Friday, May 14, 2010

The End Of The Interregnum, Part Three

A bit of background:

The years between 1878 and 1880 were difficult ones for St. Louis baseball. After the collapse of the Brown Stockings following the 1877 season due to financial difficulties and the eruption of a game-fixing scandal, St. Louis lacked a first-class, "big league" baseball club until 1882, when the Brown Stockings joined the nascent American Association. This period, which I've labeled the Interregnum, was marked by a retrenchment and a retreat from the national baseball scene. In that sense, it's a reversal of the 1865-1875 period when the St. Louis baseball establishment, led by the vision of Asa Smith, took steps to compete on the national scene. This effort culminated in the establishment of the Brown Stockings and the bringing in of outside, professional ballplayers. The collapse of the Brown Stockings represented a failure of the St. Louis baseball establishment and their approach to the St. Louis baseball market.

After the collapse of the Brown Stocking organization, there was an attempt to pick up the pieces and rebuild the market. Al Spink writes a great deal about this in The National Game, focusing on the difficulties that he, William Spink, August Solari, Ned Cuthbert and others had in fielding an economically viable baseball club. The combination of a depressed economy and the lingering impact of the game-fixing scandal created an environment where it was difficult to draw crowds sufficient to support a first-class, nationally competitive club. Gone were the days of bringing in the "Atlantic/Easton professionals." Also gone were the days of bringing in the best ballclubs in the country. While the post-bellum era saw clubs from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington and Cincinnati come to town to play the best St. Louis clubs, these types of visits were exceedingly rare during the Interregnum and, when they did occur, failed to draw much of a crowd.

The three seasons after the collapse of the Brown Stockings were dark days for St. Louis baseball but there were some positive developments. First, St. Louis continued to develop young baseball talent and the Brown Stockings were often the beneficiary of that talent. Young players who came of age during the Interregnum included the Gleasons, the Tebeaus, Pud Galvin, Tom Loftus, Perry Werden, Bill Joyce, George Baker, Billy Alvord and others. Also, several of the outside professionals that were brought in by the Brown Stockings from 1875-1877, such as Ned Cuthbert and George Seward, remained in St. Louis and added to the baseball talent pool in the city. Secondly, I believe that the fact that there were men like the Spink brothers, Ned Cuthbert and August Solari who were dedicated to the development of the St. Louis baseball market, in the face of extreme difficulties, was extremely important. If not for the hard work of those men, the St. Louis baseball market may have died. Their work during the Interregnum saved the St. Louis baseball market and helped create the conditions for its revival in 1881.

And the St. Louis baseball market did revive in 1881. I'll write about that tomorrow.

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