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    Turmoil in Cincinnati brings Leonard's career full circle

    1880 Andy Leonard Cincinnati Stars/Reds Player's Contract Signed by Leonard. The final document in the historic Andy Leonard archives exists only due to the fall of a Cincinnati Reds team that could trace its genetics back to the 1869 edition that featured Leonard and the Wright brothers. After four largely unremarkable seasons of National League action, the franchise folded late in 1879, but early enough to avoid the responsibility of paying its players for the usual post-season exhibitions.

    With this termination leaving a National League vacancy in the birthplace of professional baseball, an ascendant Cincinnati Stars team threw its hat into the ring to serve as the city's standard bearer. With many of the best local players, and a newly-constructed ballpark near downtown, the semi-professional team applied for, and was granted, National League membership.

    But the reconfiguration dictated a loss of the reserve clause that had been in effect, and the Stars bled talent, opening the door for a ragged confederation of rookies and over-the-hill veterans, with Leonard representing the latter. The bizarre turns of event would bring the career of Andy Leonard full circle, back to where it all began, just as it would for Babe Ruth, for Willie Mays, for Hank Aaron to follow.

    The team would simply adopt their fallen predecessor's nickname, but the offered paperwork predates the transition, identifying this new standard National League contract as an "Agreement, Between the Cincinnati Star Ball Club, of the City of Cincinnati in the State of Ohio, party of the first part, and Andrew J. Leonard, of the City of Boston in the State of Mass., party of the second part."

    Though the contract covers only a term of "...Seven months, commencing on the first day of April A.D. 1880 and ending on the 31st day of October A.D. 1880," the terms dictate payment over twelve months amounting to a total of $1,300, again a reduction that speaks to Leonard's diminished abilities. Ultimately, Leonard would only make it halfway through the season, his fading eyesight precipitating an error-laden loss on July 3rd that would prove to be his final professional contest. It is unclear if Leonard was paid past his final game, but the likely truth is that he was not.

    The various blanks of the legal-sized (8.5x17") single-page document are filled in by team secretary C.T. Blackburn, who signs at the close along with team owner Justus Thorner and Leonard himself. The blue ink, which includes Leonard's signature, is a little bit light, but likely no moreso than it was originally, and it remains readily legible. Heavy fold lines and some mild fold separation must be noted, with a small degree of loss along left edge.

    The "new" Reds would live only this single season, as the National League revoked its charter for the twin sins of Sunday baseball and beer sales. In 1882, the name would be reborn for a third and (to date) final time, first as an American Association club before entering the National League in 1890. Letter of provenance from grandson of Andy Leonard. Full LOA from PSA/DNA (Leonard only, as no exemplars for others).

    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
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
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