Edward C. Becker, the local capitalist, who has been posing as the probable future owner of the St. Louis Base Ball Club, on Friday withdrew his offer for the team and franchise made Chris Von der Ahe Tuesday a week ago, and the future of the home club is in a worse muddle than ever before. Just what will become of the Browns is pretty hard figuring. "Der Boss" is striving manfully in the face of all kinds of utter adversity to pay his creditors off as best he can and his offer of 50 cents on the dollar has been laughed at by persons holding about half of the total indebtedness against the defunct organization. The other half are glad to grab at the opportunity to secure that amount from the wreck. The Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company, which is probably the corporation's third largest creditor, holding as it does bills to the amount of $4000, having signified to Von der Ahe their acceptance of a 50 per cent settlement for their claims.
Mr. Becker's option on the Browns specified $60,000 as the purchase price, according to the best authenticated reports. Up to yesterday he was willing to close the deal as soon as a clean bill of sale could be prepared for him, but as it was not forthcoming he announced to Von der Ahe and his attorneys that he was no longer a possible buyer of the club, at least not at the figure his option called for.
The premature announcement that the Browns had been sold to Mr. Becker put a stop to the maneuverings of
Several Other Syndicates
who were in the field to buy, and they lost all interest in their plans. Frank DeHaas Robison, the Cleveland base ball magnate, tarried in St. Louis two weeks, but a few nights ago took his departure for the Forest City, apparently firmly convinced that there was no longer any use of his trying to do business with Von der Ahe. Now that Mr. Becker has taken down his option it leaves the question of the settlement of the club in exactly the same status it was three weeks ago, and the other syndicates will have to reorganize and commence their work anew.
Not Yet Stranded.
The limit of Von der Ahe's resourcefulness has not yet been reached. It is patent that he can make almost nothing by the sale to Becker, even by compromising with his creditors. Becker's actual offering for the club was $60,000 in cash. Out of this Chris must pay $20,000 in first mortgage bonds, with $2000 in accrued interest, $25,000 in trustee certificates and $20,000 in miscellaneous debts. The total amount, $67,000, is more than Becker has offered him for the club. By compromising with his creditors at 50 per cent, and with the bond-holders at 75 per cent, he would have to pay out only $52,000, which would leave him with $8000 clear. By the time lawyers' fees and other personal debts are satisfied, Chris would have as much as $5000 to start life anew on. The prospect is not alluring and Chris is not hankering to meet the issue. He has always been a fatalist, and he is trusting to his luck now to pull him out of his difficulty.
Creditors' Poor Prospects.
Meanwhile, the lawyers, whom he has always been sow in settling with, have laid a good foundation for the subversion of his creditors. In the first place the bonded indebtedness of the defunct organization is mighty poorly protected.
The bonds are guaranteed by the leasehold and improvements at Sportsman's Park. They are not a lien on the franchise. If Von der Ahe choses to repudiate them the subsequent foreclosure sale will affect only the home of the St. Louis Base Ball Club. Chris can buy in the leasehold or he can rent them from the purchaser at public action. Or if prevented from either course he can get a new base ball park. Their are plenty of railroads ready to furnish him with grounds gratis.
As far as the trustee certificates are concerned they are not worth the paper they are written on, as the trustee is not under bond and there is nothing behind them but the stock of a defunct organization, the realty holdings being already subject to the defaulted first mortgage bonds.
-Sporting Life, July 30, 1898
There was not one thing that led to VdA's bankruptcy and his loss of controlling interest in the Browns. Instead, there was a confluence of events over the course of the 1890s that led Von der Ahe to where he was at the end of July in 1898. The Players' Revolt crippled the Browns competitively, which meant less money coming in. The Baldwin affair humiliated VdA and added to his financial troubles. The ball park fire was a financial disaster. His real estate holdings were not bringing in the money they once did. In order to make ends meet, he was borrowing money and using the ball park and club as collateral. He was also selling off interest in both club and park to Edward Becker for quick cash infusions. Von der Ahe's finances were a mess and he had reached the point where he could no longer control the situation.
The above article from Sporting Life does a great job of setting the scene and there are three things that you should take away from it:
1. $67,000: This the amount of debt that VdA had, although I've seen reports putting the number at almost $90,000. Either way, that was a lot of money in 1898 and the article also helpfully breaks down who was holding the debt.
2. Edward Becker and the Robison brothers: By the end of July, all the major actors in this little saga are in place. VdA is struggling to stay afloat and Becker and the Robisons are circling the club like vultures. Also of note is that VdA probably could have sold out in July and probably have broken even. There were numerous points during the 1890s when this could have happened and I've argued in the past that if VdA had sold out and avoided losing the club in the way in which he did, he would be remembered differently.
3. Von der Ahe's defense: VdA's legal defense over the course of the next eight months or so was that the club and the ball park were two seperate entities and that the collapse of the Sportsman's Park and Club Association shouldn't have any bearing on his operation of the St. Louis Base Ball Club. Not to give anything away but that argument didn't hold up in court.
I should also point out, as we are getting into this, that the story I want to tell here is how specifically Von der Ahe lost controlling interest in the club. I'm not so interested in how VdA got into debt but rather what happened after that debt became unmanageable. I'm not interested in how much money VdA had to pay to Mark Baldwin but in the process by which VdA lost control of the club. In 1898, Von der Ahe was the owner and manager of the St. Louis Browns. In 1899, that club didn't really exist anymore and had been replaced by the St. Louis Perfectos, owned by Becker and the Robisons. How did that happen? It's a major, pivotal moment in the history of St. Louis baseball and it's one that's not particularly well understood. So I'm going to spend some time chronicling this particular moment and trying to make some sense out of it. Good luck to all of us.