This extremely historic contract, dated December 3, 1875, between Charles Mason and the Philadelphia Base Ball Club is, to the best of our knowledge, the earliest professional baseball contract known to exist in private hands. It is also of enormous significance as the only player contract known to exist in private hands from the National Association, baseball's first professional league. The only other National Association contracts known are in institutional collections. (Our thanks are due to world-renowned baseball historian John Thorn, who in 2011 was named Major League Baseball's official historian, for sharing his knowledge of their existence.) This may be the only opportunity to ever acquire a contract from baseball's first professional league.
The one-page contract, both printed and handwritten, stipulates that Mason will play exclusively with the Philadelphia White Stockings of the National Association, that he will obey all the rules of the club, and that he will participate in every exhibition and game played by the club, with sickness being the only exception. The agreement also states that Philadelphia shall have the right to terminate the contract at its discretion and that Mason shall receive a salary of "$700 for his services, payable in equal monthly installments, beginning on June 1, 1876." The most interesting aspect of this contract is its provisional clause, which is handwritten in black fountain pen (labeled clause "5") in the space provided at the base. In full: That the said Mason, during the months of April and May of the year 1876 does hereby agree that his services shall be an experiment and should his play prove satisfactory to the managers and directors of said Phila. BBC then the terms of this contract to remain in full force, otherwise to be and void.
The contract has been signed in black fountain pen by "Chas Mason” (grading "8/9"), team president "George Concannon" ("9/10"), and two witnesses: "Colgan" (first name illegible) and "Wm. W. Young" ("10" and "9," respectively). It is fully executed with the Philadelphia Athletics embossed seal. Unfortunately, for Mason, he never received an opportunity to make the club that spring because the National Association disbanded and was replaced by the newly formed National League. While a few of the National Association clubs joined the National League, the Philadelphia White Stockings were not one of them, leaving Mason out in the cold. Oddly, Mason's name does surface in the National League records for 1876, not as a player, but as an umpire! His only season of major league baseball as a player took place in 1883 with the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association. Mason only appeared in one game with the Athletics, but he made the most of his opportunity. With one hit in two at bats, Mason ended his major league career with a .500 batting average. But Mason was far from through with the game! He was a dedicated baseball man who was involved with the game in one way or another continuously. His next documented appearance in the majors came in 1887, not as a player, but as manager of the American Association Athletics. Mason took over for Frank Bancroft, who was fired after fifty-five games. Mason then led the club to a 38-40 record during his short managerial tenure. Fortunately, for collectors, his timing was good, and he appears in the 1887 Kalamazoo Bats set. (It is interesting to note that Mason is pictured on his Kalamazoo Bats tobacco card sitting in the dugout in street clothes, exactly as Harry Wright, manager of the Philadelphia Nationals, is pictured sitting in the dugout on his Kalamazoo Bats card.) A career baseball man, Mason later managed the Philadelphia Giants of the Middle States League in 1889, and Allentown/Lancaster in the Eastern Interstate League in 1890. After that, Mason vanishes from the professional record books, but given his extensive baseball background, we can only assume he remained active in the game at the local level.
This contract originates directly from Mason's family and is accompanied by a signed letter of provenance from Mason's great grandson, William Mason.
Early baseball documents dating prior to the birth of the National League in 1876 are exceedingly rare. It was saved all of these years by Mason's family and has only been offered for public sale one time previously. In addition to being what we believe to be the earliest and only known National Association baseball contract in private hands, this document also commemorates the demise of the the National Association, baseball's first professional league. The National Association, which was founded in 1871, was plagued by numerous problems during its years of operation, most notably a lack of central authority. League rules were rarely obeyed, schedules were not kept, and the behavior of the players was far from exemplary. William Hulbert, a Chicago businessman and owner of the Chicago White Stockings of the National Association, realized the League's shortcomings and was determined to right the problem. In 1876, he, along with few of the other more responsible National Association team owners, founded the National League. Through Hulbert's leadership, the newly formed National League "cleaned up" the game by introducing a regular schedule, banning alcoholic beverages from games, limiting rowdyism among players, and, most important, working to eliminate gambling on games. This contract, dated December 3, 1875, may very well be the last surviving National Association document. Player contracts in general naturally have great historical significance in documenting the terms and evolution of the sport, any contract from the National Association, baseball's first professional league, is of extraordinary significance, representing the dawn of baseball as a professional sport. This is the first National Association contract we have ever seen, and, in our opinion, it is unlikely that another example will ever surface or be available.
The contract (8.5 x 14 inches) displays normal fold lines, along the lines of which are a number of minor tears, a few small areas of scattered staining and/or discoloration, and a few minor tears along the border areas. It has been professionally backed with rice paper for conservation purposes. In Very Good condition overall. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $16,590
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