Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Compton Avenue Grounds

The Reds played at a park built just for them (in 1874). It happened that the first fully professional base ball contest in St. Louis took place at the Red Stockings Park on May 4 1875. That day the St. Louis Reds lost 15-9 to the St. Louis Brown Stockings...

Though Red Stockings Park's use as a pro arena was brief, it continued to serve baseball and other popular sports until it was torn down in 1898. By then, it was just called the Compton Avenue Grounds. It lay just west of Compton and north of the railroad tracks. On a stretch of land once called the Veto grounds, it hosted base ball even before the simple wooden stockade enclosure and stands were erected for the Reds. Described as situated on six acres of smooth level ground, it was then easily accessible by public transportation. Railroad tracks running next to the southern edge of the field, the property was on land originally owned by David J. Ranken, an Irish immigrant who gained financial success in real estate...

As for capacity at the Compton park, it probably seated about 1,000. At least four times that many witnessed one game held there in June of 1883. Hosted by a champion St. Louis African-American club called the Black Stockings, it drew a sizable crowd of some "four thousand spectators," according to one newspaper accounting. Possibly some of the fans saw the game from the opposite side of the fence. At the beginning of the 1875 season, there were news reports of vandals cutting holes in the fence to see the game for free...

By the time of the dismantling of old Red Stockings Park, St. Louis had turned its attention to several local Major League teams, at several other ballparks. Though in 1913 the Compton site was considered as a possibility for the ephemeral Federal League Terriers' ark, it never saw baseball again. Today, Bi-State Development Agency's Repair facility occupies the space next to the tracks where professional baseball began in St. Louis.
-From St. Louis' Big League Ballparks by Joan M. Thomas

A friend of mine gave me a copy of Thomas' book a couple of weeks ago and I finally got around to taking a look at it. Not a bad read, some great pictures, but not exactly an in-depth look at the history of ballparks in St. Louis.

A couple of quick notes:

-The May 4, 1875 game between the Reds and the Browns was not the first meeting of two professional teams in St. Louis. That game most likely took place in 1868-depending on your definition of professional.

-Dating the creation of the Compton Avenue ballpark to 1874 is interesting. E.H. Tobias dates the founding of the Reds to 1873 and that contradicts Al Spink's assertion that the Reds were playing in the 1860's. While Thomas' assertion isn't conclusive (and she fails to credit her sources), I believe it tends to support Tobias.

-I have a feeling the team that Thomas identifies as the Black Stockings may in fact be the Blue Stockings.

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