Tuesday, April 22, 2008

E. C. Simmons And The Union Club

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I got an email yesterday from John Mena of the St. Louis Unions Vintage Base Ball Club and when I was checking out their website I noticed that they mentioned that E. C. Simmons was the first captain of the Unions of St. Louis. I didn't recall ever seeing Simmons mentioned as an original member of the Unions, let alone the captain, so I did a little quick digging.

In The National Game, Al Spink quotes Jeremiah Fruin as saying that "E. C. Simmons, now at the head of the Simmons Hardware Company, was I think the first captain of the Unions. But he was so overbearing and arbitrary that his players fell out with him and he went in another direction and started a team of his own."

Edwards C. Simmons was born in Fredrick, Maryland on September 21, 1839 and, according to Bertie Charles Forbes in Men who are making America, he "trekked to St. Louis when a young lad." As president of the Simmons Hardware Company, "he made St. Louis the greatest hardware centre on earth..."

In 1854, Simmons, at the age of 16, was working for Child, Pratt, & Co., the largest wholesale hardware store in St. Louis at the time. By 1860, according to Kennedy's St. Louis city directory, he was working for Wilson, Levering, & Waters, the company that would become the Simmons Hardware Company. His is truly one of the great American success stories.

Fruin's claim, however, that Simmons was one of the founders of the Union Club or the first captain of the club is without merit. According to E.H. Tobias, "The original Union Club was composed of high school pupils who organized under the name in 1860 with Asa W. Smith, president; Robert Niggeman, vice-president; J.P. Freeman, secretary; E.F. Finney, treasurer...In the latter part of '61 the Union Club disbanded on account of the Civil War and did not reorganize until 1865. Of those who belonged to the original club Asa W. Smith, Wm. E. Greenleaf and J.P. Freeman were the promoters of the new organization."

Simmons is mentioned by Tobias as a member of the Unions in 1865. On May 31, 1865, the Unions played a match against the Empires and Tobias noted that "E.C. Simmons now of Simmons Hardware Co. was substituted for O. Garrison (in center field)." There is no mention of him through 1865 as either the captain or as an officer of the club.

Fruin, of course, did not arrive in St. Louis until 1861 and he had no first hand knowledge of the antebellum Unions. His conversation with Spink took place fifty odd years after the fact and it's understandable that his memory is faulty. However, while Simmons had nothing to do with the founding of the 1860 version of the Unions, he was an original member of the post-Civil War Union Club. While it's highly unlikely that he ever captained the first nine, the rest of Fruin's statement (regarding Simmons leaving the club and starting a new one) is possible and needs more research.

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