Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Old And Popular Pastime Of Base Ball

The Ball Club

The young men of our city, on Monday evening last, perfected the organization of a "Ball Club," for the purpose of indulging in the old and popular pastime of "Base Ball." A Constitution, By-Laws, and set of Rules for the Government of the club were adopted, and the following officers were elected:

J.H. Hibbard, President; John Beilar, Vice President; J.M. Stanton, Secretary; and Thos. Dimmock, Treasurer.

The first game, under the organization, will be played this afternoon, at two o'clock, on what is known as "State House Square," in Middle Alton.

We make this announcement with unqualified pleasure, and hope that the Club will long flourish in active harmony. We understand that some sixty members have already enrolled their names, and it will probably increase to one hundred. The initiation fee is only twenty-five cents. the regular games will be played every Friday afternoon, at the hour named above. Young men whose business is of an in-door sedentary character should enter heartily into the games of this Club; they will derive much benefit therefrom.
-Alton Weekly Courier, June 3, 1858, page 1

What was it I was saying the other day about pushing back the darkness of our knowledge?

This is great stuff. We have names of members/officers, the number of members, the cost for joining the club, the location of playing grounds, stuff about the organization of the club, and when their first game was played. I really couldn't ask for more from a source.

But, topping all of this, is a fantastic reference to "the old and popular pastime of 'Base Ball.'" This seems to me to confirm Tobias' assertion that what he called "town ball" was indeed popular in the St. Louis area before the arrival of the New York game. It also suggests that the game, or a form of it, had been played in the area for some time. What "old" means specifically is impossible to know but the city of Alton was only forty years old when this account was written. And in a quick (but interesting) aside, the city was founded in 1818 by Rufus Easton of St. Louis and named after his son Alton Easton , the father of future Union Club member Archibald Easton. St. Louis itself was founded in 1763 and Europeans first settled in the area in 1699 at Cahokia.

So is it conceivable that they were playing some form of a safe haven, bat and ball game called base ball in Alton for forty years? It's certainly within the realm of possibility. If the game was "old" to the writer of the Courier piece and that writer was a twenty-odd year old young man then we can say the game had been played in Alton since at least the 1830's. And what of St. Louis proper? Was the city of St. Louis influencing the game played in Alton or was the reverse true? Or was it a mutual relationship? If this form of ball play in Alton dated back forty years, to 1818 or the early 1820's then one would have to believe that game play in St. Louis was influencing game play in Alton. What kind of influence did Illinois towns like Cahokia, Kaskaskia, and Vandalia have on game play in Alton and St. Louis, if any?

Doing a quick search, I found this interesting tidbit from a A History of Alton: "After the end of the Indian troubles in 1832, Alton grew rapidly in business and population. Many people came into the city, mainly from the Eastern States." If a reasonably conservative estimate of when this form of base ball first started to be played in Alton is sometime in the 1830's than what role did a heavy influx of Easterners have on the development of the game? Was it a form of the game introduced from the East or was it a hybrid of an Eastern game and an indigenous form?

Lots of questions and few answers (for the moment).

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