I've always described this process during the latter part of the 1860s as an attempt to bring St. Louis into the baseball mainstream. Now that's an extremely awkward phrase that I've grown increasingly unhappy with because I don't feel that it adequately communicates what was happening during the era. It's a phrase that simply leads to more questions. What was the baseball mainstream? What does that mean? Well, what I'm essentially trying to communicate is the fact that baseball was in a state of evolutionary change and this evolutionary process was more advanced in the East than it was in St. Louis. St. Louis baseball was following evolutionary trends rather than setting them. If you look at baseball in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, you see certain changes in the game taking place years earlier than they did in St. Louis.
While St. Louis was not a baseball trendsetter in the 1860s, that does not take away from the fact that certain members of the St. Louis baseball fraternity were able to recognize these evolutionary trends and attempt to incorporate them into the local game. St. Louis was one of the major baseball hotbeds in the nation during the 1860s and it's natural that the local game would attempt to establish itself in the baseball mainstream and that it would follow the larger evolutionary trends. By the 1880s, I think that advances in communication and transportation allowed St. Louis, as one of the largest cities and greatest baseball markets in the country, to begin to set trends in the game but, in the 1860s, the local baseball fraternity did not have those advantages and were several years behind the Eastern clubs in the evolutionary development of the local game.
The story of St. Louis baseball in the second half of the 1860s is all about incorporating the larger evolutionary trends in baseball into the local game. What we're seeing, in general, is a movement towards the creation of a modern sport. As noted, this process was much more advanced in other baseball markets and St. Louis baseball was lagging behind in the incorporation of these evolutionary trends but from 1865 to 1869, steps were taken to modernize the sport in St. Louis. By 1869, St. Louis baseball had pretty much caught up with the evolutionary baseball trends when a new cycle of baseball evolution began with the creation of openly professional clubs. Again, St. Louis would lag behind and would not catch up in the evolutionary cycle until 1875 - but that's a completely different story. What we're focusing on with this series of posts on the 1868 season is the process by which St. Louis baseball began to incorporate itself into the baseball mainstream by adapting to the evolutionary trends in the game that had come out of the East in the previous decade.
What we're seeing in 1868 is a movement towards modernity. We're seeing the beginnings of the creation of the modern game of baseball. Enclosed ballparks, charging for tickets, compensation for players, an organized and official championship, a distinction between the "big" clubs and all of the others, the best national clubs playing each other - all of these things are hallmarks of the modern game and you begin to see these things in St. Louis baseball during the latter part of the 1860s. The modern game of baseball is being created in 1868 and we see that when we look closely at what was happening in St. Louis.
Obviously, there were very important evolutionary steps that had taken place prior to this and there were many more to come but, in my opinion, this era in baseball is one of the most significant in the history of the game and I think it's one of the most overlooked. We focus on the development of baseball during the antebellum era and on the development of professional clubs and leagues in the 1870s but tend to skip over what was happening during the immediate post-war amateur era, except to note the outbreak of "base ball fever." The game changed rapidly and extremely during this era and baseball in 1870 was very, very different than baseball in 1865. The game on the field may not have been radically different but baseball, as a sporting entity, underwent extraordinary evolutionary change during the second half of the 1860s. To give you an example of this, I'll just point out that the biggest baseball game in the West, in 1865, was a match between the Empires of St. Louis and the Empires of Freeport, Illinois. In Freeport, Illinois. Four seasons later, the Cincinnati Reds toured the country. A season after that saw the creation of the first professional major league.
Baseball just wasn't the same game in 1870 as it was in 1865 and I'm not certain if baseball ever saw a five year period where the game, as a sporting entity, changed so much, with the possible exception of the second half of the 1850s. Take that all as a whole - looking at how the game changed from the early 1850s to 1870 - and it's just an extraordinary thing. The evolutionary development of the game during this period - this movement towards modernity - fascinates me and, as a researcher, it's what I'm really focused on. It's what I really enjoy sharing with you. That's why I'm going through the 1868 season. It's where I think we best see, in St. Louis, this evolutionary movement towards the modern game of baseball.