John Montgomery Ward

Monte Ward is remembered for his integrity, but he was also a talented player. As a pitcher for Providence, he won 47 games in 1879 and 40 the next year, including the second perfect game in NL history.

When his arm gave out he switched to shortstop and helped the New York Giants win pennants in 1888-89. He was a top basestealer and solid hitter. When he wasn’t winning games with his skills on the field, he was planning the strategy as team captain and manager. His instinct for administration and his magnetic personality made him a natural leader.

At the time, the reserve rule, binding a player to a team by self-renewing contracts, was the main source of friction between the owners and players. Ward, assisted by Ned Hanlon, organized the Brotherhood of National League Players and they succeeded in negotiating a compromise with the league: The reserve clause could not be used to bind a player while his salary was being cut. It worked for a year.

Then, while Ward and most of the Brotherhood leaders were on a world tour in 1888, playing as all-stars against the Chicago team in exhibition games arranged by A.G. Spalding, the National League owners met. They adopted a classification system grading the players and established a fixed scale of salaries. The most a player could make, regardless of ability or the team’s success, was $2,500 a season.

When Ward and the others learned the league had discarded its agreement with the Brotherhood, they were given no opportunity to appeal. Denied a meeting until the 1889 season was over, Ward and others lined up financial backing for a new league, to be called the Players’ League, which the ballplayers would control.

The new league lasted one season, 1890. Ward managed and played for the Brooklyn entry and other teams went into head-on competition with the established franchises. The competition created a financial disaster for both leagues.

The more stable National League won out and Ward joined the new Brooklyn team of the reorganized National League. That team won the pennant in its first season. The next year Ward organized an early all-star game, raising nearly $3,000 for the widow of teammate Hub Collins.

New York welcomed Ward back in 1893 as a player/manager to overcome box office and on-field disaster. Within two seasons, the Giants led in attendance, rising from eighth place to win the 1894 postseason championship. Though only 34, Ward immediately retired to enter a profitable law career.

Montgomery never managed again, but his concern for ballplayers and loathing for imperious management continued. When the very unpopular Andrew Freedman, who then owned the Giants, discharged Fred Pfeffer, a veteran player, as “a played out old stiff,” Ward took the case to court and won Pfeffer his salary. The Giants’ owner paid the court costs, appealed the case, and lost again. When Freedman’s next legal tangle was a libel suit against the New York Sun, the newspaper retained Ward, and Freedman withdrew his suit. As a lawyer, Ward was described as “shrewd, quick-witted and humorous; smiling and sarcastic.”

Ward returned to baseball twice. He was president of the Boston Braves in 1911, and when the Federal League arose to challenge the major leagues in 1914, he joined their cause. He became business manager for the Brooklyn Tip Tops, the team backed by the Ward brothers and their baking company. Ward, unrelated to his new associates, became a spokesman for the league. Disappointed with the objectives of the owners and feeling the players were merely pawns in an attempt to force the granting of franchises in the established leagues, he later withdrew.

Ward’s legal practice in New York City flourished and he almost became the president of the National League, lacking one vote for confirmation. Too many old enemies still remained among the owners.

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