Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sunday Baseball During The Civil War

Playing Ball on Sunday.-John Casey, Thos. Shields, Daniel Borland and John McKelligan were arrested and taken before the Recorder for playing ball on Sunday, in the neighborhood of Second and Biddle streets. As they disturbed nobody's peace, they were discharged.
-Missouri Democrat, May 10, 1864

This is interesting on several levels.

First, this isn't necessarily a reference to baseball or the New York game. It could be darn near anything but the assumption is that it's some form of baseball. The fact that only four people were arrested may mean that it was a four person game or that the rest of the players got away. It's interesting to speculate about what form of ballgame these guys might have been playing.

Second, this is a reminder that not all baseball during this era was being played on the club level. I tend to focus on the organized clubs because the sources tend to focus on them. If I had twenty sources talking about pick-up baseball played by kids in the neighborhood during the antebellum era, I'd be ecstatic and would certainly be writing about that. But the sources focus on the more successful clubs and I have to follow the sources. We should remember, however, that there was more to the game than just the clubs.

Also, this is a rare instance of people being arrested in St. Louis for playing baseball on a Sunday. As I've written before, the strange mix of Creole/American frontier culture in St. Louis created an atmosphere where Sunday baseball was not frowned upon. There are numerous sources from the antebellum/Civil War/postbellum era that show games being played on Sunday. It would be interesting to compare this to somewhere like Baltimore and see if a predominantly Catholic culture produced an atmosphere where Sunday baseball was accepted or if St. Louis was an exception proving a rule.

Finally, and this ties in to the last point, it's interesting to speculate on who the arresting officers were. Marital law was declared in St. Louis on August 14, 1861 and Federal rule existed in the city until at least March, 1865. Therefore, it's likely that the ballplayers were arrested by Federal soldiers rather than a local constabulary that would have been more in touch with the societal norms of St. Louis. Not to make too much of this but one can almost look at this event as an example of the tyranny of martial law in Civil War-era St. Louis. It's not exactly the Massacre of the Innocents but those lousy blue coast were arresting kids for playing baseball. Fight the Power!

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