Thursday, November 15, 2007

W.A. Kelsoe

There's a large section of The National Game devoted to profiles of baseball writers. Al Spink, a baseball writer and newspaper man himself, believed that these men played a prominent role in building up the game and making it the national pastime. He believed that their role in the history of the game deserved to be chronicled. One of the baseball writers that he profiled was W.A. Kelsoe, author of my new favorite book, A Newspaper Man's Motion-Picture Of The City When We Got Our First Bridge, And Of Many Later Happenings of Local Note.

Spink wrote that "(one) of the first of St. Louis baseball writers was William A. Kelsoe, now a member of the editorial staff of the Post-Dispatch. Mr. Kelsoe was one of the men who reported the famous game between the St. Louis Browns and the Syracuse Stars on May 1, 1877. In those days the local newspapers placed an embargo on baseball news. And the man who wrote that sort of thing did it through sheer love of the game and then had to beg his way into print. 'Bill' Kelsoe, as we called him in the long ago, was one of the men who wrote the game because he loved it. He was the city editor of the Republic in the early eighties and I was a cub reporter on that newspaper then. It was my ambition in those days to write of the baseball games and to smuggle as much of the stuff into the newspaper as possible. In my essays in this direction I always found a true friend in 'Old Bill.' He passed my copy early and often, and was so kind and good always that I learned to love him as did the other reporters who followed me. To-day 'Old Bill' often goes to the ball games and of the little army of newspaper men that follow the game there are none so universally beloved, so well honored and respected or so well thought of as he."

The 1877 game between the Brown Stockings and Syracuse that Spink mentions was a fifteen inning, 0-0 game that was called on account of darkness. Kelsoe entitled his piece about the game in A Newspaper Man's Motion-Picture Of The City "The Greatest Of St. Louis Ball Games". I can't remember if I've posted anything about this game or not. I'll have to check. Regardless, I may post some of Kelsoe's recollections about that game this weekend.

Update: It looks like I did post something about the game here. It's getting harder and harder to remember what I've covered and what I haven't. Premature senility, I guess.


Richard Hershberger said...

The Stars of Syracuse were an interesting club.

Their early history is not well documented, but they seem to have been a co-op club in the NA era, converting to a salaried stock club in (as I recall) 1876 They were completely independant in 1877 and among the best non-League clubs. They joined the International Association for 1878 but had the misfortune to be up against Buffalo, arguably the strongest non-major league team ever. Both of these clubs joined the National League in 1879. Syracuse didn't finish out the season. There are various reasons why the economics didn't work out, with the big ones being that the city of Syracuse wasn't large enough to support an NL club, and a very good IA club turned out to be a poor NL club. (Something to think about whenever someone claims that the IA was of major caliber.)

In 1877 they made good use of their independent freedom. They could travel more or less at will, chosing where to play. They had a strong reputation and in their wanderings were something of a novelty, so they drew well at the gate. This was an economic niche that would disappear within a few years, and barnstorming during the season would be an activity for fringe teams.

Jeff Kittel said...

I always kind of wondered what the big fuss was about this game. I understand the novelty of a 0-0 extra inning game and supposedly the defense on both sides was outstanding but the whole thing seems kind of anticlimatic. Still, the general impression at the time (and continuing into the early 20th century) was that this was the greatest baseball game ever played in St. Louis. They even held an anniversary dinner to commorate the game in 1907.

I didn't know a whole lot about the Syracuse team but I guess that their status as a strong independent team was one of the things that made the game so memorable.

Richard Hershberger said...

There was an ideology in some circles that the interest in the game--the definition of a well-played game--was in the defense. Spectators were to admire fine fielding rather than strong batting. This is a defensible position in baseball of the 1850s and '60s. As pitching improved it became less true, and less in touch with what the spectators actually looked for. But you still see it professed through the 1870s, particularly by Chadwick (as he moved from his "mover and shaker" phase into his "amusing old fogey" phase, which would eventually be followed by his "revered elder statesman" phase).

So that 0-0 score probably was a big part of the hoopla. Nowadays such a score would be seen as an epic pitchers' dual, but back then it was regarded as more of a collective fielding accomplishment. In reality it probably was both, since by 1877 the pitcher actually mattered a lot.

Who pitched for the Browns? Many League teams used their change pitchers for exhibition games. This could actually be a rather poor reflection of the Stars' batting.

Jeff Kittel said...

The Brown Stockings' pitcher that day was Tricky Nichols, who was their primary starter. Joe Blong was their change pitcher and played right field in the game.