Friday, October 5, 2012

The Top Twenty Games In 19th Century St. Louis Baseball History: # 6

6. July 19, 1874: Empires vs. Reds

A game that drew one of the largest audiences took place on July 19 between the Empire and Red Stocking Clubs.  For two weeks prior it had been the main topic in ball circles and a large amount of money was staked on the result by adherents of the two clubs.  There was an attendance of over eight thousand and both clubs had their best players on deck...The game was won by hard battling and nerve, aided by Empire players becoming rattled early in the game and playing loosely.  It was not considered equal to the reputation of the two clubs and the result caused great excitement as well as much talk by the Empires protesting against Miller, late of that club.  Gorman took eight long flies and Spaulding captured four at second very neatly.  Redmon and Morgan did telling stick work as well as neat base running.  This victory gave the Reds the inside show for the Championship. 
-The Sporting News, January 25, 1896

The 1874 championship series between the defending champion Empire Club and the upstart Reds is one of the most significant baseball series ever played in St. Louis.  In 1873 and 1874, the rivalry between the two clubs had as profound an effect on St. Louis baseball as did the earlier Empire/Union rivalry.  The fact that the Reds were able to give the Empires everything they could handle and, for the first time in several years, gave them a serious challenge led to an increase in the popularity of baseball in the city that probably exceeded the baseball fever of the post-war years.  The city went baseball mad and this had a direct influence on the decision to place a professional club in the NA for the 1875 season.  The excitement of the 1874 season in St. Louis, symbolized by the Empire/Reds series, changed the history of baseball.

The Reds had won two games off the Empires in 1873 and were the favorites to win the St. Louis championship in 1874.  The club had been put together specifically to win the championship and I'm reasonably certain that they were a better team than the aging Empires.  But it was always something with this Reds club.  Just in 1874 alone, Packy Dillon got into an argument with Billy Redmon, after the later made a throwing error, and refused to play in several games.  Redmon contracted cholera.  Andy Blong, who was the captain, and his brother, the always entertaining Joseph Myles Blong, both missed games for unknown reasons.  In August, during a game against Keokuk, they walked off the field in protest against a call by the umpire.  Not even mentioning the stuff that happened in 1875, it was always nonstop drama with these guys.   

This game is the perfect example.  The Reds had won the first game of the series 11-5 and, after winning this game 11-9, they were in the driver's seat.  All they needed to do was win one out of the next three games against the Empires and they were the champions.  But on September 27, they lost 17-9.  And then the Missouri State Base Ball Association stripped them of their July 19th victory, upholding the Empires' protest over the Reds' use of Miller, a member of the Keokuks who the Reds had signed up.  All the sudden, instead of being up two games to zero, the Reds found themselves down 2-1.  Then on October 1, the Empires defeated the Reds 5-1 and won the championship for the sixth straight year.

It was a crazy season and the Reds were at the center of all of it.  This game is really the perfect symbol of a fantastic, insane baseball season and a fantastic, insane baseball club.  And just in case you were wondering, on Ocotber 19, the Reds defeated the Empires 6-5 in the fifth game of the series.                  

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