Fred Dunlap of the Clevelands was in [Philadelphia] Sunday, having been called home by the sickness of his mother. He says he does not like Cleveland any too well, and will not play there next season unless he gets his terms.
-New York Clipper, September 24, 1881
Look, nobody likes Fred Dunlap more than I do but he was a complete jerk-off. He was always a problem. I don't think the man was ever happy and he was probably a miserable human being. It was just his nature. It was who he was. He was a hell of a ball-player but a terrible teammate and employee.
Dunlap's parents were both dead by the time he was ten years old. He grew up an orphan and never really had a home after his folks died. While he stayed with relatives, Dunlap himself said one time that "home" was merely a place where he went to eat and sleep. The rest of his time he was outside playing baseball. Just on its face, that's an interesting story but if you look at it deeper you see that Dunlap is revealing a bit of himself in it. He told us himself that he grew up without a home and without a place where he belonged, where he was safe, and where he was loved. It's actually a very sad story that's masquerading as a tale about a young boy's love of baseball.
And, yes, I love to psychoanalyse Fred Dunlap. It's too easy. His misanthropy, greed, miserliness, selfishness, constant challenging of authority, lack of satisfaction, and just his general unhappiness in spite all of his success all stems, I believe, from the death of his parents. In a way, he's kind of like Batman.
Seriously, Dunlap grew up without feeling loved and safe and that manifested itself in his constant battles with baseball management over money. He always, without fail, fought for every last penny he could get out of his club and you have to give him credit because it worked. He was, for several years, the highest paid player in the major leagues. And this also manifested itself in the fact that he didn't waste the money he earned. He was cheap and a smart businessman, although I may be repeating myself there. He didn't waste his money on women, liquor, and gambling like most of his contemporaries and I think that all came from a desire to feel safe. Money represented safety to Dunlap. It represented security. And he fought for his money. He saved his money. He invested his money wisely. Money is not love and it doesn't buy happiness but it does make a lot of problems go away. For the orphan Dunlap, it represented everything he didn't have or everything that had been taken away from him.
And that above squib is all about money and it is fascinating and telling that Dunlap used the excuse of a sick mother, who didn't exist, to bolt the Clevelands in an attempt to squeeze more money from the club. Dunlap was the best rookie in the major leagues in 1881 and was arguably the best second baseman. In 1882, he was without a doubt the best second baseman in the majors and was, from 1882 to 1884, arguably the best player in baseball. Dunlap knew how good he was, he knew what his talent was worth, and he wanted to be paid what he was worth. It's fascinating that Dunlap himself, in 1881, ties that desire to his sick and dying parents.
This was the first time he pulled this stunt but it wouldn't be the last. He would do this again and again. He was always asking for more money. He was always unhappy about his situation. He was never satisfied. In the end, the money that he was chasing didn't make him happy. I didn't bring him love. It didn't bring back his parents. It didn't stop the leg injuries that ended his career. It didn't stop a national economic downturn that destroyed his investments. He was chasing ghosts and didn't know it. He was chasing the shadows that frightened him when he was a child and you can never catch a shadow.