A breeze is said to have been stirred up in base ball circles because the officers of the Brown Stocking Club desire to manage that organization in their own way. Some interested individual has seen fit to furnish a one-sided version of the affair to the press. It is claimed that the Brown Stocking Club gets half of the gate receipts, and that the St. Louis Sportsman’s Club gets nothing for the use of its grounds. Such is far from being the case. The association gets 10 per cent of the gross receipts, the proceeds from the sale of reserved seats, the profits for refreshments and the income from all other privileges. The team which, by its superb play throughout the season, has earned the liberal patronage of the public, never cost the association a cent. The boys were solicited to play at the park at the beginning of the season, and a complete outfit, uniforms, etc., for the players was offered as an inducement. The Brown stockings are under no compliment to any organization nor do they propose to be. They have put a small fortune into the treasury of the association alluded to, and are not indebted to it or any one, except a generous public, in the slightest. The President of the Brown Stocking organization stated last night that no complaints had been brought to his notice, and added that if any dissatisfaction existed the club was ready to sever its connection with the park at once. He also stated that the unprecedented base ball boom was due to the brilliant and reliable work of the home team on all occasions, and that the slurs cast at the playing of the Browns were entirely undeserved. The fact that they had lost but one Sunday game this year was because they are enabled to present their full team on that day, while it is a difficult matter to do so at other times. If any complaint has been made it is because the team has been a much greater success than was anticipated when the season opened. It is certainly entitled to all that it has earned, and lovers of the game, with fair play in view, will undoubtedly look at the question in that light.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 1, 1881
- August 24, 1881: There was a meeting of the players at Von der Ahe's saloon. We have no details regarding the agenda of that meeting or if Von der Ahe was present at the meeting.
- September 17, 1881: The first report of a new baseball association and of St. Louis' participation in that new association appeared in the New York Clipper.
- October 1, 1881: The first report appears in the Globe of conflict between the directors of the Brown Stockings and Chris Von der Ahe.
- October 10, 1881: There was a meeting in Pittsburgh, which Von der Ahe attended, setting the stage for the formation of the American Association.
- November 2, 1881: The AA was officially formed with the Brown Stockings, under the control of Von der Ahe, as a member.
So...things were happening and the restoration of major league baseball in St. Louis was nigh. Von der Ahe was in negotiations to place a St. Louis club in a new major league but the only problem was that he didn't have a club. My interpretation of all of these events is that Von der Ahe was attempting to get control of the Brown Stockings in order to place them in the new league and had begun to do this as early as August 24, 1881, at the player's meeting which was held at his saloon.
At this point, you have to remember that there are two entities: the St. Louis Base Ball Association - which was the club itself - and the Sportsman's Park and Club Association - which controlled and operated the ballpark. Von der Ahe, at the end of the 1881 season, would buy out his partners in the SPCA and have sole control of the ballpark. In this article, we are seeing a fight between the StLBBA and Von der Ahe's SPCA coming to light. It was a fight for control of the suddenly lucrative St. Louis baseball market. This fight would end with Von der Ahe having control of not only the ballpark but also of the best baseball club in the city, which he would then place in a new major league.
Von der Ahe had a vision for the St. Louis baseball market and saw a way forward to achieve that vision. I think it's really interesting that this article begins by stating that the directors of the Brown Stockings wanted to manage their club in their own way. That statement assumes that there is someone outside of the directorate attempting to control things. That someone was obviously Von der Ahe, who was, it appears, at loggerheads with the club directors over the future operation of the club. The article presents the argument as a fight over the division of money and I have no doubt that this was an issue. However, I don't believe that it was the paramount issue. The most important issue were the future direction of the club, returning major league baseball to St. Louis, and who would run this new St. Louis major league baseball club.
Of course money was an issue and I think it's obvious that Von der Ahe recognized the lucrative nature of the St. Louis baseball market. I also believe that he was attempting to gain sole control over club and ballpark in order to profit from that control. But this article leaves open the possibility that Von der Ahe was willing to go forward with the AA project and the restoration of major league baseball in St. Louis with the StLBBA as partners, if they were willing to increase the share of profits going to the SPCA. I think this article shows that if there had been negotiations to that effect, they had gone poorly. And that was very shortsighted on the part of the club directors. VdA had the upper hand in this situation. He had the best ballpark in the city. He was the one involved in the formation of the AA. He just needed a club and, obviously, he wanted the Brown Stockings. If the StLBBA and the SPCA had been able to come to an agreement over profit-sharing, the history of St. Louis baseball would have been rather different. But that didn't happen.
But what did happen? How did Von der Ahe end up with both club and park? I believe that VdA had been talking to the players as early as the end of August about forming a new club, under his control and playing at his ballpark. He had friends among the players and I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that he and Cuthbert had more than a few conversations about this. I absolutely believe that VdA had Cuthbert on his side and that made everything which happened a lot easier. I also believe that VdA attempted to negotiate with the StLBBA. I doubt that Von der Ahe's offer was particularly palatable to men like Augustus Solari and Al Spink as I have to think the offer included most of the profit and control going to VdA. But I do believe that these guys talked about all of this. Solari had been involved in St. Louis baseball for a long time and he and Spink had, in many ways, saved baseball in St. Louis. They had been through some rather difficult times and now, with the market improving and good times on the horizon, here comes VdA to steal everything that they had worked towards. I completely understand why they would have rejected any overture from Von der Ahe that took control of the club away from them. But, as I said earlier, VdA was holding pretty much all of the cards. He had the ballpark and an invitation into a new major league. He could get players anywhere. There was no way Von der Ahe was just going to give this slot in the AA to the StLBBA without getting something in return. He wanted substantially more money and probably wanted control of the club. If he didn't get it, he would get another club.
So at this point, VdA probably already has plans to buy out his partners in the SPCA. He's getting ready to go to Pittsburgh to form a new major league. It looks like he was unable to reach a new agreement with the StLBAA to gain control of the Brown Stockings but he had already made inroads to the Brown Stockings' players. Von der Ahe was going to have his baseball club, one way or another. And next week, we'll see how he got it.