1889 Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players Letter Collection (3)

Sold For: $1,763

Auction Year: 2010 spring

Lot: 1176

Item Year: 1889

Category: Pre-1900 Baseball Memorabilia

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This collection of three handwritten letters, each dating from the year 1889 and addressed to former Major League shortstop Robert Gilman Allen, is historically significant in that each specifically mentions the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players and touches upon the player revolt that resulted in the formation of the Players League in 1890. The "Brotherhood" as it is often referred to, was formed in 1885 to collectively protect the players against the abuses of management and represented the first organized labor movement in baseball history. Future Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward was elected president of the organization and he frequently clashed with owners over unfair labor practices, most notably the reserve clause. In 1889 the owners adopted a fixed salary scale based upon a player's categorization, which, of course, was determined by management. For many players, Ward included, the tiered salary structure was the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back." After attempting to negotiate with owners for a year, only to be rebuffed, Ward and the Brotherhood obtained financial backing and formed their own league in 1890. The new league, named the Player's League, successfully recruited many of the top stars from both the National League and American Association; however, it was short lived. Even though the Players League enjoyed the best attendance of the three Major Leagues, it wasn't enough to turn a profit. Every team in all three leagues lost money that season, but it was the Player' League owners who flinched first, eventually abandoning plans for a second season. A year later the American Association also folded, leaving the National League with a monopoly it enjoyed until the formation of the American League in 1901. These are the first letters we have ever seen with "Brotherhood" content, and each offers a rare historical glimpse into the "tempest" preceding the formation of the Players League in 1890.

1) Four-page handwritten letter (four sides of a single fold-over sheet), dated November 3, 1889, and addressed to Robert Allen, signed by Edward Fusselbach, a former Major League catcher who played in both the American Association and Union Association between the years 1882 and 1888. A resident of Philadelphia, this letter finds Fusselbach recruiting players for Philadelphia Phillies owner A. J. Reach in anticipation of the Phillies losing players to the Players League. In part: "Bob I will tell you something I don't want you to let it go any further, if the Brotherhood goes it alone why I will go out on the road for players for Mr. Reach I have been in his place a dozen times in the last week having quiet confabs. I suppose you know what that means. We will all know after next Wed. The Brotherhood then meets it will be stick or no stick. I have put him on to two or three players he hasn't bagged any of them yet it will be a big card for me if he does get them and they only turn out right." Interestingly, it seems that Allen himself was eventually recruited by Fusselbach. Bill Hallman, the Phillies starting shortstop in 1899, jumped to Philadelphia's entry in the Players League in 1890. He was replaced in the Phillies starting lineup that year by Robert Allen. 5 x 8 inches. Ex, with normal mailing folds. Together with the original mailing envelope (4.75 x 3.5 inches; Vg-Ex). 2) Ten-page handwritten letter (front and back of five individual sheets), dated November 16, 1889, and addressed to Robert Allen, signed by Edward Fusselbach. This letter expands on the issues addressed in his earlier letter of November 3rd. In part: "I guess my trip out west has fell through. I saw Reach this morning he just got back from New York having been there since Monday. I ask and he said he would wait awhile and not sign any more players you can bet Bob that he expects to get back some of the old gang that played with him last season and he has an idea that a good many of the Brotherhood will weaken...Reach did intend to hire a new team of young blood to take the place of the old leaguers and I was to hire them but he must have learned something over in New York at the meeting...Johnnie Ward he wanted to know where the league was going to get men to take their places. Well, if I had my way I would show him of course it might take a little time but there is in my estimation a good many players in the league that is [sic] playing on suspicion and it wouldn't be very hard to fill their places." 5 x 8 inches. Ex, with normal mailing folds. Together with the original mailing envelope (5 x 3 inches; Vg). 3) Seven-page handwritten letter (seven individual sheets), dated December 16, 1889, and addressed to Robert Allen, signed by F. L. Dodge, a partner in the law firm of Cooke & Dodge. The date of this letter is significant, for it was on this very day that the Players League was formally organized. In his letter, written on Cooke & Dodge letterhead, Dodge writes to Allen as a friend and discusses, among many other personal matters, his feelings regarding the Brotherhood. In part: "We are watching the B. B. matter with interest from a neutral ground and are coming to the conclusion that the Brotherhood is not going to do more than annoy the league management. Co-operation B.B. has never known a success and never will I think, and the Brotherhood plan is largely a co-operation one." 8 x 10.5 inches. Vg, with normal fold lines, along which are a few small tears on each page. Together with the original mailing envelope (6 x 3.5 inches; Vg). This is a fascinating and unique archive of original source documents relating directly to one of nineteenth-century baseball's most significant and turbulent chapters. Total: 3 letters. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $300. Estimate $500/$1,000. SOLD FOR $1,763

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