President Von der Ahe, of the St. Louis Base Ball Club, last week elected his Board of Directors. Of course, the stock holders went through the form of an election, but as Mr. Chris Von der Ahe owns about seven-eighths of the stock the election was merely a matter of courtesy. Anyhow the following directors were elected for the ensuing year or rather as long as they do what is right with the great base ball interests of Mr. Von der Ahe: Chris Von der Ahe, J.W. Peckington, Charles Higgins, Benjamin Steward Muckenfuss and Edward Becker...
Next week a meeting will be held and a statement will be made regarding the business done during last year in horse racing and base ball. It is stated that the Browns cleared $12,000 on the season.
Von der Ahe acknowledges that there was only one year in all his experience as a magnate in which he lost money on base ball. That was during the Brotherhood year. And in the future he promises to stick entirely to base ball and become a pillar in the church. This change in Chris' temperament is accounted for by an interview which appeared in the "Republic" the other day, in which a director of the St. Louis Club says:
"We buried about $40,000 in the chutes, which, all stories to the contrary, paid us about 25 per cent on the investment. That leaves us still $30,000 in the hole on the chute question. Then we paid Fred Foster $42,000 for his interest in that track and we lost some money running races in opposition to the other tracks. Oh, we had a mazy time of it when we went against the racing game. I think that we will make money out of the chutes, and we have it fixed so that we will not lose another cent on the race track, so I think we have gotten over our worst days."
It is hoped that this is true and that the St. Louis Club will use some of its profits in the future purchasing new players.
-Sporting Life, January 23, 1897
Things to note:
- Von der Ahe still had complete control of the Browns going into the 1897 season, controlling "seven-eights of the stock" and Edward Becker was already on board as a minority stockholder.
-The Browns were a profitable organization from a baseball perspective. The financial difficulties that pushed the team into receivership were a result of outside economic interests rather than a failure of the Browns to make money. Now this may have changed going forward and the club almost certainly lost money in 1897 and 1898. The lack of a positive cash flow from the ball club in those years exacerbated VdA's financial problems but I think we can state that the club's financial situation was not VdA's biggest problem.
-Based on the information from the Republic, it looks like Von der Ahe over-expanded between 1892 and 1896 (the new ballpark, the racetrack, etc) and was unable to generate enough cash flow to cover the debt that he took on in that expansion. In January of 1898, the total liabilities of the club would be listed as $58,718 and most of that was what was owed on the ballpark bonds and money lent to the club by Becker in an attempt to keep Von der Ahe afloat. A total debt of $127,000 was listed for the corporation itself and that included the investments in the racetrack and the chutes as well as the debts of the club. If my math is correct (and assuming the chutes brought in another $10,000 in 1897), the investments in the ballpark, the racetrack, and the chutes alone were responsible for more than seventy percent of the debt of the SPCA. Becker's loans to the club (which were a direct result of Von der Ahe's over-expansion) amounted to about ten percent of the debt.
As The Sporting News goes to press, the stockholders of Sportsman's Park and Club are holding their annual meeting for the election of five directors, puruant to a warrant issued by Justice of the Peace Henry S. Harmon, at the request of E.C. Becker and B.S. Muckenfuss, two of the stockholders. The majority of the stock is held and will be voted by Mr. E.C. Becker, who acquired it from Chris Von der Ahe to secure advances. Neither Chris or any of his retainers will be elected to the Board and thus Von der Ahe will be without any claim to recognition from the League, should he attempt to represent the local club at the meeting.
-Sporting Life, February 25, 1899
I want to say that there is no doubt that Becker was the majority shareholder but I'm not certain. He may have been the largest shareholder but I don't think he owned a majority of the stock. If he did, why didn't he just boot VdA out and why was he trying to purchase the club in the summer of 1898? If Becker was the majority shareholder in 1898, he, rather than VdA, owned the club. It doesn't add up. I think that VdA still owned a large number of shares in the SPCA and had enough friends and supporters among the other shareholders to have majority control.
That explains a lot about what was going on between VdA, Becker and Muckenfuss. VdA had lost clear-cut, majority control of the organization and Becker, by 1898, was the largest shareholder. VdA, however, still controlled the organization through the shares that he owned and those of his supporters. Muckenfuss' authority originally came from VdA, who had him named president of the SPCA, and then from the courts but he had no real authority because he didn't own the club.
The Major League magnates have arrived (in Baltimore) and will begin their spring session at the Hotel Rennert at noon to-day. Rumors of a sensational order are flying thick and fast. They involve the transfer of the Cleveland Club to St. Louis and the location of the Browns in that city...Von der Ahe, who arrived this morning, is accompanied by Mr. E.C. Becker, a St. Louis capitalist, who is regarded as Chris' "Angel." It is said that he has already secured 25 per cent of the Browns' stock and is here to protect his holdings in case Robison makes a deal for the Browns.
St. Louis is expected to cut a big figure at the League meeting. Not because Von der Ahe carries any influence or that he is apt to offer large sums of money for franchises and blocks of players but because the other owners are expected to help him out by giving him some of their surplus material and in this way strengthen the otherwise weak Browns. The great national sport was never in better repute than it is to-day. This healthful state of affairs is noticeable in every city in the country holding league membership excepting St. Louis. That city is rapidly on the wane as regards base ball. In the old days Comiskey's champions were world-beaters, now (the Browns) as at present constituted have little or no chance of finishing in better than last place. Something may drop at Baltimore and it may be that Chris will cause the dull sickening thud.
-Sporting News, February 27, 1897
Late Wednesday afternoon Sportsman's Park and Club filed a chattel deed of trust securing liabilities in excess of $108,000. Chris Von der Ahe is named as trustee. He is also a preferred creditor in the aggregate of $91,000. Thirty other creditors are named with claims ranging from $100 to $3,075. The largest sum is due to the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company.
The Union Bank of St. Paul has a claim for $1,751.46 and the Northwestern Savings Bank a claim for $100. David Nicholson is a creditor to the amount of [unreadable] and the Laclede Gas Light Company to the extent of $800. The other claims aggregate about $10,050, making the outside indebtedness about $17,000.
The alleged indebtedness to Chris comprises 32 notes of $1,500 each and 20 notes of $1,000 each. One big note of $13,935.72, another of $12,000 and one for $3,950 were executed Wednesday, all three being for a period of six months. The other indebtedness to Chris comprises over 30 counts, running from $50 up...
Von der Ahe is authorized to take charge of the assets, which consist of the entire Sportsman's Park outfit, and sell the property at private sale, in six months. Such assets as remain unsold at the end of six months are to be sold at public sale at the east front door of the Courthouse. He is also directed to keep the property insured for $31,800.
Duly recorded mortgages and judgments against Sportsman's Park and Club are not affected by the deed. Neither are the bonds to the amount of $20,000 guaranteed, by the St. Louis Trust Company. Mr. Becker, it is understood, has as security for his loan a large block of stock enough it is said to give him the controlling interest in the club. He waived protest on the 12th..., on Chris' promise to take up the note for $12,000 up on Saturday, June 15. The deed of trust puts Mr. Becker's security in danger, as the stock will be worthless if Von der Ahe's preferred claims are paid.
While Von der Ahe held the office of president of the corporation, Sportsman's Park and Club could not assign to him and give his claims preference. In order to do this in uniformity to the law, he as the principal stockholder elected B.S. Muckenfuss president and J.W. Peckington secretary and they turned the trick.
The effort to bar out other creditors will be fought bitterly in the courts, and in the opinion of these familiar with Chris' mental abilities, the deposed boss will not be able to stand the ordeal of cross-examination and the chances are that the conspiracy against his creditors will fail in its purpose...
(Muckenfuss stated that) "Mr. Von der Ahe is not at all concerned about what he owes personally, as he is to all intents and purposes insolvent. His real estate is mortgaged to such an extent that his creditors can't realize a dollar on judgments and his personal property is pledged to its full value. What he wants to do is to save something from his base ball interests and his lawyer is hard at work on a scheme with this in view. Then again he is desirous of defeating his wife in an effort to secure alimony. In other words, he don't intend to sell his club or anything he has unless he finds a way to avoid the payment of his debts."
This movement on the part of Von der Ahe confirms the opinion of Mr. John T. Brush that the affairs of Sportsman's Park are in such a rotten condition that it is impossible to give a clear title to its holdings...
The total liabilities (of the club) including the $20,000 issue of bonds and the Becker note for $12,000, as set forth in the Muckenfuss statement amounted to $58,717.54. The debts of the corporation according to the deed of trust aggregate $127,000...
Chris' claims were never referred to and considerable surprise was caused by the announcement that he was creditor of the club to such a large amount as $91,000. The efforts of the other creditors will be directed, so it is said, to establishing in court that his claims...should not be allowed. From the manner and method of the assignment some are of the opinion that Von der Ahe executed a flank movement on his creditors. Others declare that he had gained nothing but time and to do this has had to confess he is hopelessly bankrupt.
The assignment settles one question. The St. Louis Browns will soon pass from Chris' control. Without cash or credit, he can never as magnate or trustee put the team in the field. All his transactions from now on with the railroads and all other parties must be on a cash basis and he is without means...
The troubles of Von der Ahe were not ended when he covered his club with a blanket trust deed. The matured bonds of the club for $20,000, guaranteed by the St. Louis Trust Company, must be paid and the Becker note for $12,000 can not be extended. Other creditors are not idle. Sheriff Henry Troll has levied upon whatever interest the Sportsman's Park and Club has in the following property:
"A lot of ground situated in city block 9,386 beginning at a point in the northwest corner of Grand and St. Louis avenues and extending along Grand avenue...Also, a certain leasehold given and granted by one Jemima Lindell to the said Sportsman's Park and Club on April 1, 1892 for a period of 15 years and six months from said date on (a piece of property on Natural Bridge road)...
Sportsman's Park and Club does not own any of the above described real estate. It only has a lease-hold interest in it.
This levy was made Wednesday by virtue and authority of an execution issued by the Circuit Court...On the strength of this execution the Sheriff announces that he will sell all the right, title, claim, interest, estate and property of the Sportsman's Park and Club to the above described property at the Courthouse February 5.
-The Sporting News, January 15, 1898
There are two different sets of numbers in the article. The first comes from the "chattel deed of trust" establishing Von der Ahe as the club's primary creditor. The second set of numbers come from "the Muckenfuss statement." These numbers came out of "recent" negotiations between Von der Ahe and an Indianapolis syndicate regarding the potential sale of the Browns. During the negotiations, Muckenfuss "submitted to (the syndicate) an itemized statement of the club's indebtedness..."