Several of the boys on the floor have laughed at me because I played ball with the flour men's nine, but I want it understood that there is no older ball player in the city than I, and there are very few who have played the game as long as I have. About two years before the war there was a town-ball club that played every morning on the Carr square. I could not call the names of any of the others except Joe Franklin, but he and I were both members of the club. It was called the Morning Star, and we played from 5:30 o'clock until 7 o'clock every morning. Nearly all of us moved to the neighborhood of Twenty-second and the Pacific Railroad, and we continued our game there. Then base-ball was started in the East, and our secretary wrote on for the rules of the game. We received a little book that told how it was played, and we changed our name to the Morning Star Base-Ball Club, and that was the first club organized, and we played the first game of base-ball west of the Mississippi River.
-Richard Perry, quoted in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 24, 1887
Interestingly, I can argue that they may have been the first organized "base ball" club in St. Louis. If they were playing in 1858, as Perry insinuates, they very well may have been the first organized ball club in the city. We know that there were two ball clubs in Alton in 1858 but we have no contemporary evidence of any other ball clubs in the area until September of 1859.
Now, I'm not talking about the New York game here but, rather, the local baseball variant. If you want to call that town ball, fine. There is evidence of the local St. Louis baseball variant being called both town ball and base ball. But the Morning Stars weren't playing the New York game in 1858 or 1859. They weren't playing what we think of when we think of baseball and Perry does a good job of explaining that.
Now, as great as this source is, there is one major problem with it and that is that it's not a contemporary reference. It's talking about events that took place almost thirty years in the past and the memory of man is fallible. It's entirely possible that Richard Perry is not remembering things correctly. He has a lot of things right. There is plenty of stuff that he says that others have said. We have other sources that state that the Morning Stars started as a town ball club. We have other sources that state they played at Carr Park. We have other sources that state that Joe Franklin was a member of the club. We have other sources that state they played in the first match game in St. Louis history. But this is the only source that states that the Morning Stars were the first baseball club in St. Louis. Also, Perry's account of how the club learned of the New York game and began playing it conflicts with Merritt Griswold's account.
So this is a great source. It's an important source. But it has to be balanced against other sources. In the end, you trust some sources more than others and I've always had the utmost trust in Griswold as a source while having doubts about Perry. I really can't say why that it is. It may come down to something as simple as tone of voice. Griswold comes across as a more serious man than Perry and, therefore, more deserving of trust.
That's a really interesting question that I've never considered before. Why do I trust Griswold more than Perry? I've always considered Griswold's letter to Al Spink to be the most important source when it comes to constructing an account of early baseball in St. Louis and one of the reasons I think that is that Griswold's account of events stands up to fact-checking. There are a lot of things in his letter that I can prove and I always considered that to be evidence of Griswold's veracity. But, really, the same applies to Perry. I just gave you a list of things in the Perry source that I believe to be true based on the fact that other sources confirm them. The Perry source stands up to fact-checking just as well as the Griswold source.
Most of my efforts now, when it comes to constructing an argument about who was the first baseball club in St. Louis history, has to do with questioning my assumptions regarding the Cyclone Club. I believe that the Cyclone Club was the first club in St. Louis but I can't prove it. I can put together a good argument in support of the thesis but I just don't have the sources to prove it. But I can also construct an argument for the Morning Stars. Or the Empires. Or the Commercials. Or the Unions. Some of those arguments would be stronger than others and I think that the argument for the Morning Stars, based on the Perry source, has to be considered.
In the end, we have to be honest about what we know and what we don't know. We have to be honest about what we can argue, based on contemporary evidence, and what we can argue, based simply on deductive reasoning. What I want you to take from all of this is the fact that any conclusions about who the first baseball club in St. Louis was are based on either deductive reasoning or ignorance. No one knows who the first baseball club in St. Louis was. No one can prove who it was. Any statements that I make on the subject are, at this point, heavily qualified.