Ex-pitcher Mark Baldwin - Von der Ahe's greatest bete noir - still loves base ball, and occasionally umpires semi-professional games in the vicinity of Pittsburg.
-Sporting Life, October 8, 1898
Also, this little squib got me thinking a bit about Mark Baldwin as a person. Within the context of this narrative - within the context of how I'm telling the story of the Baldwin Affair - Mark Baldwin is the villain. All good stories have to have a hero and a villain. They have to have conflict and a climax and a resolution. Sometimes there's even a denouement. And to fit the Baldwin Affair within that classic storytelling framework, Mark Baldwin has to be the villain.
I guess if you wanted to, you could make Von der Ahe the villain of the story but that's not the story I want to tell. Von der Ahe is - within the pages of This Game of Games - the hero of the tale. He's a great but misunderstood figure who has never gotten his due as a result of historical forces aligned against him. That's the party line. That is the official editorial policy of TGOG. Now that's all inside baseball, historiographical stuff that's of no real interest to anyone but me but it's true that I could tell the story of the Baldwin Affair and portray Von der Ahe as the villain. He was not - to say the least - without sin in all of this.
But Mark Baldwin really wasn't a villain. Go read Brian McKenna's biographical essay of him at SABR to get a sense of the man. He was, by all accounts, a good person and an educated man who, after his baseball days were finished, became a doctor. So he enticed Silver King to join Pittsburgh. Big deal. King was a grown man and responsible for his own actions. He had already jumped ship once. Baldwin should have went to jail because Silver King hated Chris Von der Ahe and didn't want to play for him? Von der Ahe was really the guy who put all of this into motion when he conspired to have Baldwin arrested. He was the guy who dragged the thing out for seven years.
There was a lot of stuff going on in the early 1890s - a lot of forces at work that were changing the business of baseball. Baldwin didn't create those forces. He was an instrument of them. He represented the conflict that existed between the players and the owners and between the owners of the NL clubs and the AA clubs. Mark Baldwin was just a ballplayer who got caught up in all of this. Was he acting on his own when he tried to get players to jump to Pittsburgh? I seriously doubt it.
The Baldwin Affair is a fascinatingly complicated thing. It's not just one story but several. It is large; it contains multitudes. It's emblematic of the Players' Revolt and the trade war between the NL and the AA. It's about the relationship that Von der Ahe had with his players. It's about Von der Ahe's sense of persecution and his dogged stubbornness. It's about the collapse of Von der Ahe's baseball empire. It's about the late 19th century American legal system. And it's also about Mark Baldwin and what he had to put up with for years.
In the end, it's unfair to portray or think of Baldwin as the villain of this story. This is a part of greater tale. It's part of the Fall of Chris Von der Ahe. Von der Ahe ends up in a Pittsburgh jail as a result of his own faults. He ends up losing his ball club as a result of his own faults. It's fits the classic definition of tragedy. And it's all Von der Ahe's fault.