Amateur teams played baseball in St. Louis at least as early as the 1850’s. The first use of nationally-accepted base ball rules occurred locally in
1860. Most competition through 1866 was between local amateur clubs, with the Unions and the Empires being the early powers.
The Union Base Ball Club of St. Louis formed in the city of St. Louis in the year 1860. Its first captain was a man named E.C. Simmons, who would later become famous for creating and marketing his “Keen Kutter” brand of tools.
Local publications show that the Unions were among the most successful clubs playing ball in the city in the 1860’s, as they won the St. Louis Championship in 1862, 1867 and 1868. After the first all-professional club, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, proved beyond a doubt in 1869 that base ball could be big business, new professional clubs began to lure the best players away from the local amateur teams. The Unions were unable to weather the storm and folded after the 1870 season.
Riding the wave of vintage base ball popularity in the new century , Brian “Ricochet” Robison resurrected the Union club
in 2004 and based it in the north St. Louis County suburb of Florissant. The Unions finished their first season with a record of 10-20, but improved in every facet of the game and in 2005 earned a 24-18 record, capped by winning the first Missouri Cup vintage base ball championship tournament.
The club’s home field is located at Jefferson Barracks Park.
Editors Note: Jeffrey Kittel of his Blog “This Game of Games” had more information about E.C Simmons.
In The National Game, Al Spink quotes Jeremiah Fruin as saying that “E. C. Simmons, now at the head of the Simmons Hardware Company, was I think the first captain of the Unions. But he was so overbearing and arbitrary that his players fell out with him and he went in another direction and started a team of his own.”
Edwards C. Simmons was born in Fredrick, Maryland on September 21, 1839 and, according to Bertie Charles Forbes in Men who are making America, he “trekked to St. Louis when a young lad.” As president of the Simmons Hardware Company, “he made St. Louis the greatest hardware centre on earth…”
In 1854, Simmons, at the age of 16, was working for Child, Pratt, & Co., the largest wholesale hardware store in St. Louis at the time. By 1860, according to Kennedy’s St. Louis city directory, he was working for Wilson, Levering, & Waters, the company that would become the Simmons Hardware Company. His is truly one of the great American success stories.
Fruin’s claim, however, that Simmons was one of the founders of the Union Club or the first captain of the club is without merit. According to E.H. Tobias, “The original Union Club was composed of high school pupils who organized under the name in 1860 with Asa W. Smith, president; Robert Niggeman, vice-president; J.P. Freeman, secretary; E.F. Finney, treasurer…In the latter part of ’61 the Union Club disbanded on account of the Civil War and did not reorganize until 1865. Of those who belonged to the original club Asa W. Smith, Wm. E. Greenleaf and J.P. Freeman were the promoters of the new organization.”
Simmons is mentioned by Tobias as a member of the Unions in 1865. On May 31, 1865, the Unions played a match against the Empires and Tobias noted that “E.C. Simmons now of Simmons Hardware Co. was substituted for O. Garrison (in center field).” There is no mention of him through 1865 as either the captain or as an officer of the club.
Fruin, of course, did not arrive in St. Louis until 1861 and he had no first hand knowledge of the antebellum Unions. His conversation with Spink took place fifty odd years after the fact and it’s understandable that his memory is faulty. However, while Simmons had nothing to do with the founding of the 1860 version of the Unions, he was an original member of the post-Civil War Union Club. While it’s highly unlikely that he ever captained the first nine, the rest of Fruin’s statement (regarding Simmons leaving the club and starting a new one) is possible and needs more research.
Posted by Jeffrey Kittel