Base Ball Match At Freeport. - The "Empire" Base Ball Club, which claims to be the champion club of the North-west, has been challenged to play a match for the championship, by the St. Louis Club. The match is to take place at Freeport, on the 4th of July.
-Illinois State Journal, June 28, 1865
This is, of course, a reference to the famous match between the Empires of Freeport and the Empires of St. Louis, upon which the Empires of St. Louis based their claim for the 1865 Championship of the West. What is new to me here is that the Empires of Freeport claimed the championship prior to the game and I guess that's one of the reasons that the St. Louis Empires, upon winning the game, made their claim. I've written about this game on more than one occasion but there's always more to learn.
Empire, of St. Louis, vs. Empire, of Freeport. - The Empire B.B. Club of St. Louis, composed of Messrs. Barrett, Worth, Quinn, Norton, Tobias, Fitzgerald, Johnston, Fruin and Duncan; and the Empire Club of Freeport, Messrs. Buckman, Cavanagh, Lighthart, Butler, Delfendorf, Farwell, Teed, Brewater and Thomas, played a match game at Freepot, on or about the Fourth, which was won by the St. Louis boys by a score of 27 to 20.
I had planned to write about the 1867 championship series between the Union and Empire Clubs this week and had everything organized and ready to go. However, when I went to retrieve the source material, I found that the website for the State Historical Society of Missouri had gone all wonky and I couldn't get to the relevant material. So on to plan B, which is to post random stuff from the Clipper. Hopefully, I'll have the 1867 championship stuff up next week.
The members of the victorious Empire Base Ball Club returned about 11 o’clock Monday night from Dubuque, bringing with them the handsome prize ball of solid silver. They were received on the other side of the river by the remaining base ball clubs of the city, including the Baltic, Liberty, Magenta, Diana, Columbia, Hope and O.K. Frank Boehm’s silver band was in attendance and all the clubs together formed quite a procession. Several flags, including a very large one borne by the Empire fellers, gave a sort of martial or triumphal aspect to the procession. After landing at the Levee the company marched up Chestnut street stopping to give a round of cheers for the Republican, and then proceeded to their quarters, at No. 124 North Third Street, over Miller’s oyster saloon. On reaching their rooms they were addressed in a few words of welcome by Mr. E.H. Tobias. Mr. Walter, President of the club, responded in a few remarks, in which he thanked the different clubs for welcoming the “Empires” home, and hoped that they might all go on similar expeditions one of these days, and bring home silver prizes. The silver ball, we are informed, will remain on exhibition in Mr. Miller’s saloon for a time, and every-body who desires may see it. The following are the names of the young men who won it: John Quinn, Adam Wirth, Robert Duncan, David Duffy, J.M. Johnson, C.C. Norton, S.R. Barrett, J. Frain, and F.C. Billow.
And so the Empire Club returned home in triumph. They were the Championship Club of the West and one of the best clubs in the United States. They were the first of many St. Louis baseball clubs that would return to the city a champion and professional clubs such as the Maroons, the Browns, and the Cardinals would follow in their footsteps. The Empire Club of 1865 were St. Louis' first baseball champion and set the bar high for all that would follow.
The members of the Empire Base Ball Club of this city returned last night from Dubuque, Iowa, after winning the silver ball and the championship of the northwest, in one of the best and most ably contested match games ever played in this country. The people of Dubuque, who witnessed the game, magnanimously extend to the St. Louis boys the praise to which their nobly won victory so justly entitles them, and declare the Empire Club of St. Louis to be the Champion Club of America. The game was witnessed by an enthusiastic multitude, numbering over fifteen thousand persons, including hosts of the fair sex, and representatives from all the States of the Northwest. The Empire boys, on arriving in East St. Louis, yesterday morning, were received at the depot by a large delegation of their friends, including members of the Baltic, Liberty, Magenta, Dinga, Columbia and O.K. Base Ball Clubs, and with music, escorted to their headquarters, No. 124 North Third street. The handsome prize ball of solid silver will be on exhibition at Miller's saloon for some days, and every one can see it who wishes to gratify a curiosity. The Empire Base Ball Club is composed of our worthiest citizens-gentlemen who would reflect credit on any community-representing as much intelligence and wealth as any society of a similar nature in the United States. Their object is to cultivate a taste for out-door sports, which has been too much neglected by the American people in their march to opulence and greatness-over-burdening the mental faculties while the physic system remains undeveloped. Our citizens should take a lively interest in fostering and encouraging such associations as the Empire Club, and when such sports become more generally indulged in by our youth, we can dispense with billiard saloons and similar dens of iniquity. We extend to the Empire boys our congratulations, and feel a tinge of pride suffuse our cheeks when we hear the notes of praise that are uttered by all who witnessed the achievements of the Empire Base Ball Club of St. Louis.
So this is were the story gets a little interesting.
The people of Dubuque or, more likely, a Dubuque newspaper declared the Empire Club of St. Louis to be the Champion Club of America in 1865. To what extent was that title justified?
The short answer is that it wasn't.
Those guys in that picture above are the Atlantics of Brooklyn. They were pretty good and are recognized as the national baseball champions in 1865. They are pretty much also recognized as the national champions in 1859, 1860, 1861, and 1864. While those championship claims can be questioned, there is no doubt that they were a great baseball team and one of the elite clubs in America. If they had played the Empire Club in St. Louis, I think they would have been favored by at least twenty runs.
In 1865, the Atlantics went undefeated, playing the best clubs in New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Washington. They were playing the best clubs in the East and beat them all. That gives them a fairly nice claim to the national championship and absolutely gave them a claim to the championship of the National Association of Base Ball Players.
But the Eastern clubs, at this point, were not playing the Western clubs and there weren't any Western clubs in the National Association. We can argue that the Atlantics could rightfully claim the Championship of the East and we can argue that they were better than any of the Western clubs but, in 1865, there was no real national championship. It was, essentially, a mythical championship that the Atlantics are being given credit for.
The real basis for this is our ignorance about what was happening in the West during the Civil War. Our basic assumption has always been that New York was the hotbed of baseball during these years and that most of the baseball being played was in that area. But we now know that there was a great deal of baseball being played in St. Louis during the war years and there may have been just as much baseball being played in St. Louis as in New York. St. Louis was every bit as much of a baseball hotbed during the war years as New York. Because of this, I don't think it's fair to say that the best club in New York was the best club in the nation. There was a lot of baseball being played elsewhere and that has to be accounted for.
Now you can point to the latter part of the 1860s and say that every time one of the big Eastern clubs played a St. Louis club, the Eastern club not only won but won by a large margin. That's a fair point. However, we are talking specifically about 1865. The Empire Club defeated the best clubs in Missouri, twice they beat the best club in Illinois, and they defeated some of the best clubs in Iowa in the Dubuque tournament. I think their claim to being the Championship Club of the West in 1865 is a solid one. It is certainly every bit as solid as the Atlantics claim to being the best club in the East.
As I said earlier, I don't think the Empires were better than the Atlantics but you can't really prove that the Atlantics were better than the Empires. Just because they played in Brooklyn and were the best club in the East doesn't give them a right to claim a national championship in 1865. Baseball was being played all over the country and there were good clubs across the nation. The Empires claim to the national championship would be based not only on their victories in Freeport and Dubuque but also on the state of baseball in St. Louis during the war years. They were the best club in St. Louis at a time when the St. Louis baseball scene was as large and active as anywhere else in the nation. And they went on the road and proved how good they were against some of the best clubs in the West.
In the end, I think the only reason to dismiss the Empire Club's claim to being the best club in the United States in 1865 would be because of our predisposition to assume that New York baseball was far and away superior to any other baseball being played in the United States in 1865. Again, I'll say that I think the Atlantics were the better club and would win a series against the Empires handily. But, at the very least, we have to address the Empire Club's claim and take it seriously. They were the best club in the West in 1865 and, at the time, some said that they were the best club in the country. Given what we now know about baseball in St. Louis leading into this era, we should take the claim a little more seriously than we did in the past.
A Victory for St. Louisans.
...on September 25, 1865, the Empire club went to Dubuque, Iowa, to play for a silver ball offered by the Agricultural Association of that city at their Fair and here the Empires were again victorious, not only defeating all other clubs but also again defeating their namesakes of Freeport, Ill., who in the meantime, since the former match, had met and beaten Chicago's best club. This game was much talked about and...was declared by witnesses to have been the very best fly game on record at that time. It was umpired by Samuel Cox, Esq., of Dubuque and occupied three and one half hours and the silver ball won there was deposited with the other trophies of the club...
In Dubuque, the Empires defended their claim to being the best baseball club in the West by, once again, defeating the Empire Club of Freeport, Illinois. Sadly, I don't have a lot of information about the tournament but there are a couple of entries at Protoball that mention it. Specifically, there is an entry from Bruce Allardice for the Julian Club of Dubuque that states the following:
The Freeport (IL) North West Oct. 5, 1865, reports on a base ball tournament in Dubuque, hosted by the local Julian team.
Bruce also has an entry for the Empires of Freeport that mentions the tournament:
The Freeport Journal, June 6, 1866, has a lengthy and interesting article titled "Empire Base Ball Club...History of the Club..." On Sept. 29, 1865 [the club] beat the Julian of Dubuque, at Dubuque, 27 to 26.
While we don't have all of the details, we know that, at the very least, there were clubs at the tournament from Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. We know that Freeport was probably the best club in Illinois and that the Empires were probably the best club in Missouri. I don't know much about the Julian Club but I do know that the New York game was being played in Dubuque by 1863. In the end, this was probably a pretty fair representation of the best clubs in the tri-state area in 1865.
The Empire B.B. Club, of this city, accompanied by a number of their friends, take their departure this morning, for Dubuque to engage in the Silver Ball contest, on Friday next. Special arrangements have been made for the round trip, by which parties desirous of joining the excursion can procure tickets at half price. The club will leave their rooms, No. 124 North Third street, at 11 A.M. May success attend them.
The 1865 baseball season in St. Louis was one of the most significant seasons in the city's history. If I had to rank the most important 19th century seasons in St. Louis baseball history, I think I'd go something like this:
-1881: A hugely successful season, both financially and on the field, for the minor, professional, independent Brown Stockings. This season set the stage for the creation of the AA Browns and, by extension, the modern Cardinals. It also saw the emergence of Chris Von der Ahe, who would dominate baseball in St. Louis and nationally for almost the next two decades.
-1874: Rather similar to the 1881 season in that the excitement that was generated by the Empire/Reds championship series set the stage for the 1875 season and the first openly professional clubs in St. Louis. There had been a lull in the popularity of baseball in St. Louis in the seasons prior to both 1874 and 1881 and the success of those seasons propelled the game to greater heights.
-1865: We were coming out of the Civil War, baseball was expanding across the country and reaching every small town in America, and the Empire Club established itself as one of the very best baseball teams in America. Baseball had continued to grow in popularity in St. Louis during the war but I think that the success of the Empire Club in 1865 fueled that momentum in a way that sustained it through the rest of the decade. There were things that would happen in the later part of the decade that I don't think would have happened if the Empire Club had failed in Freeport and Dubuque. That may sound a little cryptic but I'll go into this in more detail when I wrap up this little series.
-1885: The Browns championship victory over Chicago cemented baseball's place in the culture of St. Louis. St. Louis had been a baseball town going back to the antebellum era but the popularity of the game waxed and waned over the years. There were times when it struggled mightily and the future of baseball in St. Louis was in question. While there would be difficult days ahead (and there are always difficult days ahead), after 1885, the question of baseball's place in the culture of St. Louis was never in doubt. If things had gone a little bit different, this would have happened in 1875 but it didn't.
-1867: I'm putting the year that the Union Club won the championship of Missouri and St. Louis ahead of the 1875 season because I think it had a more lasting impact. The seeds that the Empires planted in 1865 were really beginning to bloom in 1867. You have the establishment of a state baseball association, the building of the first enclosed baseball grounds in St. Louis, big Eastern clubs coming to town, and the peak of the Empire/Union rivalry. That was the first time that St. Louis engaged with the Eastern baseball establishment and everything that had happened between 1865 and 1867 was building towards the moment when the St. Louis clubs would engage the Eastern clubs. The idea of a national league was impossible without the Western clubs competing with the Eastern clubs. In 1867 that begins to happen. I probably should have ranked this much higher. The idea of the significance of the 1867 season is something I think I want to explore some more. So prepare yourself for that.
The Empire Base Ball Club, of this city, who won the victory over the Freeporters last July, held a special meeting Monday night, and unanimously decided to visit Dubuque on the 29th of September to take a hand in the great silver ball match for the championship of the Northwest. The Dubuque County Agricultural Society offer a heavy silver ball, of regulation size, as a prize to the Club declared to be the champion base ball club of the Northwest, the championship and prizes to be played for on the grounds of the Dubuque County Agricultural Society, on Friday, September 29, 1865. The contest is open to all base ball clubs in the Northwest-clubs from Illinois, Wisconson, Minnesota, Missouri and Iowa. The friends of the Empire have no sort of doubt that the members will acquit themselves with honor, and will be able to bring away the prize.
I would imagine that the Championship of the West would include the Championship of the Northwest. But what do I know. I really do think they were just making this stuff up as they went along and inventing championships to claim.
The reality was that the Empires were the best baseball club in Missouri and had defeated the best baseball club in Illinois in July 1865. That was a significant victory and, to me, claiming that it represented the Championship of the West kind of oversells it. And there was no need for it. It was a huge victory by itself. But human nature is what it is and I understand why this was happening.
One aspect of this that I don't think I've mentioned is that creating these sorts of championships was a bit of a marketing gimmick. That's the real reason I believe that Chadwick, writing in the Clipper, was the one who came up with the idea of declaring the victor of the Freeport match as champion. That was in his character to hype the game this way. And we're seeing it here again, in this piece from the Daily Press, hyping up a Championship of the Northwest. It's marketing. It's selling the game. It's drumming up interest. It's what they called up-building the game and they did a heck of job of that in the post-war era.
But beyond the hype and the marketing and the up-building, the Empire Club was going to Dubuque to play some of the best baseball clubs in the West. They were going to have to prove themselves once again, as they had in Freeport. The were going to have to defend their championship.
Base Ball. - We are glad to see that this noble national game is fast gaining ground in popularity in our city. There are several fine clubs in St. Louis, and our readers will not have forgotten that the championship of the West is held by the Empire B.B. Club, having wrested that proud title from the Empire Club of Freeport, Ill., last 4th of July, in commemoration of which event our well-known citizen, Martin Collins, Esq., has presented the club with a magnificent belt, gotten up in the most artistic manner. The presentation was accompanied by an eloquent and interesting speech, delivered in our friend Martin's most happy manner, and was appropriately responded to by Messrs. J. Fruin, B. Higgins, and other members of the club, all of whom expressed the sentiment that the club would give a "hard fight" to whatever club may endeavor to take it from the Empire.
On September 6th, 1865, the Empire Club was presented with an elegantly devised belt as “champions of the West.” The presentation speech was made by Martin Collins, Esq., on behalf of citizens who were interested in base ball and who desired that all Western clubs should take a whack at winning it, whenever they felt able to tackle the holders. As president of the club the late Judge John F. Walton accepted the belt in one of his most graceful speeches and it was placed in a...receptacle of the club room on Third street.
The squib from the Republican is significant because it is the second contemporary reference we have to the Championship of the West. It's also interesting because it mentions that the Empire Club "wrested that proud title" from Freeport, implying that this was a title that Freeport had held in the past. It could also simply mean that the title was won by defeating Freeport. I don't know. I think it's probably the latter but it's possible that the Championship of the West was a baseball thing that clubs were fighting over in the mid-1860s.
But the really cool thing here is the championship belt. Take a look at this:
This is the Empire Club in 1867 and he guy in the front row, center, is James Baron, the club's shortstop. I believe that is Martin Collins' belt he's holding. It most have been one of the club's prized possessions, along with the Gilded Ball that had been used in the first match game in St. Louis baseball history. I could be wrong and it may be a different championship belt but, really, how many championship belts did the club have?
The game of base ball played at Freeport, on the 4th of July (1865), by the Empire Club of St. Louis and the Empire, of Freeport, was a closely contested and splendid game, and resulted in the victory of the St. Louis Club, by seven runs. We shall publish the score and particulars to-morrow.
The members of the Empire Base Ball Club, arrived from Freeport yesterday morning at four o'clock, greatly pleased with their excursion. The boys speak in unmeasured terms of praise of the generous hospitality extended to them by the citizens of Freeport, and by members of the Freeport Club. They were treated to the best that the town afforded.
While there may have been some talk, on the Freeport side, of playing another match on July 5th, the Empire Club was more than happy to take their victory and get out of town and we find no mention here of any sort of problem with the umpire.
So the deed was done and the Empire Club claimed the Championship of the West, based on defeating the best club in Illinois. It was the first time a St. Louis club had ever played a club from outside of St. Louis. It was the first time a St. Louis club had ever played outside of St. Louis. And it was, according to E.H. Tobias, the first fly match played in the West. It was a rather historic victory and, I believe, one of the most significant games in St. Louis baseball history.
But we're not done with this just yet. There is still a little matter of a championship belt and a tournament in Dubuque.
Base Ball Championship Of The West.
I'm not certain that Chadwick wrote this squib from the Clipper but declaring that this game was played for the Championship of the West sounds like something he would do. Let's just say that there is a rather fair chance that Chadwick wrote this.
The really interesting thing here is the explicit declaration that the game was played for the Championship of the West. I have often said that the Empires claimed the "mythical Championship of the West" because there was no such thing. I always believed that it was something that the club or the local St. Louis press cooked up. But here it is, blessed by the Eastern establishment sporting press. I don't think it gets much better, in 1865, than having Henry Chadwick saying you're the Championship club in the West. That's certainly better than declaring yourself the champion, which is something I always believed the Empire Club had done.
So, I guess the Championship of the West was really a thing, at least in the mind of Mr. Chadwick. With the win over Freeport (who were the best club in Illinois) and the blessing of Henry Chadwick, the Empire Club had every right to claim it. However, and I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here, I don't think that the Empire Club, based on their victories in 1865, had any right to claim the national championship. I'm just throwing that out there for now.
Champions of the West? Sure. Why not? National champions? I'm just going to guess and say that the Empire Club would have lost to the Atlantics of Brooklyn by thirty runs. And that's me being conservative.
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