Handwritten by Hall of Fame pioneer Harry Wright1873 Andy Leonard Boston Red Stockings Player's Contract Signed by Leonard & Harry Wright. The defending National Association Champions of 1872, this subsequent edition of the sport's leading force only poured more fuel onto the competitive fire in 1873, adding a fourth and fifth future Hall of Famer to the roster to join the Wright brothers and Albert Spalding of sporting goods fame. The first was James "Deacon" White, the decorated catcher for the Cleveland Forest Citys who held the distinction of having recorded the first base hit of the National Association and was widely considered its greatest talent. And after a strong rookie season with the 1872 Middletown Mansfields, a twenty-two year old Jim O'Rourke was coaxed into Red Stockings service for 1873, though Harry Wright had first urged the young star to drop the "O" from his name, citing anti-Irish sentiment in Boston. Nobly, O'Rourke refused, telling Wright, "I would rather die than give up my father's name. A million dollars would not tempt me."
Sources list O'Rourke's 1873 salary as $800, exactly half the figure directed to Leonard upon this single page bearing handwritten terms on front and verso. This $1,600 salary suggests that the figure stipulated in the earlier two-season agreement of the previous lot was subsequently downgraded, likely due to the team's changing financial situation. The handwriting is that of Harry Wright himself, who earned Hall of Fame induction as the man widely considered to be the most influential figure in the development of the professional game. It was Wright who founded, managed and played center field for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, who innovated defensive shifts based upon batter's individual tendencies, and who developed the scorecard format still utilized to this day, among other notable achievements.
The terms of the contract stipulate fidelity to the Boston club, a guarantee that Leonard "...agrees to comport himself in a quiet, temperate and gentlemanly manner at all times," and that he will forfeit $100 of his salary if the team is not financially successful. The closing of the text dates the covenant to "...this 11th day of January 1873" and concludes with the signatures of team owner Charles Porter, A.J. Leonard, and Harry Wright, each signing beside an initialed piece of tape placed there prior to signing as direction.
Perhaps a millimeter of separation appears at the edge of the heavy fold lines, but otherwise we find no condition issues worthy of reporting. All ink on the 8x9.5" unlined sheet remains wonderfully bold. We believe this to be the earliest Boston Red Stockings contract that exists, thus the earliest related to the team that we know today as the Atlanta Braves. Letter of provenance from grandson of Andy Leonard. Full LOA from PSA/DNA. Full LOA from James Spence Authentication.
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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