Monday, April 14, 2008

First Fly Match Played In The West

It was in the Spring of 1865 that the Empire Club having successfully demonstrated that it was cock of the home walk became seized with a desire to spread its wings and let the outside world know how good a game it could put up and in looking around for "men worthy of their steel" the club managers came into correspondence with the Empire Club of Freeport, Ill., which eventuated in a match being made for the approaching Fourth of July at Freeport. As this was an event of no ordinary magnitude, the club went into extra training, more particularly as the opposing club sustained a fine reputation and on July 2, the selected players to the number of twelve accompanied by about an equal number of non-playing members started on their journey of conquest. They arrived at their destination the next evening (having been delayed through a mis-connection of trains at Pana, Ill.) with four players quite ill from the effects of the water drunk on the cars. After supper Capt. Fruin gave strict orders for the players to remain in the hotel and a physician was called in for the sick ones. Through strict obedience to orders at noon on the Fourth the players were all in good physical condition. This game of ball had been extensively advertised through the press and the leading citizens, headed by Col. Schzefer, chief of Gen'l. Ben Butler's staff, exerted themselves to entertain their visitors, a grand complimentary dinner at the Busby House being among the many courtesies arranged. In fact, the ball game was the feature of that Fourth of July, not alone for Freeport, but for the entire surrounding country and visitors had flocked into the town to the number of several thousand from Iowa as well as Illinois.

...Fruin passed the order that no player should partake of (alcohol during the festivities), promising that after the game they could have all they wanted. This order was obeyed strictly, not a man wishing to hazard his share of the honors and glory of playing in this the first fly match west of the Alleghenies, for such this proved to be. No definite arrangements were made as to whether it would be "a bound or a fly" game until the two club captains faced one another on the diamond, when in reply to the question as to what it would be, Frain promptly responded: "Just as you please" and the answer came promptly: "Fly it is." It afterward developed that the Freeport Captain thought he had gained quite an advantage by thus choosing, as the "fly" game was still quite a novelty, and though some of the St. Louis boys felt a little weak over the chances of winning, Fruin had not the least misgiving, as he knew full well that his men "just doted" on fly balls when they came along.

Mr. S. Hoye, of the Garden City Club, umpired the game and learned more that day than he had picked up in all his previous experience. The possibility of putting out three men at once was there demonstrated by the St. Louis team, though the umpire gave the credit for two outs only after having the triple play explained to him thoroughly, his original decision having been one out! It was the first occasion when the St. Louis team had been called upon to face a crowd of nearly seven thousand strangers, whose sympathies were naturally with their opponents, and the victory, achieved by a score of 27 to 20, was a most creditable one, adding much to the club's prestige...

The victors made two aces (home runs) as they were then denominated. This game not only added fresh laurels to the Empire Club, but it gave a local impetus to the game that was lasting in its effects and from that time forward, the club became the target for numerous challenges as well as the increased envy of its main home rival, the Union Club.
-E.H. Tobias, writing in The Sporting News, November 9, 1895


Richard Hershberger said...

Very interesting account in many respects. The discussion about whether to play the fly or the bound game suggests that while the NA's official rules carried weight, they were not necessarily immediately adopted in practice.

Also interesting is that the former chief of staff of a Major General took such an active interest in a game. I am repeatedly struck by the breadth and depth of the baseball mania immediately following the war, and how prominent citizens took such an interest.

I had not seen "aces" used to mean home runs. Are there other cites for this usage?

Jeff Kittel said...

I didn't think twice about the use of "aces" so I'm sure I've seen it before and it's probably a Tobias idiosyncrasy. I'll have to check.

I also should have mentioned that while Tobias claims that this is the first fly game in the west there's nothing that confirms this and it may be nothing more than the first fly game he was aware of.