Thursday, March 6, 2008

The First Base Ball Grounds

The first base ball grounds of any permanency was known as Gamble Lawn and was situated just south of Gamble avenue and West Twentieth street. it was a large vacant piece of property admirably suited for the purpose...It had long been used as a cricket ground and upon it the Empire Club laid the first claims, being shortly followed by several others. Upon this ground was played most all of the earliest match games. Each of several organizations had its own allotted time by mutual agreement for using the grounds and every hour of almost every pleasant day, not excepting Sunday, witnessed a game...There was always a goodly crowd of spectators at the practice games and match games never failed of finding enough in attendance to form a deep line around the whole circumference of the grounds...

...Carr Place was early used by the Morning Star Club and the next ground to become known as a base ball resort was nearly two blocks in extent on the west side of Ham Street, just south of Chouteau Avenue...Here played the Union and Commercial Clubs in their first start out, but being small in dimension the ground was used almost solely for practice and it was put a short time until these two clubs obtained permission from the city council to use a certain portion of Lafayette Park providing they would arrange and maintain the grounds at their own expense. This was done at an outlay of several hundred dollars by each club, but they enjoyed the benefit of the grounds for only a brief period as the war of Rebellion ad broken out, soldiers were being recruited and the military powers seized upon it as a fitting spot for an encampment. The ball players of course looked upon it as a very great hardship to lose the grounds and their money too, but there was "no kick coming" in that case, so the boys went hunting for a new location and succeeded in finding one on Mississippi Avenue, south of Lafayette Park, on a large commons owned by Hon. Thos. Allen who granted permission for the clubs to use the grounds free of all charges. Many "interesting and exciting" games were played upon this ground, the most notable ones being a series between Union and Empire Clubs...

-E. H. Tobias, writing in The Sporting News, October 26, 1895

Leonard Matthews, in A Long Life In Review, mentions that the Cyclone Club also played at Lafayette Park. He wrote that "(we) spent $600 to put the grounds in shape." It appears, base on what Tobias wrote, that this expense was shared between several clubs.

In The National Game, Al Spink also wrote about some of the earliest baseball grounds in St. Louis. He specifically mentions that "(the) Rowenas and Vanities played in an open field south of Lafayette Park." This appears most likely to be Allen's commons.

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