Baseball’s First Professional Contracts

The earliest contract for professional ball play I have come across is from 1870. In that year the Chicago White Stockings formed as a professional club along the model of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, an “eclectic nine”–by which was meant that the city would welcome strangers from all over the country, and pay them, if they could play first-rate ball. Civic pride and local origin, two old-fashioned virtues, were suddenly rendered flexible. This of course is the Steinbrennerian model of free agency, only a century earlier.

At the Baseball Hall of Fame exists a contract between the new Chicagos and Levi Meyerle, formerly of the Athletic Club of Philadelphia. The two parties agreed that for one year, from February 15, 1870 through February 14, 1871, the player would receive $125 per month, for a total of $1500. I stress this seemingly obvious calculation only because in most player contracts that were to come, the player would be paid by the month only for the duration of the playing season.

I located one of the three surviving contracts from the National Association of 1871 at Cooperstown as well. Sam Jackson signed up for the 1871 season with the Boston Red Stockings for six months, March 15 through November 15, 1871. His salary was $93.75 per month ($750 total). The other two I located at the Illinois Historical Society. Both of these agreements were made by the Rockford club–one with catcher Scott Hastings, the other with 19-year-old third baseman Cap Anson. Hastings was paid $100 per month for five and a half months (total $550) running from May 1, through October 15, 1871. Anson’s tenure was a full six months, from April 15 through October 15, 1871, but he was paid only $66 and two-third dollars per month (total $400). Actually, this contract has so many interesting nonfinancial terms that I will offer it verbatim below.

CAP ANSON’S 1871 CONTRACT [spelling, styling, and punctuation rendered precisely]

Memorandum of Agreement: made and entered into this 31st day of March A.D. 1871, by and between John P. Manny, John C. Barbour, Henry W. Price, Hosmer P. Holland and Jerome C. Roberts of the City of Rockford, Illinois, prty of the first part; and Adrian C. Anson of Marshalltown Iowa, party of the second part:

Whereas divers residents of said city of Rockford have associated themselves and contributed a common fund for the organization and maintenance of a first class base ball club, to be known and called “The Forest City Base Ball Club of Rockford Illinois”;

And whereas the said party of the second part, being desirous of playing in said club; has represented to the party of the first part that he is a first class base ball player and possessed of the skill, and physically competent, to play said game as a member of a first class club;

Now therefore, this Agreement Witnesseth: That the said party of the second part, in consideration of the premises and of the promises and agreements of the party of the first part, hereinafter expressed, has, and does, covenant and agree, to and with said party of the first part, to play the game of base ball with said Forest City Base Ball Club, and in any position, he may be therein assigned by the Directors of said Club, for and during the season of A.D. 1871, to wit: from April 15th A.D. 1871 , to and including October 15th A.D. 1871.

And in further consideration of the premises said party of the second part promises and agrees to keep and observe the following rules of conduct and discipline, viz:

To use his best efforts to advance the interests of said Club, by cheerfull, prompt and respectfull obedience of the Directions and requirements of the Directors thereof, or of any person by said Directors placed in authority over him, as well as the by laws of said Club;

To abstain from the use of Alcoholic Liquors: unless medically prescribed, and to conduct himself, both off and on the Ball Ground, in all things like a gentleman;

To report promptly for duty at the grounds of the Club for all games, and for practice at the hours designated there for by the officers of the Club, and upon the grounds, to abstain from profane language, scuffling and light conduct, and to discourage the same in others.

To practise at least two and a half hours per day. On each and every practice day of the Club, and at all times both in games and at practice, to use his best endeavours to perfect himself in play. Always bearing in mind that the Object in view in every game is to win.

And in further consideration of the premises said party of the second part promises and agrees that he will not make, or procure to be made for him, or in any [way] be concerned or interested in, any bet or wager upon the result of any game, or upon the playing of any member of the club, or upon anything connected with any game, in which said Forest City Club, may engage during the time of his engagement hereunder.

And in consideration of the premises, said party of the first part promise and agree to pay said party of the second part the sum of Sixty six and two third ($66 2/3) Dollars per month for each and every month of the time he may play with said Forest City Club, payable as follows; to wit: Sixty Six and two third ($66 2/3) Dollars on the 1st day of June A.D. 1871, and sixty six and two third ($66 2/3) Dollars on the first day of each and every month thereafter of the term of his employment, as aforesaid, the balance due to be fully paid on the 1st day of November A.D. 1871.

A.C. Anson [signed]

J.C. Barbour [signed]

Hosmer P. Holland [signed]

2 Comments

Hi Mr. Thorn,
I find your article very interesting regarding early baseball contracts. I have a contract from 1871 for the Rockford Forest City and William Osborne. The verbiage is almost exactly as Cap Anson’s.
Regards,
Bill

I’d love to see this, Bill. Can you send me a digital version or a photocopy? Email me at john.thorn@mlb.com to advise.

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