LEFT-FIELDER WAS PART OF 1869 CINCINNATI RED STOCKINGS TEAM KNOWN AS ‘THE FIRST BOYS OF SUMMER’
CHARLES MCCARTY KEPT paperwork in a lockbox for decades. But the realization that the documents were truly special only hit the retired federal executive when his niece saw a baseball card featuring his grandfather on a TV show.
McCarty knew his grandfather was an important figure in the development of professional sports in America. Andrew Leonard (top) played for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first fully professional baseball team.
Leonard had arrived in the United States from Ireland in 1848 and began playing baseball when he was 13. By 1868, he had joined the Buckeyes, a Cincinnati amateur club. At about this time, Harry Wright founded the Cincinnati Base Ball Club, which would be known as the Red Stockings. Leonard was among the team’s First Nine. “There is no doubt that Harry Wright is the father of professional baseball playing,” Hall of Fame baseball promoter Henry Chadwick once wrote.
The Red Stockings won the league championship each year that Leonard played for them. He logged his final major-league game in 1880. After his death in 1903, Leonard’s contracts covering seasons from 1871 to 1879, were passed on to his children. His youngest son, John, gave the documents to McCarty in the early 1950s. “My uncle said, ‘These are what my father gave to me and I’m giving them to you.’”
In early 2015, after seeing his grandfather’s card on TV, McCarty showed his paperwork to a sports collectibles expert – and discovered their true rarity. “These are among the earliest known professional baseball contracts,” Gutierrez says.
For the 1871 season, Leonard signed with the Washington Olympics, part of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (a predecessor of the National League). For compensation, Acting Treasury Secretary William Richardson appointed Leonard to an assistant messenger job. “The Olympics team was not paid by the baseball club, but by the government,” says Heritage Auctions sports specialist and consignment director Mike Gutierrez. “So this is a baseball agreement, not just a Treasury letter.”
There’s also a handwritten agreement between Leonard and the Boston Red Stockings stipulating a salary of $1,600 in 1872 and $1,800 in 1873, signed by Leonard and Wright.
“We are floored by what these contracts represent to the first years of professional baseball,” Gutierrez says. “We are not aware of another cache of 1870s single baseball player agreements of this size that exists, particularly one who played with the 1869 Red Stockings.”
Leonard’s contracts are featured in Heritage’s Platinum Night Sports Auction scheduled for Feb. 20-21, 2016, in New York.
Included in the auction is a pocket diary Leonard kept during the Boston Red Stockings World Tour in 1874 to promote baseball in England and Ireland. “The diary was given to my sister Alice by my mother,” McCarty, 82, says. “You can see Andy’s handwritten notes about where they were and scores all through the tour. That was the first overseas tour of professional baseball.”
In the end, McCarty hopes the artifacts will help keep his grandfather’s legacy alive. “The ideal situation,” he says, “is for these to go to someone who loves the sport, who is deep into preservation, and someone who is willing to share them with the baseball community.”