Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sickly Looking Young Boys And The Divine Presence Of The Ladies

Paul Conley was kind enough to send me this article from the September 18, 1860 edition of the St. Louis Daily Bulletin.

A couple of things to note:

-Merritt Griswold, in his letter to Al Spink, mentions four baseball clubs by name (the Cyclones, Morning Stars, Empires, and Commercials) that were in existence in 1860 and this article states that there are "five or six clubs in existence" with more forming.

-The article states that the clubs had "from thirty to forty members" which, to me, seems to be within historical norms. My understanding is that most Eastern clubs had two or three nines, which would mean twenty-seven members. Add in a few subs, extras, or non-playing members and you easily get to thirty members. Forty members, which seems a bit large, would get you four nines plus.


Richard Hershberger said...

Regarding the number of clubs, five or six clubs is not implausible, though it suggests that the baseball fad hit St. Louis hard and swift. That Griswold decades later might not recall them all is also plausible. It is possible that not all played match games. The first baseball (i.e. New York game) club in Philadelphia formed in the autumn of 1858 but the first match game was not until June of 1860. Match games drew the most attention, so clubs could be quite active internally without really appearing on the radar screen.

As for the number of members, thirty or forty is the canonical size of the eastern clubs: so much so that I wonder if this article isn't repeating a rote formula. What were all those members doing? The first and second nines were not all there was, or even the main point. The theory was that the members joined to meet a couple of times a week for exercise. A few times a year there would be match games, with the best (or second best) nine players picked to represent the club. A member not appearing in the first or second nine doesn't mean he wasn't actively playing ball on club days. That being said, there were also non-playing members. But this in incidental to the matter of playing in match games.

This gradually changed over the course of the 1860s, with match games between the first nines becoming more and more the focus of the club's activities. This is what led to the collapse of the fraternal baseball club.

Jeff Kittel said...

I appreciate your input on this, Richard. I was trying to find something about the size of Eastern clubs and I think all I found was a reference in Playing For Keeps that mentioned two nines and thirty members (something like that). I figured you'd have a good answer for me.

I always assumed the bare minimum for a club would be around twenty-five members. They'd have to have 18 guys to get a game (which I figured was the way they were getting their exercise). Add a couple of extra guys in case somebody didn't show up and maybe somebody to serve as umpire and you get to 25 pretty fast.

Forty active members almost seems too big. That's four nines (not meaning a first nine, a second nine, etc but rather enough guys to play two games at the same time) plus some. But if there are non-playing members, some members who are less active than others, members who can't show up for whatever reason then it would work. You have forty guys in the club and maybe only twenty are showing up to play ball.

Also, the point I was trying to make about the number of clubs mentioned in the article and in Griswold's letter was that the article says there were five or six clubs and, because of Griswold, we know who four of them were. Add the Union Club and Laclede Club and we have the six. The Reds, Vanities, Rowenas, and Elephants were all playing in "the early sixties" and are possible canidates for the clubs that the article mentioned were forming for 1861.

Richard Hershberger said...

It is probably a mistake to assume that on regular club days there were exactly eighteen guys on the field. We have the club book for the Knickerbockers. Especially early on, the number of players varied quite a bit. By 1860 it was clear that a proper game had nine on a side, but it is not clear how rigidly this was adhered to internally. Unfortunately, no club books survive apart from the Knickerbockers'.

Diving into pure speculation, we might wonder if a club might substitute players, rotating them through, given a surplus.

There are records of complaints about cricket clubs where the best players hogged the field, discouraging membership. This is in the context of cricket clubs being dominated by Englishmen, and Americans drifting away. I have not seen this complaint regarding baseball clubs early on. In the late 1860s, as the top clubs became professionalized, this became a problem.

Jeff Kittel said...

The way you describe club days kind of reminds me of the way we used to spend the summers when I was a kid (a long, long time ago). We played ball ever day but rarely could get 18 kids together to play a real game. You'd play cork ball or whiffle ball or indian ball or hot box or whatever variation of the game you could think up. You'd play with no runners or outlaw anything hit to the opposite field. You'd play without a catcher and use a lawn chair or a chalk outline on a brick wall as the strike zone.

The game does lend itself to endless variations. Although we never did play a ten man/ten inning game.