By Chris Meiman, Curator & Exhibits Director
As the Cincinnati Reds play the Louisville Bats this week at Louisville Slugger Field, it seems a good time to remember that Louisville used to be a major league city. For 20 seasons in the late 19th Century, the Grays, Eclipse (pictured above) and Colonels welcomed teams we now know as the Reds, Cubs, Braves, Pirates, Giants, Phillies and Dodgers to Louisville.
Records from these early games are very hard to come by which is why we were so excited to hear from Keith Reccius, whose ancestors, Phil and John, ran the Louisville Eclipse, a semi-pro-turned-professional team. The Eclipse became Louisville’s entry into the major league-level American Association in 1882, right alongside many of the famous clubs mentioned above.
Keith donated the actual scorebooks from various Eclipse games in the 1880s to Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, including some early games in the Association. As we investigated further, we discovered that the scoresheet for Louisville’s May 5, 1882 home opener was in the collection and that the game was played against the “St. Louis Browns,” the forerunner to the modern-day St. Louis Cardinals. What we had was the original scoresheet from the first official road game in St. Louis Cardinals history! And, as it turned out, their first loss.
While the books are not in great shape, the individual score sheets (pictured above) are, and the markings are clear despite being written in pencil more than 130 years ago. The starting lineups for both teams match baseball-reference.com’s roster of players for the Browns and the Eclipse. The St. Louis lineup included baseball pioneer, and future Hall of Fame owner of the Chicago White Sox, Charlie Comiskey, making his major league debut at the age of 22. The Eclipse team featured the Reccius brothers and their teammate Pete Browning, who helped create the legend of the Louisville Slugger bat two years later.
Thanks to the scoresheets (pictured below), I could follow the action as if I were sitting in the stands 135 years ago. The game started with a bang for the visiting Browns as leadoff hitter and third baseman Jack Gleason hit a single off Louisville starter Tony Mullane. One out later, center fielder Oscar Walker drove Gleason in with a double. The rosy start for the guests was short-lived as Mullane retired first baseman Comiskey and second baseman Bill Smiley to end the inning. The one run would also be the only run the Browns scored against the ambidextrous Irishman Mullane.
After being retired in order in their first two at bats, Louisville struck back in the third inning. Second baseman Gracie Pierce doubled and then it appears St. Louis pitcher John Schappert lost control and walked the next three hitters, the walk to catcher Dan Sullivan tying the game at one. Next up, was the pitcher Mullane, who hit third in the lineup. His sacrifice fly allowed Denny Mack to score the go-ahead run. Mullane outdueled Schappert for the rest of the game and the Louisville Eclipse won their first game in the American Association, 2-1, handing the St. Louis team their first defeat in franchise history.
The Eclipse lasted three major league seasons before returning to semi-pro and were replaced by the Colonels team who played in both the AA and in the National League until 1899. Overall, the St. Louisans won 157 of the 276 games played between the two cities and won four AA pennants to Louisville’s one.
A century after the Browns and the Eclipse, Louisville welcomed back minor league baseball for the first time in a decade with the Louisville Redbirds, the new top farm club of the St. Louis Cardinals. Over the next 15 seasons, the Redbirds became a national sensation, winning three titles and shattering attendance records in the process, including drawing an unprecedented one million fans in 1983. The Redbirds eventually changed their name to the RiverBats and then simply the Bats in 2002. They’re now the Triple-A affiliate for the Reds, and Louisville looks forward to the matchup between our hometown Bats and Cincinnati, just as we welcomed the premiere of the St. Louis franchise so many years ago.
1882 St. Louis Browns image Courtesy of the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum