Heritage Auctions to sell oldest professional baseball contract
A forthcoming Heritage Auctions sale in New York will feature the oldest-known professional baseball contract ever offered for public auction.
The historic document, which dates back to the 1871, is signed by Andy Leonard, an Irish immigrant who played for several teams including the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Washington, D.C. Olympics.
The contract marks a turning point for the game, as it moved from a purely amateur pastime to a professional sport. Although players were not yet openly paid for playing baseball, many held 'sinecure' positions which meant they received salaries and fake job titles in return for signing with teams.
When Leonard signed with the Washington, D.C. Olympics in 1871 he was 'hired' by Acting Treasury Secretary William Richardson and given the government position of Assistant Messenger of the Second Auditor.
"The Olympics team was not paid by the baseball club, but by the government," said Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Memorabilia Auctions at Heritage. "So this is a baseball agreement, not just a Treasury letter."
"What's extraordinary about the 1871 contact is, first, that Leonard was employed by the government, and second that this is the first agreement that has come to light that unequivocally documents the practice of compensating the earliest professional baseball players with 'no show' jobs. It's rather exceptional."
The contract is amongst a collection of documents relating to Leonard's career, which saw him later return to the Red Stockings in 1872, after they had moved cities to Boston. The team became the first great baseball dynasty, even touring Europe in 1874, and the collection includes all of Leonard's playing contracts with the team and his European tour diary.
The collection has been consigned by Leonard's grandson Charles McCarty, 83, who plans to use proceeds from the sale to help build a memorial for his pioneering grandfather, who is buried in an unmarked grave in Boston.
"He was one of the original boys of summer," said McCarty. "He deserves to be remembered for his contribution to the game."
"Leonard was an important part of the early history of baseball and deserves to be recognized as such," said Ivy. "My colleagues and I would be proud to help cement that legacy."
The Heritage Platinum Night Auction takes place at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion in New York on February 20.
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