Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Nationals Of Washington Visit St. Louis: Part One

The National Club, which left Indianapolis on the morning of the 20th, at 8 o'clock, duly arrived in St. Louis at 9 o'clock the same evening, after a dusty, hot, and fatiguing ride of over two hundred miles.  The scenery on the greater portion of the road was an equivalent for the fatigue; the miles of richly-cultivated prairie-land over which the road runs being well worth the journey to witness.  Fields of corn, miles in extent, were passed; and at one place an area of some thirty miles of a sea of grass, unbroken by a tree, was seen.  And then came corn-fields of a mile or two square, followed by wheat-fields..., the harvesting of hay and wheat being in progress, with steam threshing mills on the field, and busy farmers at work with the latest improved implements.  In fact, the country looked like one vast and richly-cultivated farm, giving one a very contrary notion of the West from that of the wild character generally attributed to it.

The reception accorded the Nationals at St. Louis was the most cordial and enthusiastic they had yet met with - especially were the Union Club attentive to them.  Their headquarters, too, were at the finest hotel in America, the Southern Hotel of St. Louis, an establishment which cost no less than $1,200,00.  Here the Nationals were welcomed by a large crowd of the fraternity, and the day after their arrival they were taken in carriages to every point of interest in the city, the botanical garden attached to Mr. Shaw's palatial residence being the finest horticultural collection in the U.S.

After dinner, on Monday, the Nationals were taken in carriages to the Union ball-grounds, located on Grand avenue, near Franklin, and on their arrival they found a large crowd present, and the least respectable one of any of the whole series of games, but few ladies being present, while the roughs of the city seemed to have got in on the free principle - fifty cents admission being charged - to a very great extent, the enclosure of the ground being merely an ordinary farm fence around the greater part of it, over which the bare-footed urchins and the rowdy-crowd of the city jumped with impunity, the police-force present being useless and glaringly inefficient.  The seats appropriated for ladies were chiefly occupied by the noisy class; while on the left, about a dozen ladies managed to procure seats, the others who were present taking seats in their carriages, a number of which were inside the grounds.  The fact was, the grounds were entirely unsuited for a contest of the kind, not only being too limited in extent, but also from the rough surface; good fielding being next to impossible.  Had the ground been properly prepared early in the season, and entirely enclosed, the admission-fee charged would have led to a very respectable gathering, and the amount received would have defrayed expenses; as it was, however, nothing was satisfactory, either to the club or the crowd, the grounds being entirely inadequate to the purpose, so great was the desire to witness the game, some three thousand people crowding themselves on a field not large enough to allow of a thousand seeing the game without encroaching on the players.

The game was called at 2:40...the National going to the bat first.  Parker led off, and by a poor hit was easily disposed of at first by Cabanne and Prouty.  Williams then gave the catcher a chance for a fly tip, which was well taken, and Geo. Wright then took the bat, and as he also went into the foul business, and Freeman was pretty active behind, the Nationals for the first time on their tour, retired from their first inning without scoring, amidst the loud applause of the crowd - the local pride of the assemblage predominating in this instance over the evident desire of the majority to see the Unions defeated.  By two good hits made by Meacham and Freeman, and a dropped flyball by Parker, the Unions scored 2 runs for their share and thus opened the game with a lead of 2 to 0, another round of applause greeting the play.

In the second inning, the Nationals began play at the bat in earnest, and their display in handling the ash astonished the crowd greatly.  Before the inning closed, no less than 28 runs were scored, of which 4 were clean home-runs, Fox making 2, and Wright and Studley 1 each.  But for a misscatch by Meacham 14 runs only would have been scored; but that was enough to settle the question as to who would be the victors, the success of the Unions having been before this a promising event in their minds.  By more good batting and some wild throwing, the Unions added 4 runs to their score in this inning, leaving the tally at the close of the second inning at 28 to 6 in favor of the Nationals.  A change was now made in the position of the Union-nine, Meacham going in behind Freeman to pitch, and Greenleaf at 2d.  But for a misscatch by Cabanne, the Nationals would have retired for a single; as it was, however, they were disposed of for 4, Meacham putting the side out by good catches.  On the Union side, a blank score was their share, owing to the good fielding of Fletcher, Smith, Williams, and Fox, the total now standing at 32 to 6.  The heat at the time was very intense, but the players did not mind it at all.  The breeze had died away and the sun's rays poured upon the crowd like the heat of an oven.  They all bore it patiently, however, rather than forego the pleasure of witnessing the game.  The heat and the rough ground combined rather weakened the fielding of the Nationals, while the batting of the Nationals had a demoralizing effect on the play of their opponents, who had become very sanguine of success at the close of the first inning.

In the fourth inning good fielding would have disposed of the National for a dozen runs, that being all they earned by their batting, though some very showy hits were made.  But three chances for catches were refused.  These errors with others assisted the Nationals to run up a score of 25 leaving their total at 57.  By no less than eight distinct errors of play the Union was permitted to run up a score of 9 for their share.  Good hits by Freeman, Cabanne, Prouty, McKorkel, and Smith earning half the runs; the totals standing at 57 to 15 at the close.  By a misscatch in the fifth inning the Nationals were permitted to run up a score of 8, when four was all they were entitled to, the Union scoring but a single for their share; a fine play by Fox and Fletcher marking the fielding, as also a good one by R. Duncan and Prouty.

In the three following innings the Nationals scored double figures in each inning, running up their total to 108.  In the sixth inning, they were entitled to 3 runs; in the seventh, to 2, and in the eighth, to 7; and yet they scored 48, no less than eight dropped flyballs marking the Union fielding.  On the Union side, but three bases were earned by hits, some very good base-play disposing of the Unions for 2 runs only in these innings.  In the ninth, the Nationals added 5 to their score, while the Unions, by an excellent display at the bat, ran up a score of 8 - Freeman making a clean home-run from the finest hit made against the Nationals during their tour.  The totals at the close stood at 113 to 26, the former figures being the highest the Nationals had made in the series of games, while the Unions were credited with the most runs in an inning, the largest score in a game, and the most bases made on hits against the Nationals since they left Washington.  The display at the bat, either in long hits or good grounders did not equal that match at Indianapolis by the Nationals; the whole nine not making more home-runs in this game than Geo. Wright alone did at Camp Burnside.  Neither was the fielding as good; but the rough ground, of course, had a great deal to do with that.  The contest throughout was marked by the most friendly feeling, the Nationals wearing their honers modestly, as on other occasions.  The umpire won high praise from all parties by his excellent ruling and thoroughly impartial decisions...At the close of the game the players returned to their hotel rather fatigued with their day's work.  
-New York Sunday Mercury, July 28, 1867

This is far and away the best account of the Nationals' 1867 visit to St. Louis that I've ever seen and I have to thank Richard Hershberger for passing it along.  The Mercury's account of this game, as well as the Nationals/Empire game that I'll post tomorrow, is just fantastic.

Some thoughts:

-I remember reading George Wright's thoughts about this game once upon a time and I probably posted it somewhere on the website.  If I recall correctly, Wright specifically mentioned the heat and the terrible condition of the field, which is corroborated by the Mercury's account.

-Again, if I recall correctly, Richard and I had a conversation one time about why the Eastern clubs were so much better than the Western clubs during the pioneer era.  I believe that Richard specifically mentioned that the Eastern clubs had much better pitching than the Western clubs or that Eastern pitching had evolved towards a more modern form that the Western clubs were unable to handle.  I don't disagree with any of that but it appears here that the major difference between the Nationals and the Unions was the quality of the fielding.  The Nationals, based just on this account, appear to have much better defensively than the Unions.  I've made the point before, specifically when talking about the 1876 Brown Stockings, how important defense was in the 19th century game.  With the extraordinary number of balls put in play in the 19th century game, a club that couldn't field couldn't win.  The combination of poor pitching and poor fielding doomed the Union Club in this game, as they were unable to match the quality play of their opponent.

-James Freeman, the club's catcher, appears to have been the player of the game for the Union, with his fielding and home run.  Freeman, as a sixteen-year-old, was one of the founders of the club and served as the club's first secretary in 1860.

-The Nationals' visit to St. Louis was the first by a major Eastern baseball power.  It would be followed, during the rest of the decade, by visits from clubs from New York, Philadelphia and Cincinnati.  These games did not go well for the St. Louis clubs, as they were completely outclassed by the Eastern powers.  Asa Smith's plan for putting the Union Club in a position to compete for the national championship, which included scheduling games against the very best clubs, died a harsh death on the field of play.  Neither the Unions nor the Empires, the two best clubs in St. Louis in the second half of the 1860s, could win a game against an Eastern club and it wasn't until 1875, when the Brown Stockings defeated the Chicagos, that a St. Louis club defeated a major baseball power.  This National/Union game was simply the first of many beatings that St. Louis clubs would take at the hands of the big boys.                

No comments: