The more pertinent question is were they playing the New York game in St. Louis in 1859? And that question does not lend itself to a short, easy answer.
There is no doubt that a local baseball variant was being played in St. Louis in 1859. There is plenty of evidence to suggest this. There is contemporary evidence of two clubs in Alton in 1858 playing a local variant and if you had clubs in Alton, I always argue, than you had them in St. Louis. Richard Perry stated that the Morning Star club was playing "town ball" in St. Louis two years before the war, which I find believable, and Merritt Griswold stated that the Morning Stars were playing town ball when he first ran into the club. Also, there is a reference in the St. Louis Daily Bulletin, from June of 1860, that refers to the "good old social game of baseball, which we used so much to delight in when a student" and that, to me, implies that the game had been played in St. Louis for some time. On top of that, Tobias notes that "town ball" was popular in St. Louis prior to the advent of the New York game in the city. So we have plenty of evidence to support the idea that baseball was being played in St. Louis in 1859 and the years prior to that.
But we're talking about the New York game and none of that evidence proves that the game was being played in St. Louis in 1859. It does, however, support the idea. I've argued, in the past, that the fact that a local baseball variant was popular in St. Louis in the antebellum era and that there were clubs organized around the playing of that game made it easier for the New York game to take root in the city. Everything the New York game needed to take root was already in place. You had clubs, players, equipment, places to play, and an acceptance of and openness to adult men playing a ball game. There was already a familiarity with the game or, rather, a form of the game. St. Louis was fertile soil for the New York game and the immediate popularity of the game in the city is evidence of this. The fact that the game not only survived the war years but thrived during the Civil War also supports this.
And we also find this interesting little tidbit in the contemporary sources:
CLUB ORGANIZED, - A base ball club was organized in St. Louis, Mo, on the 1st inst. It boasts of being the first organization of the kind in that city, but will not, surely, long stand alone. It numbers already 18 members, officers as follows: President, C. D. Paul; Vice do, J. T. Haggerty; Secretary, C. Thurber; Treasurer, E. R. Paul. They announce their determination to be ready to play matches in about a month.
-New York Clipper, September 3, 1859
But nothing is ever easy and I have some problems with this source.
The biggest problem I have is that there is no evidence in this source to suggest that this unnamed club (who I usually refer to as the Unknown Club) played the New York game. Simply stating that this club played baseball is not evidence that they played the New York game. The local baseball variant in St. Louis was often called "base ball," as well as "town ball." And this is a problem we come across when dealing with the early source material. You may stumble across a reference to "base ball" or "ball" or a "ball game" or something like that and it really tells you nothing about what kind of ball game was being played. The 1858 Alton clubs, for example, were called base ball clubs but they weren't playing the New York game. Those clubs were playing a five-inning, thirteen-men-a-side game. That was a form of baseball but it wasn't "baseball." The Unknown Club may have been playing the New York game - and I think that this source coming from the Clipper lends some credence to that - but there is no way, based simply on this one source, to say that for a fact.
The other problem is that there is no evidence that this club ever actually played a game. Tobias does not mention this club in his early history of St. Louis baseball and I can't find any other source that mentions the club. I can't find any reference to Thurber, the Pauls, or Haggerty playing baseball in St. Louis. It's possible that they formed in the summer of 1859 and played intramural games. Most baseball games of this era were intramural games played within a given club. Match games, played between two clubs, were rare. And if they were the first St. Louis club, they wouldn't have had anyone to play anyway. So the lack of any kind of public, contemporary record regard games played is not a huge surprise but what is troubling is the complete lack of references to this club or its members in the secondary source material. Nothing in Tobias. Nothing in Spink. Nothing in any of the articles that appeared in the 1890s chronicling the pioneer era. Nothing.
There is also nothing about this club in the 1860 material. As little as I know about what was going on in 1859, I know pretty much everything about what was happening in the summer of 1860. And this club just isn't mentioned. I know the clubs that were playing in 1860. I know the officers of the clubs. I know what match games were played. There is no evidence that this club was playing in St. Louis in 1860. And that leads me to believe that this club did not survive very long. My best guess is that the Unknown Club formed on August 1, 1859, and did not reorganize for the 1860 season.
Were they playing the New York game? I just don't know and really don't have a good feel for it. I go back and forth on it. The fact the reference appeared in the Clipper is weak support for the idea that they were playing the New York game. But it is some kind of support. However, there is something that Merritt Griswold wrote in the Missouri Democrat in April of 1860 that rings in my ears. When he published the rules of baseball, as codified by the National Convention, in the Democrat that year, Griswold wrote that the "Convention recognizes no playing unless in strict conformity to these rules and regulations." What he was saying was that baseball is a game played according to these rules and only these rules. Anything else is not baseball. I think this was a message to all of the other baseball clubs and players in St. Louis at the time. I think it was a message to the Morning Stars and the Unknown Club and to any other club or players we currently don't know about. You guys, Griswold was saying, may be playing "baseball" but you're not playing baseball.
And that brings us to the real question about 1859. Was the Cyclone Club playing in 1859? I'll tackle that tomorrow. It may take a couple of days to cover it all.