Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Kelsoe On St. Louis Amateur Baseball In the 1860's


The death of Asa W. Smith, president of the Union Baseball Club of St. Louis, was reported in the papers of August 2 and 3 (1874). Asa, who was a son of Sol Smith, the actor, was accidentally drowned off the coast of Maine, at Biddeford Pool. The Keokuk Baseball Club had arrived in St. Louis, but the game scheduled with the Unions was abandoned. The visitors played the Empires, winning by 7 to 6.

The Unions were the principal competitors of the Empires for the city and state amateur baseball championship, the Reds being excluded from the contest, as some of their players were paid for their services. The Empires had held the championship two or three years and were again winners in 1874. The last president of the Unions, Judge C. Orrick Bishop, remembers that their winning championship team consisted of Eugene Greenleaf and Jim Freeman, pitcher and catcher; Joseph Charles ("Charley") Cabanne, E. C. Meacham and Rufus J. Lackland, Jr., on the bases; Bob Duncan, at short, and Asa W. Smith, Bill Duncan (Bob's brother) and Tom McCordell in the field. The last surviving member of that team, Mr. Cabanne, died in 1922 (March 17). Judge Bishop used to play occasionally, and so did W. C. Steigers (who died May 25, 1923), well known for over forty years as business manager of the Post-Dispatch; also Robert J. Lucas (died May 18, 1922). Judge Shepard Barclay, remembered as a crack pitcher in his college days, pitched for the Unions in a notable victory over the Nationals of Washington. Then there were Arthur Strong, Henry Berning, Harry Carr, Billy Yore and others who had won honors with the Olympics of Washington University or the Pickwicks of St. Louis University before joining the Unions. In their best days the Unions and Empires made a good showing against the best clubs of the country, including the famous Cincinnati Reds, the Forest Cities of Cleveland, the Rockfords and the Nationals, the Atlantics of Brooklyn, the Excelsiors of Chicago, the Unions of Morrisania, N. Y., and the Athletics of Philadelphia.

Among the local ball players of note in the sixties and who became prominent later in the industrial field were John D. Fitzgibbon, Jeremiah Fruin and John W. O'Connell. Mr. Fruin died in March, 1912, and Mr. O'Connell in August, 1918. Mr. Fitzgibbon is still with us. All three played with the Empires, Mr. Fitzgibbon being the club's captain and pitcher. When I called Capt. Fitzgibbon on the phone recently (in November,1923) he named, in addition to Fruin and O'Connell, already mentioned, most of their fellow players of fifty and more years ago-Pitcher Little, Tom Oran (catcher), John W. Shocky (later assistant chief of the St. Louis Fire Department and killed at a fire), Tom Murray, Tom Walsh, Charley Stevens, Adam Wirth, John Heath and Joe Schimper (a fireman who played ball under the name of Cambers, as stated elsewhere, and who, like Shocky, was killed by a falling wall at a fire). All these had passed away, said the veteran builder, except Stevens, one of the last to go being Fireman Wirth of Engine Company No. 14, a famous first baseman in amateur days.

The night of the conversation with Pitcher Fitzgibbon I had one also with Judge Shepard Barclay, referred to in a former paragraph as a crack pitcher of the Unions in his St. Louis college days. The judge had pitched for the Pickwicks of St. Louis University in their games with the Olympics of Washington University before he joined the Unions. He pitched the Unions to victory in one of their games with the Empires for the championship of Missouri and was their pitcher when the St. Louis Unions defeated the Nationals of Washington City. His fame as a pitcher for a college club continued with him after he left St. Louis University. This was the Barclay who pitched in the game that won for University of Virginia the championship of the South over the Washington and Lee University, the contest being reported by Chadwick for his publication. Nor was that all. Not content with his pitching victories in America, the St. Louisan crossed the ocean and pitched a winning game for "Columbia," a newly organized college club in the University of Berlin. The victory, however, dearest to his heart, the one this ex-member of the Missouri State Supreme Court loves to talk about most, was the one played in St. Louis, May 23, 1867, by the Olympics and the Pickwicks, a contest between the college clubs of, respectively, Washington University of St. Louis and St. Louis University, the latter winning with Barclay as the pitcher. The Judge remembers that Nat Hazard pitched for the Olympics and that the only player in that locally famous game still living, besides the two pitchers, is George A. Strong, now a New York lawyer,who played second base for Washington University. The umpire of the game was Adam Wirth, of the St. Louis Fire Department, as before stated, and nationally famous (because of the honor of having his picture in Harper's Weekly) as the first baseman of the old St. Louis Empire Club. The judge told of a game in which one side scored 127 runs, but I think that was another contest, perhaps one between the Unions and Nationals. Judge Barclay died November 17, 1925.

I have several letters somewhere from Henry Chadwick, but have mislaid them. In one he expressed a great desire that I try to locate a championship baseball won by the St. Louis Unions, rivals of the Empires, and have it presented to The Missouri Historical Society, but I have not been able to find it. The ball has gilt lettering and some reader of this page may know where it is.

-From A Newspaper Man's Motion-Picture Of The City

Note: This is a fascinating piece by Kelsoe on the St. Louis amateur baseball scene of the 1860's. The first thing that jumped out at me was Kelsoe's statement that the Union had defeated the Nationals which was simply not true. Also, there's obviously some connection between the St. Louis Fire Department and the Empire Club which I was only vaguely aware of and that needs further research. It's also interesting that Kelsoe states that the Reds were excluded from the amateur championship when I have other sources that say they not only competed for the championship but they actually won it in the early 1870's. Finally, the ball that Chadwick was looking for may have been the ball that was used in the game between the Morning Stars and the Cyclones in 1860, the first game played in St. Louis. Supposedly, the ball was gilded and used as a trophy ball in St. Louis for years. According to Merritt Griswold, the ball was last in the hands of the Empire Club.

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