The Lawsons: The Gilded Age of Distemper
Alfred Lawson turned 26 years old in March of 1895. He had pitched badly since hurting his arm while playing his last game for the Middletown Asylum club in July of 1892. The fact that Lawson continued to try throwing for a few more seasons indicated that he was not feeling acute pain in his right arm, a condition labeled by baseball men for nearly a hundred years as �dead arm.� Most likely, Lawson suffered from an injury to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) that supports the elbow; or to the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder. In either case, medical know-how of his day offered no treatment. Al Lawson�s pitching career ended, in effect, on that July day in 1892�but he needed years to realize that his velocity and control would never be what they once were.
Final proof of his waning talents came in the spring and early summer of 1895. In March, Al Lawson was signed by the Norfolk Clams of the Virginia League. Sharing pitching duties on the Clams was his fellow-vagabond teammate from Tampa, Wild Bill Setley. The Clams hosted exhibition games in April against National League teams tuning up for the start of the new season. These games were the last times that Lawson took the field against major league talent, and emphatically ended any hopes he had of furthering his career as a hurler.
On April 2, 1895, the Clams welcomed the Philadelphia Phillies to Norfolk. Philadelphia was managed by Arthur �Foxy� Irwin, an overly-clever skipper who was leading a double life, with wives and families in both Boston and New York. On the field, the Phillies were led by several sluggers: Sam Thompson (that year�s home run, RBI, and total bases leader); Billy Hamilton (who would lead the league in walks, runs, and stolen bases); Ed Delahanty (who would go on to hit .404 that year and would be the on-base percentage and doubles leader); and catcher Jack Clements (who would hit a career-high .394). The Phillies, an offensive juggernaut, gathered hits at will against Norfolk, knocking both Lawson and Setley out of the pitchers box. The Clams were embarrassed by a score of 19-1.
Eight days later, the Clams took on an equally formidable opponent, the Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore�s best player was Lawson�s one-time prot�g�, John McGraw. Dan Brouthers and Wee Willie Keeler were two other offensive weapons (Brouthers would soon leave the Orioles), along with Joe Kelley and Heinie Reitz. The Oriole hitters put on a demonstration for the Norfolk crowd, beating the hapless home team by a score of 15-1. Lawson lasted just four innings in the pitcher�s box. McGraw, despite having been abandoned by Lawson after Lawson�s second planned tour of Cuba collapsed in 1891, must have felt some sympathy for his former manager.
The different directions their playing careers were taking must have been plain to both McGraw and Lawson. McGraw�s Orioles would go on to win the National League pennant of the 1895 season. On the other hand, Al Lawson was released by Norfolk before their Virginia League season even began. He headed back north to New England, where he had bounced from team to team the previous year.
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In 1895, Larry Thyne was an established newspaper editor who had worked for several papers in his hometown of Lowell, Mass. He loved covering sports, especially baseball, and had long harbored a desire to get into the game himself. His opportunity came in the spring of 1895, when he took the managerial reins of the Fitchburg team of the upstart New England Association. All evidence suggests that Thyne was a respected citizen of Lowell. A few years earlier, he had been voted in as Lowell�s dog pound keeper�the old insult about a person being so unpopular that they �couldn�t be elected dog catcher� could not be said of Larry Thyne. However, twenty-five miles away in Fitchburg, he was about to discover that losing baseball managers ranked far below newspaper reporters and dog catchers in the eyes of the public.
The New England Association began as a new minor league in 1895, with clubs in Lowell, Fitchburg, Nashua, Salem, Haverhill, and Lawrence. The organizers believed that a �close� circuit would cut down on transportation costs and generate rivalries that would attract visiting fans as well as local �cranks.� They also laid down a strict salary limit of $900 per team per month, so that no one club would hire superior talent and spoil the overall competitiveness among the clubs. They also willingly agreed not to violate local �blue laws� forbidding Sunday play, and to do their best to maintain an image of moral respectability in order to attract women and children. Thyne�s team was nicknamed the �Trilbys,� which was an evocation of George Du Maurier�s wildly popular novel of 1894 and a hit stage play in 1895. Thyne, as the all-controlling manager, would play the role of the hypnotist Svengali to his unschooled pupils�his Trilbys�and mesmerize them into becoming divas of the diamond.
After signing his men, Thyne laid out club rules imposing fines for using bad language or for chewing gum or tobacco on the field. He also announced that he would suspend players for �bad habits� or insubordination. Before the season even began, he forced his men to go to church on Sunday. Thyne instituted daily morning practices and nighttime curfews. What he lacked in experience, he tried to make up for with discipline.
From the onset, Larry Thyne made the naive mistake of taking the league�s principles at face value. Thyne�s rivals in the other league cities wasted no time signing journeymen professionals at salaries far over the self-imposed league limits. Fitchburg floundered in the first two weeks of the season against its more experienced opponents. When a letter from Al Lawson, a former National League pitcher, arrived on Thyne�s desk, the temptation to secure his own �ringer� proved irresistible. Lawson was invited to join the Trilbys in short order.
Lawson debuted with the team on May 10th, and alternated between pitching duties and playing right field. As a thrower, what Lawson lacked in speed he made up for in guile. Although he had looked hapless against National League batters just a few weeks earlier, he proved to be a puzzle to the batters of the New England Association. However, he did not pitch complete games, and instead came in to pitch in late innings, or left early after the first few innings. Even the Fitchburg paper noted that he was pitching well despite a lame arm. On May 20th, after just two days rest, Thyne sent Lawson into the box again in an away game against Nashua. Lawson�s fragile arm failed him totally. He was lit up for hit after hit in an endless first inning.
Realizing that his arm had nothing left, Lawson called over to the bench, telling Thyne to take him out of the game. Thyne, for whatever reason, left Lawson in the game. Perhaps Thyne was saving his other pitchers for games they were scheduled to play the next two days; or perhaps he thought that the boastful Lawson needed to be taken down a peg. Whatever the case, Thyne violated one of baseball�s unwritten laws: managers do not leave pitchers who are getting pounded in a game to suffer further humiliation or injury. Between pitches�and more hits�Lawson jawed at Thyne in full hearing of the hundreds of spectators. Thyne yelled back at Lawson.
After 15 hits and 7 runs, with still just one out in the first inning, Al Lawson threw down the ball and walked off the field, all the while giving Thyne a thorough tongue lashing. Lawson stomped out of the park and took the first train out of town. He was released by Fitchburg immediately following the game. Al did not even bother to send out his usual packet of r�sum� letters; instead he immediately went to Larry Thyne�s hometown and signed on with Fitchburg�s archrival, the Lowells. One can only imagine Lawson�s glee to see the Lowell Sun�Thyne�s former employer�rub salt into the wounds: �What was Manager Thyne thinking of when he let Lawson go? He appears to be a good pitcher judging from his performance of Saturday.�
Over the next month, Larry Thyne�s problems mounted. He had replaced Al Lawson�s spot on the pitching rotation with a new man, none other than Lawson�s pal, free-spirited Wild Bill Setley. The stiff-necked Thyne and the independent Setley probably mixed like oil and water. The Fitchburg press second-guessed Thyne�s managerial moves. His disciplinary tactics�fining players for insubordination--backfired as remaining veteran players rebelled and left the team for greener pastures. Attendance sagged. Thyne publicly lashed out at the rival Lowell ownership for violating the salary limit. By June 17th, he was unable to pay his men their past two week�s salary, and could not be found anywhere in the vicinity of Fitchburg. He had abandoned his team. A few days later, the entire New England Association collapsed. Larry Thyne�no doubt an honest, upstanding, intelligent citizen; a sportsman and a Christian�in just three months had been transformed by minor league baseball into a petty tyrant, swindler, and town villain. Al Lawson must have chuckled.
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The landscape of baseball in England had changed greatly after the collapse of its first professional league after one season in 1890. Between 1890 and 1892, the sport was mainly limited to the industrial cities of the north, and was allied closely with football (i.e. soccer) clubs. The failure of the ill-advised professional league brought the amateur game to the forefront, and it thrived everywhere in the country except in the south. In early 1893, the National Baseball Association of England replaced the Baseball Association of Great Britain and Ireland as the main governing organization and assigned the dozens of clubs throughout the country into districts, originally ten in number. American sporting goods magnate Albert Spalding sponsored the trophy awarded to each district champion and a separate trophy to the overall English national champion. Preston North End won the amateur national championship in both 1890 and 1891, while Middlesbrough took the cup in 1892.
At the same time when Al Lawson�s 1892 tour of his New York Amateurs floundered in the north, interest in the game in the south--in London--was rekindled thanks to the publicity given to games between Buffalo Bill�s Wild West troupe�which had returned once again to the English capital for the summer--and a collection of American vaudeville performers who called themselves the Thespians. The Thespians had been formed by American comedian Richard G. Knowles. In 1893 the Thespians and another London team, the J�s (named after music hall acrobat Jay Albert Le Fre), joined the National Baseball Association of England.
In 1894, the Thespians and J�s allied with other London clubs: the Remingtons (or Typewriters); the Electrics; and the Clapham Postmen, to form a separate London Baseball Association. The LBA operated as the London district of the National Baseball Association, and was composed mainly of amateur Americans. Many were music hall performers, but others were employees of American companies with offices in London.
A measure of the quality of English baseball might by judged by the Cleveland District in northeast England, which sent their top team to the national championship game in three straight years, from 1892 to 1894. In 1892, the Middlesbrough team that came from the Cleveland District won the trophy of best team in England. In 1893, the cup went to the London Thespians, who beat the Cleveland District Darlington St. Augustines. In 1894, the Thespians beat Stockton, who were the reigning champions of the Cleveland District for five straight years, from 1893-1897. Yet the Thespians were not even trained amateur athletes�they were just moonlighting stage performers. On one occasion, the Thespians played a game against one of their London Baseball Association rivals while dressed in their theatrical costumes--which delighted the regular crowd of their friends--but likely confirmed the popular opinion in London that baseball was nothing more than a passing novelty.
Yet after five years of organized play, by 1895 the English clubs knew they had improved, and wondered how they would compete against a real American team. R. G. Knowles sent word to America that he would like to see the winner of the American National League pennant come over to England to play against English teams. Joseph W. Wright, owner of the Middlesbrough club, wrote: ��our standard of play is an enormous improvement on what it was then [in 1892], so that possibly we might do something against a pick of American team. Of course I shall be derided for saying so.�
Immediately after setting this down on paper, Wright witnessed a game between Stockton and Clara Vale. He returned to his desk and continued: �The play was bad...I remembered with regret my having penned the above remarks when comparing English players and American players.� Wright knew that lopsided exhibitions against a touring American team would do little to interest the public; or worse, would give the unsupportive English press yet another reason to scoff at the efforts of the English clubs. Wright, and many others, thought it would be premature to invite American professionals over to England.
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Al Lawson left the Lowell team in early June, 1895 and went back to the independent team of Greenville, N.H. where he had played for a short time the previous year. Evidently, Lawson was greatly admired in Greenville by one of that town�s most popular young women. In late June, an announcement was made in the American sporting press that would have made the Thespian�s R. G. Knowles excited: manager Arthur �Foxy� Irwin of the Philadelphia Phillies said that he was planning to take his team over to England in October. Lawson had just arrived in Greenville when he heard of Irwin�s plans. Lawson knew, as Irwin apparently did not, that a fall tour would be difficult to coordinate, since many English players would then be involved in their football season; and that the late fall season would preclude evening games, which would be problematic for the amateur players with day jobs.
Lawson, hoping to beat Irwin to the punch, wasted no time dashing off letters to implement his new venture: leading another team on a return tour of England. Word had reached Lawson that the English clubs did not want to be shown up by a strong team of American professionals, so he brought together a team with unfamiliar names. The amateur backgrounds of the roster of men he took over to England is suspect. Answering Lawson�s call were: George E. Pantzer and George Maynard, supposedly from Yale; W. W. Clark and F. E. Daggett, said to be from Harvard; C. W. Burt and P. R. Harlow, allegedly of Princeton; and Robert Lever, and W. Neale. These names can not be found in the archives of Yale, Harvard, or Princeton.
Another man, a Boston resident, responded to Al Lawson�s ad and was added to the roster, with his name noted in news accounts as �George Anderson,� �formerly of Ann Arbor University.� None of the other men on the team expressed surprise at discovering that George was 31 years old; married; had never been near a college; had no experience playing organized baseball; and used �Anderson� as an alias in place of his real name: George Herman Lawson.
Al Lawson had rediscovered his older brother. Why Al agreed to let George come on the tour is a mystery. Perhaps it was a willing arrangement, and the two had gotten along together up to that point. Or perhaps George had some leverage over Al (like knowing that his �amateurs� were professionals), and was cashing in his chips. Whatever the reasons were, the outcome of the Boston Amateur Baseball Club tour of 1895 would open a rift between the two bothers that never healed.
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Lawson�s hastily-scheduled tour was announced in the British press at the end of July, 1895. The Boston Amateurs would be arriving in late August. The timing was awkward for English clubs, who would be winding down their scheduled League play at that time and had to make special arrangements to fit in the exhibitions against the Americans. In all likelihood, Lawson received encouragement in some quarters of the English league that was by no means universal. To their credit, the National Baseball Association of England and the London Baseball Association did their best to accommodate the tour. By the first week of August, ten games had already been scheduled. By the time they sailed from Philadelphia to Liverpool on August 11th, twenty-five games had been booked. Lawson even mentioned the possibility of playing additional games in Scotland and in Paris.
The Bostons arrived on Aug 19th and started their circuit with two wins over Francis Ley�s Derby team, 12-11 and 6-3. Derby would go on to win the English national championship a few weeks later in September. From Derby, Lawson�s team journeyed to play and win games at Stockton, where the attendance were said to have been over 6000. Lawson and his Boston backers, W. E. Stone and C. W. Rice, had gambled that the gate receipts would prove profitable�but they also relied on their share of the ticket sales to pay for the players� room, board and travel.
From Stockton, the Boston Amateurs went on to Middlesbrough and Newcastle, again winning all their games handily. However, attendance at these locations was not as good as it had been in Stockton, and by the start of September the tour�s meager cash reserves were exhausted. They had train tickets to London, but in order to settle their hotel bill in Newcastle, Lawson and one of his players, Daggett, had to leave their watches. When Nelson P. Cook, the Secretary of the London Baseball Association learned of the team�s distress, he was understandably annoyed at the Americans� poor planning. Cook agreed to have the LBA teams play games already publicized at Crystal Palace and Balham, but the remaining games with the Boston nine were cancelled. Most of the Boston team members had return tickets for passage back to America. These were exchanged, where possible, for ships departing earlier. The team�s business manager, C. W. Rice, and George H. Lawson were the first to depart, even before the last games in London were played. George Lawson�s hasty departure was an indication that he was not contributing anything as a player, so he was the first to be sent packing.
Al Lawson�s team won all 19 of the games they played on the tour. One of the last games was against a consolidated team of the best players of the London Baseball Association at Crystal Palace on September 3, 1895. A complete play-by-play scorecard and account of the game was preserved and published by Richard G. Knowles in his 1896 book Baseball, which was written as a textbook introduction to the sport for the British reading audience. English spectators appreciated the physical action of baseball, but have been perpetually perplexed by the game�s scoring notations. Knowles chapter on �Scoring� probably did not help, since the play-by-play scorecards he presented were hopelessly complex.
A few days after the Crystal Palace game, the Bostons played their last game and then boarded the earliest available passenger ships back to America. Al Lawson was the lone exception to the quick departures. One explanation for his delay might be that he wanted to insure all his players got home safely. However, he still had a ticket in his pocket--not for a return to the United States, but onward to Paris. If all had gone right with the tour, Paris was to have been its last stop. As the advance man, Lawson had booked his Channel crossing weeks earlier. Although the tour collapsed, it probably made no sense to Lawson to waste an opportunity to see the City of Lights at the height of La Belle �poque.
English baseball officials reacted to the collapse of the Boston Amateurs with quiet British diplomacy. First, they needed to make sure that no more American sportsmen-adventurers would unilaterally decide to invade England. The next issue of America�s Sporting News carried the first page item: �According to the statement of N. P. Cook, Secretary of the London Base Ball Association, the English tour of the Boston Amateur Base Ball Club has come to a disastrous end, and several members of the team are stranded in London. Contrary to previous reports there has been no interest in the game of base ball anywhere in England.�
Having thrown cold water on any future tours, at the same time these officials wanted to make sure no blame for the Boston Amateurs tour demise could be placed on their inhospitality. Since Al Lawson was indisposed for a few days, they offered him a distinctive honor. The final game of the season, the game for the national championship of England and the Spalding Cup trophy, was to be played in Derby, with Francis Ley�s Derby team hosting the Fullers of the LBA. Al Lawson was invited to umpire this culminating contest. For many years, English ball clubs had found one of their biggest difficulties in maintaining league play was in securing knowledgeable umpires for their games, so it was a token of great respect to invite Lawson to perform this task.
R. G. Knowles, the leader of the Thespians, reported on the Lawson�s handling of the championship game in his book Baseball:
�Local enthusiasm rose uppermost with the spectators, and their desire to see their town win led them to frequently question the decisions of the umpire to such an extent that he withdrew from the game. There was a delay of fully five minutes, during which it was explained that the excitement was really no slur upon him, but simply the outburst of a crowd of sportsmen anxious to see their own side win, and jealous of every point credited against them. He was persuaded to return and finish the game, doing so to the satisfaction of the spectators, for their team won. It is no exaggeration to say that, at the close of the game, there was a scene of rejoicing and enthusiasm such as Derby had never before witnessed, and probably never win again. Over seven thousand people paid at the gates�no American town could have furnished such ecstasies of delight or any louder mode of expressing them.�
If there was a moment that marked the height of interest in the sport of baseball in England, the 1895 championship game in Derby was it; and the only mar on that event was the petulant tantrum thrown by Al Lawson, the guest of honor, who nearly ruined the occasion. His English hosts were willing to credit Lawson for being too much of a gentleman to stand abuse from the crowd�in fact, Lawson had likely been treating umpires in America to the same or worse treatment for the past eight years. They gave Lawson a warm sendoff to Paris, and invited him to return (without a team) to support the cause of baseball in England. It was an offer he would take to heart.
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George H. Lawson undoubtedly returned to America in a foul mood. He had probably imagined that the baseball tour would give him a chance to revisit his London haunts and pals from his soldiering days in the British Army. As it worked out, the first two weeks of the tour were spent in the dreary industrial north of England. Also, his Boston Amateur teammates had likely given him the cold shoulder since he was an untalented ball player. George must have bristled at being bossed around by the team�s manager, his younger brother Al. By the time they reached lively London, the tour was already broke. George was summarily dispatched back across the Atlantic, without even a chance to have some fun in the entertainment capital of the age, Edwardian London at the height of its fashionable season.
George�s depression turned to rage when he arrived home in Boston and discovered that his spouse, Nana, had fled the city in the company of another man. Though he had deserted her to take advantage of his baseball jaunt to Merrie England, he was not the type of man to accept the same treatment by his wife. The Boston Globe picked up the story:
�ONE TOWN BEHIND: Lawson is Following His Flying Spouse; She and Her Supposed Companion Have a Good Lead in the Chase; Ex Baseball Manager Has Blood in His Eye and a Gun in His Pocket.
�Pittsburg, Sept. 20 � Geo. Lawson, manager of the amateur baseball team which went to England this summer, was in the city today with blood in his eye and a gun in his pocket.
"He is searching for his recreant spouse, who he alleges eloped from Boston with a man named Cunningham. Lawson�s home is in the New England metropolis. When he returned there after his European trip he found his home deserted.
�Learning that the couple had left for Pittsburg, Mr. Lawson immediately came here, only to find that the missing ones had gone to Youngstown, just over the state line in Ohio. He quickly followed the pair to the buckeye town, only again to be disappointed. The pair had boarded a train for Chicago, and Lawson returned to Pittsburg. He was about as angry a man as ever chased an errant wife, and as he boarded a train today for the windy city he declared that he would continue the chase until some one got hurt.�
This amazing artifact of 19th century American journalism was reporting a crime of passion�before it happened�from hundreds of miles away. Did Lawson run into a Globe reporter while in Pittsburgh? Or did he meet a Pittsburgh reporter, who sent the story on to the Globe? Did Lawson arrange for the story to run in order to intimidate his missing wife? Did the reporter also tip off the police that Lawson was intent on violence? At any rate, no murder resulted. Lawson returned home to Boston, his marriage wrecked.
The Globe article caused great concern to Al Lawson�s young lady friend in Greenville, NH. She was distraught over the mention in the article of Lawson, �manager of the amateur baseball team which went to England, � since she knew that person to be Alfred Lawson. Apparently, she was unaware that Al had a brother George on the trip. But she remembered that she had in her possession a letter from Al Lawson dated Sept. 15, sent from Paris, and in his handwriting. It would have been impossible for Al to have been in Pittsburgh by Sept. 20th. Moreover, she was sure he was single. She sent a correction to the Globe editors, which they printed several days later.
When Al Lawson returned from France and heard about the Globe incident he must have thrown a fit. Not only had the story about George upset his Greenville lady friend, it had given everyone the impression that it was George, not Al, who had managed the amateur team. If there was one thing that Al Lawson could not stand, it was the idea of other people taking credit for his accomplishments. The two brothers never got along from that point forward.
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Finally realizing that his pitching career was over, Al Lawson approached the 1896 season with the sole intent of securing a position as a manager. His letter-writing campaign met early success with an offer from the Easton club of the Pennsylvania State League. Lawson wasted no time in signing his old friends from Tampa and Middletown, Jack Dooley and Jack Lawler, along with another longtime pal, Wild Bill Setley. The Easton club was run by a board of directors representing a group of stockholders, with the president of the board being Easton�s newly elected mayor.
However, Lawson was only in his position for two weeks before he left in a huff, claiming that the board had tried to �bulldoze� him and reduce his salary without his consent. He was replaced as manager at Easton by a local baseball man, Hank Ramsey. Within days Lawson resurfaced as the new manager of the Pottsville team in the same league. Lawson�s snit, of course, left his friends Dooley, Lawler, and Setley in the lurch. Lawler and Setley were retained by Easton, but Dooley was released at the same time as Lawson. Lawson had most of his Pottsville team signed by April 2nd, and penciled himself in as an outfielder.
Lawson attended a League organizational meeting on April 11th, and, representing Pottsville�s interest, voted against allowing the Shamokin club into the League. The Pottsville ownership thought that Shamokin was too close to Pottsville, and would draw away from their fan base. Instead, Lawson and Pottsville supported the entry of Reading into the League. Reading was owned by businessman and Democratic politician William A. Witman. Years later, Witman would not forget that Lawson backed his effort to join the State League.
Typically, though, only a few more weeks passed before Lawson got into an argument with the Pottsville owners, and resigned the first week of May, just as the League season started. His first foray into eastern Pennsylvania baseball had been a bust, but he would return again and again over the next twenty years. Lawson knew of one place that still had a welcome sign out for him: he set sail for England in mid-May to accept a position coaching teams in the London Baseball Association. He stayed there for the entire season, returning to the United States in early October. He stayed in America just long enough to announce that he would stake out North Adams, Mass. for a team in the 1897 season. Having set up his next spring, Lawson took advantage of an invitation he had received while in London, and sailed to Cape Town to introduce baseball to athletic clubs in the Cape Colony.
Lawson disembarked in a southern African city that was rife with tension. The Cape Colony had originally been a 17th century Dutch colony founded by the Dutch East India Company. Settlers from the trading company expanded out from the port to establish farms, and in doing so brought in slave labor and decimated local tribes. England annexed the Cape Colony during the Napoleonic Wars. Throughout the 1800s, British and Boers (Dutch settlers) fought wars against surrounding African kingdoms. The region�s economy changed drastically in 1870, when diamonds were discovered in Kimberley, and in 1886 when huge goldfields were unearthed in Witwatersrand. Great Britain asserted control over the Boer republics (Transvaal and the Orange Free State) and the remaining African states.
A year before Lawson stepped ashore, South Africa had been thrown into turmoil by an unsuccessful raid into the Boer Transvaal republic made by Leander Starr Jameson, a lieutenant of the prime minister of the Cape Colony, Cecil Rhodes. The raid was an undisguised effort to gain control of the gold mining operations and an attack on the independence of the Boer republics. In 1896 an atmosphere of unease pervaded the entire region, and many believed that war was inevitable. Lawson must have noticed the difference that had taken place in the four years since his last visit in 1892. Diamond and gold fever had made Cape Town a burgeoning city, and the imperialistic fervor of the British community did not suggest that a compromise with the Boers was in the air.
After organizing a few games in the Cape Colony, Lawson sent a boastful letter off to American sporting news weeklies: �I have now played baseball in America, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Canada, British Columbia, Mexico, Cuba, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Africa, and find that in all the countries mentioned, with the exception of France, Scotland, and Ireland, the game takes exceedingly well.� However, Lawson had already established a reputation that made his efforts to style himself as a baseball ambassador subject to ridicule. The Milwaukee Journal commented: �Had Mr. Lawson added that the record for sending more ball players home from foreign climes as hoboes, stowaways, and cabin boys belongs to him, he would not be swelling it.�
While in Cape Town, Al Lawson stayed in a hotel where the neighboring room was occupied by an American boxer, Kid McCoy. McCoy was in Cape Town preparing for fights that were to be held in late December. McCoy was the current welterweight champion, having won the crown earlier that year. Just a few years prior to 1896 professional boxers had adopted the Marquis of Queensbury rules. The most important aspect of these rules was the use of padded gloves rather than bare knuckles, in order to reduce facial and hand injuries and to make knock-outs more difficult. This greatly changed the tactics used in a match by giving more emphasis to defensive positioning and cumulative punching. McCoy (an alias he adopted in place of his real name, Norman Selby) not only quickly mastered these new tactics, he added some of his own; but he was best known for tactics that are politely known as �gamesmanship.�
McCoy�s most famous stunt�the one that won him the welterweight championship�was to feign illness before a fight. He would appear before reporters with a pallid complexion, shoulders slumped, with a cold sweat on his brow. His opponents heard of his fitness problems, and slackened their own training. McCoy would maintain this deception through early rounds of a fight, checking with a ringside accomplice as the betting odds rose against him. Then he would suddenly shake off his torpor and explode in a fury against his complacent opponent. The �real McCoy� then emerged, giving rise to a phrase that has outlived the legacy of the man himself.
When fighting abroad, McCoy was known to put out a rumor that it wasn�t McCoy that had disembarked, but an impostor using his name. The pre-fight odds against him then rose upward, allowing him to lay down favorable bets early before he was positively identified as the �real McCoy.� Aside from gamesmanship, McCoy was famous for inventing a punch that some called unfair: the corkscrew. A corkscrew punch is thrown at the opponents' eyebrows and nose bridge, and adds a twist of the wrist on impact. It was a punch invented for gloves, and the intent was not to deliver a strong blow, but to rip open bleeding cuts. Not matter how strongly a fighter may be performing, spurting wounds above the eyes will blind him.
According to Al Lawson, he and Kid McCoy got along famously. The flies on the wall in their hotel no doubt heard some entertaining tales traded between the two of questionable sporting ethics. McCoy went on to win all his fights in South Africa, but Al Lawson was not there to bear witness. His baseball employ was exhausted after a few weeks, and he returned to America to prepare for a new baseball season in North Adams, Mass.
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After his abortive attempts at managing teams in Pennsylvania the previous spring, Lawson approached the 1897 season determined not to have to answer to any master, i.e. team owner. Instead, he wanted to start up his own team in a city that did not yet have one. Most likely, he heard about North Adams, located in the Berkshires region of western Massachusetts, from his old friend Jack Dooley. Dooley and another Lawson friend, Jack Lawler, both hailed from North Adams, and either one could have let Lawson know that it was a baseball hotbed currently without a team. Lawson first scouted out the town in October of 1896, just before leaving for South Africa, and returned there in December to begin setting up a baseball operation in earnest. The local newspapers reacted warmly, which was Lawson�s first indication of success. Over the next few months, the papers documented very nearly every step of the club�s formation, which when pieced together form a case study in 19th century baseball economics.
Lawson�s first step was to scout out the regional baseball landscape in order to see what other clubs and leagues existed in the western Massachusetts area. Leagues offered the security of a set schedule, developed rivalries that boosted attendance, helped to pre-plan travel budgets, had pre-set gate receipt percentages, hired umpires, and often had player pools and salary limits to establish equity of talent. Lawson called together a meeting of area baseball men from the towns of Holyoke, Westfield, Pittsfield, Easthampton, and Northampton (the largest city in western Massachusetts, Springfield, was a member of the state-spanning Eastern League). Teams that had operated independently in prior years were reluctant to buy into the benefits of a league if they disagreed with salary levels, or felt that they could not afford the travel expenses, league dues, and risk of league collapse due to weak members. Lawson�s December 1896 meeting did not generate enough initial interest to get a league organized, but it was a boon he kept promoting even as the baseball season of 1897 got underway.
Throughout January, Lawson focused on advance sales of season tickets; he needed this income to help offset start-up costs. The focus of his ticket package pitch was the town�s business and professional community. He used economic arguments to persuade them: a baseball team would enhance the town�s image; it would attract people to North Adams from surrounding towns; and it would keep people in town who might otherwise seek entertainment elsewhere. In addition to appealing to their business sense, Lawson also appealed to their civic pride�a winning baseball team would be a good way to get bragging rights over the nearby rival city of Pittsfield. By early February, he had sold 30 season tickets at $10 each. By the time the season started, he had sold 68, which was disappointing.
In February, Lawson negotiated for the lease of a ball field. In pre-automotive days, the location of the field was crucial: it had to be either in the city�s population center or accessible via streetcar or train. Lawson chose a tract near both the electric car lines and the train tracks. He negotiated with the companies that ran these lines to operate special schedules on game days that would deposit patrons right at the field. Likely, the companies were happy to oblige and support the effort, since they saw it as a way of increasing ridership. Because the tract Lawson chose was empty, he needed to grade the field ($100), reseed it with grass, lay down the diamond, build the grandstand ($410), side bleachers, ticket booth, outfield fence ($150), and erect foul poles ($100). Lawson also had dressing rooms built for each team, with baths and running water.
The exact terms of Lawson lease of the grounds aren�t known, but it did call for the owner to contribute $150 towards the improvements. The lease would have specified the dates when payments had to be made by Lawson. It probably gave Lawson a share of the receipts from any other games or events held at the park that did not involve his team. There also was a clause that would penalize Lawson for breaking the lease; the penalty was to transfer interest in all the field improvements over to the land owner. Lawson got to name the field: Lawsonian Park.
The grandstand was built to seat 600. Lawson planned to charge 25 cents for admission, plus an additional 25 cents for grandstand seats under the roof. For opening day only he planned to charge an additional 10 cent premium on bleacher seats. The number of bleacher seats isn�t known, but if an estimate of 1000 bleacher seats is used, then a full house might bring in gates receipts of between $650 and $800 per game. Between 35% and 50% of the receipts would be split with the opposing team, depending on their reputation for drawing good crowds. So, figuring ten sold-out home games per month, the most a club might clear at the gate would be $3200-$4500 monthly. Sell-outs were rare, however. Rainouts were devastating, especially if they occurred on Saturdays or holidays.
The players� monthly salaries varied between $50 and $100 per man, with the total monthly payroll totaling about $600. Lawson started signing men in March, and in April paid for their rail tickets to North Adams, along with an advance of part of their first month�s salary. Other expenses included: printing (tickets, newspaper ads); grounds maintenance and night watchman ($25/month); two people to work the ticket booth and to take tickets at each game; and a sign wagon that was driven around town on game days to advertise the game.
Lawson involved the women in the community by running a contest for them to pick the uniform colors. He needed the support of the town�s mothers, who otherwise might be leery to visit the ball park or to allow their husbands and sons to attend. Sporting events had a reputation for being associated with drinking, gambling, and rowdyism, so smart owners took care to promote the game as wholesome entertainment. The uniforms cost $15 apiece, or $150 for the whole team. Shoes cost $7.50, but it is not clear whether or not Lawson expected the men to pay for those, since they needed to be custom fit. Before the season started, Lawson put the new uniforms on display in the window of the town�s cigar store. He used the same building as his office, since it was a gathering spot for the community�s sportsmen.
As an independent team, Lawson was responsible for providing an umpire for home games, so he enticed Jack Dooley to come up from New York State. He also convinced Jack to invest several hundred dollars in the club�the money was needed to defray some of the start-up costs. One would think that Dooley had seen too many Lawson schemes to take such a risk, but he was a steadfast supporter.
The season began on April 17th with a standing-room only crowd of over 2000 people. The schedule was made up on the fly, with certain advance commitments from area teams, barnstorming teams (like the African-American Cuban X Giants); college teams, and athletic club teams. The area rivalry games against Pittsfield, Holyoke, Amherst, etc. were by far the most popular. The North Adams nine proved to be fairly talented, and began to compile a good record
During the first week of May (about three weeks into the start of the baseball season), the North Adams Transcript reported on an odd incident. A salesman from the Overman Wheel Company, which was the bicycle and sporting goods outfit that Lawson used to buy the ball club�s uniforms�arrived in town and asked for Al Lawson. He found a man who claimed to be Al Lawson, and that man cajoled the salesman into buying several drinks and loaning him some money. The next day, the salesman arrived at Al Lawson�s cigar store office and was perplexed to find a different man answering to the name of Lawson. The impersonator was never caught, and if Al Lawson harbored any suspicions about the identity of his larcenous double, he did not make them public. He did, however, offer a cash reward for the arrest and conviction of anyone using his name. The event had all the earmarks of the sort of mischief that Al�s brother George Lawson would perpetrate.
The Transcript�s magnifying glass coverage of the ball team had its disadvantages. On one occasion an altercation between Lawson and one of his players made the front page. The player, August Lauer, had borrowed money from a teammate that he could not repay. Lawson caught Lauer at the train station trying to leave town, and called him out. The two men got into a fistfight and were arrested and fined for disturbing the peace. Lauer had no cash, so Lawson paid the fine for both of them. It was not good publicity.
On another occasion, a scheduled home game was cancelled on short notice. Word of the cancellation did not reach the operator of the advertising wagon that rode through town on game day. Lawson was taken to task in the press for running a sloppy operation. Lawson, who took offense at the slightest criticism, forced his advertising manager to write a letter to the editor that absolved Lawson of any knowledge that the wagon had been sent through town.
Lawson had to write a lengthy letter to the newspaper himself on June 8th, in response to a printed accusation by a released player that he had not been paid his salary in full. Lawson not only denied the charge, but also claimed that he had loaned the man money, and that the player had repeatedly and recently told other what a great manager Lawson was. The dispute even reached a court, since the player persevered in claiming that his salary had been docked by arbitrary fines levied by the manager. Lawson, who now thought that a cabal against him existed, challenged his critics in town to buy the team from him and try to run it themselves. A day later he appeared at a meeting convened to interest businessmen into forming a stock company and buying the club.
In mid-June, Lawson started playing right field in order to save on one salaried position. His detractors still made a public spectacle�the local college team manager claimed that Lawson tried to strong-arm a larger percentage of a gate receipt agreement, and then gave the scheduled game date to some other team that would draw a bigger crowd. This time, Lawson did not respond with a denial.
These were clear signals that Lawson was seeing that he was not recouping his initial investment fast enough to keep up with the ongoing weekly payroll, travel, and lease costs. A stock company could raise capital to solve the immediate shortfall; and might be able to buy the field, thereby relieving that burden and making future gate receipts more profitable. The fact that Lawson did not make a secret of the team�s financial status argues against the accusation that he was running a racket and intended to skip out on his bills. It was also no secret that many sportsmen in town recognized that membership in a league, as Lawson had been pressing for the past six months, would bring in more income than their current haphazard schedule. Several articles in favor of a league appeared in the Transcript.
Just as Lawson and many in town were hoping for salvation from the formation of a new league, a headline in the June 26th edition of a national sporting newspaper, Sporting News, announced: �ANDY LAWSON�S SCHEME: He Proposes to form the Merrimack Valley League.� The short article then mentions the claim made by George H. �Andy� Lawson, �who is reported to be either a cousin or brother of Al Lawson,� that he is forming a league comprised of northeastern Mass. and southern New Hampshire towns. This was news to the baseball clubs in those towns. One of the cities mentioned by George �Andy� Lawson�Lowell�did not even currently have a ball club. It must have been clear to them that this �league� was just hot air. Although Andy Lawson�s proposed league was on the other side of the state, the effect of this widely circulated announcement was to cast aspersions on Al Lawson�s motives for pushing for as new league in western Mass. George Lawson probably thought that he was just one-upping his little brother by stealing his thunder; but the effect was to make other Berkshire towns suspicious that league formation was a family racket.
Lawson�s last attempt to form a league came at a meeting in Pittsfield the first week in July. The previous day, Lawson had been unable to make the weekly payroll. One of his players immediately left town in disgust, and others told the morning newspaper that they were broke and could not afford room and board. The paper repeated a rumor that Lawson had skipped town and abandoned the team. A copy of this paper reached Lawson while he was in Pittsfield, and he reacted as if it was the last straw. Lawson sat down and signed a piece of paper transferring his assets�the field improvements, uniforms, and equipment�over to Jack Dooley. Meanwhile, back in North Adams, certain businessmen convinced the ball field�s owner that Lawson had broken his lease, thereby transferring all the club�s assets to the field�s owner.
Jack Dooley came back to North Adams, and not only asserted his claim to the club, but portrayed his friend Al Lawson as the abused victim of a conspiracy. Over the next few days Dooley hired a lawyer to contest the ownership of the grandstand, bleachers, uniforms, etc. Meanwhile, Al Lawson went straight to the beach at Lynn, Mass. Lynn is just outside of Boston, where George Lawson resided, so it is possible that Al might have dropped in on his older brother�it would not have been a sociable call. Within two weeks, Al Lawson popped up in Philadelphia, where he boarded a ship bound for England. For the second straight year, he found a position coaching in the London Baseball Association at the princely rate of $100 a week. Before leaving, Lawson sent a letter to the North Adams Transcript promising to return in the fall, and also promising to resolve about $100 in debts he had left behind.
In summary, the North Adams baseball season had ended like many other of Lawson�s ventures; yet the details suggest that Lawson had tried very hard to make his club a success. Baseball entrepreneurship was not an occupation for the faint of heart. In a final irony, over in Fitchburg, Mass., on hearing of the trouble at North Adams, the local paper ran the headline �Lawson Enacts Role of Larry Thyne at North Adams.� The Fitchburg editors had not forgotten about how their own manager left them two years earlier�but apparently they did forget the name of the one-time Fitchburg pitcher who had stomped off the field in the middle of a game.
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In September, 1897, long-suffering Nana Lawson had the legal notice of her petition for divorce from George Lawson published. Divorce proceedings in the United States had switched in the 19th century from rare legislative acts to more common judicial decisions. The divorce rate in Massachusetts was low compared to other states, but this was more a factor of its high percentage of Roman Catholic population than to the difficulty of obtaining a divorce. As a consequence of advocacy of more rights for women, divorce laws had been liberalized. Although the burden of proof still was with the person suing for divorce (70% of which were women), the grounds allowed changed from just adultery and desertion to a more loosely defined phrase, �cruelty.� Nana Lawson divorced George Lawson after nine years of marriage for �extreme cruelty.� At the time of the divorce, Nana was back in Boston, but George was now listed as living in New York.
George Lawson had found a new vocation as a theatrical manager, which likely suited his histrionic tendencies and thirst for publicity. In February of 1898, just before boarding a steam packet to England, George Lawson had a parting trick to play on his brother Al. George contacted a sportswriter on the Philadelphia Inquirer and gave an interview in which he stated that he had just returned from England. Once again, he claimed credit for being the manager of the 1895 Boston Amateur tour. He said that he had stayed in England for the three years following the tour, as the owner of the champion Stockton club, and offered his insights into the popularity of baseball in Great Britain. His closing remark to the reporter was a dagger aimed at his brother Al:
�A peculiarity of the English situation is that all classes seem to cherish a strong aversion to open professionalism. The players are not paid regular salaries, but are supported by popular subscription, as is also the case with cricket. Baseball players fare well by this method, and were a team of National League cracks to go abroad next season they would find a bonanza awaiting them. But in order to succeed it would be necessary for them to term themselves amateurs.�
Once this interview appeared in England, no baseball clubs there would ever accept a touring team led by anyone named �Lawson� as true amateurs. Al Lawson never took a team abroad again.
With his damage done, George Lawson embarked for England. He stayed there a month. When he got on the ship returning to America, he was still in a mirthful mood. He told the ship�s bursar his name was �Maj. George H. Lawson,� listed his occupation as �theatre manager,� his residence as New York City, and named his lady companion as �Mrs. Wilfrid Lawson.� His female friend�s alias was a joke, since Sir Wilfrid Lawson was the political figure in England most in favor of the public policy of total abstinence from alcohol, inspired by his own wife�s drinking habits. George, it will be seen, was no teetotaler.
George Lawson�s theater work apparently was not steady. As a fallback, he always had baseball.
Alfred W. Lawson, a handsome, rakish portrait from the National Police Gazette.
Arthur "Foxy" Irwin, manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, 1894-1895.
The champion Baltimore Orioles of 1895. John McGraw laying in fron, on left.
The innocent gamine Trilby, as written and drawn by George Du Maurier. Larry Thyne intended to mold his players to his will as Svengali did to Trilby.
Larry Thyne, a few years before his death in 1933. The venerated "Dean of New England Reporters.".
Owner Joseph Wright of the Middlesbrough Base Ball Club. English owners were often the most knowledgable authorities on the game, so Wright also served as an umpire.
Richard G. Knowles, forgotten stage comedian and English baseball impresario.
The only known image of the Boston Amateurs, a tracing made from a photograph. Al Lawson is likely the central figure in street clothes. George Lawson may be front row, second from left.
The Derby and Thespians teams of 1895, posed in front of the grandstands at Crystal Palace.
Play-by-play scorecard for the Boston Amateurs game of Sept. 3, 1895
London's Penny Illustrated newspaper sent a fashion illustrator to cover the London games of the Boston Amateurs.
Kid McCoy, master of boxing gamesmanship
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