The most ardent devotee of out-door sports, and of base ball play in particular, could not possibly have chosen a more desirable or more auspicious day than yesterday proved for the return match game between the Union Club, of this city, and the Excelsiors, of Chicago. A bright, clear autumn day, with its cool, bracing air, mellowed by a soft, genial sun, presented the very best occasion for a base ball match; and so seemed to feel, evidently, the members of the two opposing clubs as they made their appearance on the grounds of the St. Louis Base Ball Park, full of life and activity, and apparently "eager for the fray." The Excelsiors carried themselves with a cool, easy and graceful air, which did not fail to convey to the looker-on a sense of confidence in success; while, on the other hand, the excited and hasty manner of the Unions indicated an unfavorable result for them.
The number of spectators was not so large as could be expected and would have been much greater, no doubt, had it not been for the great attractions at the Fair Grounds. Those present, however, manifested much interest throughout the entire game, which commenced at 15 minutes past 3 o'clock by the Union Club being sent to the bat and retiring with a round "0."
The Excelsiors played their turn on the willow to the extent of thirteen, much to the surprise of every one and to that of the Unions exceedingly, which was not lessened on the second inning by the Union making one to the Excelsiors seven - the score standing twenty to one in favor of the Excelsiors! Here, all felt that the result of the game was determined; but the friends of the Union Club still hoped the per centage might be reduced somewhat. On the part of the Union Club, Messrs. Lucas, Oran and Carr are to be credited with some good fielding. The batting of the Union Club was very weak, and easily handled by the Excelsiors. Of the Excelsiors it can be truly said to their praise, that they displayed some of the heaviest batting and some of the finest fielding that has been exhibited in our city. At fielding they were perfect, or nearly so, only two muffs being recorded against them. Their manner of "snatching" ground balls is worthy of emulation by our St. Louis clubs, and on fly balls they were a "dead shot." One fault we had to find is with their pitcher, Lex, who does not pitch true to rules - whether intentional or not we cannot say; he does not pitch, but gives an underhand throw. If we mistake not, this same objection has been urged against him on former occasions. Certain it is that he does not pitch. It would be useless to follow the game through all its innings, as it was so entirely one-sided as to afford but little interest. The Union Club were unfortunate in having friends who flattered them into the belief that they might successfully compete with the Excelsiors, who number among them several professional players, and this, too, in the face of the defeat which they suffered last week.
In base ball, personal feelings should be entirely discarded, and the best players selected to fill up a nine; and we attribute this bad defeat of the Union Club to a lack of judgment in the selection and disposition of the players. Certain it is that the Union Club have the material in their club, but it is not properly handled. That they are competent of far better playing than this game with the Excelsior's shows we are confident, and hope the Union Club will find occasion to prove our word true before the season closes.
-Missouri Republican, October 13, 1868
The author of this article was very close to identifying the problem that St. Louis clubs had against the best clubs in the nation but didn't follow his thinking through to its logical conclusion. He notes what the Excelsior pitcher was doing but doesn't note that this was a trend in baseball that the St. Louis clubs weren't adapting to. The biggest difference between the best clubs in the country and the St. Louis clubs was, at this time, the difference in the quality of the pitching. The St. Louis clubs simply couldn't handle the swift pitching that they faced when playing the best clubs. They didn't have anything like that to throw against the best clubs. So what you would get is games like this where the St. Louis club didn't hit while, at the same time, their pitchers were getting smacked around.
Another thing the article mentions is professional players. Now, the top St. Louis clubs were, at this time, compensating their players. And they would use that compensation to entice a good St. Louis player, like, for example, Tom Oran, to join the club. But what they weren't doing was seeking the best players from around the country or even the region. The author states that the best players should be selected for the nine but the St. Louis clubs weren't doing that. They were merely selecting the best players they could get in St. Louis and, really, they weren't even doing that to a great extent. You see guys who played for the Empires or the Unions for ten years, through the 1860s and into the 1870s. There was still this sense of a baseball club being a fraternal, social club rather than an instrument built to win baseball games. Asa Smith played for the Unions not because he was one of the best players the club could find but because he was one of the founders of and an officer of the club. He was very popular within the Union Club and nobody was going to take his position away from him and give to some hired mercenary. The Union Club would rather stop playing baseball rather than hire a bunch of outsiders to play for them. And that's exactly what they would do in 1870.
St. Louis had been a hot-bed of baseball activity during the Civil War and, during the first half of the 1860s, there was probably more baseball played in the city than anywhere else in the nation, except for New York. But as the decade was winding down, baseball in St. Louis had stagnated and was not adapting to national trends. I've always believed, and often stated, that Smith and the Union Club had made attempts to adapt to these trends in the second half of the 1860s. You see the building of enclosed ballparks, the compensation of players, the scheduling of better competition, the creation of a state association, clubs joining the National Association, etc. But this attempt to drag St. Louis baseball into the national mainstream - to modernize the game in the city - simply did not bear fruit in the late 1860s. It was a failure. It was a disaster that led to defeat upon defeat and to an extreme diminishment in the popularity of the game in St. Louis.
I would argue, and I think I am arguing, that the St. Louis clubs simply didn't go far enough in this attempt to modernize the game in the city. They needed to go out and hire better ballplayers. They needed to find pitchers who weren't simply going to "pitch" but who could be the primary component of team defense. They needed to accept the fact that the role of a baseball club was to win baseball games and not to provide a social outlet for its members. Eventually, they'd figure this all out but it would take another six years.