The base ball fever at South St. Louis seems to be contagious among the boys and several clubs are expected to be organized very shortly.
-St. Louis Republican, February 27, 1875
The baseball fever was contagious (and I love any reference to baseball fever) and was a result of the exciting 1874 baseball season in St. Louis. The game in the city had suffered in the early 1870s and the earlier outbreak of the fever that had broken out after the Civil War had run its course. But the three seasons of 1874, 1875 and 1876 were special and the game was as popular in St. Louis at that time as it ever was.
This post originally appeared at the old site in 2008 and I think it sums up what happened in St. Louis in 1874 and why the decision was made to put together a professional club for 1875:
In 1874, according to E.H. Tobias, the Chicago White Stockings "came to St. Louis under an arrangement to play four games each with the Empire, Red Stocking and Turner Clubs..." These were probably the three best clubs in St. Louis at the time and the Chicagos cleaned their clocks. While there were a couple of close games, the White Stockings went undefeated on their St. Louis trip and embarrassed the St. Louis baseball fraternity.
The October 17th defeat of the Empire Club was the first time in the proud history of the team that it had been shutout. Last year, when I put together a top twenty list of the most significant games in 19th century St. Louis baseball history, I had that game at number twelve and wrote the following:
Tired of getting beaten on the diamond and unable to accept the idea of losing to Chicago in anything, the St. Louis baseball fraternity, led by former members of the old Union Club, put together the first openly professional baseball team in the history of St. Louis and brought in the finest Eastern talent they could sign. While there is no doubt that St. Louis would have had professional, major league baseball eventually, the unmitigated beating that the Chicagos put on the best "amateur" clubs in St. Louis forced the St. Louis baseball fraternity into action. After the Chicago professionals roared through St. Louis in 1874 and humiliated the pride of St. Louis baseball, things changed.
So Henry Chadwick can take all of the credit he wants for the creation of a professional nine in St. Louis in 1875 but it was the humiliation of going 0-11 against the White Stockings that really set the ball in motion. Watching their clubs getting dominated by Chicago, the St. Louis baseball fraternity decided to go out and get the best professional players they could find and put together a club that could beat the hated Chicagos.
They are not allowed to play base ball inside the city limits of Greenville.
Greenville, Illinois, is about forty miles or so due east of St. Louis and the fact that they once outlawed baseball in their town is something they should forever be ashamed of.
In all seriousness, I guess the law makes a bit of sense. You could have always played outside of town and, honestly, the best grounds were probably outside the city limits anyway. Plus, the law probably saved folks from some broken windows.
But really, Greenville, for shame. For shame.
The reorganization of the old Union Base Ball club took place last night at the office of Asa W. Smith, No. 203 North Third street. The following officers were elected:
The 1874 was an extraordinary baseball season in St. Louis. You had several big Eastern clubs come to the city for the first time in years and the White Stockings of Chicago also made several trips to the city. There was also a fantastic championship series between the Empires and the Reds. Altogether, the season captured the imagination of the fans and the popularity of the game in St. Louis exploded.
It was one of the greatest baseball seasons in the history of 19th century St. Louis baseball and, also, one of the most important. It was due to the growth in the popularity of the game in 1874 that two professional St. Louis clubs entered the National Association in 1875 and competed for the national championship. The success of the 1874 season lead directly to professional baseball in St. Louis.
The only way that the 1874 season could have been better is if the Union Club had been a part of it. The club, which had originally formed in 1860, was one of the most successful St. Louis amateur clubs in the post-Civil War era and was the only club, besides the Empires, to win the city and state championship during the era. However, after the 1870 season, the club essentially disbanded and never put a team on the field again. There were several attempts to reform the club and there were always rumours that a reformation was imminent. But it never happened.
This report from the Republican is the most detailed account I've seen of an attempt to reform the Union Club and it's kind of amazing that it didn't come off, given the men who were involved. The club itself was operating in some capacity in August, when Asa Smith died, but they never organized a team to play that season. I have to assume that one of the purposes of the club was to put a team on the field and that just never happened.
Really, it's kind of a symbol of the era. The Pioneer Era was ending and the Professional Era in St. Louis was about to begin. The 1874 season was, really, the last season of the Pioneer Era and it marks the end of the golden age of amateur baseball in St. Louis. The Union Club was struggling to reorganize, the Empire Club would never again be the best club in the city, the Reds were about to join the NA and Smith would die in August. The period of baseball history was over and it just would have been nice if the Unions had gotten one more day in the sun.
They are playing base ball amateur championships here. "Amateur championships" is good.
-St. Louis Republican, September 3, 1874
Does putting "amateur championships" in quotes in 1874 mean the same thing it does in 2013? I'm thinking it does.
We have enough evidence to suggest that St. Louis players were getting compensated in some form by the late 1860s and I've found a few subtle references like this in various papers. The guys who were playing for top clubs like the Empires, Unions or Reds were getting paid or getting jobs at the fire department or with some construction firm owned by a fellow club member. Tom Oran wasn't jumping from club to club to club because he was fickle. He jumped from the Unions to the Empires for a job with the St. Louis Fire Department and, I assume, he jumped from the Empires to the Reds for a better share of the gate.
They were amateurs only in the 19th century baseball sense of the word.
The first games of the championship series between the Red Stockings and Empires took place yesterday on the grounds of the former on Compton avenue and Pacific railroad. There were about 1,500 persons present. Play was called at 3:05 P.M., with the Reds at the bat, who, with their safe ground batting, aided by their sharp fielding, won them the game by a score of 14 to 5, the Empires receiving six "goose eggs" before they scored a run. On the part of the Reds the playing of Joe Blong at first and P. Dillon behind the bat was a noticeable feature of the game, while the infielding of Redmond and McSorley was in true professional style, not a single error being charged to either of them. The second base, in the absence of Peters, was well filled by Mulhall, the only error of the game on the part of the Reds being charged to him. The batting and safe throwing of A. Blong was also good, he succeding in putting two men out running from second to third. On the part of the Empires the only playing of any consequence was that of Houtz at first, Oran at third and Seward behind the bat. Altogether, the playing of the Reds, both in the field and at the bat, was by far the best exhibition of skill ever shown by an amateur club in this city. Morgan was in good trim, and his pitching could not have been surpassed by any.
-St. Louis Republican, May 25, 1873
This series between the Reds and the Empires, and the 1874 season in general, had a significant impact on the history of St. Louis baseball. It was the excitement generated by this series and the 1874 season, generally, that lead to the establishment of openly professional St. Louis clubs in the NA in 1875.
The whipping that the White Stockings put on the St. Louis clubs was also an important factor going into 1875 but both E.H. Tobias and Al Spink have written that that there was an outbreak of baseball fever in St. Louis in 1874. The Reds/Empire championship series was a major reason for that.
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