Chris Von der Ahe: The Hall of Fame Case


One pioneering owner that should be under consideration when the Baseball Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee meets later this fall is Chris Von der Ahe.

In 1882, the German-American entrepreneur purchased the St. Louis Brown Stockings. The team is now known as the St. Louis Cardinals.

The pioneering owner took an active role with the team and was seen as being a predeccessor both Bill Veeck and Charley Finley. While the National League at the time had a set pricing for tickets, the American Association did not. What Von der Ahe did would go on to change the game. As an owner, he instituted a two-tiered ticket pricing system that made games affordable. Sound familiar? It’s something that caught on around the league and now there are all kinds of pricing tiers in all sports.

The National League didn’t allow for games to be played on Sunday nor did they allow for the sale of alcoholic beverages at the ballpark. The American Association did and Von der Ahe was a big reason as to why.

A few years ago, The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game was written by journalist Edward Achorn of the Providence Journal. A review of the book can be found here. It’s certainly a must read and one can only hope that the book will get into the hands of the voting electorate.

“Chris Von der Ahe is the 19th-century George Steinbrenner,” official MLB historian John Thorn tells Redbird Rants, “so maybe if and when the latter gets in, a strong case might be made for the former.”

Achorn sums it up nicely in the epilogue of his book when he writes:

"For all he did to save and revitalize baseball, to popularize Sunday ball and beer, to lend color and dazzle to the game, and to found and lead one of the great franchises in baseball, Chris Von der Ahe deserves a plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame."

There are those that may agree with him and I suppose others may not.

I reached out to SABR’s Nineteenth Century Baseball Research Committee to get their input on Von der Ahe’s Hall of Fame case.

“Personally, I do think that Von der Ahe should be given strong consideration at least,” Peter Mancuso, the committee’s chairman, said. “One reason, in my view, that he is unlikely to be inducted into Cooperstown is that he, like several great 19th century players, managers and executives, were nearly exclusively American Association (AA, 1882-1891) people and the HOF seems reluctant to cross into that territory for whatever reason. Although Von der Ahe was certainly counted as one of the National League magnets during the 1890s that timeframe was beyond his Brown’s glory years of the 1880s as AA champions.”

“Although I believe there are several others from the 19th Century that deserve election before him, in a straight Yes or No vote I would say Yes,” said Joe Williams, a member of the committee. “He was an innovator and many of those innovations are still around.”

“Von der Ahe is a tough call for me,” said Adam Darowski, also on the committee. “I have a hard time with Executives in general. Tougher to quantify. But like Joe said, he certainly was an innovator.”

The Pre-Integration Era Committee will consider candidates from the 1876-1949 era. They will be voted on during the 2015 Winter Meetings for induction in the Class of 2016. In the fall of 2016, the Expansion Era Committee will have their vote on candidates for the Class of 2017. Likely to be debated for induction on that ballot are Marvin Miller, Jim Leyland, Jack Morris, and hopefully, Ted Simmons. Redbird Rants made the case for Simmons’ induction back in April 2013.