Academic journal article Base Ball

Economic Anatomy of an 1891 Minor League Ball Club

Academic journal article Base Ball

Economic Anatomy of an 1891 Minor League Ball Club

Article excerpt

The formation of the Lowell, Massachusetts, baseball club offers a particularly illustrative example of some of the economic pitfalls that threatened minor league teams in the 19th century. For a variety of reasons, the finances of the Lowell ball club were precarious from its inception; the whole venture failed less than three months into the 1891 playing season.

Three obscure, long-defunct local newspapers-Lowell Daily News, Lowell Morning Mail, and the Evening Star-extensively covered the birth, brief life, and demise of the Lowell ball club in 1891. The three papers reported not only on-field events, but the activities of the management group that operated the team in 1891. The coverage by these three papers contrasted sharply to the skimpy coverage provided by the city's other daily newspapers-Lowell Daily Courier, Lowell Daily Citizen, and Lowell Morning Times- and the nonexistent coverage by the Lowell Sun, then a weekly, but today the city's sole surviving daily newspaper. The Sun and the Courier are the most accessible periodical resources to modern-day researchers.1

Augmenting the Lowell-based newspaper resources were commentary in the longextinct Sporting Life, a weekly baseball publication, and daily coverage by the Boston Globe of all league games, which included attendance figures.2

By integrating our knowledge of contemporary events in Lowell with emerging information about the club's management group, several interesting revelations have come to light. It appears that disingenuous motivations on the part of the management group may have been the primary culprit behind the shaky financial foundations that led to the club's collapse.

Management Group

A group of men met on Thursday evening, March 19, 1891, at the American House (a hotel on Central Street in the heart of downtown Lowell) to discuss the formation of a baseball club to represent Lowell in the New England League. Since "it seemed to be the unanimous opinion that Lowell is ripe for a club, and all that is wanted is somebody to start the ball rolling," a six-man group coalesced at this meeting to move matters forward- Martin Courtney, Edward Gallagher, William Hawes, John King, Ralph Stickney, and John Whittaker.3

The composition of this group distinctly represented Democratic Party ideals, compared to the Republican Party leanings of Frank Howe and most of the other men who had operated the last financially successful Lowell ball club in 1887.4 This change in political persuasion coincided with the election by Lowell citizens of a Democratic mayor in December 1890, George Fifield, who defeated the Republican incumbent Charles Palmer. Fifield took offce in January 1891, as Democrats also replaced many Republicans on the Board of Alderman and were now poised to exercise greater influence in heavily industrialized Lowell, whose economy was dominated by textile mills. In general, the two political parties had polar ideologies, with Democrats favoring the working man and Republicans favoring business owners.

Two major construction projects in Lowell were set to get underway in 1891: the construction of a new city hall and a library on land the city had acquired on Merrimack Street at the western edge of downtown Lowell. The Board of Alderman had authorized the projects in 1888, architects were selected in 1889, construction contracts were awarded in spring of 1890, and cornerstones were laid in fall of 1890.5 Both projects were intended to position Lowell-now the third-largest city in Massachusetts with 80,000 residents-as a major urban center that was now independent of the Boston industrialists who had initially developed it.

"A new era is dawning upon the city," Mayor John Pickman said at the dedication of the new city hall in 1893. "Our city is no longer a mere workshop and an adjunct to Boston; the inhabitants are no longer the servants of the bell. Wealth has come to many of our citizens, and with wealth increased opportunities for culture and the development of taste. …

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