Sunday, November 2, 2014

November 2, 1881: A Franchise Is Born

     On November 2, 1881, the American Association was born within the walls of the Gibson House in Cincinnati, Ohio. One of the six teams selected to join this new league would call the City of St. Louis home. They would call themselves the Brown Stockings initially, but today we all know them as the St. Louis Cardinals. A franchise had been born.

     The game began being played in St. Louis long before that meeting took place. A man by the name of Merritt Griswold  had made his way to the Mound City in 1859. He had learned the game in New York, and he brought it with him. On April 26, 1860, Griswold had the rules published with a diagram that had the positions in an issue of the Daily Missouri Democrat.  He had planted a seed, and it took root.

      Griswold then organized a club that was called the Cyclone. Other teams formed around the region as well. One of those other clubs called themselves the Morning Stars. They took their name because they like to get in a game in the early hours of the day. They were known to hit the diamond between 5 and 6 in the morning. The Morning Stars called on Griswold to coach them in this new game. They were playing it their own way, and wanted to get it right. Griswold himself said, that they did not embrace his coaching at first, and went as far to say that they were disgusted by the way he wanted them to play it. It was described as the men "kicked" in their version base ball, as it was obvious they had not truly grasped the game just yet.

      That would change. After the initial practice that had the men repulsed they decided to let Griswold try to teach them some more, and their efforts paid off. The Cyclone and the Morning Stars played the first game of organized base ball in St. Louis on July 9, 1860. The Morning Stars won that first game 50-24. That seed that had taken root was now becoming a tree, and that tree would have to weather a storm. The storm I speak of  is the Civil War, which began in 1861. Griswold fought for the North, while some of the men he had been teaching that game went and fought for the south. In some cases brother against brother, had turned into teammate against teammate. Many of those men never returned to a diamond. Many of those men did not return home. Griswold's Cyclone club disbanded because of the war, and he returned to New York thereafter. He did not return West. However, his contributions to base ball in St. Louis should not be forgotten.

     While the times were turbulent, base ball survived in the city. A man named Jeremiah Fruin arrived in St. Louis in 1862. After leaving school at the age of 16, Fruin joined his father's construction business in New York. He then spent some time in New Orleans. He too was affected by the war, and was a member of the Union Army. That is what brought him to St. Louis. He was stationed there, and it proved to be a bit of fate for the man and the city as well.

      Fruin's construction experience was something that both he, and St. Louis benefited from. He helped get roads paved, a sewer system installed, and was instrumental in bringing the first rail system to town. Fruin also founded a construction company in 1872 that many would be familiar with today called Fru-Con Construction. He was very involved within the city, and later in life he would serve as the police commissioner. He was a man who served his community in many ways.

     The founder of the Sporting News Alfred H. Spink once said Fruin  was the Father of Base ball in St. Louis. It was something that Fruin did not embrace since he knew that he was not there when it all began. The reason Spink felt that way was that Fruin did act as a glue that held organized base ball together in St. Louis. There was a great respect for him because he served his community in many ways.

     One of those ways came with the knowledge he had of the game that was played on the diamond. While growing up in Brooklyn he had played organized ball, and what he seen around St. Louis was not so organized. He joined the Empires, and with some effort he helped straighten things out. As Fruin captained and played second base for the Empires, the game took another step forward, with the city and the world around him evolving as well.

       As time moved forward Fruin taught his men to play the game the right way, and base ball bloomed Soon there were clubs forming all around him.  Meanwhile in Cincinnati, the first first professional team formed with the Red Stockings. Men were getting paid, and an organized league was on the horizon. The Red Stockings toured the country, and played wherever they could find a diamond. Some of those diamonds found came in St. Louis, which had become a hotbed for base ball. At one point the Red Stockings played Fruin's Empire club, and handed them quite a defeat. 31-9  to be exact. The professionals also beat other local teams before heading to their next stop on their base ball tours. The St. Louis clubs may have lost those contests, but they made it be known that the city could support the game as fans turned out to watch the pros play ball.

     The first professional league formed in 1871. It was called the National Association of Base Ball Players.Two teams from St. Louis joined the league in 1875. The Red Stockings played ball at Compton and Gratriot, while the Brown Stockings played at Grand and Dodier in a site that became known as Sportsman's Park. Neither club would have direct ties to the Cardinals organization. Although, like the teams that played around the city before them they too were a part of something bigger that was yet to come.

      Unfortunately, the St. Louis Red Stockings came and went quickly. The National Association folded in 1876, and the club followed suit. The Brown Stockings joined the National League that season, and put together a 45-19 record. It was good for a second place finish behind a club in Chicago that would become known as the Cubs.  That string showing did not equal long term success though. The club was accused of throwing games in 1877, and after a fourth place finish the club left the league altogether.

     The city was without professional base ball. The aforementioned Alfred H. Spink wanted that to change. Many of the players from the Brown Stockings still played ball at Grand and Dodier after the team left the National League, and Spink knew the game could survive. It just needed someone with the financial backing to make it viable. The viable option ended up being Chis Von der Ahe, a grocery store, and saloon owner. He purchased the rights to the name and the ballpark for $1,800 after noticing his profits spike at the saloon. That $1,800 today would be roughly $40,000. Things were coming together.

  Von der Ahe was not well versed when it came to the game of base ball. Some said he had no idea what he was doing at all, yet dove right in. He fixed up the site at Grand and Dodier, and with help from Spink and company Von der Ahe made it be known that St. Louis could support a professional franchise. His efforts led to him being in that room when the American Association founders met in Cincinnati in 1881. When he walked out of that room he was the very first owner of the team that we call the Cardinals.

      The new league adopted a liberal set of rules to rival the National League. They could play on Sundays, were cheaper at the gate, and something that Von der Ahe surely loved was they could sell alcohol at the ballpark. The team enjoyed great success during their decade, winning four AA Pennants, and taking home a World Series title in 1886. There were rough times as well. The largely wooden structure that the fans called the ballpark burned six different times between 1882 and 1892. Engineering had not advanced, and quite frankly they were a victim of the times. Even then the game survived.

     Another setback came in 1890 when the Players League formed. It took money and players right out of the hands of those who ran American Association teams, as the market became more and more competitive. Teams came and went, and several teams jumped to the NL, which included the Cincinnati and Brooklyn clubs. As the dominoes fell the American Association fell with them. It went under in 1891, and the St. Louis Browns joined the National League before the 1892 campaign began. While their stay in the American Association was just a decade in time, it did provide a solid foundation for the club that would become the Cardinals. It was the birth of a franchise in a city that loved the game of base ball from the moment it found its way west of the Mississippi.

                                                                   Sources included

Chris Von der Ahe: Baseball pioneering huckster written by Richard Eigenreither for the Society of American Baseball Reasearch, It can be found here: (If you love baseball history you should consider becoming a member. I am. Check out the benefits here:

Base Ball Pioneers 1850-1870: The Clubs and Players who Spread the Sport by Peter Morris, William J. Ryczek, and Jan Finkel

The St. Louis Baseball Reader by Richard 'Pete' Peterson.

St. Louis, the fourth city 1764-1909. This book provides a short bio into Jeremiah Fruin. It can be found here:

The Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri. It can be found here:

The Chicago Tribune

The Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette 

A couple of other mentions to websites that I think anyone that has interest in baseball history would be interested in. The first is The website provides a great deal of information about baseball in St. Louis before the turn of the 20th century. It is absolutely great. It helped guide me to other helpful sites as well. I tip my cap to the person that put it together.

Another website that is very interesting is it is all about 19th Century Base Ball. The history, the ever evolving rules, the teams, and more.


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