Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Chicago Is Sorry She Was Ever Rebuilt"

If I could choose one game in the history of baseball to attend, I would without hesitation choose the May 6, 1875 game between the St. Louis Brown Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings at the Grand Avenue Ballpark. While the game itself was not a great one, its significance was enormous.

Since its inception, the Chicago club had been coming down to St. Louis and having its way with the best teams the city had to offer. This was extraordinarily galling to the people of St. Louis for several reasons. First, they were proud of their baseball teams, players, and tradition and were not pleased to have outsiders come in and trounce their favorites. Second, and more importantly, the rivalry between St. Louis and Chicago was alive and very real by this time. The two cities were in a fight for the economic dominance of what would come to be called the Midwest. Both cities were experiencing tremendous growth in population and economic development and were, by 1870, the fourth (St. Louis) and fifth (Chicago) largest cities in the United States. This rivalry with Chicago, both on the baseball diamond and in general, was the major impetus for the creation of St. Louis professional teams that would compete in the NA for the championship.

In A Newspaper Man's Motion-Picture of the City, W. A. Kelsoe has a nice account of the first meeting between the new St. Louis professional club and the hated White Stockings which is reproduced in full below.


Under an announcement, May 6, that the Chicago Baseball Club would arrive in St. Louis from Keokuk at 8:30 that morning, the Times printed this item under the headline "Spicy Correspondence":

"A telegram was received from Chicago as follows: 'To W. C. Steigers, Times Office, St. Louis, Mo.-I am authorized to ask of you if the St. Louis club will bet $1,000 against the Chicago club on the result of the coming match. Money up. Answer. (signed), Ralph A. Ladd, Grand Pacific Hotel, Chicago.' Mr. Steigers, vice-president and acting president of the St. Louis club, promptly replied: 'St. Louis, May 5. To Ralph A. Ladd, Grand Pacific Hotel, Chicago. The St. Louis club will not gamble. I think individuals here will accommodate you in any amount from one to ten thousand dollars. (signed), W. C. Steigers.'"

The morning these telegrams were published (May 6) the famous Chicago White Stockings arrived in St. Louis and that afternoon the city's second professional baseball game was played, the first one for St. Louis in which another city was represented. It was the dedication of Grand Avenue Park, now called Sportsman's Park, to professional baseball. The contest ended in a victory for the Browns by the score of 10 to 0. Adam Wirth, a member of the St. Louis Fire Department and a member also of our crack amateur ball club, the Empires, umpired that historic game. It was a one-sided game and Adam had no close plays to decide. George Washington Bradley held the visitors to four hits, all of them singles, and only three Chicago men were left on base. St. Louis made 13 hits, with a total of twenty bases, and seven men were left on base. "The crowd was simply enormous," said the St. Louis Times next morning, and a little further on the paper continued: "A rope had to be extended across a portion of the right field (then on the northside of the park) to give relief to those who were packed like sardines in a box against the fence between the field and the seats (bleachers).

* * * A comical sight was when the occupants of the eastern tiers rose en masse to stretch, the effect being indescribably ludicrous * * *

When the surprise was over and the fact that the Whites had drawn a nest of goose-eggs was realized, the entire assemblage in the seats arose and shouted until they were hoarse. They danced and sang and threw their hats in the air. They kissed, wept and laughed over each other, embraced, shook hands, slapped each other's backs and ran to and fro like mad men. " When the Boston champions were here a little later another such scene occurred, but it hardly equalled this one as seen from the press seats. All the St. Louis papers made a big ado over our victory. The Globe's report (written by Wm. M. Spink), had a long head topped with the one word "Chicagoed," which was explained in the introduction in this way: "In 1870 when the Mutuals (of New York) defeated the Chicagos by the score of 10 to 0, the baseball term 'skunked' was changed to the less vulgar and equally suggestive expression 'Chicagoed,' which the Whites (Chicagos) now, more than ever, are fairly entitled to." How the Chicago papers took the defeat of the Whites in St. Louis may be inferred from one (the third) of ten "lines" in the head of the Chicago Tribune's report of the game: "The fate of the two cities decided by eighteen hired men. St. Louis no longer wants to be the national capital and Chicago is sorry she was ever rebuilt."

Kelsoe was not exaggerating about the reaction of the crowd to the victory. Other sources tell of the people streaming out of the ballpark and parading jubilantly through the streets of the city with the crowd growing and growing as news of the victory spread. The celebration lasted throughout the night, the next day, and carried over into the second game between the Brown Stockings and White Stockings on May 8th. When the home team won that game 4-3, the celebration again went well into the night.

With the victory on May 6th, coupled with that of May 8th, the baseball honor of St. Louis was restored, a blow was struck in the rivalry with Chicago, and professional baseball was established in the city on a firm foundation of popular support.

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