In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Matty and the BrownsA Window onto the AL-NL War
  • Steve Steinberg (bio)

This is the story of Christy Mathewson's signing with the St. Louis Browns for the 1903 season and of the Browns' owner Robert Hedges later giving up his claim to Matty in order to foster peace between the American and National Leagues. In the literature of baseball and team histories and biographies, only Fred Lieb, in his less well known history The Baseball Story, mentions this and notes its significance.1

The American League fueled its rise in 1901 and 1902 with audacious player raids on the established National League. In 1901 the stars lured to the upstart league included Cy Young, Nap Lajoie, Jimmy Collins, Fielder Jones, Calvin Griffith, and even umpire Tom Connolly. AL attendance that first year came within 12 percent of that of the NL, which had just dropped its four weakest teams. The American League continued its aggressive recruiting in 1902, and its attendance exceeded that of the older league by 31 percent that year.

The National League was reeling from the relentless attacks, and Ban Johnson's American League was clearly winning the war. The other winners were the players, who were at the center of lucrative bidding competition. No longer tied to only one club by the reserve clause, they received large raises of 200 percent and more by jumping to the new league or by using the threat of jumping to gain raises from their existing clubs. The salary wars, intensified by declining attendance in cities that had teams from both leagues, were eroding profits. But the new American League seemed to have wealthy owners with staying power and deep pockets.

Before the start of the 1902 season, the weak Milwaukee Brewer franchise of the AL was sold and moved to St. Louis, where it took the name of the Browns, who had a rich St. Louis history as champions of the American Association in the 1880s. St. Louis quickly became the cutting edge of the great baseball war, as the Browns undertook the most spectacular talent raid of one team by another in baseball history, stocking their roster with stars from the National League's St. Louis Cardinals. [End Page 102]

The Browns signed every big name on the Cardinals except for outfielder Patsy Donovan, who remained as player-manager of what was left of the NL team. The Brown recruits included pitchers Jack Powell, Jack Harper, and Willie Sudhoff, who had won 59 games for the 1901 Cards. (They added 20-game winner Red Donahue from the Phillies to round out their four-man rotation.) Another Brown recruit was the immensely popular shortstop Bobby Wallace, who was coming off a great season in which he hit .324.

The Brown recruits also included superstar Jesse Burkett, who had led the NL in batting average and on-base percentage in 1901 (.376 and .440, respectively). He had hit .396 in 1899 and had back-to-back .400 seasons in 1895–96. The larger-than-life outfielder, who was known as "the Crab," had a colorful love-hate relationship with his fans. He "takes to a roast as readily as a starved hound would take to a porterhouse," wrote the St. LouisStar.2

Poetic Justice

In some ways this marauding by the Browns was poetic justice for the St. Louis Cardinals. The Robison brothers, Frank and Stanley, who already owned the Cleveland Spiders of the National League, bought the Cardinals in 1899 and proceeded to move all the Cleveland stars to the St. Louis team, thinking they'd draw better in that larger city. (St. Louis was the nation's fourth-largest city in the 1900 census.) The plundered Spiders staggered to a 20-134 record in 1899, far worse than that of the twentieth century's worst team, the '62 New York Mets, at 40-120. The 1902 Browns were now merely doing to the Cardinals what the Cardinals had done to the Spiders just three years earlier.

The raids by the Browns prompted lawsuits by the Robisons over the contracts and options they had on the players they had lost. St. Louis was split down the...