1889 Brooklyn Base Ball Club National League Membership Application

Sold For: $165,900

Auction Year: 2014 spring

Lot: 1068

Item Year: 1889

Category: Pre-1900 Baseball Memorabilia

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Extraordinary historically significant approved application granting the Brooklyn Dodgers official entry into the National League for the 1890 season. This is the single most important document that could possibly exist relating to the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, and represents, quite literally, the birth of the Brooklyn National League franchise. During the early years of the National League, which was founded in 1876, the membership was in constant flux. When a team either folded or was expelled, potential replacements were required to submit a formal, written application for membership, which would be reviewed by the League's governing board. Offered here is the very application submitted by Brooklyn for entry into the National League following the departure of both the Washington and Indianapolis franchises after the 1889 season. The one-page letter, scripted in black fountain pen on a lined sheet of paper, is dated "New York Nov. 14. 1889," and reads in full:

To the Secretary of - The National League of Professional B. B. Clubs. Dear Sir: The Brooklyn Base Ball Club and organization incorporated under the laws of the State of New York, respectfully asks for membership in your league. Said Club is duly organized and officered with grounds thoroughly prepared and equipped. Very Truly Yours - Chas. H. Byrne - Pres. and Secretary.

Brooklyn's application was formally accepted by the National League, as noted by the pencil signatures of the members of the League's governing board directly below, which are preceded by the word, "Approved." The five League officials approving the application are "NE Young - Chairman," "John B. Day," W. A. Nimick," W. F. Hewitt," and "J. T. Brush." All of the signatures are boldly scripted and grade "9" or "10." The reverse of the document also bears the docket "Brooklyn/Nov. 14. 1889," scripted in black ink.

Nicholas Young was president of the National League at the time, while John B. Day owned the New York Giants, William A. Nimick owned Pittsburgh, W. F. Hewitt owned Washington, and J. T. Brush had owned the League's Indianapolis franchise up until that year. Charles Byrne owned Brooklyn from 1884 to 1897. Of the six men who have signed this document, Brush is the most important today. As owner of Indianapolis, he was responsible for creating the salary limitations for player contracts that was the main impetus for the formation of the Players' League in 1890. Brush later owned Cincinnati, where he rose to become one of the most powerful figures in baseball. In 1903 he purchased the New York Giants. One year later he unilaterally canceled the World Series by refusing to let his Giants meet the Red Sox in the fall classic, mainly because of a long-standing feud he had with American League president Ban Johnson. His ownership of the Giants continued until his death in 1912.

This application, as do nearly all of the few surviving National League applications, comes with the remarkable provenance of having originated directly from the estate of Nicholas Young. After Young's tenure as league president ended (1885-1902) he destroyed many of the league documents he held. Fortunately his family later discovered that a few survived; all of these were eventually sold. Of those surviving documents, few approach the significance of this extraordinary relic.

The Brooklyn Base Ball Club rose to major league status in 1884 when it joined the American Association. After struggling early, the team gradually improved its quality of play and by 1889 had risen to be league champions. Despite the club's success in 1889, the season was an extremely tumultuous one for team owner Charles Byrne. A number of controversial umpiring decisions in games against the St. Louis Browns resulted in a bitter feud between Byrne and Browns owner Chris Von der Ahe that eventually divided the league into two warring factions. By the time the season was over and the league's annual winter meeting convened on November 13, 1889, in New York City, Byrne was more than open to the overtures he had been receiving to join the more established National League. As fate would have it, the National League's annual winter meeting was also held on November 13th, at the very same hotel where the American Association officials were gathered. It was at that time that the National League officials conveyed to Byrne an invitation to join their league. As evidenced by the offered document, Byrne submitted a formal application for admittance the following day, November 14th, which, according to the published minutes of the National League (in the 1890 Constitution and Playing Rules of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs ), was approved by the league's governing board that very day. Ideally, much of the history and drama regarding Brooklyn's final, tumultuous season in the American Association, including its decision to join the National League, is fully documented (mainly by primary news sources) in Baseball in 1889: Players Vs. Owners by Daniel Mearle Pearson (Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993).

Interestingly, we know of the existence of one other enormously significant document pertaining to Brooklyn's official entry into the National League that also originates directly from the Nicholas Young family. That document, dated November 20, 1889, is in the form of a two-page handwritten "thank you" letter from Byrne to Nicholas Young. In the letter, Byrne acknowledges receipt of the league's formal notice regarding his club's admission and also offers his sincere appreciation for that acceptance. These letters have been separated over the decades but each compliments the other and, together, represent the complete documentation of the birth of the Brooklyn Dodgers National League franchise.

Brooklyn celebrated its first season in the National League by winning the pennant in 1890. (The World Series against Louisville ended in a tie; it was postponed after seven games due to cold weather.) Since that time, the Dodgers have remained one of the league's most venerable and storied franchises, first in Brooklyn and currently in Los Angeles. The document (7.5 x 9 inches) displays two vertical and three horizontal mailing folds and is otherwise in apparent Excellent to Mint condition. Matted and framed to total dimensions of 16 x 17.5 inches. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $30,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $165,900

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