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    1871 Andy Leonard Washington Olympics Baseball Contract via U.S. Treasury Department Appointment Letter.
    It's one of the most extraordinary documents to derive from the infancy of our national pastime, possibly the only surviving tangible proof of a theory debated among leading baseball historians for years. It has long been understood that the earliest days of baseball professionalism were cloaked in shadow, with paid practitioners posing as amateurs, surreptitiously funded by organizations with no obvious affiliation with the teams the players represented.

    In the biography, "Harry Wright: The Father of Professional Base Ball," author Christopher Devine traces the practice back as far as 1867, to the Nationals of Washington, D.C. The team enjoyed the services of George Wright two years before he would join his brother and fellow Hall of Fame inductee Harry in membership within the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, widely considered the first fully professional baseball club. In 1867, George Wright's employment was listed in the amateur files as a "clerk" at 238 Pennsylvania Avenue, an address that corresponded to a public park.

    Many of his teammates held positions that seemed to strongly suggest that it was American tax dollars hidden behind this thin veil of amateurism, as other listed sites of employment included the Comptroller of Currency and the Internal Revenue Department. This data was located in the August 8, 1867 issue of Ball Players' Chronicle, the sport's first weekly periodical.

    Until now, no clear paper trail had ever emerged to validate the theory that the United States government itself was one of the earliest funders of professional baseball. This remarkable document serves as that smoking gun, one of the most fascinating and important revelations of early baseball research. The issue is clarified with the knowledge that the standard salary for the position assigned to Leonard was $300 to $400 per year, or approximately half the figure stipulated here.

    The single page, gorgeously handwritten on "Treasury Department" letterhead, is dated "April 25th, 1871." The full text:


    You are hereby appointed an Assistant Messenger in the office of the Second Auditor of the Treasury at a compensation at the rate of Seven hundred and twenty Dollars per annum.

    I am very respectfully

    Wm. A Richardson [signed]
    Act'g Secretary."

    The recipient, "A.J. Leonard, Esq." appears at the bottom of the page, beneath a chief clerk's stamp applied the following day.

    The involvement of William Richardson is likewise of particular note, as his questionable fiscal stewardship in the cabinet of President Ulysses S. Grant is widely cited as a leading cause of the Panic of 1873 that precipitated a five-year national depression. It was likewise Richardson who had hired private civilians to act as collection agents for the Internal Revenue Service in the related financial turmoil, spawning a tsunami of corruption remembered as the "Sanborn Incident" that makes this Leonard affair seem charmingly quaint in comparison.

    Leonard would lead all Olympics with thirty runs batted in during the 1871 season, the first of National Association of Base Ball Players' professional era, but Washington would finish at an even .500, splitting their thirty games played. The team's fortunes would take a significant downward turn upon Leonard's departure for Boston for the 1872 season, which would prove to be Washington's last.

    The page measures approximately 8x9.5" in size and presents as well as could possibly be imagined, with no condition issues of note beyond original fold lines. All ink is as bold as the date of its application. Letter of provenance from grandson of Andy Leonard. Full LOA from PSA/DNA. Full LOA from James Spence Authentication.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2017
    16th-18th Thursday-Saturday
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