Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Choice Of Ground

Lafayette Park in 1859 or 1860

Mr. Chester presented the petition of the "Cyclone Base Ball Club," praying the Council to grant them the privilege of using for their playground the vacant space formerly reserved for the military at Lafayette Park, and also the right of leveling and smoothing the same for that purpose... 
[Mr. Wells] presented petition of C.L. Kretschmar, W. Delafield, et. al., members of the Commercial Base Ball Club, asking permission to use the grounds in Lafayette Park, as petitioned for by the Cyclone Club.
-Missouri Republican, March 5, 1861

Mr. Nelson from Special Committee, to whom was referred the petitions of certain Base Ball Clubs, asking permission to use Lafayette Park grounds for the purpose of playing, reported that the Cyclone have choice of ground and are permitted the first use of the ground, provided they make the improvements necessary for the game at their own expense.  The other club can have the second choice of ground.  Report accepted.
-Missouri Republican, March 9, 1861

Base Ball.--The Commercial and Cyclone Base Ball Clubs have, at a considerable expense, fitted up their play ground in Lafayette Park, and will commence playing the coming week.  The Commercials practice Mondays and Thursdays; the Cyclone Tuesdays and Fridays of each week, at 4 o'clock.  The first day of their season of the new ground (Monday) both clubs will be out and play a friendly game, to commence at half past three o'clock.
-Missouri Republican, April 28, 1861

It has always been my understanding that the Cyclones played in Lafayette Park starting in 1859 and that the park was most likely the site of the first Regulation game of baseball in St. Louis.  Obviously, other bat and ball games had been played in St. Louis prior to the advent of the Cyclones (the Morning Stars, for example, were playing town ball at Carr Park by 1858, at the latest, and town ball was most likely being played in the city by the 1840s) but the Cyclones were the first to play the New York game and, according to most sources, there grounds were located at Lafayette Park.  While they played a match game at the Fairgrounds, I've never seen a source mention that their home grounds were anywhere other than Lafayette Park.  The St. Louis Republic of April 21, 1895, quoting former Cyclone members, stated that "The grounds occupied by the club were in the center of Lafayette Park and something like $600 had been expended in putting them in order.  The grand stand was simply a tent which sheltered those who were awaiting their turn at bat or some of the many visitors who came out to see the game."  Several members of the club lived in the Lafayette Park neighborhood and it was a natural place for them to play.

However, the above information from the Republican makes me doubt the idea that the Cyclones always played at Lafayette Park.  My understanding of the source material is that the Cyclones organized in the summer of 1859 and they immediately petitioned for the use of Lafayette Park, making improvements to the grounds to make them suitable for baseball.  But we now know that the club did not petition the Common Council for use of the park until March of 1861.  It's entirely possible that the club used the park prior to this and that the source material confused the issue of when and why the club petitioned the council.  Or it means that baseball wasn't played at the park until 1861.  It's difficult to tell with the information I have at the moment.

My best guess is that the Cyclones played at Lafayette Park prior to 1861 and that the issue before the Common Council was about a dispute between the Cyclones and the Commercials over use of the park.  My reading of the material from the Republican makes me think that, with the growth of the popularity of the game in St. Louis in 1860 and the increase in the number of clubs, there was a conflict over the use of the best grounds.  Specifically, the Commercials wanted to use grounds that were, up to that time, the exclusive territory of the Cyclones.  That conflict was taken before the appropriate government agency and the dispute was settled in favor of the Cyclones, providing the club made certain improvements to the park.  Regardless of the significance of the dispute, it's obvious that it did not hurt the relationship between the two clubs, who played a friendly match at Lafayette Park in late April to open their season.

It should also be mentioned that the information found in the Republican helps us to date the military takeover of Lafayette Park in 1861.  We know that Union troops took over the park sometime in the summer of 1861 and baseball activities there ceased.  Obviously this did not take place prior to the end of April 1861.  The conflict at Camp Jackson didn't take place until May and things really didn't come to a head in Missouri until June.  There is evidence that games were played at Lafayette Park as late as June 7 but games in early July, that normally would have been played there, were being played at Gamble Lawn.  So, if I had to guess, I'd say that Union troops took control of Lafayette Park sometime in June of 1861.            

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