When it comes down to the question of who was the first club, I've boiled my thinking down to what I call the Cyclone Thesis. This is nothing new or groundbreaking but, rather, a restatement of what I believe the evidence suggests. Also, it restates all of this as a premise to be argued rather than as a fact to be understood. That's an important distinction because we simply don't have any kind of smoking gun that shows us, conclusively, who the first club in St. Louis history was. We have an abundance of evidence, some of which is stronger than others and some of which is contradictory. The Cyclone Thesis takes all of the evidence, weighs it, shifts it, and constructs the best possible argument in support of its conclusion.
So what is this thing?
The Cyclone Thesis posits the following: The Cyclone Base Ball Club of St. Louis was the first baseball club in St. Louis history and they began playing in the summer of 1859.
Like I said, nothing groundbreaking or unique. I'm not the first guy who's stated that the Cyclones were the first St. Louis baseball club. I do feel some responsibility, however, for pushing the idea out there. I've pushed the idea online and in print to the point that I feel that I've added to what has become conventional wisdom. I've seen people cite my work in support of the idea that the Cyclones were the first club and while I'm not claiming that I have some kind of strong influence on people's thinking about all of this, I do recognize that I have some kind of reputation as being an "expert" on 19th century St. Louis baseball. Whether that reputation is earned or not, I'll let others decide but what I haven't seen is my rethinking about the Cyclones and the earliest clubs in St. Louis, which has been going on for three years now, penetrate the conventional wisdom. It's a complicated thing that I'm doing - probably overly complicated - and that may be why it's not getting through. Also, I'm probably - and likely - not doing a good job of communicating it. I've been working on a long-form piece dealing with all of this for well over a year and I'm still not done. That's one of the reasons I'm talking about it now.
But what's important to understand here is that there is no smoking gun proving any of this. Everything is argument. I like to think that it's all based on reason and logic but the fact remains that it's argument rather than fact. Someone asked me the other week, when I was speaking at the History Museum, about the Cyclones being the first club and I basically hemmed and hawed my way through the answer. Well on one hand, this. On the other, this. There is no easy answer.
With all of that said and out of the way, let's get into this.
When writing about the Union Club last week, I said that Tobias stated that the club formed in 1859 and that was the earliest reference to a club formation that he mentioned. I don't know why I wrote that because it isn't exactly true. Tobias, in the October 29, 1895, issue of The Sporting News, wrote the following:
The Cyclone Club came into existence in 1859 and included in its membership some of the brightest young men of St. Louis, among them a number of whom have left the impress of their handiwork in almost every honorable calling.
We also have this, from the April 21, 1895, issue of the St. Louis Republic:
In the summer of 1859 a meeting was held in the office of the old Missouri Glass Company, on fifth street between Pine and Olive. M.W. Griswold, a clerk in the company's store, who had lately moved to St. Louis from Brooklyn, N.Y., an enthusiast on baseball, aided by the exertions of Ed Bredele, had gathered together the nucleus of a club, and after one or two preliminary meetings, the Cyclone Baseball Club was formed, the first in St. Louis, and the first west of the Alleghanies.
I think I've stated this before but the fact that Edmund Tobias is saying in two different sources that the Cyclones were founded in 1859 and, in one of them, that they were the first club in St. Louis history is significant. Despite his errors, Tobias is a trusted source. He lived in St. Louis during this period. He played with the Commercial Club during the war years and with the Empires during the post-war years. And we have him saying that the Cyclones were founded before two of the clubs he played with. If Tobias didn't believe that the Cyclones were the first club - if he believed the Commercials or Empires or whoever had formed first - I don't believe he would have written this. He was there. He was a witness to and participant in these events. Even if he's just basing his writings on the testimony of former Cyclone members, if Tobias had contradictory evidence or remembered things differently, I believe he would have mentioned it.
The other important source, regarding the formation of the Cyclone Club, is, of course, Merritt Griswold, who, in his letter to Al Spink, wrote the following:
At this same time [as he was publishing the rules of the game in a St. Louis newspaper] I was organizing the first baseball club, "The Cyclone," which name was suggested by one of its members, Mr. Whitney, of the Boatman's Savings Bank...
Soon after the organization of "The Cyclone" several others were started, viz: "Morning Stars," "The Empire," "The Commercial" and later on several others.
Well, not exactly. It is extremely necessary to look at all of this with a critical eye and that's what I'll do in my next post.