Sunday, August 24, 2008

The First Meeting Of The Cyclone Club

In the summer of 1859 a meeting was held in the office of the old Missouri Glass Company, on fifth street between Pine and Olive. M.W. Griswold, a clerk in the company's store, who had lately moved to St. Louis from Brooklyn, N.Y., an enthusiast on baseball, aided by the exertions of Ed Bredele, had gathered together the nucleus of a club, and after one or two preliminary meetings, the Cyclone Baseball Club was formed, the first in St. Louis, and the first west of the Alleghanies. The uniform adopted was blue flannel cap, blue flannel pants, with white stripe and white leather belt. Leonard Matthews was elected president; M.W. Griswold, field captain; Rufus Gamble, catcher; Fred Garesche, shortstop, and the positions of pitcher, basemen and fielders were filled by first one and then another of the players.
-St. Louis Republic, April 21, 1895

This article in the Republic, based on the recollections of Matthews, Garesche, and Maurice Alexander, is significant because it pushes back the beginnings of the regulation game in St. Louis into the summer of 1859. My assumption, based on Griswold stating that he was playing with the Hiawathas of Brooklyn in 1859, was that the Cyclone wasn't founded until the fall of 1859 and game play was limited until the spring of 1860. Now, however, we have a source that explicitly states that the Cyclones were active in 1859.

This is in line with Tobias' statements that the regulation game was being played in the city in 1859. However, there is an interesting problem here. There is no byline on the Republic article and we can't be certain who wrote it. But I would bet dollars to doughnuts that Tobias wrote this article. I've spent way to much time with the Tobias source and know the idiosyncrasies of his writing. The style, the punctuation, the spelling, the phrasing-it all screams Tobias to me. Also, note the date. Tobias began to publish his letters (or, more accurately, his series of epistolary articles) in The Sporting News in October of 1895, just a few months after this article appeared in the Republic. One would assume that Tobias had been doing the research and putting the series together prior to October and this article was the result of his interviews with former members of the Cyclone Club as he was putting together his longer work. If this is true then Tobias is still the only source that makes the claim of regulation games in 1859.

Still, this is a significant source that's rich in details about the club. I want to thank John Maurath from the Missouri Civil War Museum for sending me a copy.

5 comments:

Richard Hershberger said...

Everyone seems to agree that Merritt Griswold was instrumental to bringing baseball to St. Louis. The firm piece of contemporary evidence is the item that Griswold had published with the rules of baseball, in April of 1860.

This places events in 1860, but on the other hand, in his letter to Spink he remembered this as the winter of 1859/1860. April is a bit late for "winter". It is possible that he moved from Brooklyn to St. Louis in the summer of 1859 and began his recruitment efforts, and forgot the precise timing of when his piece was published.

On the gripping hand, while an awfully large number of clubs formed the summer of 1860, that is a typical pattern of how the baseball craze struck. In the post-war period even modest-sized towns went from zero to a dozen clubs over the course of a month or two. The pre-war pattern tended to be less dramatic, but it is possible that Griswold's recruitment efforts began in early 1860 and paid off handsomely.

Another typical pattern was that people like Griswold made good use of the press, even before match games occurred. The research strategy I would take would be to trawl through the local papers for the late summer and fall of 1859 to see if there are any announcements.

Richard Hershberger said...

Everyone seems to agree that Merritt Griswold was instrumental to bringing baseball to St. Louis. The firm piece of contemporary evidence is the item that Griswold had published with the rules of baseball, in April of 1860.

This places events in 1860, but on the other hand, in his letter to Spink he remembered this as the winter of 1859/1860. April is a bit late for "winter". It is possible that he moved from Brooklyn to St. Louis in the summer of 1859 and began his recruitment efforts, and forgot the precise timing of when his piece was published.

On the gripping hand, while an awfully large number of clubs formed the summer of 1860, that is a typical pattern of how the baseball craze struck. In the post-war period even modest-sized towns went from zero to a dozen clubs over the course of a month or two. The pre-war pattern tended to be less dramatic, but it is possible that Griswold's recruitment efforts began in early 1860 and paid off handsomely.

Another typical pattern was that people like Griswold made good use of the press, even before match games occurred. The research strategy I would take would be to trawl through the local papers for the late summer and fall of 1859 to see if there are any announcements.

Jeff Kittel said...

I'm starting to go a bit wobbly on the significance of Griswold and I'm to the point where I'm completely dismissive of any kind of Great Man Theory regarding the development and evolution of baseball in StL. One problem is that the time frame is now completely muddled and no two sources can agree on anything prior to April of 1860. I now have two sources talking about two (and possibly as many as four) clubs active in 1859. There are also a couple of vague references to things going on prior to 1859-which may simply refer to town ball clubs or might be something more significant.

Right now, my gut is telling me that there's something going on prior to 1859. My thinking is that there was already some kind of infrastructure in place for people like Griswold and Joseph Hollenbeck to take advantage of. Spink talks about the "youths" playing ball and Tobias talks about "students." Wouldn't it make some sense to have young boys playing the game (or some variation of the game) prior to the introduction of the regulation game (with all the trappings of clubs and adult players). Doesn't that fit a broader pattern? Isn't an evolutionary explanation of the development of the game in StL-with there being a tradition of bat and ball games in the city, youngsters playing some form of the game, influenced by Easterners who had played the regulation game and brought more structure to children's "play"-more likely and logical than a Johnny Appleseed explanation?

I'm certainly looking at pre-1860 sources and we'll see what we find.

Richard Hershberger said...

We need to be clear about what it is that Griswold is supposed to have done. There is no suggestion that he introduced the idea of formal clubs playing some version of baseball (in the broad base/town/roundball sense). We know this because of the Morning Stars, playing town ball. More generally there was a widespread trend for clubs playing some sort of team sport forming in the mid-to-late 1850s. The sport played could vary: cricket, the local form of baseball, the New York form of baseball, or even football. So certainly there was an infrastructure in place.

My understanding of Griswold's role is that he introduced the New York form, both by organizing a new club (the Cyclones) and converting an existing club (the Morning Stars). This is consistent with the known pattern of the NY game's introduction to Boston and Baltimore.

As for the precise timing, all these accounts are from decades later. Please don't ask me what year I was married, if my wife is around, and that was just a few years ago. I wouldn't worry too much about a bit of slop in people's recollections. But that is why we have to go for contemporary sources. The only magic about April 1860 that I see is that is the earliest known primary source. It might be that later mentions of 1859 are mistaken. Or it might be that earlier activity didn't make the newspapers, or the clippings haven't been found yet, or they made a newspaper that doesn't survive today. (I don't know the history of journalism in St. Louis, but there certainly are Philadelphia newspaper from that era with no surviving archive, and in a couple of cases I have strong evidence of baseball coverage. C'est la vie.)

Finally, speaking of broad patterns, one of the big patterns is that the NY game spread to most major cities in the U.S. somewhere from 1857 to 1860. This pattern was largely unappreciated later on, with the spread ascribed to the Civil War. So the Griswold story fits nicely in the established pattern, and this pattern was not well known at the time the accounts were written. Compare this with the Jeremiah Fruin story, which did not fit the general pattern and which didn't stand up to scrutiny. This suggests to me that the Griswold story merits credence.

Jeff Kittel said...

You're absolutely right that based on our current evidence Griswold and the Cyclones are highly significant. However, most of that is based on Griswold's own testimony and interpretation of events. Certainly, his testimony has been (mostly)verified by contemporary sources. What I'm really questioning, based on nothing but some vague references in the sources and my gut feeling, is his interpretation.

At this point, I don't have enough sources and evidence to say what was really happening prior to 1860 and that has to be addressed. I've seen enough to make me think that it's possible that the New York game was being played in StL prior to Griswold's arrival in the city. I have no evidence to support this but it's where my gut's leading me. I may be wrong (and wouldn't be the first time) but I want to take a look at it.

At the very least, I think it's important to take a look at the culture of bat and ball clubs in the city prior to the advent of the New York game. If the game is being built on an infrastructure that is preexistent then it's important to understand the infrastructure that existed and the effects that it had on the development of the game. This is certainly new territory for me because I know next to nothing about town ball and cricket and non-baseball sporting clubs in the 19th century.

What I really need is a month off work and a small room at the Mercantile Library in StL. But I have to settle for just plugging away and grinding it out. No rest for the weary.