Saturday, December 12, 2009

Evidence Of Low Level, Amateur Black Baseball In 19th Century St. Louis

While playing base ball in the county north of St. Charles, a few days ago, a quarrel and desperate fight with bats took place, resulting in the death of Semp. Hardy by a blow on the head at the hands of Presley Younger; all the parties negroes.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 7, 1876

Now this is how low level, amateur black baseball was normally presented. It's merely a backdrop to a story about the inherently violent nature of the negro.

But we can take the story apart a little bit and actually learn something about African-American baseball in 19th century St. Louis. The game takes place north of St. Charles, north of the city and possibly north of the Missouri River. This was a growing area but also an area with a great deal of open land-plenty of space for a baseball game. This could have been a pick-up game or a game among a group of friends. There is no mention of any clubs and if clubs were involved they were most likely very low level social or mercantile organizations. This wasn't the Blue Stockings or the Sunsets playing at the Compton Avenue Park and what it shows us is that black baseball in St. Louis was organized along similar lines as its white counterpart. You had youths/students playing the game. You had low level amateur social/mercantile clubs. You had low level professional clubs competing on a local and regional basis. You also had at least one major professional club by the 1880s competing on a national level, playing the best western clubs and travelling to face the best eastern clubs. Black baseball in St. Louis, while facing unique challenges (I say with understatement), appears to evolve in a similar way as white baseball did. At the very least, I think we can say that it organized itself in a similar way.

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