Monday, March 3, 2008

E. H. Tobias' Series on Early Baseball in St. Louis

In 1895, The Sporting News began publishing a series of articles on the early history of baseball in St. Louis written by E. H. Tobias, a former member of the Empire Club. Tobias' series, which first appeared in the October 26, 1895 issue of TSN, began with the origins of the game in the city and continued through the 1875 season, essentially covering the history of the game in St. Louis from its beginnings until the advent of championship play. The series ran in seventeen parts with the last article appearing in the February 15, 1896 issue of TSN.

For those who are interested, the archives of TSN are online at Paper of Record and a general guide to the series appears below. All articles in the series appears on page five of the issue cited.

-Pt. 1 (October 26, 1895) and Pt. 2 (November 2, 1895): the origins of baseball in St. Louis and the first clubs; baseball in St. Louis during the Civil War
-Pt. 3 (November 9, 1895): the 1865 season
-Pt. 4 (November 16, 1895): 1866
-Pt. 5 (November 23, 1895): 1867/1868
-Pt. 6 (November 30, 1895): 1868/1869
-Pt. 7 (December 7, 1895): 1869
-Pt. 8 (December 14, 1895): 1869/1870
-Pt. 9 (December 21, 1895): 1870/1871
-Pt. 10 (December 28, 1895: 1871/1872
-Pt. 11 (January 4, 1896): 1872/1873
-Pt. 12 (January 11, 1896): 1873
-Pt. 13 (January 18, 1896): 1874
-Pt. 14 (January 25, 1896): 1874
-Pt. 15 (February 1, 1896): 1874
-Pt. 16 (February 8, 1896): 1874/1875

It goes without saying that this is an incredible source for information about 19th century baseball in St. Louis. Tobias, an eyewitness and participant in the events he describes, provides a wealth of material and I'm only now beginning to mine the source. It's obvious to me, after spending a week reading through the Tobias series, that the history of the game in St. Louis cannot be understood properly without taking Tobias into account. So I think I should offer this warning to all of my loyal readers out there: Be prepared to hear a lot from Mr. Tobias over the next month or so.


Richard Hershberger said...

I saw this series cited many times in Peter Morris's new book. I didn't recall seeing you mention it, so I was going to email. Thanks for saving me the trouble. And thanks for the Paper of Record tip.

Jeff Kittel said...

In all honesty, I found the Tobias source while looking through the notes on Morris' new book. And yes, it's true, I'm the kind of geek that reads the notes. When I got Morris' new book in the mail, the first thing I did was check the index for "St. Louis," read all those references, and then checked his sources. Then I went through some other books and found that Cash had used Tobias as a source in Before They Were Cardinals (and I think that Morris had used him before in his SABR piece on Tom Oran). I'm actually a bit embarresed that I hadn't found the source before but what can I say? But now that I have found it, I'm very excited about it and look forward to combing through it. The Tobias source is just an incredable amount of information and I can't even begin to imagine how long it's going to take me to go through it and internalize the whole thing.

My goal, over time, is to flesh out the rather weak guide that I hastily created for the Tobias source. I think a comprehensive guide to Tobias' TSN series would be rather valuable to anyone looking into 19th century baseball in St. Louis and something worthwhile to work on. We'll see how it turns out.

BTW, I'm thoroughly enjoying Morris' new book. I've yet to read the Game of Inches books and was pleasantly surprised to find how readable Morris' prose is. I should have finished it this weekend but got a little sidetracked-hopefully in the next day or two I'll polish it off. I'm certainly interested in what you thought of it (I think you said the other day at BBF that you were about half way done with it so I assume you've finished it).

Richard Hershberger said...

Doesn't everybody read the notes???

But seriously Morris has a real knack for tracking down a wide range of sources. And yes, he is very readable. You might take a look at his first book, on early baseball in Michigan. Michigan was something of a backwater until the 1880s, and stands in for backwaters everywhere. Part of the revolution in early baseball study is the realization that there is more to life than New York City. A lot of interesting stuff, important to the game's later development, occurred in non-flashy venues.

Not, by the way, that I agree with everything Morris says, particularly in the early sections. But it is a matter of disagreement about interpretations, while with many books the issue is the author having a clue.

Richard Hershberger said...

Umm... That last paragraph with in reference to Peter's newest book, not the one on Michigan.

Jeff Kittel said...

My only quibble with the book so far has been Morris quoting Tobias as saying that the Union Club was founded in 1859. Looking at the article he's quoting, I read it as "1860"-which would fit with Al Spink's timeline (the print is slightly obscured, making it difficult to be certain; it's possible that Morris has a better copy of the article than I do). If you read the paragraph he's quoting, Tobias says that the Union Club played games during the "holidays of '60" and on "New Year's day 1860." I think it's likely that Tobias meant "New Year's day 1861"-which would make sense in the context of talking about the Christmas holiday of 1860.

While it's possible that clubs were in process of organizing in late fall of 1859, there is no evidence of any games as early as January 1, 1860. It makes more sense and fits the rest of the available evidence that the Union Club formed in 1860 rather than 1859 and that the New Year's day game was in 1861.

Richard Hershberger said...

There are various minor quibbles one can make. He says that the Athletics of Philadelphia were founded in 1860. This eventually became the official version, but it is known that they were actually established in 1859 playing town ball, and switched to the NY game in 1860.

There are broader points for potential disagreement. He seems to present town ball as origininating somewhere in the east and moving westward. This is true in the sense that white settlement moved westward, and carried town ball with it but it is not true in the sense of town ball spreading into settled white territory (or at least that's my take on the evidence).

But this isn't the point. Morris has made available to the general public the discussions that have been going on the past several years in places like the friendly confines of the SABR 19th century committee and obscure blogs on early baseball in St. Louis. This book isn't the final word on the subject and I doubt Peter intends it to be.