A baseball contract signed by Cavan-native Andrew 'Andy’ Jackson Leonard, the first Irishman to play professionally in the Major Leagues in America, is currently for sale at auction in the US with an expected guide price to exceed $20,000.
Born in 1846 in Co Cavan, the son of Ann Liddy and Andrew Leonard, and later raised in Newark, New Jersey, left-fielder Leonard is most commonly known as a member of the famed 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, nicknamed in baseball folklore as 'The First Boys of Summer’.
The never-before-seen, early baseball documents are being offered for sale at Heritage Auctions’ in New York by Charles McCarty, octogenarian grandson of the late Leonard. The 'Platinum Night Sports Auction’ is set to take place later this month on February 20-21.
Mr McCarty’s intention is that a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Leonard’s signed contract with the Washington Olympics will be used to build a monument to his grandfather whose remains currently lie in an unmarked grave in Boston following his death in August 1903.
Leonard played five seasons in the amateur era, beginning in 1864 with the Hudson River club of Newburgh, New York, where he and teammate Charlie Sweasy earned considerable attention for the quality of their play.
In the 1871 season, Leonard signed with the Washington Olympics, part of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, a predecessor of the National League.
For compensation, acting Treasury secretary William Richardson appointed Leonard to an assistant messenger job. “The Olympics team was not paid by the baseball club, but by the government,” explains Heritage Auctions sports specialist and consignment director Mike Gutierrez. “So this is a baseball agreement, not just a Treasury letter.”
It details a handwritten agreement between Leonard and the Boston Red Stockings stipulating a salary of $1,600 in 1872 and $1,800 in 1873, signed by Leonard and Harry Wright, considered the father of professional baseball playing.
Included in the auction also is a pocket diary Leonard kept during the Boston Red Stockings World Tour in 1874 aimed at promoting baseball in England and Ireland.
In the present Irish Baseball League the most outstanding player annually receives the Andy Leonard League Most Valuable Player Award.
He was further lauded by future Hall of Famer Cap Anson as one of the 19th century’s top performers, as “a splendid judge of high balls, a sure catch … a swift and accurate long-distance thrower … a good batsman and a splendid base runner”.
“We are floored by what these contracts represent to the first years of professional baseball,” Gutierrez is quoted as saying. “We are not aware of another cache of 1870s single baseball player agreements of this size that exists, particularly one who played with the 1869 Red Stockings.”