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An Uncertain Occupation

John Montgomery Ward (Class of 1885) was baseball's most celebrated player in the 1880s. Known for his hitting and unmatched ability on the basepaths, Ward began his career with the Providence Grays of the National League and was a dominant pitcher (he threw baseball's second recorded perfect game) until he blew out his arm; he then switched to shortstop and second base. In the late 1880s, Ward became both acclaimed and excoriated for his leadership of the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, a nascent players' union, and a full-fledged revolt against team owners that coalesced into the short-lived Players' National League in 1890. In this excerpt from A Clever Base-Ballist: The Life and Times of John Montgomery Ward, Bryan Di Salvatore describes what it was like for Ward, who had been forced to leave Pennsylvania State University because baseball conflicted with his studies, to pursue a second college career, this time at Columbia, while still a player.

Ward always took the long view regarding his future. He understood that banking on a career in professional baseball was to take the short view, at best, and a bet against ridiculously long odds, certainly. As he put it in Notes of a Base-Ballist,

Our occupation is at best an uncertain one. A broken limb tomorrow may be the end of it for me. Besides, a player's reputation lies with the public: he leans on popular favor, and that he may find at any time to be but a broken reed.

Ward's long view coalesced into a master plan: he would, somehow, complete his college education. Later this plan would become more specific: he would become a lawyer.

Only fourteen months after his expulsion, he wrote to James Calder, Penn State's president, asking him for a "certificate of dismissal," which would help him gain entrance to another school. He would go back to college, he promised Calder, as soon as he had enough money "laid by" to do so. During the next couple of years, Ward evidently shopped around for a suitable campus. He was an unofficial and unpaid coach of the 1879 Dartmouth baseball team, rooming with the team captain and leading the team through workouts during the winter and early spring of that year. At least one obituary had him, as well, coaching the Princeton nine during the winter preceding the 1884 season.

Ward ultimately enrolled at Columbia College, which in the 1880s occupied buildings between 49th and 50th Streets and Madison and Fourth Avenues in Manhattan. This raises a chicken-and-egg question as to whether Ward's choice was a result of his moving from the Providence Grays to New York, or vice versa. One thing is certain, however: his sharp-eyed perception about the vagaries of a baseball career and his wide-scoped ambition worked to his great favor in 1882, his last year with Providence. In short, Ward made himself master of his own destiny.

Though he had been reserved by the Grays each year since the end of the 1879 season, Providence oddly left him off the 1882 list. The club probably knew it would do them no good to reserve him, and made the best of a bad situation by vacating Ward's slot for another player. First of all, Ward had no doubt suggested - either truthfully or strategically - to all concerned that he had already "laid by" enough money to quit baseball and return to school and that he was of half a mind to do just that. Secondly, he was in great demand: rumors flew that both Boston and Buffalo were hungry for him, and he could always "jump" to the American Association if Providence or any other League team didn't meet his price (assuming he decided to play instead of study). If, though, Providence wanted to keep him, they would have to meet his price, something the financially hamstrung club couldn't hope to do. So Ward, unbeholden to anyone, was relatively free to sign with New York, the Association, or Columbia University. It is entirely possible that Ward's later labor philosophy, as it applied to baseball, can be traced to the convergence of opportunity that year: he happened to be in the right place in the right time, with a goodly amount of leverage. If, in Ward's eyes, this opportunity of movement was only just and fitting, why shouldn't his fellow players, his colleagues, enjoy the same?

It did not take Ward long, after his arrival in New York, to set about securing his non-baseball future. He matriculated at the Columbia College Law School in the fall term of 1883. Though New York's regular season had ended on Saturday, September 29, Ward played with the New Yorks in an exhibition game against a Brooklyn minor league team on Monday, October 1, thereby missing the first afternoon of law classes....

At Columbia...by the time Ward entered, the line between law school and the university as a whole was...blurred. There, advocates of curriculum integration had, generally, long held sway; over the years, an entire subsection of classes (more accurately, lectures) had grown up, covering matters such as medical jurisprudence, political philosophy, ethics, and the history of constitutional law. Beginning in 1881, Columbia had established, in addition to the law school, another school, "designed to prepare young men for the duties of Public Life, to be entitled a School of Political Science."

There were many courses common to the two schools and, while a student could study law exclusively or political science exclusively, he could also study both. This is what John Ward did, becoming a Bachelor of Laws in the summer of 1885 and a Bachelor of Philosophy - effectively the undergraduate degree he had forsaken at Penn State, though a more advanced degree than the political science school's Bachelor of Arts - the following year.

Even if more traditional academics could not decide whether law students walked on land or swam in water during Ward's second college career, one thing was sure: the study of law had become extremely formal and the school's entrance requirements and course of study were extremely rigorous.

Since Ward was not a graduate of a "literary college," he had to pass an examination to matriculate. It is possible that Ward was considered a special case, and was required only to pass the Regents Examination - a sort of basic knowledge test on subjects such as English, history, arithmetic, geography, and composition. (Or he could have entered the school more tentatively - as a nondegree candidate - and bypassed exams altogether.)

But the ambitious Ward, anxious to show the world that his Penn State years had not been entirely frivolous, likely declared his intention to travel the difficult route of acquiring two degrees. Therefore he was required to take the "regular" law school entrance exam, covering Greek, Roman, American, and English history; English composition, grammar, and rhetoric; and Caesar, Virgil, Cicero, or "other Latin authors deemed by the examiner to be equivalent to the above."

Once in school, as one of 365 enrollees, he studied municipal law, constitutional history, political science, and international and constitutional law, and took part in moot courts. He read Blackstone's Commentaries, Perry on trusts, Washburn on real property, Fisher on mortgages, Stephen on pleading, Ortolan's Roman law, Wietersheim's Geschichte der Volkerwanderung, Maten's Recueil des Traites de La Paix, Calvo's Droit International, and many others, including, possibly, Ordronaux's Judicial Aspects of Insanity. The students labored, by the way, in a most ergonomic atmosphere: "Experts," the Law School catalogue noted, "having decided that the incandescent electric was the most perfect artificial light known, it has been ordered and will be in operation [beginning in 1884]."...

While he studied, Ward was spreading the word and influence of the Brotherhood and playing major league baseball. He played against Buffalo on May 27, 1885, the afternoon of his law school graduation ceremony, which took place in the evening. New York beat Buffalo 24-0. Ward had three hits, scored three times, and assisted in one of New York's two double plays. Luckily for Ward, the regular baseball season ended around the first week of October, about the same time as classes began. Unluckily for Ward, the baseball season began in April, while the academic year did not end until May 30. We can only assume he made special arrangements with his professors.

It is not surprising, given Ward's dual life during the years 1883-1886, that he was not especially active in campus life. He does not seem to have been a member of any of Columbia's literary societies, athletic clubs, or associations, not even the "Knights of the Cue." He was an active member of the Academy of Political Science, however.

His 1885 law degree was cum laude, by virtue of both his simultaneous study of political science and the fact that he had received an award: second prize (and $50) for "distinction" in constitutional history and constitutional law.

From A Clever Base-Ballist: The Life and Times of John Montgomery Ward by Bryan Di Salvatore. Copyright © 1999 by Bryan Di Salvatore. Reprinted by arrangement with Pantheon Books.

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