Al Lawson Thoroughly Demonized

[Between 2009 and 2011, I maintained a TypePad blog, “More Fiends,” intended to update my book Baseball Fiends and Flying Machines. Those posts can still be found in the Wayback Machine, but I stopped updating that site in 2011. Because this WordPress site promotes and updates all my books, I’d like to republish some of those earlier posts.]

Posted 2/2/2010:

In Baseball Fiends…, p. 55-58, I laid out the charges and counter-charges made between Al Lawson and V.E. Harvey over the debacle of the New York Amateurs tour of England in August of 1892. As additional issues of Sporting Life have been digitized, now another witness can be heard. In the October 8, 1892 issue, the weekly printed a long column by Will. C. Bryan, the American who was recruited while in England to fill a roster spot on the short-handed New York Amateur team:

From Old England: Further Details of Lawson’s Swindling Operations: “The Sporting Life’s” Story Fully Confirmed by Mail Advices–Lawson’s Methods Described Manchester, Eng. Aug. 25–Editor SPORTING LIFE–Well, the great and only Al Lawson “has been and gone,” as the nigger said. [Note: this racist aside comes second-hand from a minstrel dialect poem Minding the Hens, by then-popular author/poet Frederick Wadsworth Loring.] Like a meteor he came and went, leaving a trail of rascality behind him that I am afraid will do our game no good in England. It seems destined that base ball must receive a severe check each season that overcomes the good done before. Some worthless scamp crops up and does some rascally thing that leaves a blur upon our game and causes people to sneer and belittle it. It is a shame. But what are we to do?

Lawson’s Devious Ways

Lawson’s visit to England was a short one, but he did a great deal of harm during it. Why he came here a brought a ball team none but himself knows. When he wrote me months ago, asking me about his bringing over a team, I answered him and told him it was a folly to think of it, and that if he had $2000 or $3000 to blow in, to blow it in in America, for he would lose it here, as there was no field for an American team. Only about three cities would have given him games, and it would not pay him. In the face of this he came. He advertised for me in a sporting paper and I wrote him. The result was I met him in Preston on the 12th inst. (for the first time in my life). He took me on one side, told me he had brought over a team, but was three men short, and would I play with them and help them out? Of course, I volunteered to do so, and did play. He had the nerve to tell me that he had games arranged with Derby, Middlesboro, Wallsend, Newcastle, and Liverpool. Ten games in all, he said. I knew better, for I knew none of these cities would play him, unless it was Middlesboro and Derby, and I had word a week before that Derby had refused to make dates with his team, as just at that time Mr.Ley was on his ear over the cup competition trouble spoken of in my last.A few minutes after this Lawson told me that the team had to return to New York by a steamer sailing on Aug. 18, just a week from then. Yet he had ten games arranged to play in these seven days, and a Sunday in between, when he could not play. He also asked me if I knew where he could sell three return tickets, that he was not going back to New York, but to Australia. I put one and one together, and made up my mind Mr. Lawson was up to some funny work. I had not, as yet, met any of the boys of the team. When I did I found them to be a fine lot of young ball players, and just such a smooth, slick man like Lawson could do about as he pleased with. They were a fine, gentlemanly lot of boys, and deserved different treatment than they received from Lawson, who swindled them unmercifully according to their statement. And here let me say that what I write here I have gathered from statements of Cummins, O’Brien, Sullivan, and Carrick, the men composing the team, and my own observations.

The First Game

Well, a nine was made up to play Preston on the 12th. It rained hard all afternoon up to time for calling game, but a crowd of 1500 enthusiasts paid their threepence to see the New York boys. It was so wet and slippery that it was impossible to handle the ball, and finally the rain was so bad we stopped playing when five innings had been played. The score is a large one, also the error column, but the condition of the ground is the cause of it. The score:

As Preston had no catcher Cummins and Sullivan, of the New Yorks, took turns in catching for them. When the game was finished I asked Lawson where he played next, and he said: “Oh, I think at Liverpool on Saturday, Aug. 14. But can’t we play here instead?” This seemed strange to me, that if he had ten games arranged, how could he lie idle on Friday and play Preston on Saturday. But he arranged to play Preston on Saturday just the same.

Rascally Conduct

One Mr. Van Epps Harvey, a gentleman from New York, was with the team as business manager, and he also played first base on the team. It seems this gentleman represented the parties who furnished Lawson with the money for the trip. On Thursday night when Preston’s secretary settled with Lawson, Mr. Harvey, naturally, as business manager, asked to have the receipts turned over to him. This Lawson resented and took the money-bag himself. In a few minutes Mr. Harvey requested me to go with him and be a witness to what passed between him and Lawson. I went, and I was present and I heard Lawson abuse and insult Mr. Harvey outrageously, and I hardly knew what to do, being a spectator of such a scene and being a total stranger to either party. I was finally asked my opinion and advice in the matter, Mr. Harvey explaining how business matters stood, and in the role of peace-maker I patched up a treaty with them for the time being. During the whole of this heated scene while Lawson raged and stormed, Mr. Harvey never forgot he was a gentleman, but sat quietly listening to Lawson’s abuse without a harsh word in reply.

It finally came to turning over the receipts of the day to Mr. Harvey. I was watching Lawson by this time, and when I saw him pay to Harvey a certain sum as the total gate receipts, and then walk off with over 3 pounds ($15) in the bag, I was not at all surprised. And Lawson knew I saw him, for he leered at me cunningly whilst doing it. It was none of my business at the time. Lawson had paid me for my playing on that day and also for the game to be played on Saturday, so I was safe for what was due me. Yet I made up my mind to tell Mr. Harvey of it soon as I got him by himself.

Skipped By the Light of the Moon

When we came down to breakfast Friday morning there was no sign of Lawson. His baggage was gone from his room, and the porter said he had gone the night before on the midnight train, and Lawson had said to Liverpool.

Everyone of the team came to the conclusion that Lawson had deserted them, and they, in a body, came to me and asked me what I could do for them, placing themselves entirely under my charge, Mr. Harvey particularly requesting it. I told them to await developments Saturday; give Lawson a chance to return; if he did not, I would see what I could do for them. But I told them I was confident that no games could be had, as Derby had refused, and there was no other place to look to; but I would do what I could, if Lawson failed to turn up. When it became apparent that Lawson had decamped, the boys began to compare notes and it came to light that he (Lawson) had secured from each of the young players sums from $50 to $100, promising them a dividend from the receipts of the games to be played in England.

Besides this he had secured an old uniform from an amateur team somewhere, had it cleaned, the old name–Seton Hall, I think–removed, “New York” put on, and charged this to his backer as the highest priced uniform that could be had–$200 I understand he billed it at. What did he do with the money he confidenced out of his team and the money charged for the “finest uniform that can be had,” as he says in his letter to you, in all about $500? Echo answers “What?” Besides this he had three steamer tickets, which he wanted to sell. The boys figured it up that he had made between $500 and $600 (a pretty good haul in a short time) besides having a nice trip to England at others’ expense.

Singular Conduct

Saturday came, but still no Lawson, so we gathered several amateurs together from a team in Preston and prepared to go to the ball grounds, when we discovered that there were two uniforms short, which could not be found anywhere. Lawson had charge of them, and he was not there to account for them. We went to the grounds and were in the field practicing , and game was about to be called, when who should walk on the grounds but bold Mr. Lawson, dressed to kill, with bag, umbrella, etc., smiling blandly, and greeted us with “Hello, fellows, did you think I had sloped.” No one answered him at the time. He dressed and played the game, pitching the game like a man with the hay fever, tossing the ball over the plate, and as careless as the papers said he was in one game in Atlanta. We managed to beat Preston, but by a small margin. There were some 2000 people there. The following is the score:

When the game was over, and before we had time to change, Lawson had donned his clothes and skipped, and not a sight of him has been had from that time to this. When the fact the he had at last deserted the team became assured it was found that he had jumped his board bill and had left nothing to pay the team’s board bill, and had taken two of the uniforms with him, as they could not be found.

Hope Abandoned

I at once called the boys together and proposed that Mr. Harvey take advantage of an excursion to London, go there and see if we could make a couple of games with the “Wild West Base Ball Club,” who had been playing a few games. Mr. Harvey volunteered to use his own private funds for this purpose, as Lawson had left none. We went to London, spent two days there with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show trying to get games with them, but they told us they could not charge admission as the show came on at 2:30 P.M. All they could do would be to play a friendly game and invite an audience, game to be played in the morning. Of course this would be of no benefit to the New York boys, so we had to come away disappointed. We went to Liverpool and tried for games there, but were told there was no chance for a game as all available time was taken up playing finals for the “rounders shield,” so we were blocked again.

I then knew there was no earthly chance, and I told Mr. Harvey so and advised him to get home on the steamer on the next day (Thursday), and not stay in England a moment longer than he had to. He went to the steamer office and got tickets from Liverpool to Glasgow for himself and the team and went on to Glasgow, giving me the tickets and a sum of money to give to the men at Preston. I went to Preston, told them the result of our trip to London and Liverpool, and advised them to go to Glasgow at once and catch the steamer for New York, as each had his return ticket. I wanted to do more or them, and told them so, but I was not in a position to help them as I desired. They all thanked me heartily for what I had tried to do for them, and I left them with much regret, as each and every one of them were fine, gentlemanly Yankees, and my intercourse with them had afforded me more pleasure than I had had since I came to England. When they read this I hope they will accept the kind regards of the writer, and I hope at some future day to meet some, if not all, of them and talk over their memorable tour of England.

Another Trick

Oh, Lawson, Lawson, what manner of man(?) are you, and can you ever dare show your face amongst your fellow ball players in America? I should think not. Today I received a post card with this inscribed on it:–“Sailed for Australia to-day, Aug. 24, ’92.–Al Lawson.” That’s all; no address or anything to show where he sailed from. So he is off (maybe) to the Antipodes. God speed him, I say. If he gets caught at any of his fine tricks there they will make short shrift of him. I hope copies of THE SPORTING LIFE will be sent to Australia with his “physiog” in and my letter to warn people against him.

I learn Lawson took a man to the steamer office in Glasgow and introduced him as Van Epps Harvey, so he could do some business, and when Mr. Harvey introduced himself he nearly lost his passage home through it. Vale, Lawson, you are a slick one if there ever was one, but don’t rob your fellow players any more. More anon.


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