Baseball historian Brian Flaspohler says the first fully professional baseball game in St. Louis happened on May 4, 1875. St. Louis won — and lost.
The St. Louis Brown Stockings defeated the St. Louis Red Stockings 15 to 9. Out-of-town ringers recruited to form the first professional team in the city made up the Brown Stockings. The Red Stockings were a group of scrappy players, amateurs up until then, who didn't like that their city's professional team had no one from St. Louis on its roster.
"Most people think the Cardinals have been around forever," Flaspohler says. “They kind of have been, but they weren't the first major league team that was in St. Louis."
Brian Flaspohler's new book St. Louis Baseball History: A Guide
covers the deep history of the Lou’s favorite pastime. The book is organized by geography, its short chapters all pegged to a specific location in town.
That first professional game was played in a stadium on South Compton Avenue in what is Midtown today. Lafayette Park was a hot spot for amateur baseball during the Civil War. The baseball diamond at Harris-Stowe State University sits exaclty where the first baseball park built sepcifcally for the St. Louis Stars, a Negro League team, was constructed a century ago. Supposedly, Babe Ruth's favorite brothel was on Forest Park Avenue.
In the mid-twentieth century, St. Louis had two major league teams — the Cardinals and the Browns — and the managers for both teams shared an apartment in what were then the Lindell Towers (now the Coronado Place and Towers in Grand Center). One team was always in town when the other was away, so the arrangement worked.
It worked, that is, until the two teams met in the World Series.
"The Cardinals' manager sent a telegram to the Browns' manager and said, ‘You can have the apartment for the World Series,’" Flaspohler says. "I guess that paid off for him, from a karma standpoint, because the Cardinals won the World Series, even though he gave up his apartment for that week."
St. Louis Baseball History
covers all nine baseball franchises that have called St. Louis their home since 1875. Three of those teams played in the Negro Leagues.
A lot of people know the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League, but Flaspohler says the history of the league in St. Louis is "a fascinating, untold story." In 1920, the St. Louis Giants (later renamed the Stars) were one of the original six teams in the league. They went on a tear about a decade later when they won pennants in 1928, 1930 and 1931.
"The Stars are a great story that a lot of people just don't know much of anything about," he says. "It's so cool that baseball is still played where their stadium once stood."
These days, Flaspohler is a big fan of the Cardinals, the second most-winning team in baseball.
Courtesy Arcadia Publishing
Flaspohler's new book tells you exactly where over the last 150 years the city's baseball history has gone down.
"Every generation in St. Louis going back to 1926 has had a championship team to root for," Flaspohler says, referencing the fact that the Cardinals are one of only a few teams to never go more than 25 years without a World Series win.
However, as a historian, he does have one beef with them.
The team we now know as the Cardinals was founded in 1882. Yet on all the Cardinal T-shirts and other gear it says below the logo "est. 1892." That's the year they joined the National League, but they'd already been around for a decade.
Flaspohler has a theory as to how that came to be. He suspects that in the mid-1980s someone in the Cardinals organization realized they'd missed the real 100-year anniversary celebration, so they decided to retroactively declare 1892 the year the team was "established."
Flaspohler lauds the efforts the Cardinals’ owners, the DeWitt family, have taken to preserve the history of the game. He cites specifically the Hall of Fame Museum at Busch Stadium as an example of their effort.
"Their family has had a long history in baseball, and they've done a great job keeping that history going," he says. "Except for the fact they won't change the T-shirts to 1882. If we get that done, I would be happy."
Flaspohler will be signing copies of
St. Louis Baseball History at Lafayette Park at 11 a.m. on June 4. Along with the signing, there will be an exhibition game played by 1860s rules.