We noticed a few days since that the Empire Base Ball club of Freeport had issued a general challenge to all clubs in the West for a series of match games. We are informed that the Empire base ball club, of St. Louis, sent the Freeport club a challenge some time since, naming Chicago as the place. To this the Freeport club demerred, claiming the right as the challenged party to select the ground for the first match. We are informed that a meeting of our Empire boys was held last night to take the matter into consideration, and we have no doubt the Freeporters will find that no quibble will be allowed to stand in the way of a fair and manly contest.
-St. Louis Daily Press, June 7, 1865
With the war over and things in the process of returning to normal, baseball, in St. Louis and across the country, was about to experience a phenomenal explosion in its popularity. This post-war baseball fever saw exponential growth in the number of clubs and games played. St. Louis would go from around fifteen or so clubs in 1865 to over 70 clubs in 1866, with even more being added throughout the rest of the decade. And St. Louis wasn't unique in this. The nation, as a whole, experienced similar growth, as almost every town in the country would have a baseball club by the early 1870s.
Baseball in St. Louis, in the decade following the war, can almost be defined entirely by the exploits of the Empire Club. They were, over the course of that decade, the best club in the city. They were involved in every big game. They were either defending the city and state championship or were in the process of regaining it - every single season from 1865 through 1875. There were other very good clubs that stepped up to challenge them and that sometimes beat them. The Union Club won the city and state championship in 1867 and were the Empire Clubs great rival. The Red Stockings came very close, in 1873 and 1874, to dethroning the Empires. But there was no club in St. Louis that experienced the sustained success over the course of a decade that the Empire Club did. They were the first great baseball club in St. Louis history.
The Empire Club's claim to the mythical Championship of the West in 1865 is an important part of their historical legacy and, over the course of this series of posts, we'll explore how that came about.