Thursday, April 9, 2009

Giants On The Ball Field, Part Three

The insurance men were fond of relaxation and found it in baseball.  Wallace B. Delafield of Delafield & Snow was one of the best players in the Commercial Club, as was Edwin Fowler.  Martin Collins, an honorary member of the Empire Club was an enthusiast on ball play and offered the first prize in the shape of a championship belt, which is now in the possession of Walter S. Parr, one of the ex-presidents of the Empire Club.  A.W. Howe of the insurance firm of Howe & Capen played in the Union Club.

Among the most active players in early days was Fred W. Benteen, who joined the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War, through which he served with such distinction that he won the shoulder straps of a Major in the regular army, gained further honors and promotion in Custer's famous cavalry fights on the frontier, and is now living at Atlanta, Ga., with the rank and pay of a retired Brevet Brigadier General, devoting much of his time to literary pursuits, being a contributor to Recreation, a New York magazine.  In his ball playing days in St. Louis he was a member of the Cyclone Club, to which also belonged the well-known Olive street druggist, Morris W. Alexander, who ranked as a first-class runner of bases and wielder of the bat, the latter quality being doubtless acquired by frequent handling of the pestle.  It was in those ball playing days of his youth that "Aleck" made a 'home run' by marrying the daughter of Mr. John Young, who was engaged in the saddlery business on Main street and a member of the Empire Club.  Mr. Young made no pretensions to being a player, but he was an acknowledged authority on the rules and in great demand as umpire, which position he sustained much more creditably and satisfactorily than many of his later day successors.  He is still living in St. Louis on Westmoreland place. 

Ferdinand L. Garesche, now connected with the Edison Electric Light Company, was originally a Cyclonist, and could make the bases as quickly as the best of sprinters.  He was what was then a rara avis, a left-hand batter, and played shortstop to the Queen's taste.  He later joined the Union Club.

The first regular field captain of the Empire Club was Jerry Fruin, late Police Commissioner.  He was a hard hitter, good manager and unsurpassed second baseman, a position which was then, as now, considered by many as the key of the field.  His firm of Fruin, Hambrick & Co. has some large contracts for paving the streets of New York City now under construction.

Robert J. Lucas was the effective left-handed twirler of the Union Club, and could fill any position with credit.

Justice Jas. J. Spaulding was one of the longest term active members of the Empire Club.  He was a fine fielder and superior second baseman, which position he filled after Jerry Fruin's retirement.

James H. Fitzgibbons, the architect and builder, pitched for the Empire Club during several seasons and proved of the greatest value to that organization.  He first began pitching while at Yale College and was one of the hardiest men ever on a ball field.  On one occasion when the success of the Empire Club was at a critical point, he persisted in pitching through four innings although his hand had been cut open and was bleeding.
-St. Louis Daily Republic, February 9, 1896

One thing that's becoming a problem with this series of posts is the tags.  Blogger gives me something like 200 key strokes to tag each post and with the number of players and clubs mentioned it's just not enough.  I'm simply unable to tag every player mentioned in each post and that will create problems when trying to find or retrieve information.  I've been thinking about putting links to some of my better posts in the sidebar and this little problem might force me to do it.  Of course, there's always the search function.  

Anyway, on to some of the things that I found interesting about the above information:

-I didn't know that Ferdinand Garesche and Robert Lucas were lefties.  While Lucas seems to fit into the pattern of the emergence of left-handed pitchers in the later part of the 1860's, I'm not sure what to think about Garesche.  I have no idea how much of a rare bird a left-handed batter was during the antebellum era.

-James Fitzgibbons (who, some may know, I've often confused with Gerald Fitzgibbon and James Fitzgerald) was a Yalie.  Somewhere (perhaps in The National Game) there's a reference to Yale coming to St. Louis to play baseball but I've never been able to run it down.  Fitzgibbons (not to be confused, remember, with Fitzgibbon or Fitzgerald) most likely played a role in bringing the Yale Club to St. Louis.    


David Ball said...

The men mentioned in this article all seem to have been movers and shakers in St. Louis. Were any of them associated later on with professional baseball in St. Louis? I know two members of the Lucas family (though not Charles Lucas himself) were presidents of St. Louis clubs, but I don't see anybody else whose name is familiar in that respect.

This would be similar to the situation in Cincinnati, with which I am more familiar. With only one or two exceptions, the better off and better-connected men associated with the game in the 1860's had nothing to do with it later on; at least, their names don't come up as backers of the professional teams.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

A unusually high percentage of the players of the era did go on to have distinguished and successful careers. I actually tend to think that this success was a result of character traits common among the men who were drawn to base ball. The dedication needed to play during the era (early morning practices, money out of pocket, etc), the competative nature of athletes, the social skills needed to operate in a large club-all of these character traits would translate well into the business world, the military, or the legal profession. I just have this feeling that the type of man who was drawn to baseball in the antebellum or immediate postbellum era (speaking generally) would be the same kind of man who could carve out a successful career for himself. I think word that would describe these guys rather well would be "self-motivated" and a self-motivated individual is normally successful in whatever they choose to do.

Several former members of the Union Club were involved in the organization and operation of the 1875-1877 Brown Stockings. Orrick Bishop, William Steigers, and Charles Turner were all involved in some degree with the Brown Stockings. Robert Lucas and Charles Lucas, the brother and cousin of Brown Stockings president J.B.C. Lucas, were also members of the Union Club and, while I can't prove it, I've always suspected that J.B.C. was as well.

It's interesting that former members of the Union Club were influential in the organization of the Brown Stockings. One of my pet arguments about the postbellum era is that the Union Club, under the leadership of Asa Smith, was attempting to bring StL baseball into the national baseball mainstream (if such a thing actually existed). Recognizing the changes that were taking place nationally, Smith pushed, proded and advocated for changes in the way baseball was organized and played in StL and, although he didn't live to see it, this led directly to the organization of an openly professional StL club competing nationally for a championship. In many ways, the Brown Stockings were the culmination of Smith's work.

However, it all ended rather badly in 1877 and professional baseball was discredited to a large extent in StL. Smith's goal of creating a club that could compete nationally was picked up by the Spink brothers, August Solari, Chris Von der Ahe, and the Sportsman's Park and Club Association while the older members of the baseball fraternity were no longer involved in the game (except as fans and spectators).