Baseball of the Bygone Days, by Jimmy Wood, Part 6
This is the sixth and final installment of Jimmy Wood’s memoirs, unpublished since their serialization by a newspaper syndicate in August 1916. The opening segment, of six, may be read at http://goo.gl/SHvXtL.
Related by James Wood, Captain and Manager of the Famous Chicago White Stockings of 1870-71, to Frank G. Menke.
The formation of the National League in 1876 was the direct outgrowth of crookedness which had existed in baseball some years previously, and which I was fortunate enough to uncover during the sensational Louisville-Chicago series in the summer of 1875.
Some historians have it that Hall, Craver and Devlin, the Louisville players, were expelled from baseball in 1877, but that is an error. They were barred from baseball two years earlier, due to the fact that I intercepted their telegrams, addressed to some of my Chicago players, in which they outlined how my team was to throw the ensuing series to the admittedly inferior Louisville club for the benefit of the gamblers.
[There is a swirl of confusion here, perhaps born of the Wood-Menke collaboration, with the latter trying to square up, unsuccessfully, the former’s recollection. (1) Hall and Craver did not join Louisville until 1877. (2) There had been a betting scandal at Louisville in 1876 in which George Bechtel was expelled and Jim Devlin exonerated. (3) Louisville did not have a professional club in the National Association of 1875, the last year that Wood managed the White Stockings. (4) Devlin indeed played mostly first base in 1875–but for Chicago, Jimmy Wood’s club! Attempting to untangle the web, I think it likely that there was indeed a gambling incident in 1875 which Wood foiled, but it involved Philadelphia (two franchises possibly, the Athletics and Centennials), not Louisville. Hall and Craver both played with the Athletics in 1875, and the man Wood recalls as Devlin might well have been Bechtel, who like Craver played for both the Athletics and the Centennials in that year. My conclusion: swap Bechtel for Devlin and Philadelphia for Louisville, and Wood’s story makes sense.–jt]
In the early days of baseball, especially during that period from 1869 to 1875, baseball was the real gambling sport in America. Hundreds of thousands of dollars often were bet on the outcome of big series. Gamblers circulated—without restraint—through the stands, offering bets. They would lay odds on any angle of the game; bet on the straight outcome, on the number of hits, the number of runs in each inning and the number of errors, etc.
Not only was there heavy plunging on the games in the parks, but thousands of dollars were wagered in the poolrooms in every city on the result of the different games.
And because of the tendency of the public to back their diamond favorites to the limit, the gamblers planned a huge clean-up in that Louisville-Chicago series, expecting the aid of the three Louisville players.
Craver, the Louisville catcher, and captain, was selected as the real go-between. He previously played on my Chicago team, but I suspicioned [sic] him of shady tactics and released him. Louisville later signed him. Craver told the gamblers that he needed the assistance of one or two of the other Louisville players to swing the big coup, and, with their sanction, enlisted the services of Hall, the center fielder, and Devlin, the first baseman of the Louisville club.
Shortly before Louisville came to Chicago to play that series, telegrams arrived for some of my players. They were not at the clubhouse at the time, and I thought probably the messages might contain some important news. So I opened them and in the reading of those messages there was unfolded before my eyes the monstrous plot to throw the ensuing Louisville-Chicago games to Louisville for the benefit of the gamblers.
There was nothing in those messages which led me to believe that my own boys were in the plot up to that time. The messages were more in the form of a proposal than anything else. But the way the proposition was worded meant that no reply from my players to whom the messages were addressed meant that they would enter the plot and would throw the game to the Louisville club.
Those messages promised my boys—that is those who were to be ringleaders in bringing about our defeat—a fabulous sum of money. And why shouldn’t they have been given a big amount had they entered into the compact? The gamblers behind the scheme had planned to bet every dollar they could get on the Louisville team. The odds were big—something like 5 to 1 that Chicago would win the series. It meant close to $1,000,000 for that outfit if it could swing the game to Louisville.
Well, I tucked those messages in my pocket and never said a word to any of the players. When the Louisville team arrived, I kept my players under cover. I didn’t want the Hall-Devlin-Craver crowd to meet my boys and to discover that the message never had been delivered.
It was my aim to give the gamblers what they had coming to them; to trap them with the very same trap they had laid for others. And that is just what happened.
Assuming that the game was fixed, the gamblers went ahead and bet every dollar they could muster on Louisville to win—and Louisville was beaten!
Not being absolutely sure that my players hadn’t been tampered with in person I called them together before the game began. I told them that there was a scheme afoot to have Chicago throw the game and the series to Louisville. And then I told my boys that the first imperfect play on the part of any one of them would mean not only his removal from the game but his expulsion from baseball.
And, to this day, I regard the playing of my Chicago team that afternoon, as the most perfect I have ever seen any club perform. Those boys played beyond themselves; not one of them dared to make an error of hand or head, fearing he would be tainted immediately with the suspicion of being a crook.
We won easily—and the terrific financial loss which the gamblers suffered that day cured many of them forever of the plunging fever.
Immediately after our series was over, I went to William. H. Hulbert, president of our club, and laid all the facts before him.
“This is the climax,” said Hulbert. “Baseball is a sport and should be kept a clean sport. Gambling should not enter into it. Unless we take some drastic steps now the game will be wrecked on the rocks of crookedness.”
And Hulbert, one of the finest sportsmen the game ever has produced, then went to the other club owners, made a formal complaint against Craver, Devlin and Hall and brought about their expulsion. The story of the frame-up was given wide publicity at the time and it served as a lesson to all other ball players.
Until that time, baseball had been controlled by an organization known as the National Association of Professional Baseball Players.
“It is not powerful enough and its scope is too limited,” said Hulbert. “A new ruling body is needed —one with absolute authority; one which can stamp out dishonesty and gambling in baseball.
And so Hulbert, working unceasingly during the winter of 1875 and the spring of 1876, brought about the formation of the National League—the same National League which has lived and prospered during 42 years of commingled peace and warfare.
Hulbert, in organizing the new circuit, made it a condition that “no club be a member of the National League unless it has a population of 75,000 or more. The National league circuit follows:
Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Louisville, in the west; Boston, Hartford, New York (Mutual team) and the Philadelphia Athletics in the east.
Hulbert was the unanimous selection for the presidency of the league. All he needed to do was to indicate his willingness to hold the office. But Hulbert didn’t want it to appear that he sought the honor as a reward for what he had done.
“I would suggest that in electing our first president, we dismiss the straight voting plan,” he said. “Let us write on separate slips of paper the names of each club president. Then drop them in a hat. The first name withdrawn shall be our president.”
The suggestion was accepted; the name of Morgan G. Bulkeley, of Hartford, Conn., was extracted and to him was accorded the honor of being the first chief executive of the National League.
My own baseball career ended with the close of the season of 1875. Daring 1874 I had lost a limb due to blood poisoning following a knife jab, ending my playing days. In 1875 I consented to manage the White Stockings, the team which 1 had organized in 1869-70, but I found during that 1875 season that the managerial end of the game was a bit too strenuous for a man in my condition, and I hung up my uniform when the last game was played —never to don it again.