A new feature in the fair was the base ball playing, there being clubs present from Danville, Paxton, Urbana and Champaign.
The Umpires of Champaign, were the victors after a three day's battle.
-Prairie Farmer, September 21, 1867
This is an example of the extent to which the New York game of base ball had penetrated the smaller towns of the nation in the immediate post-Civil War era. While there is some evidence that the game may have been played in central Illinois during the war years, the baseball fever that broke out after the war certainly reached the Illinois heartland.
That Abraham Lincoln was a great ball player as the game was played in those days, is the statement of Mrs. Rachel Billington, who on February 12 celebrated her ninetieth birthday. Mrs. Billington lived only a few doors away from the LIncoln family at Springfield and also knew the statesman later as a lawyer in Decatur. "In those days," says Mrs. Billington, "the batter stood with his back to a wall and Lincoln could hit the ball every time it was pitched to him."
There is no doubt that Lincoln was a good athlete and ball-player. To me, though, the most interesting thing here is Mrs. Billington's description of the ball game. In my youth, we played a lot of ball games where the batter stood against a wall - you didn't have to have a catcher that way. It's fascinating to think that this form of the game dates back to the antebellum period.
An individual related an anecdote which occcurred at Albany when [Millard] Fillmore was comptroller. It was illustrative of Fillmore's unfailing courtesy and kindness of heart.
The above quote appears on page 96 of Robert Scarry's biography of Millard Fillmore. The story is probably apocryphal but who can pass up a good Millard Fillmore story?
If the story is true, it must have happened sometime in 1848 or 1849, when Fillmore served as New York state comptroller.
Base Ball -- Ottawa vs. Marseilles
Some two weeks ago the Marseilles Base Ball Club challenged the Base Ball and Wicket Club of Ottawa to a trial of skill. - The challenge was promptly accepted, and Friday of last week fixed as the day and Marseilles the place for the game. At the time appointed, although the weather was intensely hot, the game was played with great spirit, yet with the utmost good feeling throughout, on both sides...
First, let me point out that Ottawa and Marseilles are located in LaSalle County, Illinois, on the Illinois River, about fifty miles southwest of Chicago.
I think the really interesting thing here is the existence of a wicket club in Illinois in the antebellum era. At Protoball, the Glossary of Games has an entry on wicket that describes the game as follows:
The game of wicket was evidently the dominant game played in parts of Connecticut, western MA, and perhaps areas of Western New York State, prior to the spread of the New York game in the 1850’s and 1860’s. Wicket resembles cricket more than baseball. The “pitcher” bowls a large, heavy ball toward a long, low wicket, and a batter with a heavy curved club defends the wicket. Some students of cricket speculate that it resembles cricket before it evolved to its modern form.
There isn't much evidence of the game being played west of Ohio during this era, although there was a wicket club in Iowa in 1857. Protoball has no record of any games of wicket being played in Illinois or any wicket clubs in the state but now that we know the game was played in north central Illinois and in Iowa, it's possible that the game experienced a period of popularity in the area prior to the introduction of the New York game.
Also of interest is the existence of organized base ball clubs in the area in the antebellum era. While there was certainly a culture of ballplaying in central Illinois dating back to the 1820s, evidence of organized clubs is fairly rare, prior to the introduction of the New York game. We know that there were two organized clubs in Alton, Illinois, in 1858 and members of the Morning Star club have stated that the club was active, playing a St. Louis baseball variant, by 1857 but, in general, we don't see a lot of references organized baseball clubs in the greater St. Louis area, central Illinois and Missouri prior to 1859.
Before I get back to the 1875 season and the second Brown Stockings/Chicago game, I'm going to dump some stuff from my files. I have this bookmark file, labeled "posts," where I stash a lot of the stuff that I find while doing research and it's gotten really big - much bigger than normal. So I'm going to clean the file out and share some of the stuff I've found with you.
Today, you get the last will and testament of Joseph Scott Fullerton, Union general during the Civil War and a member of the antebellum Cyclone Club.
Walter Stevens, in St. Louis: History of the Fourth City, had some very kind things to say about Fullerton:
The memory of such a man as Joseph Scott Fullerton can never die while live monuments remain upon which was imprinted the touch of his noble soul. Duty and honor were his watchwords, and justice one of his strong characteristics. No trust reposed in him was ever betrayed in the slightest degree, nor was he ever known to sacrifice a public interest to the furtherance of his own gains...his memory is enshrined in the hearts of all who knew him and remains a blessed benediction to those who were his associates while he was still an active factor in the affairs of the world.
We should all be so lucky to have such nice things said about us after we shuffle off this mortal coil.
I want to take the opportunity to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. I'll be back Monday with more from the 1875 season. Enjoy the holiday.
To LIndell Park.
Take the cars on Sixth and Locust streets, going west to Ninth street and via St. Louis avenue. Visitors to Lindell park and Grand avenue base ball park and save fifteen minutes time by taking the cars of the North-western St. Louis Railway Co. Cars start from Sixth and Locust streets every three and five minutes.
The reason why the Brown Stocking club fleeced the Chicago Whites is because they wore Swope's base-ball shoes. 112 North Fourth street, opposite Planter's house.
There is every indication that the base ball match to-day, old Probs permitting, will be as exciting as was that of Thursday. The Whites are confident that they will retrieve their reputation, and those who count upon a repetition of the Waterloos of Thursday will be sadly disappointed. "Chicagos" come only at re intervals, and any one at all familiar with the records of the best clubs, knows that there is nothing more uncertain than base ball. The most marked feature of the Thursday game was the inability of the Whites to bat Bradley. Whether they can improve much in their treatment of him in the ine innings to-day, remains to be seen. The probabilities are that, being more familiar, they can bat him better. Certainly they can do no worse...
I keep stating that the victory of the Brown Stockings over the Chicagos on May 6, 1875 is the most significant game in the history of St. Louis baseball. But why? What was so significant about it?
I think that I've made a decent argument for the game's significance before, mentioning that the victory unified the city behind one baseball team for the first time, that it cemented the St. Louis/Chicago baseball rivalry, and that it marked the end of the pioneer era and the beginning of the professional era. But there is one more point I'd like to make about the significance of the game, relating to the last point.
There was no reason that professional baseball had to succeed in St. Louis. There was no reason that St. Louis had to become a "baseball town" and develop a deep-rooted love of major league, professional baseball. These things were not preordained. They did not have to happen. But they did. And I would argue that one of the major reasons these things did happen was because of the Brown Stockings' victory on May 6, 1875.
This victory legitimized the Brown Stockings. It legitimized the decision to bring in the best baseball players the club could sign. It legitimized openly professional baseball in St. Louis. I don't think too many people appreciate the fact that this was a risky venture. It was something that had never been tried in St. Louis before and there was a significant chance that the club would fail (as it eventually did). The Reds were sitting there, with a club made up of local talent, hoping the Brown Stockings failed and ready to reap the reward of that failure. The Empire Club was sitting there, stuck in the past, hoping the Brown Stockings failed so that things would go back to the way they had been.
But the Brown Stocking model - borrowed from the Eastern clubs - worked and brought winning, professional, championship-level baseball to St. Louis for the first time. While the game and the business of baseball has changed substantially since 1875, that model still works. It's been used, in St. Louis, by Chris Von der Ahe and the Robisons and Sam Breadon and Gussie Busch and Bill DeWitt. The model has been heavily modified but the idea of purchasing the best baseball players you can find and putting a club together to compete for the national championship still stands and still works.
Men like J.B.C. Lucas, Orrick Bishop, W.C. Steigers, Mase Graffin and those involved in putting together and managing the Brown Stockings essentially created modern baseball in St. Louis. Asa Smith tried to do this a decade earlier but, while he had a great deal of success in modernizing St. Louis baseball, he failed to put together a club that could compete nationally. The brain-trust behind the Brown Stockings, while they failed to win a national championship, was able to put together a championship-caliber club that could compete with the best clubs in the country.
The victory over Chicago was the earliest proof of that. And, as I said, it legitimized the Brown Stockings and their business model. The way the Brown Stockings went about creating their club was different than the way any other St. Louis club had ever gone about putting a club together. Their success established openly professional baseball in St. Louis and helped establish St. Louis as one of the great baseball markets in the country. If the club had failed and if they had specifically failed against Chicago, it's possible that none of that would have happened.
There would be ups and downs along the way - the collapse of the Brown Stockings, Von der Ahe's struggles in the 1890s, etc. - but after May 6, 1875 there was no looking back. The pioneer era was dead and buried in St. Louis. A new professional era had begun and the city was on the path to becoming one of the great baseball markets in the United States. As a historian, a baseball fan and a St. Louisan, I find that significant.
Plus, you know, it's always good to beat Chicago.