Saturday, August 9, 2008

19th Century St. Louis Baseball Grounds, Part One

I put together this list of 19th century baseball grounds in St. Louis while working with Steve Pona on a more comprehensive list of St. Louis ballparks. Since it turned out nicely, I thought I'd share it with my loyal readers-all four of you (and I never get tired of that joke). All quotes come from E.H. Tobias' series of letters to The Sporting News unless otherwise noted. Also, it should be also be pointed out that this list is in no way comprehensive and I don't think a comprehensive list can be compiled given the nature of the game and the era. However, I'm reasonably confident that this list contains all of the significant baseball grounds used in St. Louis in the 19th century.

Since the list is a bit long, I'm going to break it up into two parts. Part one ends with a shocking cliffhanger that will make you reevaluate everything you thought you knew about what it means to be a Cylon (oh, wait...that was the season three cliffhanger for Battlestar Galactica). Come back tomorrow for Part Two; same bat-time, same bat-channel.

Gamble Lawn (Gamble Avenue and West Twentieth Street)-“It had long been used as a cricket ground and upon it the Empire Club laid the first claims, being shortly followed by several others. Upon this ground was played most all of the earliest match games.”

Carr Place-“Carr Place was early used by the Morning Star Club and the next ground to become known as a base ball resort was nearly two blocks in extent on the west side of Ham Street, just south of Chouteau Avenue… (here) played the Union and Commercial Clubs in their first start out, but being small in dimension the ground was used almost solely for practice…” Al Spink, in The National Game, writes about early baseball games being played “on the ground now occupied by Carr Square Park.”

Lafayette Park- “…it was but a short time until (the Unions and Commercials) obtained permission from the city council to use a certain portion of Lafayette Park providing they would arrange and maintain the grounds at their own expense. This was done at an outlay of several hundred dollars by each club, but they enjoyed the benefit of the grounds for only a brief period as the war of the Rebellion had broken out, soldiers were being recruited and the military powers seized upon it as a fitting spot for an encampment.”

“In the early days in St. Louis my most intimate young men friends were John Riggin, Louis Hutchinson, John Stetinius and Paul Prewett, all “high rollers,” except myself. We belonged to the St. Louis Cyclone Base Ball Company in 1860. We leased what is now Lafayette Park. At that time, it was surrounded by an osage orange hedge. We spent $600 to put the grounds in shape.” Leonard Matthews A Long Life In Review

Allen’s Commons-“…so the boys went hunting for a new location (after the military seized Lafayette Park) and succeeded in finding one on Mississippi Avenue, south of Lafayette Park, on a large commons owned by Hon. Thos. Allen, who granted permission for the clubs to use the grounds free of all charges. Many ‘interesting and exciting’ games were played upon this ground; the most notable ones being a series between the Union and Empire Clubs.

The Old Cemetery Grounds-“One of the first match games of base ball played West of the Allegheny Mountains between rival clubs was between the Empire and Morning Star clubs of (St. Louis) early in the spring of ’61, and it was played on grounds adjoining the old cemetery, then located where now is the junction of Franklin Avenues, Wash and Twenty-eight Streets.”

The Fair Grounds-“One of the earliest match games played was between the Cyclone and Morning Star Clubs on grounds just back of where now stands the amphitheatre in the Fair Grounds…”

“The First Base Ball Match In St. Louis-The first regular game of base ball played in our city will come off between the members of the ‘Cyclone’ and ‘Morning Star’ Base Ball Clubs, on Monday, the 9th inst., at 4 o’clock, P.M., in the field immediately west of the Fair Grounds.” Notice played by Merritt Griswold in July 1860 in Daily Missouri Democrat

Note: Important matches were still being held west of the Fair Grounds as late as 1868 so we can say that baseball was played at the Fair Grounds from 1860 until at least 1868.

The Laclede Grounds-“The Laclede was the name of an early club made up from master mechanics who played on a lot one block north of Easton Avenue between Jefferson and Garrison.”

The Ham Street Grounds-“The day before Gen’l (Frederick) Benteen (of the Cyclone Club) left St. Louis to join the army he lost a fine seal ring while playing a practice game early in the morning on the Ham street grounds.”

The Union Grounds-“On the 22nd of May (1867) the Union Club inaugurated its new grounds on Grand, south of Page avenue (near Franklin ave.), opposite where now stands the Rock Church by an exhibition game. These were the first enclosed grounds in St. Louis to which admission was charged…On the East side of the grounds near the Grand avenue entrance were located covered seats for ladies and their escorts, while on the south side were those designed for men and boys who had no objection to a sun bath.” Note: Very significant. The creation of enclosed grounds and the charging of admission is an important step forward in the evolution of the game in St. Louis and speaks to the forward thinking of Asa Smith, president of the Union Club, and his desire to bring St. Louis into the baseball mainstream. It also is an indication that the Unions, by 1867, was not a amateur club in our sense of the word. Enclosed grounds and admission charges usually meant that players were getting compensated in some form. Almost all sources state that the baseball clubs in StL were amateurs until 1875 but it’s likely that clubs like the Unions and Empires were compensating their players in some form as early as 1867. This also would fit with the idea of Smith as a visionary who wanted to bring the “modern” game to StL.

The Veto Grounds-“The Unions having challenged the Empires for a championship series of three games, the first was scheduled for June 26 (1867), on the Veto grounds, afterwards known as the Compton Avenue Park, and located immediately adjoining the Pacific R.R. Machine Shops.”

“In 1866 the play ground (of the Empire Club) was changed to near the Pacific Railroad machine shop…” Al Spink The National Game

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