The Match Game of Base Ball Interrupted—The match game of base ball, on Gamble avenue, yesterday, was brought to a somewhat abrupt termination. While the game was in progress a German Home Guard came upon the field and persisted in remaining in the way of the players. After having been asked two or three times to retire behind the line he was then taken by the arm by the person appointed to keep the field clear, when he (the Home Guard) attempted to strike him. The blow was returned, the German going down. He then went away, and in about half an hour afterwards a detachment of Home Guards came and surrounded the whole field, creating quite a panic among a number of ladies and gentlemen who were assembled to witness the game. The order was given to take all the players to Turners’ Hall as prisoners, but Mr. Griswold (formerly a captain in the Home Guards) and a few others persuaded the acting captain of the Home Guards to withdraw his men from the field. The Guards were withdrawn.
-Missouri Republican, August 23, 1861
This is one of my favorite games in 19th century, St. Louis baseball history. I absolutely love this game and the legend that grew up around it. However, I never realized until I started doing this series that this was the Empires' challenge match.
For those who haven't been following, the Empire Club issued a challenge for a "friendly match" to any nine players in St. Louis on August 12, 1861. In the August 21, 1861 issue of the Republican, it was reported that a picked nine, made up of players from St. Louis, had accepted the challenge and the match was to be played on August 22 at Gamble Lawn. This is obviously that game and I can't believe that it took me until now to figure that out.
E.H. Tobias has the best version of the story of this game. It's not an accurate version but it includes some wonderful details that make me believe that Tobias was at this game. It's entirely possible that he could have been playing with the picked nine but there is no evidence to support that except for the fact that he had played with a picked nine on July 4, 1861.
Tobias' version appeared in The Sporting News on October 29, 1895:
The Empire Club was celebrating the anniversary of its organization by a match game between the married and single men on Gamble Lawn and as usual had erected their tent at a convenient spot for the safe keeping and change of clothing, ice water and other refreshments. From the tent pole was suspended a blue and gilt banner that originally had been presented by Col. John McNeil to one of the old volunteer fire companies, from whom it was inherited by the Empire Club. About the middle of the game when the large attendance, composed mostly of ladies and children, was getting at fever heat interest, it was suddenly discovered that the grounds were almost completely surrounded by detachments of Home Guards, a squad of whom marched straight to the middle of the field surprising the players and causing such consternation among the audience that it quickly dispersed amid the shrieks and cries of the terrorized women and children, and to the deep indignation of the members of the club, some few of whom giving way to their anger seized on bats, bases (they were movable in those days) and anything with which they could make a fight. Fruin sprung to the front of the soldiers, ordered the ball players back and caused a suspension of hostilities. Among the players, as an invited guest, was Capt. Griswold, an officer of in the Home Guards and a member of the Cyclone Club, who seconded Fruin’s peace-preserving efforts by addressing himself to the officer of the intruders, a somewhat fresh importation, from whom it was soon learned that they had been informed and so believed that the banner was a secession flag and the gathering was one of rebels. It was impossible to make the officer understand the truth of the situation. His “Dutch was up” owing to the imprecations and jeers that had been hurled upon him and his men and he would not be appeased without taking several players as prisoners to headquarters at Turner Hall on Tenth street just South of Market. As further proof of his prowess the officer also took along that much despised and fear provoking “Secesh” banner. At Turner Hall, Col. John McNeil was in command. He quickly recognized his own old banner and understood the situation by at once liberating the prisoners. It was owing mainly to Fruin’s ready action and control of his men that no actual conflict took place on the ball field, for one over-act on the part of a ball player would have doubtless caused an indiscriminate firing from the Home Guards, wherein the women and children would have suffered and perhaps another chapter of the “Slaughter of the Innocents” added to the history of those dark and troubled days.
The significance of this game has to do with the fact that the Civil War had an impact on baseball in St. Louis. As I always say, you can't separate the origins of the game in St. Louis from the Civil War. Just as the game was developing in the city, the war broke out. Players left to go off and fight. Clubs broke up because of political tensions and because men of ball-playing age were joining the war effort. There were probably clubs that would have formed but didn't. There were probably matches that would have been played but weren't. The natural evolution of the game in St. Louis was distorted because of the war.
Throughout the war, St. Louis was a city under martial law. While Provost Marshall was saying that everything was normal, it wasn't. If things were normal, you wouldn't have had the military interfering with and breaking up baseball games. That's not normal and it may very well have had a chilling effect on baseball activities in the city. I really don't know and I'm just speculating but I think that's something we should consider.