Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Top Twenty Games In 19th Century St. Louis Baseball History: # 11

11. July 22, 1867: Union Club vs. Washington Nationals

The base ball match this afternoon between the National Club, of Washington, and the Union Club of St. Louis, resulted in the defeat of the latter.  Score, 113 to 26.  The Empire Club will play the Nationals to-morrow. 
-Chicago Tribune, July 23, 1867

The Nationals were in the middle of a historic three week tour of the Midwest, putting on a showcase for Eastern baseball, and visiting Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Rockford, and Chicago. On the tour, the only loss the Nationals suffered was to the Rockford club, who upset the Eastern power behind the pitching of the young Albert Spalding. 

On July 22, they crushed the Unions in St. Louis and, the following day, they beat the Empires 53-26.

Prior to July 1867, St. Louis baseball had been mostly a local affair, with the clubs competing amongst themselves.  The Empires and Unions, the two best clubs in the city, had stepped out to play some clubs in Illinois and Iowa, with mixed results (as we'll see later).  But, in 1867, the big boys came to town and showed the St. Louis clubs just where they stood in the baseball hierarchy.

This game was the first time that a St. Louis club played one of the Eastern powers.  Regardless of the outcome of the game, it represents an effort by the St. Louis baseball fraternity to compete on a national level.  The St. Louis clubs wanted to test their talent against the best clubs in the country and, in 1867, they started to do that.  Now, that didn't work out very well and this game also represents the first of numerous beatings that St. Louis would suffer at the hands of the best clubs in the country.  But every journey begins with one step and this was the first step towards St. Louis becoming a significant factor on the national baseball scene.

I should also mention the fact that, in my opinion, this game represents an overall plan by Asa Smith, of the Union Club, to bring St. Louis into the national baseball mainstream.  Following the Civil War, St. Louis baseball lagged behind the national baseball trends and Smith recognized this.  I believe that he realized that without a state baseball association, without joining the NABBP, without enclosed ballparks, without charging for admission, without compensating players and without stepping up to play the best clubs in the country, the St. Louis clubs would never be able to challenge for the national championship.  Smith's goal was for the Unions to challenge the Eastern powers for the championship and he knew that he couldn't get his club there if things didn't move forward.  He knew that he needed to create an environment and an infrastructure that would support his club as they endeavored to compete nationally.

On the whole, Smith's plan failed.  It could be argued that it led to the breakup of the Union Club in 1870 and, once it was obvious that the St. Louis clubs couldn't compete with the national baseball powers, to a period of decline in the popularity of the game in the city.  But Smith was right.  His plan was the correct one and he's one of the great visionaries in St. Louis baseball history.  His failure doesn't take away from his vision.  The fact that his club lost to the Washingtons by 90 odd runs doesn't mean that he wasn't right in wanting to compete against the big boys.  I think it just means that he was a bit ahead of his time.  The St. Louis clubs weren't good enough to play against the best Eastern clubs in 1867.  But, just as Smith foresaw, there would come a time when they would be.       

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