There have been many reasons given why the Unions have been so badly beaten by all the Eastern clubs that came triumphing westward, but none of the reasoners say that the Unions lack practice, lack devotion, lack determination, lack desire. It is one thing to wish and one thing to act. Money can buy fine clothes, but it cannot but fine base ball playing. The gentlemen of the Union Club, if they would be a crack club, must strip themselves to the waist for work, or they must be classified with all the easily beaten clubs in the West.
The Unions have some excellent players - and we have spoken of them in connection with their best hits - but they neither concentrate their efficiency nor render profitable their excellent development...
It is well enough to say that "our boys ought to be patronized;" that "we must encourage home clubs;" that "we should not be hard on the Union boys." Why not? Ain't the St. Louis boys as good as the best of them; and if the St. Louis boys can't take the breach, should anybody salute their guidon?
Keenan, the President of the Bloomington (Ill.) Club, was the umpire, and gave his decisions promptly and most fairly...
Mr. C.O. Bishop, the conservative young President of the Unions, did the honors of the day in a most excellent manner, and the Atlantics and the Unions were "yard arm and yard arm" late last night.
-Missouri Republican, June 28, 1868
For the St. Louis sporting press of this era, this stuff is withering criticism and it's rather unique. A few weeks prior to this, we saw some criticism from the Republican after the Athletics beat up on the local clubs and, based on that, I'd argue that it's the same writer. When you have a sporting press that sees its job as building up the game of baseball and is, essentially, involved in marketing and selling the game, stuff like this really stands out. I just want to stress how rare it is to see the St. Louis sporting press criticizing a local club.
Now, that's not to say that I agree with the criticism. You lose by sixty runs and you should be criticized but the problem wasn't that the Unions didn't work hard enough on the field. The problem was that the Unions - and the Empires - weren't good enough to be playing baseball at this level. They were one of the easily beaten clubs in the West and no amount of hard work and grit was going to change that. The only thing that was going to change that was better ballplayers.
The Unions thought that they could challenge for the national championship. They were the best club in St. Louis and the best club in Missouri. They were one of the best clubs in the West. But that just didn't translate into being one of the best clubs in the country. They were outclassed by the best clubs in the East and I would argue that they weren't in the same class as a club like the Forest Cities of Rockford, Illinois. The Unions were a good baseball club but they just weren't a great one. They simply were unable to compete at the highest level of the sport.
The real criticism that should have been directed at the Union and Empire clubs is that they had no business playing the Atlantics and the Athletics and the Nationals and the Red Stockings. They weren't good enough to compete against clubs like that. The defeats that were suffered took a serious toll on the popularity of baseball in St. Louis and stunted the development of the game in the city. If there had been a more natural evolution of the game in St. Louis, there probably would have been an openly professional club in the city, playing in the NA, by 1871. But, because of these crushing defeats at the hands of the big Eastern clubs, the fans lost some interest in the game and baseball wasn't popular enough in St. Louis, in the early 1870s, to support something like that.
I have a great deal of admiration and respect for the people who grew the game in St. Louis. I really have nothing but good things to say about guys like Asa Smith and Jeremiah Fruin. But it was a mistake, in the late 1860s, to think that the local St. Louis clubs could compete against the big Eastern teams. Fruin, specifically, should have know that. Now, there is an argument to be made that this was just part of baseball at the time. The big clubs went on tour and beat up on the smaller clubs. Sometimes one of the smaller teams would rise up and get a victory. But I believe that the Union Club, specifically, thought that they could compete against the big clubs. And they were just terribly wrong about that.