Monday, December 24, 2007

A Little Christmas Baseball

I found this article in the December 25, 1875 issue of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and have been sitting on it for about a year. The problem is that I don't know for sure if the Christmas game between the Brown Stockings and the Empires ever came off. I'd like to believe that there was a baseball game in St. Louis on Christmas Day 1875 but I haven't been able to confirm it.

Charlton's Baseball Chronology does have this entry for December 25, 1862:

At Hilton Head‚ SC‚ a baseball game is played between teams selected from the 165th New York Volunteer Infantry‚ Duryea Zouaves. The match draws a crowd of 40‚000 soldiers and is the talk of the military world for weeks after.


Richard Hershberger said...

That Hilton Head game is routinely cited in discussions of baseball and the Civil War. The 40,000 figure is ridiculous. It is physically impossible for that many people to watch a ballgame without some serious architecture. I suppose it is possible that the game was at a racetrack with a grandstand, but even then that number is too high. I have never seen any defense of that number, but it is repeated regularly by the credulous.

No real point to this: just getting it off my chest.

Jeff Kittel said...

I have a love/hate relationship with Charlton's Baseball Chronology. It's a lot of fun to read but it's seriously full of errors. I don't want to trash James Charlton but he should consider coming out with a new, cleaned-up edition of that thing.

40,000 people is fairly ridiculous. I just pulled Baseball In Blue & Gray off the shelve and it looks like A.G. Mills is the source for the story. Do you know of any source that confirms a game being played on Christmas 1862?

Richard Hershberger said...

No, I don't know any better source, and that is the book I would have turned to myself.

There are, by way of comparison, some contemporary accounts of large crowds at games. The Atlantics/Athletics matches of the mid-1860s were a big deal, at least in Philly. Going from memory, I believe the number 10,000 was bandied about, but the accounts also make clear that only a fraction of those were actually inside the park. The affair had something of the air of a modern Michigan-Ohio State football game. I have seen similar numbers for a July 4 game in Chicago in the late 1870s, with an elaborate account of how they were climbing all over the stands to fit in. I suspect that Chicago had a ballpark advanced enough to make the number at least somewhat plausible. For a game without a grandstand or bleachers, I would be skeptical of any number higher than a few thousand.

I wouldn't be surprised if there really was such a game at Hilton Head. There are unambiguous accounts of soldiers playing baseball, so there is nothing unlikely about the event itself: just the inflated numbers.