Sunday, July 27, 2008

An Old Timers' Game

A very memorable game, one that was and is historic in the career of the Empire Club, was played August 19, in the presence of the largest audience that gathered at the ball park during the entire season of 1873. It partook of the nature of a family re-union, inasmuch as the contestants were the first nine of the club against the veterans, those who at one time or another during the existence of the club had played on the first nine. It was not a burlesque game but was played for points and it is not amiss to say that the vets presented the most unique aggregation of dilapidated ball tossers that ever appeared on any occasion. Crooked fingers, broken noses and ankles weak from sprains, all were there represented in the persons of one or more of the veterans. It was thought that the “old ‘uns” would be able to give their youthful adversaries a good tussle but the game showed that base ball players may be classed among the good things that do not improve with age. It was purely in a desire to include all the vets present that eleven players participated on their side and not at all because they thought it necessary to have extra aid in spanking the “young ‘uns...”

It was a game that will long be remembered by those participating at least if for no other reason than that no casuality occurred to any of the Vets, who while showing what they did know about the game could not help proving what they could not do and base running was one of those things. Shockey demonstrated that his hands had not lost their cunning by capturing five fly balls. Tobias caught a neat liner at short that was almost hot enough to knock him out. Frain held down second base with old time grace but base running was quite another thing with his increased (girth). Duffy made a great effort to be a boy again and succeeded in a measure. Yule and Sexton each divided their efforts equally between outs and runs, of which achievement they were not too obstreperously proof. Jack Barrett was out of place in center field and couldn’t see why he was not made catcher No. 2 “and then you would have seen base ball.” John Murphy could not find where the mile stones were located, obesity having claimed him for its own, and Cooney could not see the ball when Schimper so kindly tossed it in his direction. Robinson would have done better if he had left his shoes outside the park, his limbs not being strong enough to make time with such appendages. John O’Connell acted as though he was at a School Board meeting where they do anything but what they should.

The First Nine might have done better but what they did do was quite enough to show how disrespectful they could be to old age, especially so with Barron, Oran, Spaulding and Klein who just to show their smartness insisted upon double dealings of outs on several separate and distinct occasions. Schimper, too, was mean enough to heat his balls red hot and the ambidextrous Seward’s hands held magnets. Adam Wirth’s traps were freshly greased for the occasion and his sardonic smile at each successful capture was enough of itself to annihilate those poor decrepit Vets. There was on exhibition during the day the championship belt and bat that had been confided to the club’s protection years before and which it lost but for one year to the Union Club, also a photograph of the first nine in ’67. Several of the veterans wore the gold badge of the club that was adopted in ’66 on the occasion of their first trip from home to Freeport, Ill., and one, Tobias, was attired in the original uniform of the club having preserved it since his retirement from the nine.

-E.H. Tobias, writing in The Sporting News, January 11, 1896

Several notes of interest:

-The idea that "the 'old ‘uns' would be able to give their youthful adversaries a good tussle" is rather humorous and Tobias can't possibly be serious with this claim. The Empires in 1873 were an outstanding baseball team that had already defeated all of its rivals with no blemishes to their record that I can find. The final score of the game, by the way, was 39-9.

-Tobias mentions a photograph of the 1867 team. Anybody happen to have a copy? I'd certainly like to see it (and that's understatement at its finest).

-While Tobias mentions the championship belt and bat, he makes no mention of the gilded championship ball that was originally used in the Cyclone/Morning Star match game in 1860. One can assume then that the ball had already been "misplaced" by August of 1873. Griswold stated that it was last seen in the possession of the Empire Club and I believe that Tobias also makes mention of it in his series of letters (but I can't remember off the top of my head what he said about it). I'm hoping the thing is in a box in somebody's attic and wasn't thrown out years ago. That ball is the Holy Grail of St. Louis sports memorabilia.

-This game and the events surrounding it speaks to an appreciation that the Empire Club had for its own history and that of the game. How many clubs were in existence in 1873 that had a richer history than the Empire Club? A club formed in the antebellum period, that was active during the Civil War, that dominated the game in a rich baseball market and that had thrived for fourteen seasons-the Empires had a great deal to celebrate.

-Finally, Tobias' reference to his own play (he "caught a neat liner") is by far the nicest thing he says about his own ballplaying abilities in the series. While never a great player or a regular member of the starting nine, Tobias must have been a decent baseball player. He did play with the first nine on several occasions-a few of which were rather big matches. In his letters to TSN, Tobias is rather humble about his own exploits on the field and is usually self-deprecating when referring to them.

Edit: Looking at my notes, it appears that Tobias' last mention of the gilded championship ball was in his November 16, 1895 letter to TSN. He wrote that after the Union Club defeated the Empires for the championship in 1867, Jeremiah Fruin presented the ball and the belt to the Unions. He doesn't mention the Unions returning the ball after the Empires defeated them in 1867. One can assume that they returned the belt and that this is the belt that Tobias is talking about in his letter of January 11, 1896. If the belt was returned then you would think that the ball was returned as well. The Empire Club is still the best suspect for the last known holder of the gilded ball.


Steve Pona said...

Can you imagine how cool it will be when the "gold" ball from the Cyclone/Morning Star game in 1860 is found? Holy Grail of St. Louis sports memorabilia, indeed!!

Jeffrey Kittel said...

My hope is that some of this stuff (the ball, the championship belt, photos) are sitting in a box somewhere waiting to be found. I have a suspicion that some of the photos are in collections at the Mercantile Library but I haven't gotten around to looking for them yet. The rest, if I had to guess, got thrown out years ago and are lost forever.