SABR

Union Base Ball Park (St. Louis)

This article was written by Joan M. Thomas.

Henry V. Lucas was a central figure in the organization of baseball's renegade Union Association of 1884. Grandson of Louisiana Territory Land Commissioner Judge J. B. C. Lucas, and brother of John B. C. Lucas, president of the original National League St. Louis Brown Stockings of 1876, Henry truly loved baseball. A Missouri Historical Review piece describes him as "...an amateur player who laid out a field in Normandy (located in present St. Louis County), his country seat, where he delighted to invite friends to play ball and enjoy an 'elegant spread' afterwards." (Seymour 1957)

Friendly with the players of the newly organized American Association St. Louis Browns of 1882, he sided with their opposition to the reserve clause, which was then included in player contracts of that league as well as the older National League. They viewed the provision as an infringement on their rights as citizens, likening it to slavery. To oppose it, Lucas used his wealth and influence in the creation of yet another professional league. Consequently, the Union Association formed late in 1883, and fielded teams in the season of 1884. The St. Louis club was called the Maroons.

The St. Louis beer and baseball connection already manifest, investors in the Maroons included a local brewer, Adolphus Busch. However, Lucas held the majority of the shares in the club. Arranging a five-year lease at $325 per month for a plot in northern St. Louis for the ballpark, he likely envisioned it enduring long beyond the life of that contract.

The ballpark, clubhouse and carriage yard were located on an irregular-shaped area about the size of two city blocks bordered by Cass on the south, Jefferson to the west, Howard on the north and what is now 25th Street on its eastern edge. Though it did not at the time, Mullanphy Street now intersects the plot's mid-section from 25th to Jefferson. On level ground ideally suited for a baseball field, the ballpark covered approximately 425 feet between Jefferson and 25th, and 515 feet from Howard to within about 100 feet of Cass. Because the Maroons' three-story brick clubhouse was built at Jefferson and Cass, that corner gained the designation as the Union Park's location.

All evidence suggests that the ballpark Lucas built at the site seated 10,000. He spent upwards of $15,000 preparing the stands and grounds. An all-around sports enthusiast, he fashioned it to accommodate other athletic activities. He had blue grass and clover planted in the outfield, which was encompassed by a cinder track for sprinting and bicycling. Features to accommodate the baseball crowd included wire netting behind the catcher. Additionally, a large scoreboard, called a bulletin board, at the ballparkĀ’s southeast corner posted more than the Maroons' game tally. It also provided updates on other Union Association games received via telegraph.

The wooden grandstand, painted white, stood at the northwest corner of the lot behind home plate, the batsman facing southeast. The wings of the grandstand ran east and south, and long tiers for opera chairs extended seating further east and south, the east tier stretching clear to the left field fence. The main entrance to the park was at the northwest corner, at Jefferson and Howard, where a double ticket office and stairs leading to the grandstand were located. There was another entrance further south on Jefferson, and yet a third on Cass that led to the park's carriage yard that had room for "over a hundred vehicles." (The Grounds 1884) And Lucas spared no expense when it came to the players. He provided two billiard tables in the reception room of the clubhouse, and shower rooms for all athletes who used the park.

Although some sources refer to it as the Palace Park of America, almost all news reports during its life as a major league park refer to it simply as the Union Grounds, or the Union Base Ball Park. Occasionally it was called Lucas Park, for the Maroons' first owner.

A newspaper promotion for the St. Louis Union Grounds grand opening touts it as "large - larger, in fact than three-fourths of the ball grounds in the country." (The Grounds 1884) The St. Louis Post-Dispatch headlines announcing the Sunday, April 20, 1884 event dub the park "The Finest! The Nearest! The Prettiest!" Fans in attendance that day may have considered it just that. At a time when horse-drawn conveyances provided much of the city's transportation, and that part of the city was central, it was the nearest. One news report cited it as only a thirty-minute ride from downtown. As for being the finest and the prettiest, one can only judge from written descriptions, as images of the park are hard to find.

On that joyous opening day the Maroons, in their white uniforms with maroon caps and stockings, defeated their Chicago adversaries by 7 - 2 in six innings, rain preventing the full nine. Thus began the winning season of the St. Louis Union club, and the only season of the Union Association. Years later a local sports writer reflected that the Maroons "...with their silk stockings and lamb's wool sweaters...would march onto the Union Grounds to the music of a brass band." ("The Maroons," 1910)

The St. Louis Union enterprise benefited from its wealthy owner, and it had the best players. The Maroons outclassed the others in the league to the point that it destroyed interest. St. Louis ended the season with a record of 94 wins and 19 losses, and of the 11 other clubs that started the 1884 Union Association season, Cincinnati finished second with a 69 - 36 record. So, although Lucas generously helped the other struggling clubs financially, the league disbanded at the end of the season.

Determined to keep his baseball concern, Lucas then managed the acquisition of the then-folding Cleveland National League franchise, the Blues. The players did not come with the deal, so he simply used the Maroons as the National League St. Louis club. Thus, during the seasons of 1885 and 1886, St. Louis had a National League club that called the Union Grounds home. Many of the original Maroons players went on to other teams, and some remained because they had been blacklisted for jumping other clubs to join the Unions of 1884. The blacklisting ordeal passed, but the name stuck, and the team even got new black diamond uniforms in 1886. From that time on, they were sometimes referred to as the Black Diamonds, but they were still generally known as the Maroons.

The Maroons ended their first year in the National League, 1885, quite the opposite of their fantastic finish with the Unions. Eighth in an eight-team league, they squandered their founder's fortune. In 1886, they fared slightly better, but still finished sixth. Attendance at the Union Grounds dropped dramatically during those two years. In addition to the fact that the National League prohibited Sunday games and the sale of liquor at its ballparks then, the St. Louis Browns playing down at old Sportsman's Park, only five blocks away, were in first place in the Sunday and liquor-friendly American Association.

Near the end of the '86 season, Lucas finally relinquished his interest in the Maroons, and sold out to a group of stockholders, the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association among them. But a local investor, Mr. William Stromberg, held the majority of the stock. Over the winter, Stromberg sold the club to an Indianapolis businessman for $12,000. The club then became the Indianapolis Hoosiers. The other investors disputed Stromberg's authority to sell, and charged him with shady dealings. They claimed that he granted himself a $400 monthly salary without their approval. Following the club's sale, the organization ended up with a cash deficit of over $2,400. During the following spring when its board met, it turned down a claim presented for money owed for services rendered during a July 4, 1886 Siege of Vicksburg exhibition held at Union Park (an event including fireworks that drew a capacity crowd). The reason given for refusing the claim was that the association was insolvent.

With two years remaining of the lease of the property, the ballpark was used by amateur baseball clubs, as well as other sporting groups. It is likely that the grandstand was torn down when that lease expired. A building permit dated August 7, 1888 gives the location for its purpose as the east side of Jefferson between Cass and Howard Streets, and the use as "Wrecking sheds & seats." (Building Permit 1888) Around that same time, the Homeopathic Medical College of Missouri was erected at the southeast corner of Jefferson and Howard. As time passed, the college and a number of other enterprises including Brown Shoe Company, came and went on parts of the property where the ballpark once stood. By the mid-twentieth century, a notorious inner-city high-rise housing project called Pruit-Igo arose on Cass, directly across the street from the site of the Union Park. To the relief of everyone, that was finally demolished. Several commercial establishments now operate at the site of the Union Grounds, and plans are in progress to place a marker there to commemorate its existence.

The last National League game played at the Union Grounds took place on September 23, 1886. On that day, the Maroons lost to the Kansas City club 3 - 2. The final game played there by the Maroons took place during an inner-city series with the American Association St. Louis Browns. On October 31, 1886 the club claimed its only victory of the six fall games with the Browns by winning 2 - 1.

As for Henry V. Lucas, who was called the "Napoleon of Baseball," during the existence of the Union Association of 1884, he lost much of his fortune to failed sporting and business ventures. He died on November 10, 1910 following three years of service as a city street inspector. Today only a handful of St. Louis baseball aficionados are aware of his legacy. Hardly any baseball fans know the story of the Maroons or the park they called home for three years. Hopefully, a permanent marker there will educate future lovers of the national game.

Sources

Lampe, Anthony B. "The Background of Professional Baseball in St. Louis." Missouri Historical Society Bulletin 7, no. 1 (October, 1950): 5-34.

The St. Louis Critic. Jan. 24, 1885. Feb. 28, 1885. April 11, 1885.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch. April 19, 1884. Nov 16, 1910.

St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 20, 1884 p 11. April 28, 1884 p3 col 3. July 5, 1884 p8. July 13, 1884 p9 col 4. July 28, 1884 p7 col 3. Sept. 1, 1884 p3 col 1. Oct 5, 1884 p10. May 30, 1885. p6, col 6. May 31, 1885 p9. June 12, 1885 p7 col 4. June 15, 1885 p4 col5. June 27, 1885 p7. July 15, 1885 p6, col5. July 28, 1885 p8 col 2. July 31, 1885 p6 col 6. Sept 5, 1885 p5 col 4. October 28, 1885 p6 col 5. May 22, 1886 p7 col 5. Sept 23, 1886 p15 col 1. October 3, 1886 p 10, col 2. Oct 16, 1886 p7 col 5. February 12, 1887 p7 col 5. March 9, 1887 p8 col 4. March 13, 1887 p 9 col 1. March 30, 1887 p5 col 4. April 1, 1887 p5 col 3. April 20, 1887 p5 col 3. May 5, 1887 p5 col 5. Nov. 16, 1910.

Seymour, Harold. "St. Louis and the Union Baseball War." Missouri Historical Review 51, no.3. (April 1957): 257-269.

Spink, Alfred H. The National Game. St. Louis: National Game Publishing Co., 1910.

The Missouri Republican. Nov 3, 1883 p6 col5. Nov 20, 1883 p6 col 5. March 25, 1884 p6. March 30, 1884 p 11. March 31, 1884 p3. April 6, 1884 p 11April 19, 1884 p6 col 1. April 20, 1884 p 11.

Sources

Seymour, Harold. "St. Louis And The Union Baseball War." Missouri Historical Review. April 1957. Vol LI Number Three. p 259.

Building Permit. A-2866. City of St. Louis Engineering Archives, Room 1, City Hall.

"The Grounds." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 19 April, 1884. P 9.

"The Maroons." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 16 November 1910.

"Union Grounds Opening." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 5 April, 1884 p4 col. 6.

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