St. Louis has five organised Base Ball Clubs; all of which are in full blast, the Empire taking the lead, having challenged any club to play them a friendly match, which is not accepted as yet. A match between some of the clubs would create quite a stir, as it is a beautiful game and meets with the approval of all in that section.
-New York Clipper, June 30, 1860
A few days after this appeared in the Clipper, the Cyclones would play the Morning Stars in the first match game in the history of St. Louis baseball. Soon thereafter, the Morning Stars would accept the challenge of the Empire Club and our second match game would be played.
If you will allow me a small space in your paper I would like to say a few words on St. Louis Base Ball matters. In a recent issue of one of your New York contemporaries the Empire Club of this city is censured very much, and on this subject I wish to state a few facts. The Empire Club is one of the oldest and strongest clubs of the city, which alone should satisfy anybody of their character, as no club that is "composed of roughs" can keep up as long, and gain as many gentlemanly friends as they have. I am sure no club can entertain their guests more courteously than the Empires have done, and I think that if the eastern clubs that have visited us were called upon they would endorse my opinion. In match games the Empire take great care to make every thing as pleasant as possible for the lookers-on, especially for the ladies, and I hope the Empire Club, of St. Louis, will not let this stain upon their character go by unnoticed. I understand that the first game between the Union and Empire Clubs, for the Championship of Missouri has been declared null and void, thereby sustaining the protest of the Empire Club to said game. When the Nationals visited St. Louis last season I think they said they were treated as well by the Empires of this city as by any other club on their trip.
I would love to know what this was all about. All I can figure is that somebody in the New York press said that the Empires were a club "composed of roughs" and somebody in St. Louis took exception to that, taking pen to paper in defense of the club. At first glance I assumed it had something to do with the first Union/Empire championship game of 1868 but all of the trouble there was with the Union Club. The Empires were aggrieved party and weren't the ones trying to influence the umpire.
This has to have something to do with either the game between the Empires and the Athletics of Philadelphia, on June 14, or the game between the Empires and the Atlantics of Brooklyn, on June 29. Tobias wrote about some problems with the umpire in the match against the Athletics:
In commenting upon the umpiring of this game the St. Louis Times said: “Much dissatisfaction was expressed at the weakness of the umpire, who certainly has but little knowledge of the rules of the game.”
Tobias, thirty years after the fact, was still angry about the Empires loss in the 1866 Bloomington tournament. While he has every right to be angry about what happened, it's still kind of funny. But the point he's making here is probably that the Empire Club had a bit of a history with Oliver and they were not happy about his umpiring. If they made a fuss about it during the game, this may be what the writer in the Clipper is talking about.
At a called meeting of the Judiciary Committee of the Mo. S. B.B. Association, held at the rooms of the Union B.B. Club at St. Louis, Mo., on Wednesday evening, July 8th, 1868, at 8 o'clock, the following charges and specifications were preferred by the Empire B.B. Club, viz: -
Since that doesn't make a lot of sense to me, lets take a look at what Tobias says about this game:
On June 18 the Union and Empire Clubs met in the first game of the season’s contest for supremacy, the latter being the challenging club with the hoe of regaining the championship. Nearly 2,500 people witnessed the game, the interest in it being sustained by a close score throughout. The issue of this game caused the Empire Club to appeal it to the State Association on the ground that the umpire in the eighth inning after having declared one of the Empire players “not out” reversed himself at the suggestion of the Union captain and decided him out and for a second reason cited fact that the umpire failed to sign the score. This appeal was heard by the Judiciary Committee on the 9th of July and after hearing evidence took the case under advisement. This committee was composed of E.S. McKeon, of the Athletic Club, G.H. Denny, of Dirige, Jno. Halpin, Baltic, and C.P. Stener, Resolute. Their decision, when given late in the season, sustained the action of the Empire Club and declared this game invalid, necessitating the game which was played Oct. 14 and which was won by the Union Club.
What would we do without E.H. Tobias?
Empire, of St. Louis, vs. Empire, of Freeport. - The Empire B.B. Club of St. Louis, composed of Messrs. Barrett, Worth, Quinn, Norton, Tobias, Fitzgerald, Johnston, Fruin and Duncan; and the Empire Club of Freeport, Messrs. Buckman, Cavanagh, Lighthart, Butler, Delfendorf, Farwell, Teed, Brewater and Thomas, played a match game at Freepot, on or about the Fourth, which was won by the St. Louis boys by a score of 27 to 20.
I had planned to write about the 1867 championship series between the Union and Empire Clubs this week and had everything organized and ready to go. However, when I went to retrieve the source material, I found that the website for the State Historical Society of Missouri had gone all wonky and I couldn't get to the relevant material. So on to plan B, which is to post random stuff from the Clipper. Hopefully, I'll have the 1867 championship stuff up next week.
The terrible whirlwind of Sunday afternoon continues to be an object of general comment and inquiry...A curious story is told of the force of the whirlwind in this direction. Some boys were playing base ball on the prairie near [Lafayette] Park when the storm came on, and when the rain commenced they ran under the trees for shelter. The storm bow burst upon them suddenly and one boy ten or twelve years of age was caught up by the whirling gusts, and carried over a fence some twenty or thirty yards distant, and landed upon the top of a shanty, without, however, sustaining serious injury.
This is a nice little story that reminds us that baseball wasn't all about clubs and match games. This is just a group of kids playing baseball in 1866 like we did when we were kids. Okay, I never played in a tornado but I think you know what I mean.
I'm always looking for a big story to tell. I'm always looking for big themes to explore. But in the end, baseball is really about kids playing with a ball in the dirt. It was that way with Henry Gratiot back in the 1790s. It was that way in 1866. And it's that way now.
The members of the victorious Empire Base Ball Club returned about 11 o’clock Monday night from Dubuque, bringing with them the handsome prize ball of solid silver. They were received on the other side of the river by the remaining base ball clubs of the city, including the Baltic, Liberty, Magenta, Diana, Columbia, Hope and O.K. Frank Boehm’s silver band was in attendance and all the clubs together formed quite a procession. Several flags, including a very large one borne by the Empire fellers, gave a sort of martial or triumphal aspect to the procession. After landing at the Levee the company marched up Chestnut street stopping to give a round of cheers for the Republican, and then proceeded to their quarters, at No. 124 North Third Street, over Miller’s oyster saloon. On reaching their rooms they were addressed in a few words of welcome by Mr. E.H. Tobias. Mr. Walter, President of the club, responded in a few remarks, in which he thanked the different clubs for welcoming the “Empires” home, and hoped that they might all go on similar expeditions one of these days, and bring home silver prizes. The silver ball, we are informed, will remain on exhibition in Mr. Miller’s saloon for a time, and every-body who desires may see it. The following are the names of the young men who won it: John Quinn, Adam Wirth, Robert Duncan, David Duffy, J.M. Johnson, C.C. Norton, S.R. Barrett, J. Frain, and F.C. Billow.
And so the Empire Club returned home in triumph. They were the Championship Club of the West and one of the best clubs in the United States. They were the first of many St. Louis baseball clubs that would return to the city a champion and professional clubs such as the Maroons, the Browns, and the Cardinals would follow in their footsteps. The Empire Club of 1865 were St. Louis' first baseball champion and set the bar high for all that would follow.
The members of the Empire Base Ball Club of this city returned last night from Dubuque, Iowa, after winning the silver ball and the championship of the northwest, in one of the best and most ably contested match games ever played in this country. The people of Dubuque, who witnessed the game, magnanimously extend to the St. Louis boys the praise to which their nobly won victory so justly entitles them, and declare the Empire Club of St. Louis to be the Champion Club of America. The game was witnessed by an enthusiastic multitude, numbering over fifteen thousand persons, including hosts of the fair sex, and representatives from all the States of the Northwest. The Empire boys, on arriving in East St. Louis, yesterday morning, were received at the depot by a large delegation of their friends, including members of the Baltic, Liberty, Magenta, Dinga, Columbia and O.K. Base Ball Clubs, and with music, escorted to their headquarters, No. 124 North Third street. The handsome prize ball of solid silver will be on exhibition at Miller's saloon for some days, and every one can see it who wishes to gratify a curiosity. The Empire Base Ball Club is composed of our worthiest citizens-gentlemen who would reflect credit on any community-representing as much intelligence and wealth as any society of a similar nature in the United States. Their object is to cultivate a taste for out-door sports, which has been too much neglected by the American people in their march to opulence and greatness-over-burdening the mental faculties while the physic system remains undeveloped. Our citizens should take a lively interest in fostering and encouraging such associations as the Empire Club, and when such sports become more generally indulged in by our youth, we can dispense with billiard saloons and similar dens of iniquity. We extend to the Empire boys our congratulations, and feel a tinge of pride suffuse our cheeks when we hear the notes of praise that are uttered by all who witnessed the achievements of the Empire Base Ball Club of St. Louis.
So this is were the story gets a little interesting.
The people of Dubuque or, more likely, a Dubuque newspaper declared the Empire Club of St. Louis to be the Champion Club of America in 1865. To what extent was that title justified?
The short answer is that it wasn't.
Those guys in that picture above are the Atlantics of Brooklyn. They were pretty good and are recognized as the national baseball champions in 1865. They are pretty much also recognized as the national champions in 1859, 1860, 1861, and 1864. While those championship claims can be questioned, there is no doubt that they were a great baseball team and one of the elite clubs in America. If they had played the Empire Club in St. Louis, I think they would have been favored by at least twenty runs.
In 1865, the Atlantics went undefeated, playing the best clubs in New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Washington. They were playing the best clubs in the East and beat them all. That gives them a fairly nice claim to the national championship and absolutely gave them a claim to the championship of the National Association of Base Ball Players.
But the Eastern clubs, at this point, were not playing the Western clubs and there weren't any Western clubs in the National Association. We can argue that the Atlantics could rightfully claim the Championship of the East and we can argue that they were better than any of the Western clubs but, in 1865, there was no real national championship. It was, essentially, a mythical championship that the Atlantics are being given credit for.
The real basis for this is our ignorance about what was happening in the West during the Civil War. Our basic assumption has always been that New York was the hotbed of baseball during these years and that most of the baseball being played was in that area. But we now know that there was a great deal of baseball being played in St. Louis during the war years and there may have been just as much baseball being played in St. Louis as in New York. St. Louis was every bit as much of a baseball hotbed during the war years as New York. Because of this, I don't think it's fair to say that the best club in New York was the best club in the nation. There was a lot of baseball being played elsewhere and that has to be accounted for.
Now you can point to the latter part of the 1860s and say that every time one of the big Eastern clubs played a St. Louis club, the Eastern club not only won but won by a large margin. That's a fair point. However, we are talking specifically about 1865. The Empire Club defeated the best clubs in Missouri, twice they beat the best club in Illinois, and they defeated some of the best clubs in Iowa in the Dubuque tournament. I think their claim to being the Championship Club of the West in 1865 is a solid one. It is certainly every bit as solid as the Atlantics claim to being the best club in the East.
As I said earlier, I don't think the Empires were better than the Atlantics but you can't really prove that the Atlantics were better than the Empires. Just because they played in Brooklyn and were the best club in the East doesn't give them a right to claim a national championship in 1865. Baseball was being played all over the country and there were good clubs across the nation. The Empires claim to the national championship would be based not only on their victories in Freeport and Dubuque but also on the state of baseball in St. Louis during the war years. They were the best club in St. Louis at a time when the St. Louis baseball scene was as large and active as anywhere else in the nation. And they went on the road and proved how good they were against some of the best clubs in the West.
In the end, I think the only reason to dismiss the Empire Club's claim to being the best club in the United States in 1865 would be because of our predisposition to assume that New York baseball was far and away superior to any other baseball being played in the United States in 1865. Again, I'll say that I think the Atlantics were the better club and would win a series against the Empires handily. But, at the very least, we have to address the Empire Club's claim and take it seriously. They were the best club in the West in 1865 and, at the time, some said that they were the best club in the country. Given what we now know about baseball in St. Louis leading into this era, we should take the claim a little more seriously than we did in the past.
A Victory for St. Louisans.
...on September 25, 1865, the Empire club went to Dubuque, Iowa, to play for a silver ball offered by the Agricultural Association of that city at their Fair and here the Empires were again victorious, not only defeating all other clubs but also again defeating their namesakes of Freeport, Ill., who in the meantime, since the former match, had met and beaten Chicago's best club. This game was much talked about and...was declared by witnesses to have been the very best fly game on record at that time. It was umpired by Samuel Cox, Esq., of Dubuque and occupied three and one half hours and the silver ball won there was deposited with the other trophies of the club...
In Dubuque, the Empires defended their claim to being the best baseball club in the West by, once again, defeating the Empire Club of Freeport, Illinois. Sadly, I don't have a lot of information about the tournament but there are a couple of entries at Protoball that mention it. Specifically, there is an entry from Bruce Allardice for the Julian Club of Dubuque that states the following:
The Freeport (IL) North West Oct. 5, 1865, reports on a base ball tournament in Dubuque, hosted by the local Julian team.
Bruce also has an entry for the Empires of Freeport that mentions the tournament:
The Freeport Journal, June 6, 1866, has a lengthy and interesting article titled "Empire Base Ball Club...History of the Club..." On Sept. 29, 1865 [the club] beat the Julian of Dubuque, at Dubuque, 27 to 26.
While we don't have all of the details, we know that, at the very least, there were clubs at the tournament from Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. We know that Freeport was probably the best club in Illinois and that the Empires were probably the best club in Missouri. I don't know much about the Julian Club but I do know that the New York game was being played in Dubuque by 1863. In the end, this was probably a pretty fair representation of the best clubs in the tri-state area in 1865.
The Empire B.B. Club, of this city, accompanied by a number of their friends, take their departure this morning, for Dubuque to engage in the Silver Ball contest, on Friday next. Special arrangements have been made for the round trip, by which parties desirous of joining the excursion can procure tickets at half price. The club will leave their rooms, No. 124 North Third street, at 11 A.M. May success attend them.
The 1865 baseball season in St. Louis was one of the most significant seasons in the city's history. If I had to rank the most important 19th century seasons in St. Louis baseball history, I think I'd go something like this:
-1881: A hugely successful season, both financially and on the field, for the minor, professional, independent Brown Stockings. This season set the stage for the creation of the AA Browns and, by extension, the modern Cardinals. It also saw the emergence of Chris Von der Ahe, who would dominate baseball in St. Louis and nationally for almost the next two decades.
-1874: Rather similar to the 1881 season in that the excitement that was generated by the Empire/Reds championship series set the stage for the 1875 season and the first openly professional clubs in St. Louis. There had been a lull in the popularity of baseball in St. Louis in the seasons prior to both 1874 and 1881 and the success of those seasons propelled the game to greater heights.
-1865: We were coming out of the Civil War, baseball was expanding across the country and reaching every small town in America, and the Empire Club established itself as one of the very best baseball teams in America. Baseball had continued to grow in popularity in St. Louis during the war but I think that the success of the Empire Club in 1865 fueled that momentum in a way that sustained it through the rest of the decade. There were things that would happen in the later part of the decade that I don't think would have happened if the Empire Club had failed in Freeport and Dubuque. That may sound a little cryptic but I'll go into this in more detail when I wrap up this little series.
-1885: The Browns championship victory over Chicago cemented baseball's place in the culture of St. Louis. St. Louis had been a baseball town going back to the antebellum era but the popularity of the game waxed and waned over the years. There were times when it struggled mightily and the future of baseball in St. Louis was in question. While there would be difficult days ahead (and there are always difficult days ahead), after 1885, the question of baseball's place in the culture of St. Louis was never in doubt. If things had gone a little bit different, this would have happened in 1875 but it didn't.
-1867: I'm putting the year that the Union Club won the championship of Missouri and St. Louis ahead of the 1875 season because I think it had a more lasting impact. The seeds that the Empires planted in 1865 were really beginning to bloom in 1867. You have the establishment of a state baseball association, the building of the first enclosed baseball grounds in St. Louis, big Eastern clubs coming to town, and the peak of the Empire/Union rivalry. That was the first time that St. Louis engaged with the Eastern baseball establishment and everything that had happened between 1865 and 1867 was building towards the moment when the St. Louis clubs would engage the Eastern clubs. The idea of a national league was impossible without the Western clubs competing with the Eastern clubs. In 1867 that begins to happen. I probably should have ranked this much higher. The idea of the significance of the 1867 season is something I think I want to explore some more. So prepare yourself for that.
The Empire Base Ball Club, of this city, who won the victory over the Freeporters last July, held a special meeting Monday night, and unanimously decided to visit Dubuque on the 29th of September to take a hand in the great silver ball match for the championship of the Northwest. The Dubuque County Agricultural Society offer a heavy silver ball, of regulation size, as a prize to the Club declared to be the champion base ball club of the Northwest, the championship and prizes to be played for on the grounds of the Dubuque County Agricultural Society, on Friday, September 29, 1865. The contest is open to all base ball clubs in the Northwest-clubs from Illinois, Wisconson, Minnesota, Missouri and Iowa. The friends of the Empire have no sort of doubt that the members will acquit themselves with honor, and will be able to bring away the prize.
I would imagine that the Championship of the West would include the Championship of the Northwest. But what do I know. I really do think they were just making this stuff up as they went along and inventing championships to claim.
The reality was that the Empires were the best baseball club in Missouri and had defeated the best baseball club in Illinois in July 1865. That was a significant victory and, to me, claiming that it represented the Championship of the West kind of oversells it. And there was no need for it. It was a huge victory by itself. But human nature is what it is and I understand why this was happening.
One aspect of this that I don't think I've mentioned is that creating these sorts of championships was a bit of a marketing gimmick. That's the real reason I believe that Chadwick, writing in the Clipper, was the one who came up with the idea of declaring the victor of the Freeport match as champion. That was in his character to hype the game this way. And we're seeing it here again, in this piece from the Daily Press, hyping up a Championship of the Northwest. It's marketing. It's selling the game. It's drumming up interest. It's what they called up-building the game and they did a heck of job of that in the post-war era.
But beyond the hype and the marketing and the up-building, the Empire Club was going to Dubuque to play some of the best baseball clubs in the West. They were going to have to prove themselves once again, as they had in Freeport. The were going to have to defend their championship.