Anatomy of a Murder: The Federal League and the Courts, Part 3

Official Federal League baseball

Official Federal League baseball

Gary Hailey’s article continues from yesterday (http://goo.gl/GyXEQI).

PEACE TALKS

Baltimore officials did hear rumors that some Federal League owners were negotiating a settlement. At a November 9 league meeting in Indianapolis, Baltimore President Rasin asked Gilmore, Weeghman, and Sinclair point-blank if there was any truth in newspaper reports to that effect. All three denied that they were in communication with Organized Baseball, but Rasin suspected at the time that their denials “might not be frank.” In early December, Rasin saw more “newspaper talk” that O.B. and the Federal League were about to cut a deal. When he called Gilmore, Gilmore again assured him that there was no truth to the rumors.

On December 12, Gilmore ran into three National League officials in the lobby of New York City’s Biltmore Hotel. One of them asked Gilmore to “come around and take this matter up” at the National League owners’ meeting scheduled for the next day. Gilmore turned down the invitation. “Absolutely nothing doing,” he said. “We have gone too far and made too much progress on our New York invasion.”

The next day, the same men called Gilmore and asked him to “come over and fix this thing up.” Gilmore–hoping to hook his adversaries a little more firmly before reeling them in–feigned disinterest. “I told you the other day I would not have anything to do with it,” he said, “and I will not talk about it.”

Gilmore then turned to Harry Sinclair and said, in a voice loud enough for his caller to hear, “Harry, these people want [us] to come over and talk to them. Do you want to go?” Also intending the caller to hear him, Sinclair replied, “We might as well go and hear what they have to say.” The two of them went to National League President Tener’s office to discuss the situation.

Federal League officials: (top row) Weeghman, W. Ward, Comstock; (middle row) L. Goldman, R. Ward, Steininger, Gilmore, G. Ward, Schleunes, Walker, Robertson, George, Carroll; (bottom row) Krause, Ball, H. Goldman, Mullen, Rickart, Hanlon, Gates

Federal League officials: (top row) Weeghman, W. Ward, Comstock; (middle row) L. Goldman, R. Ward, Steininger, Gilmore, G. Ward, Schleunes, Walker, Robertson, George, Carroll; (bottom row) Krause, Ball, H. Goldman, Mullen, Rickart, Hanlon, Gates

Gilmore, Sinclair, and the National League representatives came to a tentative peace agreement. First, the NL agreed to make all blacklisted Federal League players eligible to play in O.B. and to let the Federal League owners sell their players’ contracts to the highest bidders. Next, the NL owners offered to buy the Brooklyn Federals’ park for $400,000, subject to the American League owners agreeing to kick in half of that sum. They also promised to approve the sale of the Chicago Cubs to Chicago Federals owner Charles E. Weeghman and put up $50,000 of the purchase price. The NL owners then agreed to buyout the Pittsburgh Federals for $50,000. Sinclair was a close friend of St. Louis Federals owner Phil Ball, and he assured the conferees that Ball would be satisfied if he could buy either the Cardinals or the Browns. The Buffalo and Kansas City clubs were no longer members in good standing of the Federal League–their owners had run out of money before the season ended, and the other teams had provided funds to pay their players in order to keep the league’s financial problems a secret–so there was little need to worry about them. There was apparently no discussion concerning the Newark franchise, even though owner Sinclair was present.

That left only the Baltimore club. Gilmore testified that he asked for $200,000 for Baltimore’s owners, but was laughed at. He later told Sinclair that he thought it was wise “to start high.” The meeting then broke up.

On December 16, 1915, Rasin received a telegram from Gilmore: “You and Hanlon be at Biltmore in morning. Important.” Rasin, Hanson, and Janney took the midnight train to New York, and went to Gilmore’s apartment at the Biltmore Hotel on the morning of December 17. Gilmore explained that he had summoned them to New York to tell them that the 1916 Federal League season was “all off.” Gilmore then told the stunned Baltimore officials about the tentative peace agreement of the 13th.

Terrapin Park, Federal League, Baltimore

Terrapin Park, Federal League, Baltimore

Janney and Rasin asked why Gilmore and the others had agreed to sell out, but Gilmore did not reply. They then asked what arrangements had been made concerning the Baltimore club’s interests. None, said Gilmore; however, he was sure that Baltimore would be “taken care of” before the settlement was made final.

Later, Sinclair, Weeghman, and representatives of other Federal League teams joined the meeting. They told the Baltimoreans that the opportunity to make peace had arisen suddenly and unexpectedly, and no one then present in New York felt he had authority to speak for Baltimore; however, like Gilmore, they were all sure that the National Commission would give due consideration to Baltimore’s claims.

The Baltimore officials were in no mood to take Gilmore’s advice and “accept the situation philosophically.” According to Janney, the discussion “grew rather bitter.” When Sinclair defended his and his allies’ actions, “quite a dispute arose” between him and Janney; “his words and mine,” Janney testified, “were not always of the smoothest.” Janney argued that the Federal League clubs should get some share of the proceeds of any agreement to dissolve the circuit, but Sinclair said he “would have none of that.”

Gilmore and his allies hoped to finalize the December 13 agreement at a meeting with American and National League club owners that evening at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. According to Gilmore, Comstock, and Ward, Rasin moved that a committee of three–Gilmore, Sinclair, and Weeghman–be authorized to represent all the Federal League clubs at that meeting. Rasin denied that he made such a motion.

Charles Weeghman

Charles Weeghman

THE WALDORF MEETING

The Waldorf meeting was called to order by National Commission president August Herrmann at 9:10 P.M., Friday, December 17, 1915. Among the thirty or so baseball men present at the meeting were American and National League presidents Johnson and Tener; Federal Leaguers Gilmore, Sinclair, Weeghman, and Rasin; American League owners Charles Comiskey (White Sox) and Colonel Jacob Ruppert (Yankees); and National League owners Charles Ebbets (Dodgers), James Gaffney (Braves), and Barney Dreyfuss (Pirates). A stenographer was present, and a transcript was produced.

The conferees quickly ratified those parts of the tentative peace agreement of December 13 that provided that the National League would put up $50,000 toward Weeghman’s purchase of the Cubs; that Organized Baseball would pay R.B. Ward’s heirs $20,000 a year for twenty years in exchange for the Brooklyn Federals’ stadium; that Organized Baseball would pay $50,000 to the owners of the Pittsburgh Federals; and that all Federal League players would be eligible to return to O.B.

Gilmore was asked if his committee was empowered to enter into a binding agreement on behalf of the Federal League.

Gilmore: I can say for the Federal League that the committee represented here tonight was appointed with full authority to discuss this proposition with you, and conclude any agreement that we might come to, and we are ready to open up the talk and see what can be done.

Herrmann: I understand, Mr. Gilmore, you state now that you have authority to act on behalf of the Federal League; that is, your committee?

Gilmore: We have full authority, Mr. Herrmann.

Rasin did not challenge Gilmore’s assertion. At about the time the meeting was beginning, a Baltimore Sun reporter went to the Biltmore to tell Janney that it looked as if Baltimore might be able to get a National League team. Janney hurried to the Waldorf, where Rasin also told him that Baltimore had a good chance of landing an established franchise if they asked for one. Herrmann then gave Janney the floor.

We feel just as I suppose everyone feels, that peace is the very best proposition in baseball and for baseball. We are all willing to concede that, and we hope it will come about. There is in the proposal which has been adopted, and which has been signed by certain parties–the situation in Baltimore is not touched upon, and it seems to me important in several aspects. In the first place, Baltimore has a population of seven hundred and fifty or eight hundred thousand people, including the suburbs …. 

We are willing to purchase and pay for a franchise in the major leagues, if we can get it, and we want that to be the main keynote of our situation this evening ….

….

We are not venturing to suggest to you gentlemen just what franchise we think that would be. You could work that out probably better than ourselves, but that is our starting point, and that is what we would like to see, and which we lay before you.

Baltimore is not mentioned in the proposals that you have heretofore considered, and we think that, that is–we want to be taken up with every consideration, and … if you state or suggest that Baltimore would not pay the rest of the teams what the city does from which the franchise might be moved, we would be willing, and we will say that [we] will guarantee to pay as much as the city from which it is moved. In other words, the patronage there, we are willing to stand back of. We know it is there. We know that the people [will] attend the games, and we know we can produce the same revenue for a visiting team that has been produced by the city from which it will be moved …. 

….

Charles Comiskey, Sept 12, 1915, St. Louis Globe-Democrat

Charles Comiskey, Sept 12, 1915, St. Louis Globe-Democrat

We represent a large body of representative citizens there, and we will see to it that suitable guarantees are given to back up every word that I have said. That is our position, gentlemen; and … we do not ask anything if we could be given the privilege of buying and locating a major league club in Baltimore, at a reasonable price, a franchise in … either one or the other of the two major leagues which you represent. We do not ask anybody to sacrifice anything or contribute to us. We are willing to stand in our own position and come forward and back our words with deeds and give you suitable guarantees.

Several of the major league owners present ridiculed the notion that Baltimore could support a major league franchise.

Comiskey: Well, what would you give for a franchise in Baltimore? Suppose we could blow life into McGraw and Kelley and Jennings and all those players that you had there that you could not support …. What would you give for those players if we would guarantee that they would play good ball in Baltimore for ten years, what would you pay for them and how loyally would you support them?

Janney: We would support them well.

Comiskey: What crowd would you draw?

Janney: We would draw sufficient to enable us to pay $250,000 for a franchise.

Comiskey: That is just the proper price for a minor league franchise …. Baltimore, a minor-league city, and not a hell of a good one at that.

Ebbets: That’s right.

Comiskey: As sure as you are sitting there now, and your friends will tell you. Charlie, show them what you have got in Baltimore. You are the best evidence in the world. Tell them what you drew in Baltimore ….

Ebbets: When [Ned Hanlon] quit Baltimore and came to Brooklyn, he said, “Baltimore is not a major league city.” We lost money in Baltimore operating the club with the same players that Mr. Comiskey speaks of.

Janney: There are very peculiar circumstances that brought that about.

Ebbets: Nothing peculiar about it; it is a minor league city, positively and absolutely, and will never be anything else.

Janney: That is your opinion.

Ebbets: Sure that is my opinion, because I had a piece of experience and lost money down there.

Janney: But money has been lost in other towns also in baseball.

Ebbets: Not in major league cities.

Janney: Yes, they have been lost in other towns that are major league cities.

Ebbets: It is one of the worst minor league towns in this country.

Janney: It will never be a minor league town because the people feel naturally–

Ebbets: You have too many colored population to start with. They are a cheap population when it gets down to paying their money at the gate.

Janney: They come across, I think, in good shape. This is perfectly futile, of course. It requires your consent and I am not going to try to convince you when you are so set in your ways.

Charles Ebbets

Charles Ebbets

Janney was right to call further discussion futile. Under both American and National League rules, the transfer of any franchise to Baltimore would require the unanimous consent of the league owners. From the statements of the owners at the meeting, it is clear that any motion to give Baltimore an existing team–Janney and Rasin had thought the Cardinals might be available–would have been met not with unanimous consent, but unanimous refusal.

The two sides agreed that a detailed settlement, including something for Baltimore, should be worked out by the National Commission and a Federal League committee of three. Gilmore proposed that himself, Sinclair, and Weeghman serve as that committee, and neither Janney nor Rasin objected.

There was then some discussion of the Federal League’s pending antitrust suit against Organized Baseball, which Judge Landis had still not decided. National League counsel John C. Toole felt that the suit should be withdrawn before any more negotiating was done:

[I]t seems to me that the very first thing that should be done, and that should be done very promptly, to show that the thing is moving along, is that both sides should agree that that action be discontinued, and prompt steps should be taken to discontinue it and get it out of the way. That ought to be done before you have any meeting of the [National] Commission with this committee.

Janney objected that Toole was putting the cart before the horse.

Janney: I think that should be part of the agreement ultimately reached, that the suit be discontinued. It would not certainly be any discourtesy to the Court for parties to a litigation to discuss its composition, and when they come to a composition, then to have the dismissal of the action as a part of the composition.

Toole: You are not settling that suit, that is the difficulty. If you were settling that litigation, that is another thing, but you are settling a multitude of things in no way involved in that, and reaching agreements on them and this decision has been in abeyance. He may decide it tomorrow, and all this go to nothing, and put you all in a very embarrassing position, although you do not, perhaps, get into contempt of court.

Janney: I think the most that could be done, so far as I can see, would be to wire our respective counsel to appear before the Court tomorrow and advise him that there are matters under discussion which may ultimately result in an agreement, and if this agreement is effective, it will involve the discontinuance of the action before him, and suggest it would be proper for him to delay rendering a decision in it until this could be seen, whether the composition was effected, and that would be perfectly compatible with every possible legal or courteous principle…. What we do here will be subject to the dismissal. It is not usual to dismiss the case and then compose it. You compose it and then dismiss it…. You do not dismiss your suit and then agree how to settle it. That is that whole settlement. You settle this thing, and then, with your settlement, go and dismiss it. I have no objection, of course, to notifying the attorneys and telling them to do everything that is necessary to be courteous and pleasing to the Court.

When the meeting was adjourned, Toole telegraphed Organized Baseball’s Chicago attorney:

Negotiations are pending, which if carried out will result in an agreement to withdraw the action brought by the Federal League. Please bring the matter to the attention of ]udge Landis, if you think it advisable, and secure his approval of situation. Communicate with attorneys for Federal League, who will be advised by their client.

Chicago Federals

Chicago Federals

The Federal League was dead, but Gilmore and his allies weren’t shedding any tears over its demise. Fearful that the league was doomed anyway, they decided to cut their losses rather than fight to the finish. Organized Baseball was happy to offer the Federal League a generous peace settlement. After all, there was still a chance that Judge Landis would issue a damaging verdict in the Federal League’s antitrust action. The rival league’s New York bluff also raised the specter of even more bitter competition for players and fans, with plenty of red ink to go around.

Ban Johnson would have preferred not to call a truce. The Federal League’s threat to put a team in New York may have fooled the National League, but the American League knew better: It had considered building a new stadium on the Lenox Avenue property years earlier, but found that it was absolutely impractical to locate a park there. Johnson was characteristically blunt in describing his feelings about the peace pact.

Q. Can you tell us without any lengthy answer why did you pay $50,000 for [the Pittsburgh park]?

A. That was a tentative agreement that the National League entered into, and we abided by their decision in the matter. I could not see any reason why Pittsburgh should be given
$50,000. As a matter of fact I did not want to give a five-cent piece to Pittsburgh.

Q. What you wanted to do was to knock them out?

A. Knock them out; that is it.

Q. Not to pay a cent?

A. Not a nickel.

Q. You were not as generous as Mr. Herrmann. Mr. Herrmann said yesterday he wanted to help them out.

A. I did not want to help them out. I am very frank in that regard.

The National Commission and the Federal League committee signed a peace treaty in Cincinnati On December 22. Before the agreement was concluded, Gilmore called Rasin to ask if Baltimore would accept $75,000, but Rasin said no. Another meeting to discuss Baltimore’s claims was held in Cincinnati on January 5, 1916, but no settlement was reached. A day or two later, Baltimore filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, but Assistant Attorney General Todd announced on January 11 that he had no reason to believe that Organized Baseball had violated the antitrust laws.

More tomorrow.

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