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The eight Brotherhood League cities (the official name of the league was the Players' National League of Base Ball Clubs), were Boston, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. There were direct conflicts with the National League in every city but Buffalo. Philadelphia and Brooklyn had three teams, one of them in the American Association. Schedules were deliberately arranged for maximum conflict of dates. It was a war to the death.
There were four important differences in this league. There was no reserve clause; the players had equal representation on the club's board of directors and any player could, if he wished, buy stock in the club; the players were to share, according to a complicated formula, in the profits of the club and, finally, they could not be released or sold until the end of the season.
For those concessions the players were willing to make sacrifices. Charles A. Comiskey, who was to go on to own the Chicago White Sox, was offered the astounding sum of $12,000 to play with the Boston team in the NL. He turned it down to play for the Brotherhood team of Chicago at the same salary he had earned the year before.
The NL tried to fight back with other things beside money, which is so expensive. League contracts gave the clubs an option on the services of the players for the following season, and the courts were asked to enforce them. Most judges, however, said something like this: The League contract is one that binds a player for a number of years and the club for 10 days. They did not blame the player for skipping if he could.
As the season began the NL found itself with other problems just as serious. Since most of the star players elected to go with the new league the NL was losing the attendance war. It was playing with minor league players, hardly more than pickup teams. Nor was it a balanced pickup league. Pittsburgh finished with a record of 23-114. It had trouble meeting its payroll. The New York club was in such trouble it demanded and received a league subsidy. As the season ended, a near-bankrupt Cincinnati NL team sold out to the Brotherhood.
Of course, the Players' League had its problems, too. Things were so bad in Buffalo the team started to play its home games away. By midseason each club had to ante up an additional $2,500. There were not going to be any profits to share this season.
Things might have been worse. (The Philadelphia Athletics, of the American Association, ran into financial trouble and sold their franchise.) Even so, the combined attendance in both leagues (which was lied about furiously) failed to add up to what the single league had drawn the year before. This led a writer named Caspar W. Whitney to comment in the Fortnightly Review of September 1893, "...the people were...bored with newspaper recrimination and tiresome warfare.... It went from bad to worse until, in the last year or so, the better class of American sportsmen appear to have lost all interest in professional baseball; in fact, professional sports in the United States is dead."
Only two teams in the Brotherhood League—Boston, which won the pennant, and Chicago—made any money. Estimates of the amount lost ranged from as low as $30,000 all the way to $125,000. The National League dropped between $200,000 and $500,000. With a good pair of shoes going for $5 and a custom-made suit selling for $25, that was a lot of red ink. So the National League, now fighting for its life, appointed a committee to sue for peace. The committee was authorized to explore mergers, serious concessions to the players or any other measures that would save the investments made. On the committee were A. G. Spalding of Chicago, John B. Day of New York and C. H. Byrne of Brooklyn. The capitalists for the Brotherhood were Al Johnson of Cleveland, Wendell Goodwin of Brooklyn and Edward Talcott of New York.
They met at the Fifth Avenue Hotel and no one ever agreed on precisely what happened at that meeting. Either the Brotherhood representatives were totally outgeneraled or they sold out. "It was," The Sporting News complained bitterly, "a clear case of Talcott and Goodwin going over to the enemy." When they came out of the meeting the National League had the upper hand. Spalding was later able to write that to his great surprise the Brotherhood men accepted his demand for "unconditional surrender." This was like the man with the blindfold demanding that the firing squad surrender, but it happened.
At the next meeting the National Leaguers arrogantly refused to accept the presence of three players on the Brotherhood committee, and not long after that the Brotherhood men from New York and Brooklyn announced they had sold their clubs to their opposite numbers in the other league. The Brotherhood League was out of business before the next season began.