Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Top Twenty Games In 19th Century St. Louis Baseball History: # 5

5. September 15, 1866: Empires vs. Excelsiors of Chicago

Throughout the whole season of 1866 the rivalry between the Union and Empire Clubs grew in intensity and the success of the latter had embittered the feelings of the former to a red hot degree when both clubs left St. Louis on Sunday night, Sept. 9, 1866, for Bloomington, Ill., to participate in a tournament to be held under the auspices of the Agricultural Fair Association of that city at which a number of prizes were to be awarded. Both clubs were represented by their best players and a goodly number of their respective club members, all filled with anxious hope that their favorite might win the highest honors in the five-day contest with the clubs from Chicago and other cities that had been announced as having entered the tournament...After arrival at Bloomington the entries were found to be as follows: Excelsior, Atlantic, Monitor, Pacific and Excelsior, Jr., of Chicago; Empire, of Freeport; Olympic, of Peoria; Hardin, of Jacksonville; Monitor, of Lincoln; Perseverance, of Ottawa, and the two St. Louis Clubs. It was early developed to Capt. Jerry Fruin's Empire clubbers that the honors of the tournament would not be permitted to go out of the State of Illinois and this part of the programme was faithfully carried out.

In arranging the order of play the Empire was loaded down, handicapped to the utmost limit in order that it should not win. Notwithstanding the gross injustice done and felt, Fruin and his men concluded to show their mettle and abided by the arranged order of play which, briefly stated, caused the Empire Club to open the tournament by a game with the Pacific, to play each day with on of the other clubs and to close the tournament with the Excelsior Club, which game was the only one that club played during the week. And to add to the flagrant wrong, after the Empire club had beaten every opponent and the last day came around when the Excelsiors were to play, that club was permitted by the management to select the best players from the other Chicago Clubs and to make surety doubly sure an umpire was selected, who did not dare to have the Empire win and this game still stands upon record as occupying the longest time, six hours and twenty minutes, through the efforts of the Umpire, Mr. Thomas, of the Freeport Club.

In placing his team for this match Capt. Fruin was forced to dispense with the services of Norton, third baseman, he having injured a hand the previous day and Tobias, who had not played during the week, having been engaged in his duties as secretary of the club, was assigned to third base, much against his own wishes then and to his own sorrow since, as a broken, crooked finger will attest. This accident happened in the second inning and through the perversity of the Excelsiors captain, Tobias was forced to remain in the game, though unable to use his right hand enough to hold up a bat. The Excelsiors played a waiting game all through by which Quinn, pitcher of the Empires, was required and did pitch 208 balls in two innings. Among the Excelsior players were Bancker and Williard, of the Harvard University nine, and Oliver, of the Eureka club of Newark, N.J. Interfering with base running was also one of the Excelsior accomplishments to which the Empire players were unaccustomed, as Bob Duncan demonstrated by splitting one player's pants wide open in front with his spikes on purposely getting in his way.

The crowd that witnessed this final game was a large and respectable one, running up in the thousands, more than half being ladies who did not hesitate to express their admiration and approval by numerous floral gifts, cheers and waving handkerchiefs at every success of an Empire player, and when the long drawn out fraud culminated in a score of 31 to 10 in favor to the Excelsiors, the applause was weak and soulless. Having been deprived of the just right to a fair and impartial game the Empire Club refused to accept anything but what they were entitled to, the first prize, though tendered the second. The list of prizes was as follows: First senior club, a gold ball and gold mounted bat; second senior club, a gold mounted bat; First junior club, a silver ball and bat; second junior club, a silver mounted bat; best pitcher, silver ice urn and goblets; best catcher, emblematic breast pin; best thrower, silver pitcher; fastest runner, silver mounted belt; largest number of home runs, silver goblet; best first baseman, silver cup and saucer; second baseman, silver jewel case; third baseman, two silver cups; left and center fielder, each a silver cup; and shortstop, a silver cake basket. Of the players' prizes the Empires received eight out of the nine, losing only that of pitcher...

The Union Club having failed to win a single game during the tournament was entitled to the consolation prize and on their return home went into winter quarters. The decadence of base ball at Agricultural Fairs dates from the day of the above game, September 15, 1866.
-The Sporting News, November 16, 1895

In 1866, the Empires still considered themselves the champion baseball club of the West and, in all honesty, they pretty much proved that they were the best club in the West in this tournament.  But, due to the chicanery of the Chicago clubs, they were denied the victory in the tournament.  The game between the Empires and the Excelsiors represents not only the defeat of the Empire Club and their loss of the mythical Championship of the West but, more importantly, the beginning of the St. Louis/Chicago baseball rivalry.  What began with the Chicago clubs conspiring to defeat the Empires continued, in the years following, in clashes between various St. Louis clubs and the White Stockings.  The rivalry between today's Cardinals and Cubs is merely an extension of what happened on the field in Bloomington almost 150 years ago.

What always amazes me about E.H. Tobias' reporting about this game is how, thirty years later, you can tell that the defeat still angered him.  Tobias, a member of the Empire Club, had played in this tournament and, years later, he was still mad about what happened.  He called it a fraud, an injustice and a flagrant wrong.  Reading his account of the tournament, you get a great sense of how the Empire Club felt about how they were treated.         

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