Monday, March 15, 2010

The 1876 Brown Stockings: There Is Some Bitterness Existing Between The Two Cities

Concerning the game at Chicago on Tuesday the Times says:

"The Chicago audiences heretofore have been remarkable for their courteous treatment of visiting clubs, as they confined their demonstrations to a perfectly natural exultation over the success of their club, and have been willing always to acknowledge the fine playing of rial nines with applause. On yesterday, however, they conducted themselves in a reprehensible manner. The unfortunate and disagreeable manner in which the Monday's game at St. Louis terminated seemed to have aroused among them a very bitter feeling toward the St. Louis Club was hailed with the cry of 'Kickers,' other uncomplimentary remarks and jeers were hurled at them, and their bad plays were received with shouts of satisfaction. There is some bitterness existing between the two cities in base ball matters, to be sure, but it certainly does not warrant such rudeness. The question as to which city has the best club should be settled by the playing of the clubs themselves; it should not be interfered with by the conduct of the audiences."

In the face of this Meacham continues his dirty work, as the following, from the Tribune, will show:

"About 4,000 persons were present at the game, and while it was too much to expect that they would remain silent throughout after the beastly abuse their club had received in St. Louis, yet it is much to the credit of the city and the management that no one could hear either profanity, threats or obscenity loudly mouthed, as is the custom in St. Louis. There was some noise and cheering, but not a foul word nor an angry one."
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 24, 1876

Enough about the wonderful, courteous Chicago baseball fans. If I hear any more of that stuff, I'll be forced to link to a couple of posts that might embarrass them. And remind me, one day, to write up a few thousand words on the St. Louis/Chicago baseball rivalry. I have a few things to say about that.

One point about the rivalry and I'll shut up about it, before the anger and bitterness overwhelms me. While I appreciate the numerous championships that the Cardinals have won and I've enjoyed celebrating the two World Series championships, six pennants and countless division titles the Cards have won in my lifetime, I define a successful baseball season in one simple way: winning the season series against the Cubs. That's it. Win the season series against the Cubs and everything else is gravy. Win the Series but finish with a losing record against the Cubs and the championship is tainted.

The irony, of course, is that the season series was the way that championships were decided prior to 1870. We've lost our appreciation of the season series and now focus on October baseball to define success and failure. Don't get me wrong. I love October baseball but the old ways are usually the best ways. We need to reinvigorate our appreciation of the regular season and the season series.

Of course, this may just be old age talking. I think the gray hair is starting to impede the thinking process.

I should also mention, before senility sets in, that "Meacham" is Lewis Meacham, who covered baseball for the Chicago Tribune from 1875 until his untimely death in 1878. Bill has all kinds of information about him in his sports writers threat at BBF. The Meacham stuff is on page sixteen.


David Ball said...

The squabbling among the reporters is partly a function of the way newspapermen tended to treat one another in those days. Meacham in particular could be very caustic and had running feuds with Henry Chadwick, O.P. Caylor of the Cincinnati Enquirer and no doubt others.

Beneath the personal level, though, there's also the matter of civic rivalry between the cities of what we now call the Midwest. Some time ago Jeff posted a link to an article in a local historical journal that I thought overlooked this point, probably because the author took it for granted rather than was unaware of it.

The rivalry between St. Louis and Chicago may possibly have been the strongest, but the situation wasn't much different with Cincinnati and Louisville. Chicago, for example, first got into professional baseball in a serious way because they couldn't stand to see the Cincinnati Red Stockings getting all the glory. Chicago's White Stockings nickname reflects the rivalry that stimulated the club's formation.

In a relatively newly settled and growing region of the country, all these cities were jostling for preeminence and a place in the economy. The rivalry among them was much more bitter than it would been between comparatively old and well-established cities such as Philadelphia and New York. The author of the linked article seems to find it odd that this intense civic rivalry would have been played out on such a trivial field as baseball, but anybody who knows the history of international sports in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries will not be surprised.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

Sometimes I wonder how serious these guys took all of this regional rivalry stuff. Certainly, there were economic interests involved and money is always serious but sometimes I think that it gets played up for the same reason that I play it up: it's fun and makes for good copy.

Midwestern people are too normal to take all of that stuff seriously. We'll twist each other's tail a bit but I think it's mostly done out of amusement. And there's also a sense of schadenfreude when we're talking about the Cubs. But when you're trying to carve out a living in 19th century StL, it's not particularly relevant whether StL or Chicago has the biggest population. The average person was probably more concerned about the price of potatos. These rivalries were more the concern of the elites, including the newspapermen.

But you make a good point comparing the baseball/city rivalries of the 19th century to the international sports rivalries of the modern era. StL/Chicago is more USA/Canada than USA/Russia. It's polite, always simmering, on-sided and with underlying anger, bitterness and a sense of inferiority on both sides. Red Sox/Yankees would be Isreal/Iran: a duel to the death with the possible immenent use of nuclear weapons. India/Pakistan would also be an acceptable comparison. Washington/San Diego has the intensity of a Sweden/Uruguay football match played in New Zealand at 3 in the morning. And that's not an insult to the Uruguay football team, which is actually pretty good.