Major League Baseball is born!1876-78 Andy Leonard Boston Red Stockings Player's Contract Signed by Leonard & Harry Wright. The gradual degradation of the National Association, symptomatic of weak leadership, unsupervised scheduling and the lopsided dominance of the Boston Red Stockings, would give rise to a new paradigm for 1876, as the birth of the National League heralded the start of Major League Baseball as we know it today. Six National Association teams--Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Hartford, New York and St. Louis--were joined by newcomers Cincinnati and Louisville to compete in 1876, with Boston defeating the Philadelphia Athletics in the very first contest in a thrilling six to five debut on April 22nd. Leonard would record two of Boston's eight hits.
Remarkably, the upstart Cincinnati club--which admittedly did include Charlie Gould and Charlie Sweasy of the 1869 edition--was granted the rights to the Red Stockings nickname despite Boston's protracted success with the term--leading to the latter's eventual abandonment of the appellation for the "Beaneaters," and ultimately the "Braves."
The loss of Hall of Fame pitcher Albert Spalding to Chicago in 1876 would hit the Boston club hard in their debut National League campaign, and they would finish fifteen games off the White Stockings' pennant-winning pace. But the team would find redemption in the right arm of another Irish-born star by the name of Tommy Bond, who would pitch the Boston Red Stockings to the National League Championship in 1877 and 1878, Leonard's final season with the Wright brothers.
The presented contract secures Leonard's services for those first three seasons of National League competition, a lengthy duration that speaks to the confidence of management in the durability of both their veteran outfielder and the new league. The terms match those of Leonard's salary for 1874 and 1875, "...the sum of Eighteen hundred dollars ($1800) per annum in equal monthly payments of Two Hundred & twenty five dollars" covering "...the term of Three years commencing on the fifteenth day of November 1875 and ending on the fifteenth day of November 1878."
The handwritten text filling the blanks in the boilerplate appear to be that of team owner Nicholas T. Apollonio, who signs at the conclusion along with Leonard, Harry Wright and team treasurer Frederick K. Long. Another unidentified witness signs as well. All text is flawlessly bold, and the single legal-sized (8.5x14") page is likewise free of any distractions beyond the original fold lines. Included with the lot is an ancient envelope that once contained the document, bearing handwriting from an unknown author and a rubber stamped identification of Leonard. Letter of provenance from grandson of Andy Leonard. Full LOA from PSA/DNA (Leonard and Wright 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.
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