Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Old West Ends

One of the new major stockholders in the Browns is James W. Garneau, a name probably strange to most followers of baseball of the current time, but by no means foreign to the early history of baseball in St. Louis. To identify Mr. Garneau with baseball lore, we're forced to hard back to 1877, and that's considerable hark.

In those days there flourished in this city an amateur baseball organization, essentially a blue-stocking affair, that was only a shade below the standard of the best professional clubs of that time. Indeed, the old West Ends, of which Garneau was captain and second baseman, played the real, original Browns to a long drawn-out tie game in 1878, the last year of the West Ends' existence.

Senior fans of the present day well remember that there never since has been organized such a luxe club as the West Ends. This team had the backing of the late Johnny Blow, a two-handed spender who set a high-water mark for the price of uniforms that has endured to this day.

As was the custom in those days, the West Ends carried only nine players, which was quite fortunate for the "angel" of the club, who furnished each with a uniform that cost $86. That's a rather steep price for an entire amateur club's outfit in this day.

However the West Ends had "class" written all over them. Their uniforms were the most expensive silk, with hand embroidered initials on the shirts. A blue silk ribbon striped each pants' leg, while the stockings were the most expensive wool, of grayish hue. The shoes were of choicest leather and, on the whole, the uniform was almost too nice to "muss up." But that didn't tend to interfere with the club's playing.

The team had its headquarters at the old "Willow Grounds," Compton avenue and the railroad tracks, and practiced often with the Brown club, which embraced in those days such men as Mike McGeary, Joe Battin, John Clapp and Mike Dorgan.

"We didn't lose a game that year," said Mr. Garneau, telling of his old club the other day. "Bob Aull, who died not long ago, was our shortstop, and he could field as well as he could sing. Bob had a pretty fine baritone voice.

"Johnny Blow, also deceased, was the third baseman and organizer of the club. He was the son of Henry T. Blow, the distinguished statesman, who left an estate worth $300,000. The West Ends were lavishly promoted. Blow was the first man to ride a bicycle in St. Louis, and it was an injury caused by a fall from the wheel that hastened his death.

"Castleman Webb did most of the catching, while he also reversed the order, and occasionally pitched. Billy Buskett was the regular pitcher and he was a good one. However, I believe Webb was the first amateur to curve a ball in St. Louis, and for that reason he was more famous as a pitcher than catcher.

"Eugene Picott, Cliff Able and Hal Truesdale, who made up the outfield, have been dead for several years. Millard Funkhouser, who played first, is in Chicago, I believe, and like other members of the old team, is doing well.

Garneau later captained the St. Louis U. team, the best baseball club the Billiken school ever had. He still is identified with collegiate athletics, having served on the St. Louis U. board for several years.

The new officer of the Browns, therefore, isn't a stranger in the baseball ranks. But if ever suggests $86 suits for the Browns, Fielder Alanson Jones will do a high dive off the Syndicate Trust Building.
-St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 17, 1916

This is a rather interesting article and there's a ton of information here. Just for instance: John Blow was the grandson of the owner of Dread Scott, the son of a congressman and the brother of the woman who founded the first public Kindergarten in the United States. It might take me awhile but I'll take this article apart and dig out all the good details.

The coolest thing about the article, which I found in the archives of the Missouri History Museum, is that it came with a team photo of the 1878 West End Base Ball Club. You can't image how excited I was to see it. Images of St. Louis baseball clubs are very rare prior to the 1880s. In my files, I have an illustration of the 1865 Empire Club and a photo of the 1876 Brown Stockings. If you count the cover of the Union Base Ball Club March and this picture of the West Ends, I now have four team pictures of pre-1883 St. Louis baseball clubs. So this was a really great find. Even better, all the players in the photo were labeled, which is pretty rare. Sadly, at the moment I only have a photocopy of it and can't share it with you.

I've been saying for a long time that there are a bunch of photos of St. Louis clubs and players out there that we haven't found yet. I'm convinced that there are photos from the 1860s and early 1870s just sitting in boxes somewhere, waiting for me to find them. Finding this picture of the West Ends kind of validates and encourages that thinking. Somewhere out there is a picture of Asa Smith and a photo of the 1875 Reds. I'm convinced of this. Heck, I just found pictures of Ferdinand Garesche and the 1878 West Ends, so why not?

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