Baseball and politics, 1876

Background:  The Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia leased their ground from the city.  They had, since 1873, sublet it to the Philadelphia Club for two days a week.  Going into the 1876 season relations were strained.  The Athletics had just joined the new National League, while the Philadelphias had been cut out and weren’t happy about it.  In the meantime some Athletics stockholders were unhappy with the conduct of the Philadelphias, several of whose officers were reputed to consort with gamblers.  The Philadelphias’ pavilion on the ground had blown down in a winter storm, and the Athletics were talking of replacing it with a ladies’ pavilion.  The Philadelphias went to the city, trying to get the lease with the Athletics broken.  A subcommittee of the Water Committee of the Common Council looks into this, as reported in the Philadelphia Sunday Mercury (the de facto organ of the Athletics) of February 20, 1876:
At the meeting of the Water Committee of City Councils last Monday, the matter of the lease of the ball ground at Twenty-fifth and Jefferson streets was the subject of protracted deliberation. Hicks Hayhurst, from the sub-committee, said that they were not at present prepared to report. A motion to discharge said sub-committee was, however, agreed to. Mr. Cochran was heard on behalf of the Philadelaphias, stating that the Athletics had leased the said ground from the city at the rate of $200 per annum, and sub-let it to the Philadelphias at the rate of $1000 yearly. Mr. Charles Downing, on behalf of the Athletics, in an able and effective manner, demonstrated the fallacy of the Philadelphia’s claims by proving that the Athletic club had paid upwards of $10,000 in improvements of the property, for leveling, grading, erection of pavilions, fences, etc., and that, therefore, the Philadelphias did not pay such an extravagant rent, and that, moreover, the Athletics had possession by virtue of a lease expiring March 1st, 1877; that they had legal advice to the extent that the said lease was valid, and that they could not be removed from the ground unless the same was required for city purposes, a clause therein expressly stating that it should not be leased to any other base ball club than the Athletics. A motion to give the Athletics three months’ notice to quit the grounds was then lost. Finally, the subject was postponed until the next meeting, the opinion of the City Solicitor on the lease to be requested in the meanwhile. It is not probable that the Philadelphias will further press their claims for the ground, as even in the case the Athletic’s lease was declared not valid, the former club could not afford to pay the high rental, beside paying five or six thousand dollars for the improvements on the ground belonging to the Athletics.
This seems straightforward enough at first look.  It is a bit odd that the Water Committee of the Common Council is addressing the question, but these things come about in complex organizations. And for what it is worth, I think the Athletics were on pretty solid ground, both in law and equity.
Nonetheless, there is a hidden zinger:  the fact that it was Hicks Hayhurst who gave the subcommittee’s non-report.  Hayhurst had been a member of the Common Council since 1874.  More to the point, though, he had been a member of the Athletic Club for over a decade, serving as an officer most of the time, including two years as president.  His presence on the subcommittee looking into the question of evicting the Athletics suggests that its non-report was the substance of this agenda item of the Water Committee meeting, and the rest mere window dressing.
Please do be so kind as to share this post.

3 thoughts on “Baseball and politics, 1876

Comments are closed.