I can go on and on and on about the question of the first St. Louis baseball club and the fact that I've been working on a long-form piece on the subject for well over a year proves that. I haven't even really touched on Ed Bredell and the possibility of his having been exposed to the New York game while he was at Brown University. I haven't touched on the influence of Yankee merchants and the influx of Eastern immigrants into St. Louis in the antebellum era. I haven't mentioned the influence of railroads and newspapers and the new technologies that helped spread the game. I haven't mentioned how protobaseball games spread across the Trans-Appalachian West and how that spread pattern is very similar to settlement patterns and what those patterns tell us about the spread of the New York game. I haven't mentioned the importance of social clubs in antebellum America. It's an endlessly fascinating subject to me and it all ends with the spread of the game into St. Louis and the formation of the best baseball club in the city.
Instead of talking about all of that, I'm going to just put a cap on this and get back to the Baldwin Affair. And towards that end, I'm just going to tell you what I think happened. I think I've given you more than enough evidence to support what I'm going to tell you here and more than enough evidence so that you understand that this is all speculation. It is all speculation but it's also based on an understanding of the cumulative weight of all of the evidence I've gathered over the last decade. It's a guess but it's an educated guess.
The easiest thing to do would be to say that the Unknown Club was the first baseball club in St. Louis history. That's what the contemporary source material tells us. But the fact that I can't tell you for a fact that they were playing the New York game is a problem for me. The fact that they didn't form until August 1, 1859, is another. I can't say that they weren't the first club but the farthest I'm really willing to go with the Unknowns is to say that they are the first St. Louis baseball club I'm aware of to be mentioned in the contemporary source material. That's something but it's not everything.
I have four members of the Cyclone Club who claim that their club was the first baseball club ever formed in St. Louis. I have three members who claim the club formed in the summer of 1859. I have E.H. Tobias, who I have the utmost respect for, not contradicting that statement and, in a different source, stating the Cyclones formed in 1859. The predominance of the secondary source material supports the idea that the Cyclones were the first baseball club in St. Louis history and that they formed in the summer of 1859.
I believe that the weight of evidence supports the Cyclone Thesis. It is not conclusive. I do not have all of the evidence that I would like. I do not have a smoking gun that proves it. But after a decade of researching the subject, the Cyclone Thesis is the best argument I can put forward as to who the first club was and when they were formed.
I really don't have any doubt that the Cyclones formed before the Empires, the Unions, or the Commercials. I really don't have any doubt that the Cyclones were playing the New York game in St. Louis before the Morning Stars were. The only real questions I have - and I take these seriously - concern the type of game the Unknown Club was playing and whether or not the Cyclones formed prior to August 1, 1859. If the Unknowns were playing the local baseball variant then they were not the first St. Louis baseball club in the sense that we're using the term. If the Cyclones formed prior to August 1, 1859, then, again, the Unknowns were not the first club. So, in the end, it comes down to either the Cyclones or the Unknowns and, as I said, I believe the weight of the evidence supports the Cyclones claim to being the first baseball club in St. Louis history.
Given all of that, what do I think happened?
In the late 1850s, you had several clubs in the St. Louis area playing the local baseball variant. You had two clubs in Alton, the Morning Stars in St. Louis, and, possibly, the Unknowns. There may have been more that we're unaware of but the local variant was popular and was being played at various locations around the city.
Ed Bredell, Jr., went to Brown University, at Providence, Rhode Island, in 1855 and was still there in 1856. He may have been there the following year but I can't say that for certain. The important thing is that Bredell was probably exposed to the New York game while at university. Brown University played a significant role in the history of collegiate athletics and, specifically, in the history of collegiate baseball. Providence, itself, had a history of ball-playing that dated back, at least, to the 1820s, a baseball club was formed there in 1857, and Brown had baseball clubs by the early 1860s. I have little doubt that baseball was being played in Providence and at Brown when Bredell was there and it's likely that he first played the game while a university student. At the very least, Bredell most likely saw the New York game being played while a student in Providence.
This is significant because Bredell was the co-founder of the Cyclone Club. Everybody always talks about Merritt Griswold because his connection to the game in Brooklyn prior to his coming to St. Louis is known. Bredell's connection to the game is something that very few people are aware of and is an extremely important data point. He was more than likely exposed to the game and played the game while at university and then returns to St. Louis in the late 1850s with a knowledge and love of the game.
I think it's also important when you consider Bredell and Griswold's relationship. Bredell was Griswold's boss. He was the business manager of the Missouri Glass Company and while I describe the two men as co-workers, the fact is that Griswold worked for Bredell and his father. I like the description of the founding of the Cyclone Club in the 1895 Republic article that states that Griswold put the club together under the "exertions" of Bredell. That makes a lot of sense when you know that Bredell already had a knowledge of the New York game and that he was Griswold's boss.
So the Missouri Glass Company opens on May 29, 1859, and Bredell, Jr., is the business manager. Merritt Griswold arrives in St. Louis shortly thereafter and gets a job with the firm. He had been playing baseball in Brooklyn as late as October of 1858 and had been playing with various clubs in Brooklyn for several years. He was a baseball player and someone who loved the game. He comes to a town with a history of ball-playing and that had several clubs playing the local baseball variant. Griswold probably didn't realize it at the time but he had moved from one hotbed of baseball to another.
But Griswold quickly discovers that he had moved to a baseball town. He becomes aware of the Morning Stars and has discussions with them about the proper way to play baseball. I'm sure he quickly found out that the young business manager he worked with was a baseball fan who had played the New York game while at school in the East. Griswold and Bredell strike up a natural friendship through their mutual love of baseball. And the two decide to form a baseball club. This is how the Cyclone Club came about.
The major question is, again, when exactly this happened. It could not have happened prior to May 29, 1859. If we assume that Griswold began work with the Missouri Glass Company when it opened, he and Bredell could have easily formed the club in June of 1859, which fits perfectly with the summer of 1859 founding date given by former members of the club. That's a big assumption and is probably the biggest hole in the Thesis. But I think it makes sense.
My best guess is that Griswold was in St. Louis in May of 1859. My best guess is that he was working at the Missouri Glass Company when it opened. My best guess is that he and Bredell struck up a friendship at that time. Based on all of those assumptions and my understanding of the source material, my best guess is that the Cyclone Base Ball Club of St. Louis formed in June of 1859.
My best guess is that the Cyclones were playing the New York game by June of 1859 and that they were the first baseball club in the city to do so.