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    A thrilling "player's eye view" of the sport's first foreign excursion

    1874 Andy Leonard Personal Diary Documenting Baseball Goodwill Tour of Britain. In his celebrated comedy "The Merry Wives of Windsor," Williams Shakespeare famously suggested, "Better three hours too soon than a minute too late," yet, when it came to the sport of baseball, his fellow countrymen failed to agree. The first foreign excursion of baseball quite emphatically confirmed that our "national pastime" was not ready for an "inter" prefix, as the touring Boston Red Stockings and Philadelphia Athletics were met with a polite but unambiguous collective shrug of British shoulders.

    But for Andy Leonard and Hall of Fame player/manager Harry Wright, the journey afforded a welcome return to the British Isles of their birth, and the former faithfully documented the tour in the provided leatherbound volume. Other legendary figures on the tour: Albert Spalding, Jim O'Rourke, George Wright, Cap Anson, Al Reach and Tim Murnane.

    After a few scribbles on the opening pages, including the British address of what we assume to be a friend or relative, and some numerical calculations, the diary begins with the Monday June 29, 1874 departure from Boston to Niagara Falls to begin a brief barnstorming tour of eastern Canada, then back to the States for meetings with the Chicago White Stockings and the Brooklyn Atlantics, with the scores of the contests noted.

    On Thursday July 16th, the tour set sail, with the next ten days of travel dominated by gambling on cards. Sunday July 26th announces, "Came in sight of Ireland at 3:20 PM. Arrived at Queenstown 11 o'clock PM."

    What follows is the most densely written portion of the diary, a daily accounting of travels and results of both baseball and cricket games, though most are, as intended, showdowns between the two National Association clubs. When afforded the opportunity, Leonard sets out on sightseeing trips, visiting the Tower of London and rather coincidentally happening upon local Bostonians as Harvard competed in a rowing race on the Thames.

    On Friday August 21st, Leonard and his fellow travelers arrive on Irish soil, a native son returning home twenty-six years after his departure as a toddler. More games and sightseeing follows before the arduous voyage home. Days of rough weather left Leonard with strength enough only to record brief entries about seasickness and waves crashing over the deck. There is a suggestion in the penultimate entry before arrival in New York that suggests not all survived the trip:

    "Monday September 7, 1874: Terrible storm commenced at 4 o'clock A.M. Sea running over the deck and into the cabin. Boys sea sick and all hands scared. Storm lasted until 10 o'clock A.M. Burial at sea."

    Near the end of the volume, Leonard provides an accounting of the sightseeing highlights of the trip, including Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament, etc. The book then closes with more mathematics, likely related to personal bookkeeping. All writing is in bold pencil, and the 3x6" book exhibits the expected wear of its travels with Leonard, most notably in spine wear that leaves only the first page loose from the binding. The interior text remains complete and fully legible.

    Certainly this lot description only grazes the surface of this enormously important accounting of baseball's first foreign tour, the only documentation of which we are aware that derives directly from a tour member. Despite the disappointing crowds and the financial loss for the two teams, baseball history must consider this event as a resounding success if for no other reason than as a precursor to such far more fruitful tours to come. Letter of provenance from grandson of Andy Leonard.

    The Andy Leonard Collection

    The first appearance of the term "the national pastime" in our American lexicon is attributed to the December 5, 1856 edition of the New York Mercury, notable as both the first newspaper to provide regular baseball coverage, and the first Eastern periodical to publish the writings of Mark Twain. Yet, today, that early honorific reads more like prophecy than point of fact. Other publications of the day had toned down the hyperbole, with fellow New York weekly the Spirit of the Times qualifying the assertion, calling baseball "the National game in the region of the Manhattanese" the following year. In 1859, Harper's Weekly likewise protested: "We see no evidence that baseball is so generally practiced by our people as to be fairly called a popular American game."
    It would take one of the most terrible and important conflicts in our nation's history to begin to validate the term, the Civil War serving as the wind that swept the sport across the American landscape, every step of the marching armies expanding the sport's geography. But still, even as the terms of surrender were inked at Appomattox, the sobriquet had not reached its fullest, truest expression.

    That would only come with the infusion of that most American pastime of all--the profit motive. As post-Civil War Reconstruction heralded the economic transition from agricultural to industrial, the enormous innovation and possibility of the latter gave everything the sudden appearance of an opportunity to monetize. Only then, with the interjection of the capitalist incentive, could the sport stake an honest claim to its patriotic nickname.

    Historians will readily admit that the earliest incidents of baseball professionalism are both too varied and too poorly documented to provide anything approaching an accurate biography. As soon as gambling became a part of the sport, which it had from the earliest days, the hiring of "ringers" could not have been far behind, and corruption has always been conducted in the shadows. But when we narrow our focus upon those tributaries that would eventually flow into the river we identify today as Major League Baseball, the headwaters have indeed been charted.

    Those maps lie here, in the extraordinary collection that follows, an archive that could be considered the most significant ever to emerge from the infancy of the professional game. As is the case in the construction of so many great American success stories, the early builders' hands are not always entirely clean. This was the age of Tammany Hall, of bribes and kickbacks, of misused influence. But baseball has always been a microcosm of America, slowly bending toward the light and away from the Black Sox scandal, from racial segregation, from performance-enhancing drugs. It is only proper that these earliest documents of professional baseball should contain more of the same.

    Andy Leonard was born in Ireland during the Potato Famine to parents who had never set foot on American soil but nonetheless named their son for the young nation's seventh President, Andrew Jackson, who passed away less than a year before Leonard's birth in 1846. The sport of baseball was entirely unknown to the nation of Ireland at the time Leonard's family set sail for America in 1848, though today the Most Valuable Player Award of the Irish Baseball League is named in Leonard's honor.

    The family settled in Newark, New Jersey at the heart of the burgeoning phenomenon, just a dozen miles from Hoboken's Elysian Fields where the first organized game had been played just eighteen days after Leonard's birth. The young Irish immigrant developed a fondness and aptitude for the sport in his teenaged years, playing five seasons for the Newburgh (NY) and Irvington (NJ) clubs of the amateur era of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) beginning in 1864.

    But it was a move to Cincinnati in 1868 with fellow journeyman Charlie Sweasy that carries us to the edge of the history of this historic archive. After distinguishing himself as a member of the Buckeyes, Leonard was hired at a salary of $100/month by Harry Wright of the team's chief local rivals in 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, thereby earning the distinction of membership upon the very first fully professional baseball team.

    No contracts of that 1869 team have ever surfaced, and it is far from certain that such covenants were ever documented on paper. To be clear, no baseball contracts known to exist outside the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame or any other public or private institution predate the listings that follow, a remarkable assembly consigned to auction by the octogenarian grandson of Andy Leonard, a gentleman named Charles McCarty.

    The archive finds Leonard in the immediate aftermath of the dissolution of the Cincinnati Red Stockings team precipitated by the board of directors' rejection of professionalism following the 1870 season. The impending reversion to amateur status fragmented the club into two main factions. Harry and George Wright would retain the club's nickname in a new home in Boston with a portion of the old team, while Leonard, Sweasy and three others would head to our nation's capital to help found the Washington Olympics. But soon Leonard would rejoin his old teammates to once again become baseball's dominant force.

    While the tiniest handful of other contemporary baseball contracts exist in private archives, the Leonard paper trail that leads us through the first decade of organized professional ball is quite simply unparalleled within the historical record. These seminal documents represent the very first pages in the publicly available history of "league" baseball, likewise the earliest of organized professional athletics of any breed.

    McCarty informs us that his grandfather, despite his extraordinary relevance to the infancy of professional baseball, lies today in an unmarked grave at New Calvary Cemetery in Boston, less than twenty miles from the South End Grounds where he represented the Red Stockings for seven seasons, the lineal forefather of the modern Atlanta Braves. Both our consignor and Heritage Auctions intend to donate a portion of the proceedings from the sale of these primary documents of our national pastime toward the construction of a suitable monument. All lots within The Andy Leonard Collection will be accompanied by a letter of provenance from McCarty.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    February, 2016
    20th-21st Saturday-Sunday
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