Sunday, August 10, 2008

19th Century St. Louis Baseball Grounds, Part Two

Que the fanfare, strike up the band-heres's part two of my list of baseball grounds used in St. Louis in the 19th century:

The Grand Avenue Grounds-“The subject matter of providing a permanent habitation and home for the Empire Club had long been under consideration by leading members of the club and early in this season (of 1868) assumed a tangible form by the appointment of a committee to select suitable grounds. They reported favorably upon what became known as the St. Louis Base Ball Park, the property being then a cornfield and owned by John Dunn. At the same time the Union Club, having become dissatisfied with their own grounds further South on Grand Avenue and opposite where now stands the Rock Church, also discovered the availability of the tract selected by the Empire committee. The main recommendation of this ground was its near proximity to the Fair Grounds which was then the objective point of several street car lines built and to be built. August Solari, a member of the Empire Club, secured a five-year lease of this property and entered into an agreement with the Union Club whereby upon the payment of a small rental and giving him the lumber contained in their old grounds for use in the erection of grandstands, fencing, etc., in the new park, Solari was obligated to provide necessary accommodations, keep the grounds in good order, the Union Club to have the exclusive right to use of the park on certain days. The Empire Club rented from Solari two days in each week, one being Sunday. It was in the foregoing manner that old Sportsman’s Park, as it was known eventually, became the main base ball center of the city and for several years thereafter it remained so…The first game on the new grounds was played Saturday, May 3, 1868, between the first and second nines of the Union Club and next came the first regular match of the Empire Club for this season…on May 21 with the Commercial Club, resulting in a score (unintelligible) in favor of the Empires.”

Note: The Grand Avenue Grounds was the scene of most of the major baseball matches in StL between its creation and 1874. As home to both the Empires and Unions, “the base ball park,” as it was commonly referred to, would see uncountable championship matches as well as all of the most important baseball visitors to StL. It would also serve as the home of the Brown Stockings from 1875 to 1877 when they played in the NA and NL (when it would be the scene of the first NL game played in StL). After the collapse of the Brown Stockings following the 1877 season, the park would fall into disrepair until it was rebuilt by Sportsman’s Park and Club Association in 1881.

“The former Grand Avenue Park had long since fallen into disuse. With monies from the Sportsman’s Park Club and Association, the rotten bleachers were replaced with a double-decker grandstand and bleachers. Capacity was 8,000, including comfortable chairs for ladies and a special section dedicated exclusively to the ‘howling’ element of fandom.” J. Thomas Hetrick Chris Von der Ahe and the St. Louis Browns

Note: The park would be home to the Browns until they moved to New Sportsman’s Park in 1892. The AL Browns would build the “modern” Sportsman’s Park on the grounds in 1902 and the grounds would be the scene of professional baseball until 1965.

The Abbey Race Track Grounds
-“The Atlantic Club having established itself on new grounds at the Abbey race track played an inaugural game on Sept. 14 (1870) with the Empire Club, defeating the latter 25 to 19. The grounds were not in suitable condition but one prior game having been played upon it.

The Wash Home Grounds-“…on June 1 (1873)…the Niagaras played the Hermans…on the Wash Home grounds…”

The Rivals Grounds-“The Red Sox defeated the Rivals on June 1 (1873) by a score of 47 to 5…on the Rivals grounds…”

The Lone Star Grounds-“…(on July 20, 1873) the Red Stocking and Rival Clubs played on the old Lone Star grounds back of Lafayette Park…” Al Spink, in The National Game, mentions a grounds just south of Lafayette Park where the Rowenas and Vanities played; this is probably the same grounds.

Red Stocking Park-also known as the Compton Avenue Park, built in 1874 by Thomas McNeary on the site of the old Veto grounds; “On May 24 (1874) the Empires and Red Stockings opened on their series of championship games at Red Stocking park.” Was the site of the first game between two “professional” clubs on May 4, 1875 when the Reds took on the Browns in the first National Association contest in StL. Of course, the evidence suggests that there were professional teams in StL prior to this and the first game between two professional teams in StL probably took place in the late 1860’s. Baseball was played at the Compton Avenue Park until it was torn down in the 1890’s.

Stocks Park-“The Stocks, as their name implies, was made up of livestock men, most of them residing in ‘Butcher Town’ north of Easton and west of Vandeventer avenue. Their grounds were located between (unintelligible).” I’m unable to read the Tobias text at this point and establish the location of the Stocks Grounds although one would assume that it was located somewhere around Vandeventer, near the site of what would become New Sportsman’s Park. Al Spink, in The National Game, mentions that the Stocks Grounds was located “just off Easton, near Vandeventer avenue” which, naturally enough (since Spink owned and edited TSN) seems taken directly from the Tobais material. Spink writes: “In 1875 William L. Cassidy, Josh Rothschild and other baseball enthusiasts and livestock dealers built the Stocks Park which was located near the car sheds in the vicinity of Easton and Vandeventer avenues.”

The Elephant and Saw Log Grounds-“The Elephant and ‘Saw Log’ Grounds on the river front, open field east of Broadway and north of North Market street, where the Elephant and ‘Saw Log’ teams played their games in the early seventies.” Al Spink, The National Game

Note: The Elephant club didn’t become prominent until around 1874/5 so Spink might be a bit off with his dates here.

Kensington Garden Grounds-“The game (between the Home Comforts and the Sultan Bitters) was played (in 1889) on the Kensington Garden grounds and the Comforts were the winners by a score of 3 to 2.” Al Spink The National Game

Spink mentions that the grounds were located at “Union and Page avenues.”

The St. Louis Amateur Grounds-mentioned by Spink as being located at “Missouri and Russell avenues” and, along with the Kensington Garden Grounds, as the site of games between teams in the St. Louis Baseball League in 1889

Union Park-“(Henry Lucas) built Lucas Park on his own land, with a capacity for 10,000 fans. Lucas believed in comfort and aesthetics. Features included a huge grandstand, upholstered folding opera chairs, and leisure facilities. Patrons entering were serenaded by a cage full of canaries. With such amenities, the park was dubbed ‘The Palace Park of America.’ Fans weren’t the only pampered guests. The grounds housed a dressing room and reception area. One room was for reading and lectures. Another was designed for hygiene. The washroom had no less than nine bathtubs. For the fifty-six-game (1884) home schedule (of the Maroons), ball cranks could purchase a reserved season ticket for $22. Bleacher season tickets sold for $11.00.” J. Thomas Hetrick Chris Von der Ahe and the St. Louis Browns

New Sportsmans Park-“The New Sportsman’s Park, built in 1893 at the corner of Vandeventer Avenue and Natural Bridge Road, was one of (Chris) Von der Ahe’s many risky real-estate ventures. On April 16, 1898, a disastrous fire virtually destroyed the ballpark. Von der Ahe sank his dwindling cash reserve into rebuilding it…” Jon David Cash Before They Were Cardinals

Coney Island of the West,” as it was dubbed, was a forerunner of the modern day sport complex with its racetrack, bicycle track, water ride, etc coupled to the attraction of the baseball game. After the fire, it was quickly rebuilt and no games were cancelled. However, it was rebuilt on a less grand scale and was little more than a simple ballpark. Would be renamed Robison Field after the Robison brothers acquired the Browns early in 1899. The soon-to-be renamed Cardinals would continue to play at the ballpark until (if memory serves) 1920.

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