Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Blue Stockings Battle The Uniques And Their Fans

"On October 13, 1875, in the same ballpark where the Cicago White Stockings played their home games, two African-American baseball teams waged a heated contest. One club, the Blue Stockings, hailed from St. Louis; the other, the Uniques, were a local Chicago squad. Two days earlier, the visiting Blue Stockings had defeated the Uniques, 12-8, and now the home team sought with grim determination to earn a split in the rain-shortened series. This game, with its premature ending and violent undertones, illustrated that African-American ball clubs were just as caught up in the regional rivalry between St. Louis and Chicago as their white counterparts in the major leagues.

"The Blue Stockings trailed, 17-14, as they came to bat in the bottom half of the ninth inning. After the first two Blue Stockings batters reached base safely, the Uniques attempted to stall until the umpire called the game on account of darkness. However, when the Uniques' first baseman hid the game ball, umpire J.F. Thacker simply tossed another baseball to the pitcher and ordered the Uniques to 'play ball.' The Uniques refused to heed this admonition; as a consequence, the game abruptly ended. As the Blue Stockings tried to leave the ballfield, a stone-throwing mob approached them and inflicted severe injuries to two of their players, William Mitchell and William Pitts.

"A dispute ensued over the outcome of the game. According to the Chicago Tribune, umpire Thacker waved off the unfinished ninth inning and proclaimed the Uniques 15-14 winners in a darkness-shortened eight-inning contest. In a letter written to the Tribune, though, Thacker declared that the ball game had been forfeited to the Blue Stockings: 'My decision...is that, upon the refusal of the Uniques to proceed with the game and their concealing the ball when called upon to produce it, under the circumstances, the game belongs to the Blue Stockings by 9 to 0.'

From Jon David Cash's Before They Were Cardinals

This piece about the Blue Stockings appears in the appendix of Cash's fine book. One of the major themes of his book is the rivalry between St. Louis and Chicago, how it spilled over onto the diamond, and affected the baseball history of both cities. It's interesting that he was able to continue this theme in a short piece on race issues in 19th century baseball.

The Blue Stockings are just one more reason why, to me, 1875 is the most interesting year in the history of St. Louis baseball.

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