Before They Were Cardinals: Major League Baseball in Nineteenth-Century St. Louis

Before They Were Cardinals: Major League Baseball in Nineteenth-Century St. Louis

Before They Were Cardinals: Major League Baseball in Nineteenth-Century St. Louis

Before They Were Cardinals: Major League Baseball in Nineteenth-Century St. Louis


Mark McGwire, Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock. These famous Cardinals are known by baseball fans around the world. But who and what were the predecessors of these modern-day players and their team? In Before They Were Cardinals, Jon David Cash examines the infancy of major-league baseball in St. Louis during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. His in-depth analysis begins with an exploration of the factors that motivated civic leaders to form the city's first major-league ball club. Cash delves into the economic trade rivalry between Chicago and St. Louis and examines how St. Louis's attempt to compete with Chicago led to the formation of the St. Louis Brown Stockings in 1875. He then explains why, three years later, despite its initial success, St. Louis baseball quickly vanished from the big-league map. St. Louis baseball was revived with the arrival of German immigrant saloon owner Chris Von der Ahe. Cash explains how Von der Ahe, originally only interested in concession rights, purchased a controlling interest in the Brown Stockings. This riveting account follows the team after Von der Ahe's purchase, from the formation of the American Association, to its merger in 1891 with the rival National League. He chronicles Von der Ahe's monetary downturn, and the club's decline as well, following the merger. Before They Were Cardinals provides vivid portraits of the ball players and the participants involved in the baseball war between the National League and the American Association. Cash points out significant differences, such as Sunday games and beer sales, between the two Leagues. In addition, excerpts taken from Chicago and St. Louis newspapers make the on-field contests and off-field rivalries come alive. Cash concludes this lively historical narrative with an appendix that traces the issue of race in baseball during this period. The excesses of modern-day baseball--players jumping contracts or holding out for more money, gambling on games, and drinking to excess; owners stealing players and breaking agreements--were all present in the nineteenth-century sport. Players were seen then, as they are now, as an embodiment of their community. This timely treatment of a fascinating period in St. Louis baseball history will appeal to both baseball aficionados and those who want to understand the history of baseball itself.


What do you imagine the American people would think of me if I
wasted my time going to the ballgame?

—President Grover Cleveland, declining an invitation
to a major-league baseball game in 1886

On October 7, 1885, Thomas A. Hendricks, the vice president of the United States, looked out from the balcony of the Southern Hotel on a parade making its way through the crowded street below. More than a quarter-million people were milling around, many carrying torches that sent flames leaping fifteen feet into the air. Some torchbearers were periodically setting off Roman candles, and other parade participants fired double-barreled shotguns skyward. Hendricks, an Indianan who was serving President Grover Cleveland in the first Democratic administration since the outbreak of the Civil War, assumed that the pandemonium below was a well-intentioned effort to welcome him to St. Louis. Sure that he was the focal point of the crowd’s attention, he began to deliver a political speech to his audience: “This, gentlemen, is an honor that I did not expect. It is a genuine surprise to me. It must only be in the West that the greatness of the vice presidency is recognized. I know that Missouri is a good old Democratic state, but I did not suspect for a moment that my arrival would provoke the enthusiasm which I see displayed before me—”

The vice president was quickly cut off by a young torchbearer, who loudly interrupted the political oration by gesturing eagerly at a stocky, mustached man on the street and exclaiming, “There’s Gleason! There’s Gleason!”

Hendricks was suddenly perplexed. Regaining his voice, he queried the youth: “Gleason? Gleason? and who, may I ask, is Gleason?”

“Just the greatest shortstop the Browns ever had,” the torchbearer said, quickly filling in what must have seemed a major gap in the vice president’s education. “And that is one of the reasons why we are going to beat Chicago for the championship.”

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