The new Cincinnati club has accepted the proposition of the St. Louis Brown Stockings to play at the opening of the Grand avenue Park at St. Louis Sunday, May 17. The team will probably be: W. White, pitcher; Miller, catcher; John Rielly, first base; Booth, second base; Shoupe, short-stop; Ellick, third base, and Malloy, W. Rielly and Deagle in the field.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat,, April 27, 1881
But I think it's time for a change. The history of baseball in 19th century St. Louis is rich and, while I'm fascinated by the pioneer era, I think I've been neglecting some interesting subject matter. So to correct that I'm going to talk about the 1881 season for awhile.
The other day I was randomly going through my files and found all kinds of stuff on the 1881 baseball season in St. Louis that I had forgotten I had. I was actually looking for some stuff on the Empire Club, saw a file named "1881," and thought to myself, "Now what can this be?" Turns out the file contained two documents with what I think is all of the references to baseball that appeared in the Globe-Democrat that year. It has all kinds of good stuff on the Brown Stockings, the Red Stockings, Chris Von der Ahe, and what would be the rebirth of major league baseball in St. Louis.
I've always described the period between 1877 and 1882 as the Interregnum. After the NL Brown Stockings folded following the 1877 season, St. Louis did not have a major league baseball club until the advent of the American Association and Von der Ahe's Brown Stockings in 1882. For four seasons, the highest level of baseball played in the city was of the minor, professional, independent variety. During this in-between period, there were attempts by the high guardians of baseball culture in St. Louis to reestablish a major league club but these plans all failed until Von der Ahe helped to establish the AA. In 1881, we really see the beginnings of what would be the restoration of professional baseball in St. Louis and the end of the Interregnum.
So what I propose to do here is post all of the material I have from the Globe in 1881, with whatever additional material that I think is important, and tell the story of how baseball in St. Louis rose from the ashes of the Interregnum. The 1881 season is the story of the Restoration of major league baseball in St. Louis. It is also the story of Chris Von der Ahe's beginnings as a baseball magnate as well as the beginnings of the American Association.
But enough of the introductory bit. What's going on in April of 1881?
There are a couple of things I want to point out here. First, it was really important for the St. Louis baseball market to get outside clubs to visit. I think it was Al Spink who wrote about the difficulties that they had during the Interregnum in getting big clubs to come to St. Louis. Even the White Stockings of Chicago, who had been coming to St. Louis since the early 1870s, had stopped coming. The baseball market in St. Louis had collapsed. Interest in the game was at the lowest point that it would ever be in the city. Nobody could draw a crowd. Some of that had to do with the fallout from the collapse of the NL Brown Stockings and some of it had to do with difficult economic conditions. But professional baseball was in bad shape in St. Louis and there was no guarantee that it would survive.
What we begin to see in 1881 is the beginnings of growth in the St. Louis baseball market and in professional baseball, in general, across the nation. We see baseball coming back in St. Louis and Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and places like that. We see an improvement and growth in places that the National League had abandoned during the difficult economic conditions of the late 1870s. As these markets were essentially shutout of the highest level of professional baseball, we see them, informally, banding together in a kind of loose association in 1881 that would lead to the establishment of the American Association the following year. The relationship between the Cincinnati and St. Louis clubs was important to that end and, in April of 1881, we see the beginnings of the relationship.
The other thing I want to point out is that the third baseman mentioned in the article was Joe Ellick, who was from Cincinnati and had played with the NA Red Stockings of St. Louis in 1875. I always figured that was Joe Ellick but, when I tried to confirm it, I found it difficult to do so. I had something in my notes about Ellick playing in Kansas City in October of 1881 and that made me doubt myself. There was a mention, in Major League Baseball Profiles, of Ellick playing with the Cincinnati Buckeyes but it's a bit difficult to say what year they were talking about. Also, there is nothing about Ellick at Baseball Reference for this period. So I had to poke around a bit and, finally, found this:
A new base ball team is now being formed in Cincinnati. It is composed of Will White, pitcher; George Miller, catcher; John Reilly, first base; Booth, second base; Jack Shaupe, or Bushalow, short-stop; Joe Ellick, third base; Joe Sommers, left field; Billy Reilly, centre field; Mollay, right field.
-The National Polic Gazette (NY), May 7, 1881
This particular game did not come off as scheduled. There was, shockingly, a lot of rain in St. Louis in May of 1881 and the Grand Avenue Grounds were not ready until May 22. But, as we'll see, the two clubs did get a couple of games in at the end of the month.