The dispute between the leagues escalated when Von der Ahe had pitcher Mark Baldwin arrested for trying to bribe Silver King into jumping to Pittsburgh, whose pursuit of players earned them the nickname "Pirates". King jumped to Pittsburgh anyway, while Baldwin remained in jail to prevent him from pursuading other players to jump to the National League. After Baldwin was released, Pittsburgh responded by suing Von der Ahe for false arrest.
On the field, the Browns and the Boston club were the teams to beat. With the Players Revolt over, Comiskey returned to the Browns, along with Tip O'Neill and Jack Boyle, patching holes in the Browns lineup. Jack Stivetts (33-22) was back, but Toad Ramsey, the only other reliable pitcher for the Browns in 1890, was gone. To fill the pitching void after King left, the Browns acquired seventeen-year-old Willie McGill from Cincinnati in mid-season, and he won 18 games for them. And on April 11th, future Hall of Famer Clark Griffith made his major league debut with the Browns; he would win 11 games for them before finising the season with Boston. A handful of other pitchers combined for another twenty or so wins, and the Browns finished the season with an 85-51 record. The defending Players League champions did better, as Boston won 93 games to finish a comfortable 8.5 games ahead of the Browns.
1891 Browns stats
As the season wore on, the player raiding continued and the Association, already weakened from the Players Revolt began to slowly fall apart. Columbus and Louisville were facing problems on the field and off from player losses and financial losses. In August, Von der Ahe sold the Cincinnati club to the National League and added a club in Milwaukee to complete the season. Milwaukee had been playing in the Western League, which had collpased earlier in the year from player raiding. The star of Cincinnati's club, King Kelly, joined the Boston club, for whom he had played the previous season in the Players League. Boston was in a battle with the National League Boston Beaneaters for control of the Boston fans, and Kelly's return looked to tip the battle towards the Association. However, barely a week later, as representatives from the two leagues met to discuss a settlement, Kelly jumped to the Beaneaters, scuttling any hopes for a peaceful resolution. To further complicate matters, the National League pennant was a race between the Beaneaters and Cap Anson's Chicago White Stockings. Chicago had mentioned it would be willing to play a World Series should it win, a move which didn't go over well with League officials. Shortly after this declaration, top League officials held a secret meeting. A few days later, the Beaneaters started an 18 game winning streak to catch Chicago just days before the season ended. The National League formally refused an offer to participate in a World Series which would have reestablished the Association as an equal partner. Instead, the Association finished up with a sloppy double header between Washington and Baltimore in which the Nationals made 15 errors while losing both games. Although no concession was made at the time, these were the last games played under the American Association banner.
Following the season, the Association made plans to set up a club in Chicago for the 1892 season and challenge the National League. But when the Boston owner announced he wanted to sell his club, it became obvious that the bottom was falling out for the Association. The National League began to push harder at signing Association players, and in late October they struck gold, as the core of the Browns once again defected. The defection was the result of growing tensions between Von der Ahe and manager Comiskey, who felt that Von der Ahe was meddling too much after Comiskey returned from the Players Revolt. Comiskey left, and OF's Tip O'Neill and Tommy McCarthy, 3B Denny Lyons, and P Jack Stivetts all followed immediately. SS Shorty Fuller and C Jack Boyle left shortly after. The mass defection ended the resistance of Von der Ahe and the Association, and in December the two leagues met to discuss a merger. Four clubs (St. Louis, Baltimore, Louisville, and Washington) were accepted into the National League to create a single twelve-team league, with the other four clubs recieving total payments of $135,000. Harold Seymor, in Baseball, The Early Years, states that the twelve clubs were bound together for ten years in an "ironclad" agreement to prevent some of the clubs from being trimmed. It took just eight years before the trimming occured.
The collapse of the Association can be traced back to key events during its ten year history. The loss of the New York franchise after several years of mishandling weakened the Association by depriving it of a club in the nation's biggest city. Following the resignation of McKnight as president, the Association never had another president who was acceptable to all the owners and strong enough to guide the league. The National League never stopped trying to undermine the Association, even while declaring publically that it accepted the other league as an equal. Taking in the Maroons in St. Louis, and accepting the Pittsbugh and Cleveland franchises were moves intended to weaken the Association. The defection of Cincinnati and Brooklyn, whose owners were unhappy with Von der Ahe, was a devastating blow. While the Association tried to put up a strong front during and after the Players Revolt, it was evident that the National League was the stronger of the two leagues by that point. The final moves - signing King Kelly to put an end to any peace talks, and the mass defection of the Browns after the 1891 season, were all that was needed to topple the Association. In the end, once Von der Ahe accepted the merger, the Association was finidhed. It formally disbanded in December of 1891, just one month past the tenth anniversary of its founding.
The new league which resulted was formally called the "National League and American Association of Base Ball Clubs". The name "National Association" had been used for the original professional league back in 1871 and was attached to several failed attempts to revive that organization. The League owners refused to accept the simpler "American League" on the grounds that it put the Association's role in the new league. There was a double irony in refusing to accept the "American League", as eight of the twelve clubs originally started in the American Association. In the constitution for the new league, the three tenants of the American Association that originally distinguished it from its rival were accepted: $0.25 admission, Sunday baseball where alowed, and alcohol sales at the ballparks at the discretion of the home team. The league was refered to as the "League-Association" for several years after the merger, but gradually it became known as just the "League" again. In 1899, the League divested itself of three of the four franchises it assumed from the Association (Washington, Baltimore, and Louisville), along with Cleveland, whose owners also owned the St. Louis franchise by this point, and the last vestiges of the Association were purged from the record. The National League had its ultimate victory. Still, with most of the NL franchises originating in the American Association, and its three main tenets finally accepted, perhaps the Association won the war after all.
Part 6: The Player's Revolt (1890)
Part 8: The Browns in the National League (1892-1898)