Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Champion Club Of America

The members of the Empire Base Ball Club of this city returned last night from Dubuque, Iowa, after winning the silver ball and the championship of the northwest, in one of the best and most ably contested match games ever played in this country. The people of Dubuque, who witnessed the game, magnanimously extend to the St. Louis boys the praise to which their nobly won victory so justly entitles them, and declare the Empire Club of St. Louis to be the Champion Club of America. The game was witnessed by an enthusiastic multitude, numbering over fifteen thousand persons, including hosts of the fair sex, and representatives from all the States of the Northwest. The Empire boys, on arriving in East St. Louis, yesterday morning, were received at the depot by a large delegation of their friends, including members of the Baltic, Liberty, Magenta, Dinga, Columbia and O.K. Base Ball Clubs, and with music, escorted to their headquarters, No. 124 North Third street. The handsome prize ball of solid silver will be on exhibition at Miller's saloon for some days, and every one can see it who wishes to gratify a curiosity. The Empire Base Ball Club is composed of our worthiest citizens-gentlemen who would reflect credit on any community-representing as much intelligence and wealth as any society of a similar nature in the United States. Their object is to cultivate a taste for out-door sports, which has been too much neglected by the American people in their march to opulence and greatness-over-burdening the mental faculties while the physic system remains undeveloped. Our citizens should take a lively interest in fostering and encouraging such associations as the Empire Club, and when such sports become more generally indulged in by our youth, we can dispense with billiard saloons and similar dens of iniquity. We extend to the Empire boys our congratulations, and feel a tinge of pride suffuse our cheeks when we hear the notes of praise that are uttered by all who witnessed the achievements of the Empire Base Ball Club of St. Louis.
-St. Louis Daily Press, October 3, 1865

Tobias has a bit to say about the Empire's victory in Dubuque:

...on September 25, 1865, the Empire club went to Dubuque, Iowa, to play for a silver ball offered by the Agricultural Association of that city at their Fair and here the Empires were again victorious, not only defeating all other clubs but also again defeating their namesakes of Freeport, Ill., who in the meantime, since the former match, had met and beaten Chicago's best club. This game was much talked about and...was declared by witnesses to have been the very best fly game on record at that time. It was umpired by Samuel Cox, Esq., of Dubuque and occupied three and one half hours and the silver ball won there was deposited with the other trophies of the club...

The arrival of the St. Louis Club was marked by an ovation hitherto unknown in the West, being in the form of a torchlight procession participated in by the following clubs: Baltic, Liberty, Atlantic, Magenta, Columbus, O.K., Resolute and Hope, all in uniform and each club accompanied by a number of its friends in citizens clothes. It was the hour of midnight when the train conveying the Empires arrived in East St. Louis and the boys were most completely surprised at there being received with the cheers and congratulations of such an enthusiastic crowd of the base ball fraternity. Upon returning to the St. Louis side of the river (by ferry boat) the procession marched down the levee to Chestnut street, to Fourth, to Pine, to Third, to Locust, to Fourth, to Washington Avenue, then to the Empires' Hall on the West Side of Third street near St. Charles, upon arrival there forming in line in front of the old City Hotel. Facing the hall were the club's rooms, brilliantly lighted and filled with its friends and members, who deputized Mr. E.H. Tobias, Secretary of the club, to voice their words of welcome which he did from the balcony of the hall, "couched in elegant and appropriate terms," as one of the morning papers said the next day.

I believe that the excitement generated by the victories of the Empire Club in 1865 was unmatched in St. Louis until the Brown Stocking's victory over Chicago in May of 1875. These victories, within the context of a general baseball revival following the end of the Civil War and along with the Empire/Union rivalry, helped fuel a dynamic St. Louis baseball scene for the rest of the decade. The Empire Club's victories over Freeport in May and September of 1865 are two of the most significant moments in the history of 19th century St. Louis baseball.

Now as to the championship of the West...I certainly believe that they have a legitimate claim to the hypothetical championship in 1865. In 1866, however, they loss any claim to a Western championship to the Excelsior Club of Chicago at the Bloomington tournament that year. And at no point, despite the acclimation of the people of Dubuque, could the Empires ever dream of claiming the national championship. But for that one year, in 1865, the Empire Club could legitimately claim to be the best club in the West.

Also of note, I believe that a couple of weeks ago I mentioned the reception that the Empire Club received after returning from Dubuque but I think I confused it with their first game against Freeport and said that the reception was upon their return from Illinois in July of 1865. Obviously, that was a mistake. I believe that I've tended, over the last few years, to combine the two events in my mind and, periodically, my writing. Two seperate events: Empire vs. Freeport in Freeport, Illinois in July of 1865 (first fly match in the West); Empire vs. Freeport in Dubuque, Iowa in September of 1865 (Empire Club claims championship of the West).


David Ball said...

You win a game in Dubuque, and suddenly you're the champion club of America? Imagine the excitement if they had managed a win in Peoria.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

It's much more complicated than that. You have to win a game in Freeport, Illinois first. Then you move on to Dubuque for the national finals. If you win in Peoria, you can claim the World's Championship.