Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Reds Have A Bad Road Trip

Bill Kelsoe writes in A Newspaper Man's Motion-Picture View Of The City about a baseball game that took place on July 14, 1875 between the St. Louis City Council and a group of St. Louis newspaper reporters.

"A new City Council was elected in the spring of 1875," he wrote, "some of the members being ardent baseball fans, the same as many of the newspaper reporters here. While the Browns were on their first, or maybe it was their second eastern tour, advantage of their absence to use Grand Avenue Park, now called Sportsman's Park, was taken by two nines representing, respectively, the press and the city government...The game was played on the afternoon of July 14, resulting in a victory for the reporters."

Kelsoe goes on to write that "(while) the St. Louis reporters were having a holiday game with our City Fathers...the original St. Louis Browns, were defeating the Atlantics at Brooklyn by the score of 2 to 1. The following day they won a second game in Brooklyn, making their sixth victory, without a single defeat since leaving home the week before, the other victims being the Philadelphias and the New York Mutuals, with two defeats each. The St. Louis Reds...were in Cincinnati for two games, one being with the Covington Stars across the river, which they won, losing the other."

This reference to the Reds playing in Covington in July of 1875 seems to come from Kelsoe's personal recollection and therefore can't be taken at face value unless confirmed by another source. However, it is rather significant because it speaks to why the Reds stopped playing championship matches after July 4, 1875.

Most of the general histories that mention the Reds erroneously claim that the team ceased operations after July 4th. The various reasons given for this are that the Reds never planned on making an Eastern road trip, they didn't have the money to make a road trip, or the players refused to make a road trip. The fact is the Reds made at least two major road trips after July 4th. The first was the trip to Cincinnati and Covington and the second was to Little Rock. Couple these with an earlier trip to Keokuk and Chicago and it doesn't seem that the Reds had problems making road trips. While they did disappear from the history of major league baseball after July 1875, the Reds were still a viable operation and soldiered on until the late 1880's.

However, the fact remains that the Reds did cease playing games against other NA teams after July 4th. The most likely reason for this is two-fold. First, it appears that they had difficulties scheduling games against the Eastern teams that precluded them from making an Eastern road trip. At the same time, the team fell apart. Joe Blong was either expelled from the club for "hippodroming" or bolted the team for greener pastures. Either way, on June 29, 1875, Blong signed a contract to play with the Stars of Covington, Ky. Shortly thereafter, Charlie Sweasy jumped ship and joined a team in Cincinnati and Packy Dillon and Trick McSorley joined Blong on the Stars. Although it's unclear, Silver Flint may also have joined the Stars. In the middle of the season, the Reds lost half their team and were left scrambling to find enough players to field a nine.

One question I always had was how did Blong, Sweasy, Dillon, McSorley, and possibly Flint all end up playing baseball in the Cincinnati area after July 4, 1875? Kelsoe may have provided the answer. If the Reds are in Cincinnati and Covington in early to mid July and at the same time their players are jumping to teams in Cincinnati and Covington, it would follow that the Reds were raided by the local teams during the road trip. It's very likely that if Blong was already playing for the Stars, he might have enticed his former teammates to jump ship.

Another question that remains is why so many of the Reds were willing to jump ship in the middle of the season? It's unlikely that there's one simple answer for that. The influence of Blong would certainly explain some of it. Sweasy's connections in Cincinnati probably played a role. Sweasy himself, an outsider brought in at the last minute and a man known to be difficult to deal with, likely made for a divisive clubhouse and may have drove some people away. The lack of on the field success couldn't have been good for morale. If the Reds were truly a co-op team then the lack of a promise of an Eastern road trip would have hurt the players financially and had them looking for greener pastures. Added together, all of this put a great deal of pressure on the club and its players.

If Kelsoe is correct, and again I believe we need another source to confirm it, then we can place the break up of the Reds' NA team in mid July when they made a road trip to Cincinnati and Covington. While the situation is still unclear and many questions remain, Kelsoe gets us one step closer to figuring out what happened to the Reds in July of 1875.

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