Monday, November 26, 2007

An Interesting Note On The Union Club

There's an interesting note in the November 29, 1870 issue of The New York Times about the Union Base Ball Club of St. Louis. The Times writes that "(the) Union Amateur Club, of St. Louis, has disbanded. Its social status was too high for Sunday playing, which is in vogue in St. Louis."

Al Spink writes in The National Game that "(in) the early (1860's) the Union...came into the field. The Union had for their playing team Charles H. Turner, catcher; R.J. Lucas, pitcher; Henry Carr and Henry Berning, first base; E.C. Meacham, second base; Charles Cabanne, third base; Eugene Greenleaf, shortstop; Asa Smith, left field; Walter Wolf, center field, and Archie Easton, right field."

"It will be noticed by the above list," Spink writes, "that the Union team was made up of the silk stocking element of that day and the name Union was taken because the players of the teams were all men who had stood by the Union during the Civil War. Their very name at that time aroused feeling and animosity and added to the rivalry that already existed between the then leading local baseball teams."


Richard Hershberger said...

It is plausible that the Union club was of higher social standing, and that this related to its disbanding.

The earliest clubs tended to be middle class to upper middle class, but there was a broad trend from the late 1850s of the lower classes forming clubs. With fully professional clubs the question was moot, of course.

Most putatively amateur clubs in the 1870s had money involved to some extent, but some of the "gentleman's clubs" held out as purely amateur. This effectively removed them from the baseball mainstream. A few survived for years in splendid isolation: the Knickerbockers of New York are the obvious example, lasting to 1882. The Olympics of Philadelphia survived to at least 1889. But many of these clubs disbanded earlier. The "silk stocking" set (probably actually upper middle class at this point) shifted their emphasis to more diversified "athletic clubs", which might include baseball among their activities but then again might not.

When were the Unions founded? It is natural to interpret their name as a political statement, but the word "Union" was used before the Civil War (e.g. the Unions of Morrissania) without the political connotation.

Jeff Kittel said...

The Union Club was founded in "the early sixties" possibly as early as the summer of 1860. Using your standard of pay following infenced ballparks, it's most likely that the Union were a strict amateur club. They played most of their "home" games at the Fairground, a field on Grand Ave., and the Gamble Lawn Gardens.

The members that I know anything about all seem to be well heeled. Robert Lucas inherited a million dollars from his father and was a member of the wealthiest family in StL. Shepard Barkley was from a prominent, wealthy family and ended up as Chief Justice of the Mo. State Supreme Court. Orrick Bishop, while a late-comer to StL, was a prominent lawyer and lived in a part of town called "Aristocrats Row." It seems that the Union got of players from the Washington University and St. Louis University baseball teams and that also implies upper class. The club looks like they had a lot of lawyers and future judges on the team.

The class distinction between the Union and the Empire probably added to their rivalry. St. Louis, Missouri, and Illinois suffered from divided loyalties during the Civil War and the amount of money you had in your pocket seemed to have something to do with which side you were on (an oversimplification certainly but true). Add class distinction to political differences and the passions enflamed by the war and it must have been one heck of a rivalry.

While I have some doubts about whether the Union picked their club name based on political ideology (most likely they noticed that the name was envogue among Eastern clubs and took it as their own), I know that the St. Louis aristocracy was very pro-Union and, it follows, that members of the Union Club were as well. I have less confidence in saying that the Empires were a pro-confederate club but the majority of St. Louisians supported the rebs. If the Empire was more of a middle class club, it's likely that they had a majority that were pro-reb.

Richard Hershberger said...

Any club in 1860 was certainly amateur. Paid players were just starting to come in, and it was a different social dynamic than would later develop. A wealthy club hiring a man to keep the grounds, manage the equipment, and also play on the first nine is different from a club that goes out and recruits players to play for salary or sinecure.

On a related note, I get nervous when I read about club memberships being "aristocracy". This sentiment gets bandied about, but at least for the eastern clubs certainly was not true. We have the membership roster of the Olympics of Philadelphia from 1833 to 1864. I have looked into the members. A few are "gentleman", meaning wealthy and not working. Most are white collar: doctors and lawyers, and many businessmen.

The thing is, they typically were in their twenties. Even if we equate "class" with "wealth", for most people in their twenties you really need to look at their father's class.

The Olympics included a future mayor of Philadelphia and a future Secretary of the Pennsylvania Railroad, but those achievements came decades later. Many of the Olympics were graduates of Central High School. It is commonplace to observe that only a small fraction of the population went to high school in those days, and to conclude therefore that they were upper class.

The real upper class didn't send their children to Central High School. They went to private academies. Central High graduates were respectable and possibly upwardly mobile, but they were middle class. The real upper class belonged to gentleman's clubs such as the Philadelphia, the Rittenhouse, or the Union Club. (If you are ever in Philly, walk a couple of blocks south from city hall and admire the Union Club building. It is quite a heap of rocks. The Rittenhouse and the Philadelphia clubs are more prestigious, and don't feel the need to be flashy.) I've looked at these clubs' memberships, and find little or no intersection with the Olympic Ball Club.

Organized baseball started out as a middle class activity and evolved into a working class sport, supplemented by middle class involvement. If you are used to seeing factory workers, a lawyer looks aristocratic in comparison. But this is an illusion. The real aristocracy has lawyers working for them.

Jeff Kittel said...

All good points.

I think the amateur status of the Union Club is important when considering their break up in 1870. The Empires and Reds were playing at the Grand Avenue and Compton Avenue Parks, respectively by this time, and had evolved beyond the strictly amateur status of the old baseball clubs. It appears that the Unions had not and that may have played a role in their demise. If they were uncomfortable with Sunday baseball, it's possible that they were also uncomfortable with any form of compensation for players. The Unions, for whatever reason, choose to quit the field rather than compromise their principles.

While certainly the make up of the club needs further investigation, several members of the club were also members of the most prominent and wealthiest families in St. Louis. These guys weren't shopkeepers or dockworkers. While they weren't aristocrats in the European sense of the word, they were college educated, politically influential, and wealthy in a way that seperated them from the vast majority of the citizenry of the city.

To paraphrase Hemingway and Fitzgerald, they were different then you and me because they had money. These were the people that were running the city and the state. They owned vast amounts of land and translated those holdings into political influence and further wealth. These families were the orginal white settlers of St. Louis and they had status and power that remained through the 19th century. Certainly, they worked for that wealth and power but the fact is that they had it in a way that others did not.

I don't want to go overboard on this without further research but I think it's reasonable to say that there are clear class distinctions between the Union Club on one hand and the Empires and Reds on the other. There are certainly exceptions within each group (Tom Oran, who played for both the Union and the Empire, is an example) that complicates the making of generalities.

Richard Hershberger said...

It could well be that the social dynamic was different in St. Louis. Philly had an established upper class of families dating from colonial times, with its own institutions. The western cities are bound to be different, and it could well be that the social elite played baseball. I am just unwilling to assume this based on later characterizations.

No one questions that there were social tensions. The Excelsiors and the Atlantics, both of Brooklyn, went for years without playing each other after a nasty incident which clearly was class related. You can find a fair amount of class tension if you look for it. My point is that the tension, at least in the east, was between working class and "respectable" middle class, not between working class blue-bloods.