Monday, November 3, 2008

An 1887 Reference To The Morning Star Club

Several of the boys on the floor have laughed at me because I played ball with the flour men's nine, but I want it understood that there is no older ball player in the city than I, and there are very few who have played the game as long as I have. About two years before the war there was a town-ball club that played every morning on the Carr square. I could not call the names of any of the others except Joe Franklin, but he and I were both members of the club. It was called the Morning Star, and we played from 5:30 o'clock until 7 o'clock every morning. Nearly all of us moved to the neighborhood of Twenty-second and the Pacific Railroad, and we continued our game there. Then base-ball was started in the East, and our secretary wrote on for the rules of the game. We received a little book that told how it was played, and we changed our name to the Morning Star Base-Ball Club, and that was the first club organized, and we played the first game of base-ball west of the Mississippi River.
-Richard Perry, quoted in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 24, 1887

Perry, according to Tobias, played shortstop for the Morning Star Club in the match against the Cyclone Club in July of 1860. Born in 1838 in England, in 1860 he was working as a "reporter" for the Merchant's Exchange in St. Louis. Later in life he achieved some success as a flour importer.

Perry's account of how the Morning Stars came to play baseball is at odds with Merritt Griswold's, who claimed that he found the club playing town ball one day and taught them the Regulation Game, and his recollections regarding the origins of the game in St. Louis certainly muddies the waters up a bit. However, it came eight years before Tobias wrote his history of St. Louis baseball for The Sporting News, almost twenty-five years before Griswold wrote his letter to Al Spink, and is the oldest source I've come across containing a first-hand account of baseball during the antebellum period. It's not a contemporary account but, for now, it's the best we have.

There are several things in Perry's account which are confirmed by Tobias and/or Griswold. Tobias mentions Joe Franklin as a member of the Morning Stars. Griswold mentions that the club played at Carr Park in the early mornings. Both state that the club was active prior to the Civil War. In many ways, Perry's account fits with the other sources we have regarding baseball in antebellum St. Louis.

How seriously do I take Perry's claim that the Morning Stars were the first baseball club in St. Louis? The claim certainly can't be dismissed out of hand but, at this point, the best available evidence still suggests that the Cyclone Club, organized in the summer of 1859, was the first baseball club in St. Louis. However, I have nothing personally invested in that claim and I'm more than willing to go where the evidence takes me. And in the end the important thing is not whether the Cyclones or the Morning Stars or the Unions were the first club-all of these clubs were significant in their own right and it's almost irrelevant if they were the first club or the third club. What's important is getting to the truth of the matter. Perry's account is significant because it adds to our knowledge and gets us that much closer to an understanding of the truth.


Richard Hershberger said...

I'm not sure this account is really at odds with the Griswold version. Perry is vague about how eastern baseball came to the attention of the Morning Stars. Perhaps Griswold piqued their interest, and their secretary followed up.

For what it is worth, I have found that pre-Civil War, direct personal contact with a recent arrival is far more common a vector than is indirect contact such as by reading New York papers. Both modes of transmission can be documented, but they are not equally likely. So I am predisposed to accept the Griswold version.

I agree that the "who was first?" discussion is a side track, if only because fading memory tends to favor the direct experience and the more dramatic claim.

Jeff Kittel said...

My initial reaction was that Perry and Griswold's accounts were at odds with each other but over the last week or so, as I've been thinking about how I was going to write up a long piece on the Morning Star Club, I've come to the conclusion that the two versions can co-exist. Perry may be correct that the club already was aware of the game, knew the rules, and had been fooling around a bit with it when Griswold came along and coached them up. Or Griswold came along, found them playing town ball, explained things to them, coached 'em up and then they sent away for the rules of the game.

I've yet to write the bit about Perry and Griswold but I think that's the way I'm going to go. Right now I just finished sorting out the biographical information and found some great stuff. Tobias mentioned that most of the club members worked for a dry goods store in StL but he failed to mention that they all lived in the same neighborhood around Carr Park, where they played ball. While there's not a lot of information out there about the club, what there is is rather interesting and makes for a good story.