The Cyclone Thesis posits the following: The Cyclone Base Ball Club of St. Louis was the first baseball club in St. Louis history and they began playing in the summer of 1859.
While I believe the Cyclone Thesis to be true, it disturbs me to no end that I have been unable to find contemporary source material in support of it. And it's not from a lack of trying. An 1859 source mentioning the Cyclones is something I've been looking for going on a decade now. There were times when I felt I had the right source and was close to finding it only to come up empty. And, as I said, it disturbs me. It bothers me. It makes me question my assumptions about what was happening in St. Louis in 1859. The lack of contemporary source material supporting it makes me question the Cyclone Thesis.
If we base everything on just the contemporary source material, we would have to argue that either the Unknown Club of 1859 or the Morning Star Club of 1860 was the first baseball club in St. Louis history. The Unknown Club was in existence by September 3, 1859, but I can't prove that they played the New York game. The Morning Stars were in existence by June 6, 1860, and I'm comfortable with the idea that they were playing the New York game that season. And those are the two earliest references I have to a St. Louis baseball club.
The earliest reference I have to the Cyclones comes from the Missouri Republican of July 8, 1860:
The First Base Ball Match In St. Louis - The first regular game of base ball played in our city will come off between the members of the "Cyclone" and "Morning Star" Base Ball Clubs, on Monday, the 9th inst., at 4 o'clock, P.M., in the field immediately west of the Fair Grounds. The game, we understand is to be played according to the rules of the National Convention of Ball Players. As the clerk of the weather has been consulted, everybody interested is anticipating a good afternoon's sport. We rejoice to see the national game coming into such high favor with our young men.
And then there is Merritt Griswold. Griswold is, by all accounts, one of the co-founders of the club. His letter to Al Spink, which first appeared in the second edition of The National Game, is an extremely important source when it comes to our knowledge of the pioneer era in St. Louis. Griswold, in his letter, dates the founding of the club to the winter of 1859/1860:
To start at the commencement of the game in its first introduction into Missouri I would refer you to the files of "The Missouri Democrat" for the Winter of 1859 and 1860, where in you will find published "the rules of the game," also a diagram showing the field and the position of each player made from a rough sketch I gave to Mr. McKee and Fishback, the publishers, or to Mr. Houser, at that time their bookkeeper, cashier and confidential office man (and, by the way, a mighty fine young man).
At this same time I was organizing the first baseball club, "The Cyclone," which name was suggested by one of its members, Mr. Whitney, of the Boatman's Savings Bank.
Griswold states that the Cyclones were "organizing" at the "same time" as he was publishing the rules of the game in the Missouri Democrat. And we know specifically when that took place.
Gentlemen - In addition to the rules and regulations for playing base ball, as adopted by the "United States Convention of Base Ball Players," I send you a diagram of the field, with the position of each man when engaged in a match. As you expressed yourself desirous of publishing the latest rules of our national game, I thought a diagram of the field would be quite necessary to those unaccustomed to play according to the rules. And I would further state that the Unites States Convention recognize no playing unless in strict conformity to those rules and regulations.
-Missouri Democrat, April 26, 1860
If Griswold was correct and the Cyclones formed at the same time as he published the rules of the game in the Missouri Republican then the club didn't form until April of 1860. The club may not have formed until late April of that year which means they may not have formed until after the Empire Club, which likely formed on April 16, 1860. Griswold is really not much help in arguing for the Cyclone Thesis and, in fact, his testimony supports the idea that other clubs formed before his did.
So neither the contemporary source material nor the co-founder of the club supports the argument that the Cyclones were the first baseball club and that they formed in the summer of 1859. Did I mention how disturbed this all makes me feel?
Yet, despite all of this, I still believe in the Cyclone Thesis. I still believe that it is the best explanation for how the New York game came to St. Louis. Why is that? Well, I think I'm going to have to spend a couple of days talking about that and I'll start with a full gloss of Griswold's letter.