Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The 1873 Championship Series Between the Empires and Reds

The Empire Base Ball Club was first recognized as the Champions of Missouri in 1866 and was the best baseball team in St. Louis going back to 1861 (and possibly 1860). Between 1866 and 1872, they held the championship every year but one, losing the honor to the Union Club in 1867. On May 25, 1873, the Empires faced a "new claimant for popular favor and the State championship" in the form of the Red Stocking Base Ball Club. The Reds would give the Empires their most serious challenge for the championship since the Union Club disbanded. In a back and forth battle, the Empires and Reds would split the first four games of their championship series and the series would not be decided until October when the fifth and decisive game was played.

The first game of the championship series, of course, took place on May 25th and I've written about the game in the past. The Empires scored thirteen runs in the third inning and jumped out to a 18-4 lead as they cruised to a 25-16 victory, the only hick-up being the seven runs that the Reds scored in the fifth. According to E.H. Tobias, this was the first game the Reds ever played.

The second game of the series was played on June 8 and the results were pretty much the same as the first game. The Empires scored nineteen runs in the first five innings and never trailed. The six runs that the Reds scored in the eight and ninth inning made the final score of 26-18 somewhat respectable.

While the Reds showed talent and potential in the first two games, they were never really in either game and were one loss from getting swept aside by the Empires. However, the two teams would not meet again until September and the young Reds used the time to their advantage-working out their best line up and gaining confidence after a string of impressive victories over some of the other top teams in St. Louis. By the time the two teams met for the third game of their championship series, the Reds had developed into a more mature and dangerous club.

On September 7, the two clubs "again contended for supremacy" and the Reds once again fell behind the Empires, giving up two runs in the first. However, unlike in the first two games, the Reds answered the challenge, scoring eighteen runs in the first five innings, while Pidge Morgan, the Reds' pitcher, was able for the first time to shut down the potent Empire bats. The 20-11 victory of the Reds was, according to Empire partisan Tobias, "characterized by out and out laziness...on the part of the Empires owing to the extreme heat."

This victory by the Reds created a situation "interesting enough to attract a large attendance" to the fourth game of the series on October 12. In an incredible back and forth battle, the Reds jumped out to a two run lead only to fall behind 4-2 after two innings. In the third, the Reds' bats came alive, scoring seven runs for a 9-4 lead. Entering the bottom of the fifth, the Reds still led 11-6 only to see the Empires explode for seven runs and take a 13-11 lead. The Empires extended that advantage to 15-11 after six innings. The Reds however refused to fold and scored one run in the seventh and three in the eighth to tie the game. After shutting out the Empires in the bottom of the eight, the Reds scored two runs in the top of the ninth to take a 17-15 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, the champions refused to go quietly and scored a run to make the final 17-16. Tobias, sadly, gives no account of the bottom of the ninth and what kind of threat the Empires made to tie the game and force extra innings. Regardless, the Reds had won a fantastic victory, tied the championship series at two games apiece and forced a decisive fifth game.

This fifth and deciding game was played one week later on October 19 before "an immense audience...eager to see the fur fly" and "(both) clubs were eager for...the encounter..." However, this game failed to live up to the previous one and after the Empires scored five runs in the third for a 7-1 lead the champions were "inspired...and the Reds discouraged." Defending their championship, the Empires cruised to an easy 10-4 victory that was marked by outstanding defense on both sides.

While the veteran Empire players such as Schimper, Barron, Spaulding, and Wirth celebrated yet another championship, the young Reds had shown their mettle and fulfilled the expectations that had surrounded them going into the season. The Empires had survived one of the stiffest challenges to their championship reign while the Reds could take solace in the fact that their 17-16 victory in the fourth game of the series was one of the greatest games ever played in St. Louis. And the two clubs would battle again for the championship in 1874.

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