-Alton Weekly Courier, June 24, 1858A Match Game
Some time since we noticed the organisation, in our city, of a Base Ball Club. Since then, the Club has played from one to three games every week, the regular games being played on Friday afternoons, and the members have become very expert. Last week they accepted a challenge to play a match game with the Upper Alton Club. The game was played on Saturday afternoon, by twelve picked men from each Club, upon the Alton Club ground, in Middle Alton, the latter winning in five innings, by one hundred and thirty-four rounds. The game stood at the close: Alton Club, 224 rounds; Upper Alton Club, 90 rounds. We are told, however, that the Upper Alton boys played at a disadvantage, being on strange ground, and three of their best players being sick. It is admitted by some of the members of the winning Club, that had the advantages been equal, the contest would have been a close one, and the result perhaps entirely different. We presume it will be tried again.
This reference to a baseball match in Alton in 1858 is similar to the Porter's Spirit of the Times July 17, 1858 reference that's used in the Protoball Chronology. Interestingly, the Spirit of the Times article is written in the first person while this one is not which rules out the Courier piece being the direct source for the Spirit of the Times reference although it's possible that they share a common author.
Update: After writing this I noticed one discrepancy between the two sources. The Spirit of the Times source mentions thirteen players per side and the Courier source mentions twelve.
The significance of this article, as I wrote before, is that it is the earliest reference to a safe haven game in the St. Louis area of which we're aware. Actually, what I wrote was that it was the earliest reference to a non-cricket safe haven game that I know of but checking my notes I noticed that the earliest reference to a cricket game I have is from November of 1858 and the earliest reference to a cricket club is from September of 1858 so this Courier piece predates both of those by several months. As of right now, this is the line between the light and the darkness. We have direct contemporary evidence of a safe haven game being played in the St. Louis area in June of 1858 with club formation in May of 1858. While I have no doubt that safe haven games were being played in the St. Louis area earlier then this, that's speculative with nothing to back it up other than Tobias' vague reference to the popularity of town ball and cricket in the area prior to the arrival of the New York game.
Of course, this Courier article is not a reference to the New York game. The earliest reference to the New York game in the St. Louis area continues to be the notice for the Cyclone/Morning Star match that ran in the Missouri Democrat in July of 1860. The Courier piece does nothing to change the time line regarding the advent of the New York game in St. Louis. What it does is give us more information about the nature of St. Louis bat and ball games and clubs prior to the formation of the Cyclone Club in the summer of 1859.
This, of course, raises significant questions. What kind of game exactly was the Alton Base Ball Club and the Upper Alton Base Ball Club playing if it wasn't "baseball?" If it isn't the New York game (and based on the fact that they were using twelve men per side and playing only five innings, it's easy to say that it wasn't) than what is it? Well, the simplest answer, as it's been pointed out to me, is that they were playing a bat and ball game that was known, in Alton, as "base ball." It was simply a local variation of a safe haven game that they happened to call base ball and, based on Tobias' recollections, was likely similar to what was more commonly called town ball. How was the game played? I don't know. How was the field laid out? Don't know. What kind of rules were used? Don't know. Was this game specific to Alton or was it played throughout the St. Louis area? Don't know.
Certainly, the lack of answers to these specific questions seems frustrating but it really isn't. We now have numerous sources showing that safe haven games were being played in the St. Louis area in 1858 and that has a significant impact on our understanding of the origins and development of baseball in St. Louis. And over time we're going to find more references, more sources, more information and we're going to continue to push back the darkness on our knowledge. This is a good thing.
Note: If you ever look at the tags that I add to each post or use the list of tags in the sidebar, you may have noticed that I misspelled "origins." Yeah...I'm embarrassed. And I'm really not sure if I can fix it without changing the tag on each individual post. I'll have to look into it. Of course, I'm sure that my poor spelling (and grammar) is not a shock to any regular readers of this blog.