Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Arrangement Of Its Playing Nine Was Deferred

I posted before about the claim by The New York Times that the Union Club "disbanded" in November of 1870. While it's certainly an interesting and reasonable assertion, it doesn't exactly appear to be the case. E. H. Tobias, while writing in The Sporting News (December 28, 1895) about the 1870 and 1871 baseball season in St. Louis, has a different interpretation with regards to the end of the Union Club.

While detailing the election of officers for the various St. Louis clubs in 1871, Tobias wrote the following:

The Union Club was officered by Asa W. Smith, president; W. B. Edgar, vice-president; C. O. Bishop, secretary and Chas. H. Turner, treasurer. The arrangement of its playing nine was deferred until quite late in the season. Strong, pitcher, and Maxwell, second base, had severed their connection with the club and cast their fortunes with the Washington University nine and as several other players were away from home at college the organization of its players was impossible at the usual date.

So it's Tobias' assertion that the Union Club, itself, did not disband in 1870/1871 but rather that they had difficulty, for various reasons, in fielding a nine.

He goes on to write that "The State Base Ball Association held its annual election on May 10 (1871), in the hall of the Empire Club...The Union Club had no delegate present." It's rather significant that the Union Club was not represented in the state association, an organization that was built by Asa Smith. The decision by the Union Club to not field a nine and not take part in the state association, I believe, speaks to something more significant than just a problem with players being away at college. While the specifics of the Times claim may not be accurate, it may be correct in its assertion that the members of the Union Club were unhappy with direction that baseball was taking and had decided to no longer take part in the game.

"During all this season the Union Club had not been heard from, much to the regret of the champion Empires, who despairing of meeting home mettle worthy of their steel, finally resolved to go South (in September of 1871)..." Tobias' report of the Empires trip to New Orleans confirms that the Union Club had not fielded a nine all season. In the January 4, 1896 issue of The Sporting News, Tobias goes on to write that in the spring of 1872, "The Union Club remained in a comatose state with but feeble efforts being made to resuscitate it." He also firmly states that the Union Club "had folded its tent and stolen away..."

(In 1874) Asa W. Smith and a few more of its old members attempted to revive the old Union Club, but the undertaking proved to be up-hill work for though it was announced as prepared to enter the base ball arena against all other clubs and did enter into arrangements for games, it had great trouble in bringing onto the field a full nine at the critical moment. On several of these occasions, by consent, their nine was filled up from members of other clubs who chanced to be present. Many rumors were set afloat in the month of May to the effect that the club was about to come to the front with a stronger team than it ever had or that existed in the city, but all these reports proved baseless...The Western Club of Keokuk came to St. Louis (in June) under an agreement to play the Union Club but at the appointed hour the latter club was unable to present a nine. Under these circumstances an impromptu nine was secured at the park consisting of three Unions, three Empires, one Red Stocking, one Turner and one from the Gymnasium Club...The Unions, in its game with the Boston Club (in June), put on players from other clubs...
-E. H. Tobias, The Sporting News, January 18, 1896

The Union Base Ball Club that took part in the fantastic 1874 season in St. Louis was a bastardized version of the vanguard championship club that had been such an important part of the history of St. Louis baseball during the post-Civil War era. This attempt to revive the Union nine did not survive the death of Asa Smith in August of 1874.

1 comment:

Richard Hershberger said...

This is very interesting. The origins of clubs tended to be documented, but not the ends. They would fade from sight, with no one talking about them anymore. So any documentation of the tail end of a prominent club's existence is worthy of note.

This account seems to be saying that the players went off to college and the club was unable to replace them. This makes me wonder how many members the club had in 1870. There was a general pattern of some top clubs shedding their membership, becoming effectively a (professional?) team backed by a handful of officers. The old membership often will have gone elsewhere, where they could actually play baseball rather than be a de facto fan club, or otherwise drifted away. No club from the 1860s completely successfully adapted to the competitive realities of the 1870's. It would be interesting to know if there were any hints around 1869 or 1870 of falling membership or other troubles.