In his epistolary history of early St. Louis baseball, that appeared in The Sporting News from October of 1895 to February of 1896, Edmund Tobias mentioned a game that took place on May 22, 1870, between the Aetnas and the Atlantics. The game was not of particular importance, as it did not have any real impact on the St. Louis championship of that season, and Tobias devoted only a single sentence noting that the game took place. However, Tobias did include a box score for the game and it is in that box score that we find the beginnings of the Red Stocking Base Ball Club.i
It is interesting to note that there is little in the historical record noting the formation of the Red Stocking club. There is a great deal of information about the formation of some of the antebellum St. Louis clubs, such as the Cyclones, the Empires, and the Unions, and there is a tremendous amount of information about the formation of the 1875 Brown Stockings and Von der Ahe's Browns. However, we really don't know how the Red Stocking club came to be and what we do know is largely inferred from Tobias' work. Just as it is necessary to speculate on how and why Thomas McNeary got involved in the business of baseball, we have to take the few references we get from Tobias and speculate as to their greater meaning.
The game between the Aetnas and the Atlantics – which the Atlantics lost 20 to 13 – is one of those small tidbits of information that Tobias gives us that sheds some light upon the origins of the Red Stockings. Within the box score, we find two names. Pitching for the Atlantics that day was “Morgan” and playing centerfield for the club was “Dillon.” Tobias provides us with no more information about these two players but it is almost certain that the pitcher was Daniel Morgan and it is likely that the outfielder was Patrick Dillon. Pidge Morgan and Packy Dillon were two of the core members of the Reds club and it appears that they got their start, playing baseball in St. Louis, with the Atlantics.
As noted, the box score does not tell us that this is Pidge Morgan and Packy Dillon but there is evidence to support this idea. Tobias does note, later in his narrative, that Morgan had played for the Atlantics, prior to the 1871 season, and given that there were no other Morgans of significant note playing baseball in St. Louis at this time, the pitcher for the Atlantics in May of 1870 must have been Pidge Morgan.ii The reference to Dillon is a bit trickier. Besides Patrick Henry Dillon, there were two other Dillons who played baseball in St. Louis during this era. First, there was F.C. Dillon, who was a member and officer of the Union Club, but it is unlikely that such a prominent member of the Unions was playing with the Atlantics in 1870. Another possibility is John Dillon, the brother of Packy Dillon, who is best remembered for appearing in one National Association game with the Reds in 1875. However, there is little evidence that John Dillon had much of a baseball career and there is no doubt that his brother was the better player of the two. Packy Dillon would have a long baseball career, playing with a number of clubs, and he was noted for being a fine player who could play multiple positions. Therefore it is much more likely that the Dillon playing the outfield for the Atlantics in May of 1870 was Patrick rather than John. It should also be noted that Morgan and Packy Dillon were the same age and, therefore, were more likely to be playing together than Morgan and someone like F.C. Dillon, who had been playing with the Unions in the immediate post-war years.
None of this evidence, by itself, is conclusive but it is not all of the information that Tobias gives us. In the December 28, 1895 issue of The Sporting News, he gives two very important clues, one of which supports some of the ideas developed out of the reference to the May 1870 Atlantic game against the Aetnas. Specifically, he wrote about two new clubs that took the field in 1871, the Varieties and the St. Louis Juniors. The Varieties, Tobias stated, were a club “that had been but recently organized and having for its foundation five seceders from the Atlantic Club, viz. Peters, Morgan, Mathea, Dubuque and Williard...”iii Here we find the specific reference to Pidge Morgan having been a member of the Atlantic Club, as well as a reference to two other future member of the Reds, John Paul Peters and John Mathae. The St. Louis Juniors, Tobias wrote, “was composed entirely of mechanics, formerly connected with the Atlantic, Jr., and they located on the old Veto grounds, near the Pacific machine shops, with Joe Blong president.”iv
The reference to the St. Louis Juniors is extremely significant and includes several pieces of information that have bearing on the origins of the Reds. First, the president of the club was Joe Blong, who was one of the core members of the Red Stockings. Second, the club played at the Veto Grounds, where Thomas McNeary would build the Compton Avenue Grounds, the home ballpark of the Reds. Finally, the St. Louis Juniors was made up of former members of the Atlantic Juniors, the junior affiliate of the Atlantic Base Ball Club.
To make things much more clear, Tobias would later write that the original Red Stocking Base Ball Club of 1873 was made up of players who had been members of the Varieties and St. Louis clubs.v As we've shown, both of those clubs had an affiliation with the Atlantic Base Ball Club of St. Louis. Morgan, Peters, and Mathae all had been members of the Atlantics and had broken away to form the Varieties. Blong had been a member of the Atlantic Juniors and had formed a new junior club, affiliated with the St. Louis Club, that played at the Veto Grounds. Packy Dillon most likely played with the Atlantics and it is possible that he and John McSorley, another future member of the Reds, played with Blong on those junior clubs.
In these few, scant references that we get from Tobias, one can make out the beginnings of the Red Stocking Club. The players who would go one to make up the core of the club, beginning in 1873, knew each other and many had been playing together since at least 1870. They were familiar with and had played at the grounds where their home park would be built, just a few blocks south of Thomas McNeary's tavern. There were other things that these players had in common – such as age, nationality, and school ties – but, at the heart of this, is a club that evolved out of the old Atlantic Base Ball Club of St. Louis.
i Tobias, E.H.; The Sporting News; December 14, 1895.
ii Tobias, E.H.; The Sporting News; December 28, 1895.
v Tobias, E.H.; The Sporting News; January 4, 1896.