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1889 Baltimore BBC National League Membership Application (Nicholas Young Estate Provenance!)
Starting Bid - $2,500, Sold For - $5,400
Remarkable and extraordinary historically significant 1889 letter in which the Baltimore Base Ball Club formally applies for admission to the National League for the 1890 season. The one-page handwritten letter, which is penned in black ink upon "Fifth Avenue Hotel" (Madison Square, New York) letterhead, is dated "New York, Nov. 15, 1889," and addressed to no one in particular. In full:
The Baltimore Base Ball Club, an organization located in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, duly organized and officered hereby respectfully asks admission to membership in the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs.
It is signed "W. Barnie" as "President." Both the text and signature are boldly scripted and grade "9/10." (The body of the letter was not written in William Barnie's hand, but by a secretary.) Baltimore was a member of the American Association at the time of this letter, but they were by no means content. Baltimore owner Harry Von der Horst felt that certain owners in the league, especially Browns owner Chris Von der Ahe, wielded too much authority. By the end of the 1889 season Von der Horst had decided to withdraw his team from the American Association and court entry into the National League. While we know that Baltimore was not accepted for membership in the National League for the 1890 season (the League added Brooklyn and Cincinnati instead), what is not clear is whether its application was rejected or if it was later withdrawn by Von der Horst. If the vintage pencil notations on the reverse of the application are any indication, it might have been the latter. Included among the notations are the team name, "Baltimore," a few dates, and, interestingly, a phrase that begins with an illegible word followed by the words "given to/withdraw."
Given the circumstances of the time, it is certainly possible that Von der Horst may have withdrawn his application. 1890 was a tumultuous and pivotal time for major league baseball due to the formation of the Player's League, which was raiding both National and American Association rosters. As a result, all of the team owners were under pressure to raise salaries in order to keep their top players, further exacerbating the growing economic difficulties of the American Association. Von der Horst had let it be known that he had no intention of getting into a bidding war for players. Whether he was a member of either the American Association or the National League, it appeared that the 1890 season would be a costly one for him. Faced with that dilemma, he ultimately chose to place his team in the minor league Atlantic Association for the 1890 season. At the time, he asserted "They'll [the fans] come out to Union Park to drink beer, dance and have their picnics just the same." Interestingly, he reversed his position during the middle of the season and rejoined the American Association on August 27th after last-place Brooklyn vacated the league. Baltimore remained a member of the American Association until the league folded following the 1891 season. Only then was Baltimore finally admitted to the National League, along with three other former AA teams: Louisville, St. Louis, and Washington.
The National League first began play in 1876, and any documents relating to its early history are not only extremely rare, but highly significant to historians and collectors. This application, like 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 (1885-1902) ended he destroyed many of the league documents he held. Fortunately his family later discovered that a few survived; all of these were eventually sold. Ideally, a copy of an LOA from Nicholas Young's grandson, composed in 1998 when he parted with a portion of his grandfather's documents, accompanies the application.
It is interesting to note that the 1889 application of the Brooklyn franchise to join the National League was dated just one day earlier than the offered Baltimore application (November 14, 1889). Both applications were formally submitted at the National League's annual winter meeting, which convened on November 13, 1889, in New York City. The Brooklyn application (of extraordinary significance as the document representing the birth of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers franchise) also originated directly from the estate of Nicholas Young and once accompanied the offered 1889 Baltimore National League application. The Brooklyn application appeared in REA's April 2014 auction (Lot 1068) and sold for $165,900.
The Baltimore National League application (5.5 x 6.5 inches), which appears to have been neatly trimmed along the two sides and bottom borders, displays one vertical and two horizontal mailing folds, as well as light scattered toning. As noted earlier, a number of original handwritten filing notations in pencil appear on the reverse. In Excellent condition overall. Full LOA from James Spence/JSA and full LOA from PSA/DNA. SOLD FOR $5,400
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