1889 Metropolitans: The Trials and Tribulations of an Independent Club
Since the early days of base ball, most professional teams have chosen to affiliate with others in leagues. This offers them certain advantages, such as having a regular schedule of games, at the cost of a loss of autonomy. Other teams have chosen, or been forced, to go it alone as independent teams. This is the story of one such club.
In 1880, the Metropolitan Club became the first professional base ball club to play its home games in New York City. Earlier clubs from New York had played in Brooklyn, then a separate city. Originally an independent club, the Metropolitans joined the American Association (AA) in 1883. They won the AA pennant in 1884, then finished in seventh place each of the next three years before being bought out by the rival Brooklyn club. Brooklyn kept some of their players and sold the contracts of others. Some of the Metropolitan players played for minor league teams in 1888. The franchise was maintained, in name only, by the AA that year. That should have been the end of the Metropolitans’ story, but in early March 1889, some of the ex-Metropolitan players decided to organize a new club with the name Metropolitan Base Ball Club of New York City.
The club was organized on a co-operative basis; there were no player salaries but all receipts net of expenses were split up among the players. Sam Crane was chosen to be manager; Jack Lynch, Billy Holbert, and Charley Jones were elected as directors, with Lynch serving also as club president. Candy Nelson was appointed club treasurer. These gentlemen had all played for the original Metropolitans, and were joined on the new club by former teammates Dasher Troy, Charlie Reipschlager, Buck Becannon, Ed Kennedy, Chief Roseman, Rooney Sweeney, Jack Hayes, and a rotating cast of players. Several players left the squad when offered a salary by a minor league team.
The first order of business was finding a place to play, and by mid-March, the club had secured Monitor Park in Weehawken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from mid-town Manhattan. Next they had to find someone to play. This proved to be difficult at times, and twice during the season, the club contemplated joining a minor league, first the Middle States League and later the Atlantic Association. However, each time they decided to stick it out on their own. While the original Metropolitans were able to schedule games against Major League teams, by 1889 those clubs had longer schedules without as many off days. Furthermore, the Brooklyn AA club refused to allow other AA teams to play the Metropolitans in their territory. Thus the Metropolitans were mainly limited to playing local semi-pro and amateur teams, occasionally competing against minor league teams. Two of those were formerly independent teams, the Cuban Giants and the Gorhams. Both of those clubs were composed of black players, including some such as Frank Grant and George Stovey who had starred in the International League earlier. Blacks were slowly being evicted from organized baseball, and thus the best of them gravitated to these independent teams. In 1889, these clubs joined the Middle States League, which was not part of the National Agreement. Since that league didn’t play games on Sunday, the Metropolitans were able to arrange games with them on the Sabbath. Being located in Weehawken was crucial to that, since many communities did not allow Sunday ball playing. Indeed, by mid-June, the Weehawken police started prohibiting the Metropolitans from playing on Sunday, and they moved those games to Recreation Park in Long Island City, NY. Later in the season, they lost Sunday privileges there, too.
The Metropolitans played a few games against the local big leaguers during their spring training, but they clearly didn’t belong on the same field as those teams. Each of the games was a crushing defeat for the Metropolitans. Several of their players were noted as being out of shape and slow, and in mid-season, it was reported that Roseman, Reipschlager, Jones, and Troy were still overweight.
The Metropolitans began their season on March 24 with a game against a picked nine of local professional players. One of those was pitcher “Kid” Carsey, who would soon sign with the Brooklyn AA club. Since they weren’t sure he was ready for the big leagues, they farmed him out to the Metropolitans, with whom he pitched an exhibition game against Brooklyn, and many more games, including one against the Gorhams in which he struck out seventeen batters.
In late June, a player named Morrison starting appearing in the box scores for the Metropolitans. This wasn’t an addition, though, but Sam Crane playing under an assumed name. Seems old Sam had been indicted in Scranton, Pennsylvania for running off with a married woman as well as some of her husband’s money. Mr. Fraunfelter didn’t care about his wife, but wanted his $1,500 back. Crane was eventually arrested in New York and taken to the Scranton jail, where he was quickly joined by Mr. Fraunfelter, whom Crane had charged with perjury. The story had a happy ending for Crane. In October the case went to trial and Crane along with Mrs. Fraunfelter was acquitted when her husband failed to appear in court. Turns out he was wanted by the police for receiving stolen goods.
Arranging games proved to be a problem once league play began. Even then, more than twenty scheduled games weren’t played, due to weather or other reasons. A series of three games in New Haven was cancelled due to a misunderstanding. Before the first game, the New Haven manager wired Crane requesting the game be postponed due to threatening weather. He later sent another telegram instructing the Metropolitans to come after all, but it was too late. A crowd appeared at the New Haven park expecting a game but the visitors did not show up. Angered, the New Haven manager cancelled the remaining two games planned for April 19; the Metropolitans in turn attached the gate receipts for the games New Haven played against other teams that day. From April 25 to May 11, the Metropolitans played just four games. At that point, Sam Crane was replaced as manager by catcher Billy Holbert. Holbert immediately arranged a series of fifteen biweekly Sunday games against the Cuban Giants. These games were played on a winner-take-all gate receipts basis. Only eleven of the games were finally played, with the Metropolitans winning six.
Bookings continued to be scarce for a while, with the Metropolitans playing one or two games a week until late June. Then things picked up for a while; they played eleven games in eighteen days, winning seven. Most of their games had reported attendance around a thousand; admission generally cost a quarter. After not playing the last half of July, the Metropolitans had their busiest month in August, playing nineteen games, winning thirteen of them. Despite all the games in August, some of the players were unhappy with Holbert’s management, and there was talk of disbanding the team. Instead, an outsider, William Primrose, was brought in to take over the club management. Holbert left the team shortly after.
They only played eighteen more games the rest of the year, despite a flurry in late September and early October, and had a lot of turnover in personnel. They finished the season with a record of 47-27. Against teams in professional leagues, they were 13-21, while going 34-6 against semi-pros and amateur clubs. Of these, their toughest opponent was the Hackett, Carhart & Co. team. Ostensibly amateur players who all worked for a clothing store, they were managed for a time by Primrose, and later by Dude Esterbrook, third baseman of the 1884 AA champs.
The team continued on the next year under Primrose, with only two original Metropolitans still playing on it. With eight new teams due to the Brotherhood rebellion, many of the Metropolitans got a final chance to play in the Major Leagues.
Scores and other information on the 1889 Metropolitans games can be found at http://members.dslextreme.com/users/brak2.0/Mets_Scores.htm.
Sources- New York newspapers-Sun, World, Evening Sun, Times, Herald, Tribune, Clipper, Age; Brooklyn Eagle, Brooklyn Daily Times, Danbury Evening News, Trenton Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, The Sporting Life, The Sporting News Black Ball Entrepreneurs, 1860-1901 by Michael E. Lomax
Thanks to James Overmyer for his assistance.