Monday, July 9, 2012

For The Purpose Of Securing Their Clothing While Playing Base Ball

Mr. Dailey presented a petition from members of the Commercial Base Ball Club, asking the passage of an ordinance granting them permission to erect a building at Lafayette Park for the purpose of securing their clothing while playing base ball.  Referred to special committee of three.
-Missouri Democrat, June 13, 1863

A couple of months ago, I posted a little something about this but this piece from the Missouri Democrat gives us the added details about the building the Commercials wanted to put up at the park.  Again, I have to point out that this is an unexpected expansion of baseball activity at a time when our general thinking about the effects of the Civil War on baseball activity would lead us to think that there would be a contraction in the number of clubs and games being played.  If the war had a negative effect on the health of the game, you wouldn't expect to see the Commercial Club wanting to build a clubhouse at Lafayette Park in 1863.

The question of what kind of effect the Civil War had on baseball is an interesting one and now is not really the time to get into it.  But the old conventional wisdom that the war helped spread the game is, to say the least, unsupported by evidence.  There is substantially more evidence that the growth of the game was hindered by the war.  However, the evidence that I'm finding for Civil War-era St. Louis doesn't seem to fit into either one of those two categories.  The war did not influence the spread of the game to St. Louis because it was already being played here before the war broke out.  On the other hand, the war doesn't seem to have hindered it's growth or popularity much.  Yes, there were clubs that broke up due to the war.  Yes, we see much more activity among junior clubs than senior clubs.  But it appears that there were more clubs active in St. Louis in any given year of the war than there were in 1859 or 1860.  The game continued to grow in St. Louis during the war.  And that is not what I expected to find when I started looking through the Civil War newspapers.

St. Louis certainly has a unique place in baseball history, as well as American history in general, so I don't think it's possible to say that what we find in St. Louis during the war applies to the rest of the nation.  However, what was taking place in St. Louis must be accounted for.  It's impossible to say now that the war had an overall negative effect on the spread and growth of the game because the war seemed to have little effect on the growth of the game in St. Louis, where it was new and had just taken root.  The only way to argue that the war had a negative effect on the growth of the game in St. Louis is to say that it would have grown more than it did from 1861 to 1865 if not for the war.  I think you may be able to argue that but then you're arguing hypotheticals and degrees and things that can never be proven.

The bottom line is that no currant interpretation of the effect of the Civil War on the spread and growth of baseball fits the evidence that we find in Civil War-era St. Louis.                     

No comments: