The original item was published from May 1, 2018 8:47 AM to May 1, 2018 4:55 PM
The new exhibits at the St. Charles County Heritage Museum
clearly show that residents love their sports! If you haven’t visited “Our Sporting Heritage,” which features the “St. Charles County Amateur Sports Hall of Fame,” and “Root for the Home Team: The History of High School Athletics in St. Charles County” exhibits, then I recommend you do so. You can even view an exhibit on the history of hunting and fishing in our county and Missouri. Also, check out the Marksman Training Simulator while you’re there – it’s an interactive digital hunting simulator, donated by hunting enthusiast August A. Busch III, that features the largest video shooting surface in the world.
While there certainly were a lot of sports to choose from growing up in St. Charles County, my research shows that baseball was the favorite pastime of both players and spectators.
Early History and Popularity
In 1925, octogenarian Rev. Samuel McCluer Watson (1821-1925), pastor of Dardenne Presbyterian Church, reported, “The games I played in my childhood were chiefly marbles, baseball and the two kinds of ball called cat ball and town ball.”1
George Sibley Johns (1857-1941), founder of the St. Charles Journal and later editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and his brothers had hunted, fished and rode horses as children after the Civil War. However, “their favorite game was ‘town-ball,’ a primitive batting and running game, undoubtedly the forerunner of modern baseball.”2
The Banner News had suggested in 1875, “Baseball – This game is fast becoming the popular amusement of the youth of the county. For healthy exercise and development of the muscle, it has never been equaled by any sport in America.”3
The same article had reported the communities of Wentzville, O’Fallon, Portage des Sioux, Defiance and Dardenne fielded baseball teams. Two teams from St. Charles, the Browns, composed primarily of German players; and the Arcadias, composed primarily of non-Germans, competed in the same league.4
History expert Benjamin L. Emmons (1861-1942), son of Missouri Militia and local civic leader Colonel Benjamin Emmons IV (1815-1885), later explained, “In those days there were two classes of players, those who could only play ball on Saturdays or weekdays, and those who played on Sunday.”5
In 1890, the Demokrat observed, “Every day is baseball day. Daily, Sunday being no exception, the American national game is played by hundreds and thousands. Daily, the English-language press fills numerous columns, often entire pages, with reports about a single game and with chat and trivia about the players.”6
In St. Charles, the West End Baseball Association maintained diamonds between Clay and Madison, west of 10th Street, while the Turners’ Society, which encouraged people of all ages to be active and is still active in the community, sponsored a baseball team in 1911.7
Each small farming community in the county maintained a baseball diamond and sponsored a team such as the “Matson Ploughboys,” first organized in 1895. Missouri author and journalist William Schiermeier explained, “As early as 1916, Defiance was in a league with all the nearby towns and traveled by train to Marthasville and to St. Charles to play the Pikers Club, Chamber of Commerce, and the Boosters.”8
A few local players made it to the major leagues, including Doug Baird of St. Charles, who first played with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1915. Oscar Fuhr of Defiance broke into the big leagues in 1921 with the Chicago Cubs. Several other local men, including Jake Arnold and Sylvester Deister, both of St. Peters, were playing minor league baseball by the 1920s.9
By the 1920s, it was no longer necessary to travel by train as a network of highways was being built throughout the county. When established in 1921, the St. Charles City and County League included teams from St. Charles, St. Peters, St. Paul, O’Fallon and Orchard Farm. After the first three communities were linked by U.S. Highway 40, the first concrete “hard road” in the county, the association became known as the “Hard Road League.” The league grew as other communities in St. Charles County fielded teams. When teams from Lincoln and Warren counties were later added, the league became known as the Eastern Missouri Baseball Association.10
The 1930s and 1940s were the heyday of amateur baseball in St. Charles County. The East Missouri Baseball Association featured two teams from St. Charles and teams from almost every small town in the county. William Schiermeier explained that, during the 1930s, baseball “was the only real competitive sport. Every boy from 10 years on played at recess, lunch hour and after school at Walnut Grove, hoping all the time to someday play on the ‘big Defiance team.’”11
While football and basketball were also popular, every good athlete played baseball because it, along with boxing, was the only established professional sport. Every young boy dreamed of escaping the hardship of the Depression by signing a professional baseball contract. Ken Heintzelmann from St. Peters was 21 years old when he broke into the big leagues in 1937 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Len Schulte from St. Charles was 27 years old when he broke in with the St. Louis Browns in 1944, while Ham Schulte, born Herman Joseph Schultehenrich, joined the Philadelphia Phillies in 1940 at age 27. Other St. Charles County boys played in the minor leagues.
The success of the St. Louis Cardinals added to the popularity of baseball in St. Charles County. The Cardinals won eight pennants and five World Series between 1930 and 1946. After winning the World Series in September 1931, the front page of the Cosmos-Monitor displayed individual pictures of the Cardinal starting line-up directly below the headline announcing their accomplishment. During the early ’30s, young boys from St. Charles walked down to Second and Adams Streets to catch the street car that took them down to Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. As members of the “Knothole Gang,” a special promotion to bring children and their families out to games, they were admitted to the ballpark free of charge. Those who could not attend listened to the games on the radio. A few in St. Charles County were even St. Louis Browns fans.
A celebration honoring 100 years of baseball in America was held at Blanchette Park in August 1939. Former players, who had played as early as the 1880s, were introduced, and Stephen Boehmer was awarded a large basket of flowers as the oldest ballplayer at the event. A team from the city beat a team from the county in the “old timers” game, while St. Charles beat Washington, Missouri, in the Trolley League game.12
High School and Extracurricular Baseball
As more and more individuals sought a high school education, extracurricular sports became an important part of the educational program in the county. Francis Howell High School fielded a baseball team by its second year of operation in 1917. St. Peter’s High School fielded a baseball team after it opened in 1921. While baseball was played at St. Charles High School at an early date, it was discontinued after the 1924 season. By the 1930s, the boys of St. Charles played in a Grade School Baseball League, composed of both public and parochial schools. Francis Howell played other rural schools, including Wentzville and Augusta high schools. When baseball was reinstated at St. Charles High School in 1934 after a 10-year absence, the boys had a full complement of sports, and competed primarily against teams from St. Louis County.
Franklin High School, the black high school in St. Charles, had very successful baseball teams in the early ’40s led by Jim Pendleton. After graduation in 1943, he went into the armed services and played on the 20th Air Force baseball team in the South Pacific. He played with the Chicago Giants in the Negro American League in 1948 where he batted better than .360 and hit more than 15 home runs.
Women’s sports were a big part of high school sports programs during the 1930s. Socially conservative attitudes about the role of women led to discontinuation of women’s intercollegiate athletics. As the decade began, St. Charles High School women were still competing against other schools. Female athletes also competed on amateur baseball teams in the county, including the very successful Hamburg Blue Jays. However, the American Softball Association was formed in 1933, as public opinion came to view softball as a more appropriate game for female athletes. An unknown author explained, “Baseball continued to be the major sport in Matson until 1938, when softball took its place. Boys and girls teams were organized. The girls’ team developed into one of the best in St. Charles County. They played all competition in both St. Charles and Warren counties and won 75 percent of the games in 1938, ’39, ’40, and ’41.”13
Children in St. Charles County had played sports for generations without parental or school involvement. In St. Charles, Immanuel Lutheran and St. Peter’s sponsored elementary school teams, and the Junior High School also had sports teams. Parents and non-educators increasingly began organizing youth athletic activities after 1945. The VFW Post in O’Fallon began Khoury League baseball, very popular in St. Louis County, in that community in 1949. The same year, the Optimists Club of St. Charles began sponsoring Junior Baseball in St. Charles, with 570 boys playing on 38 teams in three age divisions by 1952. The program was started by community-minded citizens and parents who wanted to give youth an opportunity to practice sportsmanship, develop teamwork, improve skills and have fun. Teams were drawn at random; only the sons of coaches and sponsors could be claimed by a team. If a boy played long enough, he might eventually play on the same team with every kid in St. Charles. One reason the organization did not associate with the Khoury League was because the Optimists had allowed black youths to compete in their league, while the Khoury League was segregated. The “Hot Stove League” combined with the Optimists to form a county-wide Junior Baseball Association for the 1958 season, with teams from St. Peters and Harvester as well as St. Charles.14
While other sports were becoming increasingly popular, every good athlete played baseball. Fretting what they perceived as an erosion of moral values after the First World War, the American Legion had initiated a summer baseball program for high school age boys by 1926. After World War II, legionnaires saw baseball as a way to promote patriotism and fight Communism, and local posts established teams in St. Charles County by the late 1940s.
As the 1950s began, amateur baseball continued to be very popular throughout St. Charles County. The Eastern Missouri Baseball Association expanded to 20 rural teams, with two more teams from St. Charles. Since the teams had no black players, and the league had no black teams, it was considered controversial when leaders in the black community petitioned the park board in 1949 to allow interracial baseball games at Blanchette Park. The Bombers, a local black baseball team, wanted to schedule contests with white clubs. While there was no rule against such contests, neither was there any precedent for them, so the petitioners sought a ruling from the Park Board before proceeding. In approving the interracial baseball games, the board reserved the right to cancel should “any difficulties arise due to the policy.”15
It was not only in St. Charles County that the first effort at racial integration took place on the baseball diamond; the Brooklyn Dodgers broke the color barrier in baseball by bringing Jackie Robinson to the major leagues in 1947. On Feb. 23, 1949, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jim Pendleton, then 25 years old, to a contract. Pendleton was 29 when he made his major league debut with the Milwaukee Braves in 1953.
Parents continued to promote recreational opportunities for both male and female youth in St. Charles County. St. Charles Junior Baseball added girls’ softball in the mid-’60s. As in previous eras, a few St. Charles athletes realized their dreams of high-level or professional sports careers. Len Boehmer from Flint Hill was 25 years old when he broke into the big leagues with the Cincinnati Reds in 1967.16
Tom Heintzelman was 26 years old when he broke in with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973. After a college baseball career at Oklahoma State, Mike Henneman, born in St. Charles in 1961, broke into the big leagues in 1987 with the Detroit Tigers. For every athlete that made it to the professional level, there were thousands who did not. Nevertheless, organizations began to place less emphasis on recreation, and more emphasis on winning and individual achievement. When the St. Peters Athletic Association formed in the late ’70s, unlike the St. Charles Junior Baseball Association, it enrolled teams rather than individual players, and segregated players based on ability. Several more American Legion Posts in the county began fielding teams, and the Post 312 baseball team won the state tournament in 1988.
- Banner-News, February 26, 1925.
- Orrick Johns, Time of Our Lives, 20.
- News, July 1, 1875.
- Cosmos-Monitor, August 16, 1939.
- “Baseball in the United States,” Demokrat, July 10, 1890, in Mallinckrodt, A History of Augusta, Vol. 3, 564.
- Cosmos-Monitor, September 6, 1911.
- 1905 plat map of St. Charles County. Schiermeier, Cracker Barrel Country, Vol. III, 197.
- Banner-News, March 5, 1925. Doug Baird, born I 1891 in St. Charles, was 23 years old when he broke into the big leagues in 1915. Oscar Fuhr, born 1893, in Defiance, was 27 years old when he made it to the major leagues in 1921.
- Journal, Aug.17, 2008, A11.
- Schiermeier, Cracker Barrel Country, Vol. III, 196-197.
- Cosmos-Monitor, Aug.23,1939. Former players attending included Benjamin L. Emmons, Wm. Bloebaum, Emmett Edwards, Stephen Boehmer, H.H. Steed, Edward Meyer, Wm. J. Hafer, and Geo. Wallenbrink, Wm Meyer, Herman Moehlenkamp, John Platz, John Steinbrinker, John Vogel, Conrad Broeckelmann, Louis Hellrich, John Ruenzi, Barney Wessler, Joe Wessler, Claude Taylor, Edward Kister, Frank Pallardy, Charlie Fredenberg, Hy. Spinks, P.J. Costigan, Morris Murry, Oscar Blankenmeister, Charles Bartley, Emile Bueneman and Jimmy Feeney.
- Schiermeier, Cracker Barrel Country, Vol. III, 209.
- Interviews with Oscar Waltermann and Melvin Plackemeier; Cosmos-Monitor, Oct. 25, 1958; Banner-News, Nov. 12, 1952.
- Ibid., June 9, 1948.
- It was much more difficult to get to the major leagues before expansion in 1961, as the best athletes all played baseball because it provided the best opportunities to be a professional athlete.