The young men of our city, on Monday evening last, perfected the organization of a "Ball Club," for the purpose of indulging in the old and popular pastime of "Base Ball." A Constitution, By-Laws, and set of Rules for the Government of the club were adopted, and the following officers were elected:
J.H. Hibbard, President; John Beilar, Vice President; J.M. Stanton, Secretary; and Thos. Dimmock, Treasurer.
The first game, under the organization, will be played this afternoon, at two o'clock, on what is known as "State House Square," in Middle Alton.
We make this announcement with unqualified pleasure, and hope that the Club will long flourish in active harmony. We understand that some sixty members have already enrolled their names, and it will probably increase to one hundred. The initiation fee is only twenty-five cents. the regular games will be played every Friday afternoon, at the hour named above. Young men whose business is of an in-door sedentary character should enter heartily into the games of this Club; they will derive much benefit therefrom.
-Alton Weekly Courier, June 3, 1858
Some time since we noticed the organisation, in our city, of a Base Ball Club. Since then, the Club has played from one to three games every week, the regular games being played on Friday afternoons, and the members have become very expert. Last week they accepted a challenge to play a match game with the Upper Alton Club. The game was played on Saturday afternoon, by twelve picked men from each Club, upon the Alton Club ground, in Middle Alton, the latter winning in five innings, by one hundred and thirty-four rounds. The game stood at the close: Alton Club, 224 rounds; Upper Alton Club, 90 rounds. We are told, however, that the Upper Alton boys played at a disadvantage, being on strange ground, and three of their best players being sick. It is admitted by some of the members of the winning Club, that had the advantages been equal, the contest would have been a close one, and the result perhaps entirely different. We presume it will be tried again.
-Alton Weekly Courier, June 24, 1858
The Alton Base-Ball Club. - Pursuant to notice, a meeting was held on the evening of May 18, to organize a club, on which occasion J.H. Hibbard was called to the chair. The chairman made a few remarks, explanatory of the object of the organization, the meting proceeded to elect officers, J.J. Hibbard was duly elected President; John Bailer, Vice-President; J.M. Stauton, Secretary; Thomas Diminock, Treasurer; A.J. Hawley, Br. Hez. Williams and E.T. Sneernigen, Executive Committee.
The Upper Alton Base Ball Club, the name of the officers I am not in receipt of , which was organized a short time after, sent us a challenge to play a match game, on Saturday, the 19th of June, which was accepted by our club; each side had five innings, and thirteen players each, with the following result:
The Alton Base-Ball Club made...224 rounds
The Upper Alton Base-Ball Club made...90 rounds
L.B. Sidway, George S. Ferguson, Joseph Quigley, scorers and umpires. I remain your obd't servant, One of the A.B.B.C.
-Porter's Spirit of the Times, Volume 4, Number 20 (July 17, 1858)
For those unfamiliar with the geography of the St. Louis area, Alton is 25 miles north of St. Louis - straight up the river. It is very much a part of the St. Louis metropolitan area. I consider these references to American baseball in Alton in 1858 to be the earliest, specific references to baseball in the St. Louis area.
There is an argument to be made against that idea and I understand it. Because of transportation and communication limitations in the antebellum era, it's entirely possible to think of Alton as a unique culture and this baseball variant to be unique to Alton. That is all entirely possible. However, I would argue that Alton was, essentially, a satellite of St. Louis. It was heavily influenced by trade with St. Louis and economically dominated by St. Louis. I would also argue that this dominance of St. Louis over Alton extended to culture. Alton was, even in the antebellum era, a part of the greater St. Louis area.
The biggest problem I have is that I don't have any detailed references like this from St. Louis proper. My assumption is that what was being played in Alton was the St. Louis baseball variant or, rather, that the game of baseball played in St. Louis and Alton, due to the cultural interconnectedness of the two cities, was the same. My assumption extends to Edwardsville and East St. Louis and St. Charles and the other satellite cities of St. Louis. But I can't prove that because I don't have the necessary data. So...I'm just going to call this version of the game the Alton baseball variant.
Before we start looking at the details of the Alton variant, just think about what I've been talking about for the last week and how we got here - to Alton, in 1858. The New York game is just beginning to experience its first blush of popularity and the vast, vast majority of ball games being played in the United States was a local variant of American baseball. The New York variant, that would come to dominate the American sports scene, was just one of those.
Bat and ball games had been spreading across the Trans-Appalachian West for almost a hundred years at this point. These games had morphed and changed and evolved into what we call the American family of baseball games or, simply, American baseball. The defining characteristics of this game were batting, pitching, safe-haven base running, and defensive fielding as part of a game played between two sides that alternated between offense and defense. That was the essence of American baseball - everything else was just detail.
We know, based upon these references, that American baseball was being played in Alton in 1858. Not only was it being played but you had clubs organized around the playing of the game. It's just amazing that we have this information. There are plenty of baseball clubs in existence in 1858 - playing both the New York game and the local variant - but the Alton Base Ball Club and the Upper Alton Base Ball Club are the only two we know of in the St. Louis area. The references to these clubs predate references to a St. Louis club by over a year. But my main point is that American baseball had matured and evolved to this point - where you have clubs organized in Alton, Illinois, around the playing of that game. This is, essentially, the end of a story that began at Jamestown and, more specifically for us, just outside of Knoxville in 1795. Now, I'm going to keep talking about the subject for a bit and go over some of the references that we have to American baseball in the city of St. Louis but none of those sources are as good as these. For me, this is the denouement.
So what do we know about the Alton variant? Shockingly, not a lot. These references give us a few details about how the game was played but the really important thing about these details is that it allows to state specifically that this was not the New York game, as codified by the 1845, 1854, and 1857 rule sets. We have just enough details to know that this was a local variant.
We know the following:
1) There were either twelve or thirteen men a side. You probably think that's odd because you're so used to thinking of baseball as being played by nine a side but really it's not that big a deal. The number of people per side in an American baseball game was always malleable. When you were playing a baseball game without foul territory, you can have almost any number of people per side. We know of many games played by the Knickerbockers where you had twelve or thirteen guys a side. The number of people playing in a game was never an essential feature of the game. You can play with nine, ten, twelve, fifteen or however many you wanted per side. Didn't matter. Although, interestingly, the length of the game was often determined by how many people you had per side. For some reason, nine guy per side ended up being a nine inning game. Ten guys a side was a ten inning game and so on.
2) They played five innings in a game. But I'm not sure if that's actually true. What we know for a fact is that they played five innings in the game that we have a record of. That doesn't necessarily mean that the Alton variant was a five inning game. A lot of American baseball games were played to a certain tally - first to 21 wins or something like that. Maybe the Alton variant was first to 200. Based upon what I just got done saying, I would expect the Alton variant to be a twelve or thirteen inning game. And it's possible that it was. Maybe it got dark and they had to stop the game. Maybe the game was called because of a kind of mercy rule. Or maybe they just played five inning games in Alton. I don't know.
3) A tally was called a round rather than a run or an ace. I think that's a fairly unique term for a score in American baseball. I can't remember who it was but I was talking to somebody about these references a few years back and I do remember them talking about the use of the term round and how unique that was. Looking through my notes, I don't find the term used in any of the references to town ball that I have so I don't know where it comes from. It may just be a weird, little quirk of the Alton variant.
So there's not a lot of information there about how the game was played - there's some but not a lot. There's a great deal of information about the clubs and how everything was organized and that's really neat. But I can't tell you how many bases they used or in which direction they ran them. Was a ball caught on the bound an out? Don't know. And that's okay. It doesn't matter how much information you give me, I'm going to have questions and want more. It's my nature. The important thing is that these sources exist, that we know that these clubs existed, and that this game was played. We know that there was a local baseball variant played in Alton in 1858. Do I want more information? Of course I do. But I'm happy to have what I have.
Like I said, the next thing I'm going to talk about is the references to the local variant that we have from St. Louis proper. And I might talk about town ball in Ste. Gen. Maybe. Not sure if I'm going to get that up tomorrow or not. I have a thing at work and I'm probably going to be there for about twelve hours. But I'll have it up by Thursday evening at the latest. And, by the way, if you haven't noticed, I'm totally off my old schedule of posting. My work schedule has changed in the last few months and that changes how I'm posting. Plus, these posts are pretty labor intensive so they're taking more time to put together. I think they're worth it and once I get through this stuff, I'm sure I'll find a groove where I can put together a series of posts and have them all queued up. But, all in all, I have no worries and I'm happy to have my platform back.