the depressionary economic conditions of the 1890s. Just as the SPCA borrowed all of this money and just as the club was starting to fall apart on the field, the Panic of 1893 hit, leading to a serious economic depression that lasted almost the entire decade. Financially, VdA was unable to survive in the economic conditions of the time. It wiped him out.
- One thing I would have liked to have explored with this series but was unable to make time for was the development of the modern idea of the sports franchise. How did we get from the social clubs of the antebellum era to the idea of a franchise that exists in and of itself, that has continuity, that is transferable, etc. I don't know but I think that if the history of the development of the modern sports franchise is ever written, it would have to include Von der Ahe and the St. Louis Muddle because I think a lot of the Muddle revolved around the idea of what a franchise was and how it could be owned.
So that's it. We're done with the Muddle. Von der Ahe has fallen. Come back tomorrow and see what's next.