Amos Rusie’s Holdout

As we’ve seen, everything Andrew Freedman did while owner of the New York Giants was wrong, and his particular sin during the spring of 1896 was instigating the holdout of pitcher Amos Rusie. Rusie led the National League in strikeouts five of the previous six years, and had such a thing existed, would have won at least one Cy Young Award during that time. The Hoosier Thunderbolt was not only the best pitcher on the team, but one 0f the very best in the league. At the end of the 1895 season, however, Freedman had deducted $200 in fines from Rusie’s salary, ostensibly for dissipation and failure to give his best toward the end of the season. (Rusie’s ERA+ had fallen from 188 to 124, so instead of being the best pitcher in the league by that measure, he was only the tenth.)

Rusie was outraged at this high-handed treatment, and he refused to sign for 1896 until the fines were remitted. Freedman would not budge. Neither would Rusie. When the season opened, Rusie was still unsigned, and the pitcher decided to take his case to baseball’s supreme court, the National League Board of Arbitration.

Most of the fans and the papers strongly condemned Freedman’s treatment of Rusie. Freedman’s capacity for resentment was enormous, and he focused his spite and anger on the sportswriters. On April 22, 1896, his antagonism spilled over, and he punched Edward Hurst of The Evening World on the chin to teach him a lesson for writing unfavorably about Freedman’s handling of the Rusie case. Freedman followed up his assault by demanding that the paper fire Hurst. The Evening World declined, and Hurst announced that he would file both civil and criminal charges, joining Rusie and another reporter, Sam Crane of the Commercial Advertiser, who Freedman had recently banned from the Polo Grounds for unfavorable coverage, in filing suit against Freedman.

The loss of Rusie for the 1896 season greatly weakened the Giants, and they spent most of the season in the tenth place (in a twelve-team league), with declining attendance responding to their poor play. They rallied in September to finish in seventh place, with a record of 64-67. That rally provided hope for the 1897 season, but that hope depended in large measure on Rusie returning to the mound, and on this issue Freedman would not budge. Rusie had defied himi, had brought him into court before his fellow owners, and caused him to be derided in the press, and that could not be forgiven. Rusie, one of the few men in the history of the game to hold out for an entire season, could hold out for another as far as Freedman was concerned. Rusie must approach him and only then would he pitch again in the National League.

Freedman’s fellow owners generally supported this position. But the magnates were also businessmen, and they wanted to restore the large crowds in New York that had played so prominent a part in paying for their expenses on the road. The best, the simplest way to do that was to bring Amos Rusie back to the Giants. In the week before the 1897 season was to begin, several of the owners began an organized campaign to bring Rusie and Freedman to terms. Freedman’s response was simple:

….Some of the magnates want to prostitute the game for the sake of a few paltry dollars. They are in dire financial straits and think that Rusie would help them out as a drawing card.

A few days later, he made it even clearer: This club has made no concessions to him [Rusie] and will not do so.” It was no deal.

Since Rusie was equally adamant, the magnates themselves began to search for a solution. On April 12, 1897, the National League Board of Arbitration met in special session trying to find a way out of the impasse. There was only one. Rusie must sign on Freedman’s terms, and a group of the other owners would collect the money to repay him for Freedman’s fines, Rusie’s legal costs, and the “other expenses from this regrettable action.” The total was estimated at bout $5,000. This was certainly the best deal the Hoosier Thunderbolt was going to get, so he rose above principle and signed with the Giants at Freedman’s figure, $2,400.

On April 22, opening day, Amos Rusie reported to the Giants. This closed the formal breach, but great bitterness remained. Rusie and Freedman never forgave each other, though they claimed in the press that all was now well. Both had some cause for satisfaction. Rusie had gotten his money, and Freedman had defeated his fellow owners. But the New York owner had not done well with the public and the press, who thought him a petty and vindictive man. His fellow magnates who had put up the money to pay Rusie felt cheated by Freedman, and the incident rankled. The magnates did not like writing the checks, and they did not like the feeling of having been taken. Gradually, there developed a group of magnates who would oppose Freedman at every turn, with consequences for the Giants and the league.


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