Saturday, December 31, 2011

The First Empire-Union Game

Base Ball Match--The following is the result of a match game of base ball played yesterday, on Gamble's Addition, by the Empire and Union Base Ball Clubs of this city: [Unions 15, Empires 14.]
-Missouri Republican, December 20, 1861

I think this is most likely the first game ever played between the Empire and Union clubs.  Tobias wrote that the Unions had organized in 1859 and that this game took place during the "holidays of '60..."  He had the score right but was off by a year.  He also mentions a series of games between the two clubs that took place in "1860 and the early part of '61..."  Again, he was off by a year, as I also now have primary source evidence of the first Empire/Union series taking place in 1862.    

I once had a bit of an email debate with someone about when the Union club was formed and the question of when this particular game was played was central to their argument.  I never believed that this game was played in 1860 and went so far as to look up weather data for the winter of 1860/61 in St. Louis.  Just so you know, the winter of 1860/61 in St. Louis was one of the coldest on record, with a great deal of snowfall.  I don't think anybody was playing baseball in St. Louis that winter.  But now I have conclusive evidence that this game was played in 1861.  I'm not here to say I told you so, but...

In all seriousness, it was important to find an account of this game.  We no longer have to speculate about whether Tobias' timeline was off or if I was reading the source material wrong.  The weight of the primary source evidence supports the idea that the Union club was formed in 1860 and first played the Empires in 1861.  And this is not to be taken as a slam against Tobias, who remains the most significant St. Louis baseball historian of all-time.  While I know that he was working with a lot of the records of the pioneer-era clubs, it's also true that we know that some of the antebellum and Civil War era records were lost by the time Tobias sat down to write his history.  It's obvious that his work is much stronger when dealing with the post-war era and the errors that he makes with regards to the pre-1865 era are not all that significant.  As a human being writing thirty odd years after the fact, he confused some dates and events.  It happens.         

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