Christopher Von der Ahe got out of jail yesterday, but it was by giving bail for $4000. The bond was given by the Mercantile Trust Company, and it is understood the Company is guaranteed by eleven National League clubs. Preceding the release Judge Buffington, of the United States Court, handed down his decision in the habeas corpus case, saying in part:
"The allegation that there was an agreement by the bail that he would not demand or enforce petitioner's return to Pennsylvania is not supported by proof, nor is there any evidence whatever to connect Baldwin with the arrest of petitioner by his bail, even if such arrest had been illegal. The taking by the bail being adjudged lawful, it follows that petitioner's subsequent detention on the capias was lawful also. Nor are we called upon in the present status of affairs to consider the Pennsylvania act bearing on the discharge of insolvents. No such proceedings have been had and when they are the courts of the State will no doubt see that petitioner's constitutional rights are secured to him."
There was some delay in fixing the bond for the reason that C.W. Ashley, representing Mark Baldwin, insisted that it should require the payment of the claims against Von der Ahe in Allegheny County in default of the surrender of his body in case the decision against him by the Supreme Court should be adverse.
A new bond, covering this point, was finally drawn up, and Von der Ahe was given his freedom. There will be no necessity now for kidnapping Von der Ahe should he forfeit his bond. He can be arrested any place in the United States and brought to Allegheny County on a simple order of removal from the United States Judge in whose disctrict he is taken.
Prominent attorneys spoken to say they did not see how Von der Ahe could expect to gain anything by taking the case to the United States Supreme Court, as Judge Buffington's decisions have been based so clearly on the laws that there is no authority or precedent which would have justified a decision favorable to Von der Ahe. Mr. Von der Ahe left for his home at St. Louis last night.
-Sporting Life, March 5, 1898
The main point I want to make and one that I've made numerous times while writing about the Affair is that the Von der Ahe kidnapping was not a kidnapping. Judge Buffington, in the above decision, stated that the entire thing was legal. Kidnapping, by definition, is an unlawful act. The forcible seizure of Von der Ahe was deemed to be a legal act and, therefore, it could not have been kidnapping.
I'm not trying to be pedantic about this. For me, this is an important point because it goes to Von der Ahe's historical reputation. The "kidnapping" is a blemish on this reputation not because of the facts of what happened - nobody knows anything about the Baldwin Affair - but because it's used to portray Von der Ahe as a clownish, buffoonish, unserious person. I believe that the conventional wisdom regarding Von der Ahe is unfair and I believe that using unhistorical facts to create a false narrative about someone is grossly unfair. As a historian, one of my goals is to try and help correct this false perception about Von der Ahe.
It's not that important to me what anyone thinks about Von der Ahe as long as they're basing their judgement on facts. I've argued for his inclusion in the Hall of Fame. You may disagree. That's fine. I'm willing to have a conversation about it. I like a good, healthy argument. But you can't argue against Von der Ahe by saying he didn't know anything about baseball or he was a poor businessman or he got kidnapped. None of those things are true.
Correcting misperceptions about Von der Ahe is a personal hobby horse. I hope you're willing to overlook my odd proclivities.