Union Base Ball Club. - There will be a special meeting of this club on this, Saturday, evening, at their rooms over the National Loan Bank, when business of great importance will be considered. A general attendance is earnestly requested. By order of President.
H.G. Smith, Sec'y.
-Missouri Republican, March 14, 1868
It was early developed in 1868 that the year would mark an era in local base ball. The leading spirit of the Union Club, Asa W. Smith had devised plans to advance his club to the foremost and to maintain that position being animated mainly by that true spirit of sportsman and athlete love of the game for its own intrinsic merit. At no time were either the Union or Empire Clubs actuated by a desire to make money and when they adopted the plan of placing a price upon admission to the games, it was because necessity forced them into it. The increased and still increasing interest of the general public demanded better surroundings and accommodations and Asa Smith recognizing this fact set afoot plans that he deemed best calculated to promote the National game by catering to the desires of the public. For this work he was not only ably fitted by his own personal traits of character for which he was beloved and honored by the fraternity in general and a host of friends in business and social circles, but he was most fortuitously situated in having at his command all the necessary elements that would lend to success. The membership of his club had been strengthened, not in numbers alone, but in first-class material, both physically and financially, all animated by the one passion, love of base ball. In this aggregation that Asa Smith had gathered around him are to be found the names of men now occupying the most responsible and honorable positions in professional and business life. They were young men of means mostly, even at that time, and base ball was with them what the originators of the game intended it should be, a means of recreation for themselves and entertainment for others. That the game had reached that stage when it was one of the most popular of entertainments was attested by the experience of the preceding year when charging admission was inaugurated with success. In order to gratify this public taste it was necessary to incur large expenses, particularly so whenever it was desired to secure the presence of any of the great clubs of the East or West and these demanded one-half of the gate receipts, the home club bearing all expenses with the other half.
One of the first movements made by Asa Smith as president of the Union Club this year was that of forming a State Association of Clubs, there being then quite a number of clubs organized in the interior cities and towns. This was quite a pet idea with its originator and although his first effort in this direction in ’67 proved a failure, he was not deterred from another endeavor to accomplish this object...
-The Sporting News, November 23, 1895
These were major advances in the evolutionary history of baseball in St. Louis and when I talk about moving St. Louis into the national baseball mainstream, these are the things that I'm talking about. While St. Louis had been playing the New York game since 1859 and was a hotbed of the sport during the Civil War, the baseball fraternity of the city was slow to accept some of the changes that had taken place in the game in the previous decade. Asa Smith and the Union Club recognized this and took steps to modernize the game in St. Louis.
Smith's goal, I believe, was to have the Union Club compete for a national championship. To do this, he needed to improve the infrastructure by building, first, the Union Grounds and, in 1868, the Grand Avenue Grounds. He needed to charge for tickets so that the club had money to pay for the grounds and to compensate the players. If you wanted the best players, the Unions were going to have to pay for them. Also, if you wanted your players focused on baseball, you had to pay them so that they weren't busy working a real job. He needed the grounds and the players so that the Unions could compete against the best clubs from New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston. Because if you wanted to win the national championship, those were the kinds of clubs you had to schedule and defeat.
Smith, ultimately, failed in his goal to create an environment and club that could compete for a national championship. What he failed to do was to go outside of St. Louis to purchase the best players that he could find. That was a large oversight on his part and it may have been a result of a parochial perspective. This failure had an extremely negative impact on the popularity of baseball in St. Louis and probably was the reason that the city failed to place a club in the NA in 1870. It would fall to the Brown Stockings of 1875, led by former Union Club members, to finish Smith's work.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome, Smith's vision of what St. Louis baseball could be and the steps needed to achieve that vision changed the game in the city forever. Smith shouldn't be judged by his failure but, rather, by what he hoped to achieve and the steps that he took to improve the game in St. Louis. A St. Louis baseball club that plays in an enclosed ballpark, that charges for tickets, that pays its players, and competes for a national championship, such as the St. Louis Cardinals, is direct result of the steps that Smith, and others, took in 1868. Baseball, during this era, was evolving and Smith's great achievement was that he recognized this and attempted to move St. Louis baseball forward in alignment with this evolution.