In St. Louis, on Jan. 23, Judge Spencer decided the suit of the Mississippi Valley Trust Company against the Sportsman's Park and Club to foreclose a mortgage for $20,000 in favor of the trust company. In a long typewritten opinion Judge Spencer ruled against Von der Ahe on every point and decided that the mortgage was good and could be enforced.
The Franchise Question.
In his decision Judge Spencer touched upon the franchise question as follows:
"While it is quite clear that the term 'franchise' does not correctly describe membership in this association, nevertheless the words used as in the deed or trust executed by the Sportsman's Park and club are certainly broad enough to include within a fair interpretation of their terms all the rights and privileges which membership in the National League confers."
On the question of who was the owner of this membership in January, 1893, when the deep of trust was executed, Judge Spencer says Von der Ahe was president of the Sportsman's Park and Club in 1891, when the National League was formed. He now contends that the National League constitution is signed "St. Louis Base Ball Association, Chris Von der Ahe, president." There was not at the time any St. Louis Base Ball Association as a corporation. Some years previous to 1891 there had been a St. Louis Base Ball Association, composed of gentlemen in St. Louis who voluntarily associated themselves to operate a club called the "St. Louis Browns." Of this association Von der Ahe was not an original member, but some months after its formation they sold out all its property to Chris Von der Ahe.
Judge Spencer contended that immediately after the formation of the League in 1891 the Sportsman's Park and Club, as a corporation, performed all the duties required of members in the League, and paid as a corporation the dues and assessments required by the League; made contracts with the players, using alternately the name "Sportsman's Park and Club" and "St. Louis Base Ball Club;" received the moneys coming into its corporate treasury and paid them out in the same manner, and in every way acted as the owner of the membership in the National League.
Chris' Next Move.
Chris Von der Ahe was not in Court when Judge Spencer rendered his decision, but his attorney, Mr. Kinnerk, was there. As Mr. Kinnerk left the Court room he said: "We have four days in which to appeal from the decision, but judging from the looks of things that will be over-ruled. In that event the case will be taken to the Supreme Court and bond given. While the case is pending in Supreme Court no action can be taken toward foreclosing the mortgage."
-Sporting Life, January 28, 1899
And with the matter settled, the auction of the club would proceed. It wouldn't be a simple matter, of course, and Von der Ahe wasn't finished fighting but the writing was on the wall.