Sunday, August 21, 2016

Two Brothers - Two Historic Upsets

About five years ago Carol and I were at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia watching a production of Henry V.  At the heart of  this play about England's  great warrior-king is the story of how a heavily outnumbered (5 to 1) English army, sick and hungry, defeated the far stronger French at Agincourt on St. Crispin's Day (10/25) in 1415.  The play suggests the English soldiers upset the odds because of the inspiration they drew from their leader's "Band of Brothers" speech, best, in my opinion, delivered by Kenneth Branagh (seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAvmLDkAgAM).  In most modern productions, the intermission comes right after a scene in the French camp the night before the battle, where the "confident and over lusty French" brag about their certain victory.  That night in Virginia, as the intermission began, I headed with a number of the like minded men to the rest room where I happened to be standing in front of two of them, one wearing a T shirt from a prominent SEC football team.  To my surprise, his companion remarked about how the man's team would easily win it's game the next day, a sentiment, the first man quickly affirmed.


1873 Boston Red Stockings 

I didn't know that much about the two teams, but it was all I could do not to say to both of them, aren't you paying attention to the play we're watching?  Henry V has been performed, after all, for over 400 years and I couldn't believe either of them were ignorant of what was coming next, the improbable English victory, one of the biggest upsets in military history.  Fortunately however, I've learned a little discretion over the years and held my peace, reflecting later that part of why being part of an upset is so meaningful is triumphing over all those gloating prematurely about the results of battles or games they think are some how pre-ordained.  I believe being part of an upset, even as a spectator, is one of the best feelings in sports, something one seldom forgets.  If being part of one upset can be so meaningful, just think what it must have been like for  two young men from New Jersey, Hugh and Mike Campbell ,who were part of what were arguably not just one, but two of the biggest upsets of the first 25 years of competitive base ball.



Mike Campbell 

Born in Ireland, the two Campbells immigrated to New Jersey and during the 1860's joined the Irvington Base Ball Club, a top junior club of the period.  After the 1865 season, the club members decided to give up their junior status and take on higher levels of competition.  Having made that decision, the Irvingtons didn't gradually ease into more competitive opposition, enticing the defending champion Atlantic Club of Brooklyn to come to Irvington in June of 1866 to help their self-proclaimed "country club" get off to a good start even while they acknowledged they had no chance of winning.  It's unknown which members of  the Irvington Club made the "pitch" to the Brooklyn team, but they were good salesmen since the Atlantics made the trip to the outskirts of Newark without some of their best players, confident of an easy victory.  When they arrived in that small farming community, the Atlantics found, not a bunch of unknown country bumpkins, but players from a number of Newark teams who had joined the Campbell brothers on the Irvington Club.  Although doubtless surprised by the unexpected quality of the opposition, the Atlantics rallied from an early 8-4 deficit, scoring five times in the fourth and six in the fifth to lead 15-9 after five innings.  Things went rapidly downhill after that however as the "country club" added 14 more tallies while holding the champions to just two for a 23-17 victory.


New York Clipper - June 23, 1866

How big an upset was it?  It ended a 44 game Atlantic streak without a loss (one tie) dating back almost three years and it was their first loss to a team other than the Mutuals and the Eckford since 1861.  With or without some of their top players, the game still must be considered one of the biggest, if not, the biggest upset of the 1860's.  Neither of the Campbell brothers did a lot on offense that day with Mike scoring once and Hugh twice, but they played a solid first and center field with only one reported muff between them.  While the Irvington victory was clearly an upset, the previously unknown club didn't lack for talent beginning with second baseman, Charles Sweasy and catcher, Andy Jackson Leonard both of Newark.  A few years later the two would head west and become part of the legendary 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings and by 1873 the two had joined the Wright brothers in Boston (Harry and George, not Orville and Wilbur) to be part of the team which dominated base ball's the National Association, base ball's first attempt at a "national" professional league.  While the Campbell brothers were good ball players, they weren't at that level, but they too moved on to another club in 1870, the Elizabeth Resolutes then one of New Jersey's top amateur clubs.


Harry Wright

Although none of the four men could have visualized it when they upset the Atlantics in 1866, they met again in what was purported to be another historic mismatch.  One of the weaknesses of the National Association was that it would admit any club which paid the $10 annual admission fee (the story of the National Association is well told in Bill Ryczek's Blackguards and Red Stockings).  One club willing to do so in 1873 was the Resolutes which operated as a cooperative club. Cooperative clubs were dependent for financial support on the gate receipts which  in this case turned out to be sparse, meaning the Resolutes, unlike the Red Stockings could not afford any high priced talent.  Not surprisingly, therefore, the Elizabeth club got off to a 1-14 start headed into a scheduled three game series in Boston over the July 4th holiday.  At a time when days off other than Sunday were rare, Independence Day was a major holiday offering multiple competition for the nickels and dimes of prospective fans.  Recognizing the Resolutes wouldn't be a big draw, Harry Wright chose to play the first ever professional double header on the 4th, separate admissions of course, with the idea he could attract some fans for each game from the big crowds venturing into the city to observe the holiday.


Andy Jackson Leonard

Both Campbells were in the Resolute lineup with Mike still stationed at first base and Hugh now serving as the Elizabeth club's pitcher.  In the opposing lineup were no less than four future Hall of Famers, Albert Spalding, Deacon White, Jim "Orator" O'Rourke and Harry Wright with the also Cooperstown bound George Wright getting the game off perhaps because of the heat and/or Atlantic like over confidence.  Wright's absence gave Charles Sweasy his one chance to play for the Boston version of the Red Stockings, perhaps something of a sentimental gesture to let him play against his former Irvington teammates.  With Spalding on the mound, it was no surprise the Resolutes came up empty in their first two at bats, but Boston wasn't having much more luck against Campbell scoring only once in each inning.  Unfortunately, no play-by-play seems to have survived, but the Resolutes tallied five times in the third to take a 5-2 lead and added six more over the course of the game.  Even more impressive than tallying 11 times off Spalding was that Hugh Campbell and the Resolute defense behind him, shut out the powerful Boston lineup the rest of the way for a highly improbable 11-2 win.   As the game ended, one wonders if the four men remembered the 1866 game with Sweasy and Leonard thinking they now knew how the Atlantics felt while the Campbell brothers remembering the elation of that special day.


New York Clipper - July 12, 1873

How big an upset was it?  Through that fateful day, Boston had a cumulative National Association record of 73-24-2, compared to the Resolutes one win in 15 attempts.  Boston would win the remaining two games of the series including an embarrassing 32-3 rout in the second game of the doubleheader in route to what would be the second of four straight Association pennants.  But nothing could take away from the Resolutes, and especially the Campbell bothers, moment of glory.Not surprisingly, a Boston newspaper hoped the Red Stockings learned something from their ignominious defeat and wouldn't take other teams for granted.  While the Red Stockings and their fans may have learned a valuable lesson, anyone hoping for a long term lesson on the dangers of over confidence was wasting their time as evidenced by those two men in Staunton, Virginia some 140 years later.  And by the way, although the man's team did win, they had to come from behind in the fourth quarter to do it.



Wednesday, August 17, 2016

No Gold for Neshanock at Silver Ball Tournament



Genesee Country Village and Museum celebrates 40 years

Flemington took their third and final overnight trip of the season to the 14th Annual National Silver Ball Tournament at Genesee Country Village in Mumford, New York. While the Neshanock have had success in the past at this event, this time they could do no better than a 1-3 record against some fine competition. The team’s effort was hampered by a travel squad of only 8 ballists, adjusting to 1868 rules (no bound outs, no sliding, no stealing, no large leads) and waiting through several rain delays on Saturday in an area that had been under drought restrictions.



Saturday’s Rain

The first contest resulted in a 10-9 loss at the hands of the Woodstock Actives. It was held on the Great Meadow in the center of the village framed by wildlife statues and a tremendous gazebo. Flemington’s ragged defense did not aid their cause as their Canadian opponent held a slim advantage for most of the match. Leading the Neshanock were Danny “Batman” Shaw and Dan “Sledge” Hammer with 3 and 2 runs scored respectively. Flemington’s 9th man was Michael “Licks” Velapoldi formerly of the N.Y. Mutuals who is starting his own club in the Syracuse area. This game quickly demonstrated how it could take 4 singles to score a tally or how two consecutive singles often resulted in 1 hand with a man on first because of the minimal leading and no stealing rules.



Neshanock-Actives pregame rule review

The second contest against the Rochester BBC also resulted in a loss by the score of 10 to 3. The Rochester club is one of five clubs that call the Village home. The 3:00 start time was delayed until 5:00 as several thunder and lightning storms rumbled through the area prolonging the 1:00 contests. The game was held on the South Field made wet, but still manageable,  by the rain. This match ended in the top of the ninth as yet another storm fell onto the field of play. Flemington’s 9th man “SlackJaw” was recruited from the Victory BBC. Flemington’s runs were provided by “Batman”, “Sledge” and Tom “Thumbs” Hoepfner.


Neshanock-Rochester conference

The third contest had an early Sunday start time of 8:00am as Saturday’s rain pushed the later games into the next day. Although Flemington was bested by the Canal Fulton Mules (Ohio) 15 to 12, the back and forth slugfest was probably Flemington’s most exciting match of the tournament. Unfortunately this game ended after eight innings as the time limit had been reached. It was Flemington’s only game on scenic Silver Base Ball Park which consists of stands for the cranks, an outfield fence with manual scoreboard and an announcer’s stand that provides striker introductions and match updates. The field was affected by the previous day’s rain causing the ballists to be mired in mud especially around the base areas.  This time Flemington’s 9th man was “Handyman” of the Victory club, who contributed 2 runs. Leading run totals by original Neshanock were provided by “Batman” (3), “Sledge” (2), “Thumbs” (2) and Jim “Jersey” Nunn (2).


Neshanock-Canal Fulton match

The fourth and final contest produced Flemington’s only victory of the tournament which came, by coincidence, at the expense of the Victory BBC, another Village team, by a 10 to 3 final. This match was a return to the Great Meadow where field conditions were good despite the rainfall. Flemington’s final 9th man was “Dizzy” of the Live Oak club. The Neshanock’s run leader was Brad “Brooklyn” Shaw with 3 along with “Sledge” and “Jersey” adding 2 runs apiece. Hopefully ending the tournament on a high note helped with the long ride home for the Neshanock squad.


Neshanock-Victory match

Despite Flemington’s results and the rain delays, the club would like to thank Genesee Country Village and Museum for always running a well organized tournament in a beautiful setting. Congratulations to the Talbot Fair Plays BBC for winning the tournament.  Special thanks to the ballists who rounded out the Neshanock’s roster which demonstrates the camaraderie in 19th Century Base Ball. Maybe next time Flemington will bring home the gold albeit disguised as a sliver plate.



Silver Ball Trophy

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Scribes and Stewards of the Game


Photo by Mark Granieri

Only three words are needed to describe the Neshanock's participation in the 19th annual vintage base ball festival at Old Bethpage Village - missing in action.  Now called the Doc Adams Classic in honor of the venerable Knickerbocker's many contributions to the early game, the two day event drew teams from as far a way as Boston and Maryland.  Flemington, unfortunately, could muster only five players (four over 50) not the best way to take on strong clubs from Connecticut and Maryland.  Thanks to those members of the Mutuals, Atlantics and Sandy Hook clubs who became Neshanocks for the day.  The first match against a team made up of representatives of three Connecticut teams was a mismatch from the very beginning as Flemington fell behind 7-0 before coming to bat and it got worse from there, ultimately a 28-2 shellacking.  The second match against a strong Rising Sun Club was much closer with the Neshanock closing to 9-6 with the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the eighth, but it was not to be.  One offensive highlight (actually the only offensive highlight) were two hits apiece in the second game by Bobby "Melky" Ritter and Mark "Gaslight" Granieri.  With the losses, Flemington falls to 15-8 on the season heading into next weekend's National Silverball Tournament in Rochester.


Photo by Mark Granieri 

It's early August and two of the three base ball eras where I spend most of my waking hours are headed towards the home stretch.  Both vintage base ball which occupies at least one day a week and major league baseball where I spend most evenings exchanging text messages with Paul Zinn about the Mets have about two months left.  Most of my days, however, are spent in the Deadball Era (1901-1919) working on a biography of Charles Ebbets which is due at the publisher in six months, no where near as close to the end (unfortunately), but also in the home stretch.  Now with a second draft almost complete, it feels on schedule, but there's no shortage of work left especially trying to understand and then explain the Brooklyn magnate.  A recent step in that direction was looking at what contemporary sports writers said about Ebbets at the time of his death in April of 1925, not obituaries which don't always accurately capture facts, but descriptions of the Brooklyn owner written by people who actually knew him.  Just one example is something written by Tom Rice in the Brooklyn Eagle who knew Ebbets well and said, like all rich men who started with nothing, the Squire of Flatbush was a big man in big things and a little man in little things.



William McGeehan of the New York Herald Tribune

That remark requires further thought and analysis, but more relevant for this post is something written by William O. McGeehan in the New York Herald Tribune.  Apparently previously sarcastically critical of Ebbets supposed cheapness, upon his death, McGeehan wrote more positively ending one article by grouping Ebbets with Charles Dryden a long time sports writer, saying that if the "men who now have the game in their keeping can see it as the Squire of Flatbush and Charles Dryden saw it the game will be safe and worthy of their faith."  What's striking about this is the idea that sportswriters had an oversight responsibility to the game, similar to owners who have put their own money at risk.  Sportswriters have, of course, always been important to the game's development beginning with the work of William Cauldwell and Henry Chadwick, among others who promoted the game in the 1850's and 60's.  As professional ball grew during the late 19th century, sportswriters seem to have taken on an even more important role which probably reached its height in the Deadball Era especially after the 1903 peace agreement between the National League and the upstart American League.


New York and Boston sportswriters - Spalding Guide 1910

Once the structure of the two leagues was formalized (it didn't change for 50 years), major league baseball was played in just 10 cities dramatically limiting the number of people who saw big league game in person.  The existence of Sunday Blue Laws in the East along with the absence of night games further limited those who could actually see a game with their own eyes.  From that point until radio broadcasts became a norm, the men, and they were almost all men, who covered baseball for the daily newspapers were the eyes and ears of thousands of fans who had no other means of following the game they loved.  Unlike today with multiple and growing means of accessing game information, writers needed to give their readers far more detailed accounts of the play by play which today's writers rightly assume their readers already know.  This broad responsibility to their readers expanded to include a sort of watch dog role as well and I think it's on that basis that William McGeehan lumped one of his colleagues, and by implication himself and the other writers into a kind of governance role which while not equal to the owners, was important in its own right.


Sports writers at 1913 World's Series at the Polo Grounds - typically Deadball Era writers sat in the first few rows of the upper deck, not in a separate press box

What really brought all this to mind is finalizing (I hope) my contribution to a forthcoming SABR Deadball Committee publication on the World's Series (that's how it was written) of that era.  The book should be published sometime in 2017 and promises to be excellent because of both the extensive number of pictures available from that time and the quality of the content.  I can confidently say that about the content because even though I've contributed two chapters, no one will be reading my words.  In designing this project, the two editors, Tom Simon and Steve Steinberg had the inspired idea to follow in the footsteps of one of the most noteworthy baseball books ever published - G. H. Fleming's The Unforgettable Season, the first book length treatment of the mythical 1908 National League pennant race.  In putting the book together, Fleming chose to tell the story not in his own words, but those of the contemporary sportswriters who actually watched that controversial chase for the National League flag.  The World's Series book will follow the same format, drawing on the writings of the contemporary sports writers with just brief passages setting context and background.


Unidentified Group of Sportswriters 

When the project was first announced Paul Zinn and I volunteered for the 1916 World's Series, since, after all, we wrote the book - The Major League Pennant Races of 1916.  A year or so later when I heard other series were still available, I signed up for the most famous or infamous series not just of that time, but of all time, the 1919 Black Sox event.  I did so because I wanted to see to what extent the experts of the day who watched the events unfold in real time had any sense that something was amiss.  My selections from the contemporary accounts focus, therefore, on the controversial plays and the scribes' opinions and it's probably best to wait for the book to come out so everyone can draw their own conclusions about what the writers' thought or at least what they were willing to put in writing.  The point for this post, however, is to suggest that this is an aspect of the Deadball Era that needs more attention, questions like "Who were these guys?"  "What did they do and how did they do it?" and especially how effectively did they carry out their watchdog role on the major events of the era - the coming of the American League, the birth of the World's Series, the 1908 Pennant Race and, of course, the 1919 World's Series.  I know the 19th century SABR committee plans to address the sportswriters of that period - it feels to me at least that a similar effort is needed for the Deadball Era.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Circumstances

Unfortunately the Neshanock are not able to participate in today's scheduled matches with the Elkton Eclipse and Mohican Club of Kennett Square.  It's too bad as Elkton is one of the country's best teams and the Mohican Club is having a fine season, undefeated at this point.  Perhaps next year.  The Neshanock (and A Manly Pastime) will return next weekend when Flemington takes part in the second annual Doc Adams Festival at Old Bethpage Village on Long Island.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Base Ball and Hot Dogs - Together at Coney Island

Due to a family conflict, I was unable to attend the Neshanock - Atlantic game at Coney Island this past Sunday.  More than ably filling in was contributing photographer Mark "Gaslight" Granieri who took on the dual role of photographer and author - thanks "Gaslight."




MCU Park

Flemington followed up their Saturday exhibition in Princeton with another exhibition on Sunday in Coney Island. As guests of the Brooklyn Atlantics, the Neshanock played at MCU Park which is home to the Brooklyn Cyclones, a N.Y. Mets Single-A farm club. Although not the traditional environment for a 19th Century Base Ball game, the opportunity to play in a stadium and show the game’s roots is always an exciting event.


The Neshanock survey the field

Coney Island by itself is never short on excitement during the summer. The beach and boardwalk provide a backdrop for a dizzying array of sights, sounds and smells. Within a short distance one can eat at Nathan’s, ride the Cyclone or Wonder Wheel and visit the New York Aquarium while the Parachute Drop stands sentinel over the area.



Nathan’s celebrates 100 years

Since the match had a time limit, both sides played at a brisk pace in order to maximize innings. Time was not wasted switching sides or strolling to the plate. The Park also contributed to the speed of the game because of the artificial turf which was installed after damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.  Ground balls followed a predictable path into defensive hands instead of a roller coaster ride due to furrows on a farm field. Also impressive clouts over outfielder’s heads turned into meek outs after a high bound bounce much to the frustration of more than one striker.



Rene “Mango” Marrero and Gregg “Burner” Wiseburn

In the game, Flemington played three muffins along with a helping of Gothams, most notably Charles “Bugs” Klansman who handled most of the pitching duties. It was a family affair as two of the muffins were the brothers of the Neshanock’s own Brad “Brooklyn” Shaw and Rene ”Mango” Marrero. For “Brooklyn” the match was a homecoming, hence the nickname, as he reminisced about time spent growing up in the surrounding neighborhood.



“Brooklyn” versus Brooklyn where else but in Brooklyn

The game saw Flemington hold an early 2-1 lead. But alas nothing could have cooled the Atlantic attack, neither the Neshanock nor the kitschy palm tree sprinklers on the beach. Brooklyn staged a comeback resulting in a 7 inning 6-2 victory. Meanwhile the cranks split their cheers between the exhibition and the broadcasting of Mike Piazza’s HOF induction speech on the video board.  No matter as both clubs enjoyed the competition and being able to give the Coney Island crowd a taste of base ball.




Postcard from Coney Island, Thanks to the Atlantics and Cyclones!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Character and Characters

After spending last weekend at the Gettysburg National Festival, the Neshanock were scheduled to pay their annual visit to Princeton on Saturday for a match sponsored by the Historical Society of Princeton.  Flemington always gets something out of the event including the addition, one year, of Ken "Tumbles" Mandel to the Neshanock roster - it's safe to say the team has never been the same.  We'll leave it at that.  Today's opponent was unable to participate so 10 members of the Flemington team along with five local volunteers divided into teams and played one match.  Perhaps not surprisingly, that approach isn't without precedent, in fact, on one occasion in 1870 in Jersey City, such an impromptu match apparently made history as one of  the first racially integrated base ball games in New Jersey - an event that got no small attention in the contemporary media.  Today's game was in no way history making, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves as "Mango's" Marauders topped "Tumbles" Terrors by a 7-3 count.   Special thanks to Harvey, Jimmy, Nick, Claire and Chris for playing with us today.  Hopefully next year will see the return of a more typical arrangement with somewhat less stifling weather.



Princeton has an important place in the history of early organized base ball because the University (then known as the College of New Jersey) was one of the first colleges where the New York game took root.  Thanks to three young men from Brooklyn who brought not only their books and brains, but also their bats and balls to the college in the fall of 1858, organized base ball was played there before the Civil War.  Known first as the Class of 1862 base ball team, the club eventually took the name of the Nassau club and gradually grew into the school base ball team, competing against both amateur and other college clubs beginning in the 1860's.  It appears that the faculty had some concerns that organized base ball might harm the young men's academic work, but those concerns were allayed somewhat when seven of the first ten academic positions at the Class of 1862 graduation were held by Nassau Club members.  The team's academic performance plus any lack of scandal associated with the players got the relatively new version of base ball off to an acceptable start at the collegiate level, perhaps supporting the idea that base ball builds character.


1866 Princeton Base Ball Team - Condit appears to be the man in the middle in the back row

It's fortunate this first group of, dare I say it, student athletes maintained such a good record since if the example of one young man who followed in their footsteps was more common, there might have been some concern that instead of having character, base ball players were characters.  The player in question is one Edward Augustus Condit from East Orange, New Jersey, a member of the Princeton Class of 1866 who primarily played first base while serving at least one term as club treasurer.  Responsibility for club funds was the not the wisest assignment to give young Condit, although total club expenses of $9.43 in an earlier season suggests there wasn't a lot to lose.  Still, Condit consistently demonstrated an ability to leverage small amounts of money in inappropriate ways so if he had set his mind to it, he doubtless could have done a lot with even that little.  The details of Condit's post college life are sketchy and especially any thing he said needs to be taken with a truck load of salt, but supposedly after college he accumulated $100,000 through some combination of inheritance and speculation only to lose all of it in speculation by 1876.


Condit's infamous telegram - New York Herald - December 12, 1876

Apparently determined to rebuild his finances on a big stage,  the former Princeton base ball player chose Wall Street to make a big killing by fabricating a big death.  Late on the morning of October 16, 1876 the Associated Press's offices in New York City received a telegram over the name of the Rev. Charles Deems, spiritual adviser to Cornelius Vanderbilt, who, if he wasn't the world's richest man, was certainly a contender.  The telegram announced the tycoon's death at a time when the market was concerned about Vanderbilt's health and the news sent some stocks lower until Deems and newspaper reporters  made it clear the report of the railroad executive's death was a complete fabrication.  Although an investigation was launched immediately, it took until December when none other than Edward Condit was arrested as the man responsible for the hoax.  Exactly what came of the arrest isn't clear, partially because it wasn't certain if sending an inaccurate telegram was illegal, but the below article from the New York World gives a sense of some of Condit's other activities including his apparent appeal to the opposite sex which he would later attempt to use in even more creative ways.


New York World - December 19, 1876

Included in Condit's skill set was an ability to get ahead and stay ahead of his pursuers as his next encounter with the criminal justice system came in March of 1883 after a search lasting seven months.  This time the Princeton alumnus was arrested for two years of illegal speculation funded on a grand total of $9 deposited with the Orange Savings Bank.  Condit searched out grain dealers and/or stock brokers who would make purchases on margin (credit).  He would then send the unsuspecting dealer a check for the cash portion of the transaction.  If the value of the stock or grain went up, Condit went to the broker to sell it, reclaimed his check and took the profit from the deal.  If, on the other hand, the value went down, Condit simply left the brokerage firm with the check which they would find, to their dismay, was worthless.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the arrest took place in a "disreputable house." Incredibly, it appears Condit wasn't successfully prosecuted, but in the next year landed in the hands of the Jersey City police charged with swindling Jersey City merchants with, surprise, bad checks.



Either because Condit was recognized as a flight risk and denied bail or he was unable to come up with the cash (one hopes the authorities insisted on cash), he was in jail awaiting trial in early December of 1884.  The enterprising criminal was not without solace, however, as he received regular visits from two "ladies," one claiming to be his wife, the other his sister.  The two provided more than moral support as on the evening of December 2nd, Condit apparently anxious to get home for the holidays attempted an unauthorized egress from the jail.  Equipped, among other things, with a dozen jig saws and a rope ladder, all supplied by his female admirers, Condit cut his way out of his cell, through the bathroom door and was in the process of removing the bars from the window when noise in the cell block alerted the jailer, a Mr. Joyce.  Upon discovery, Condit, always the college educated gentleman, handed over this supplies to Joyce, lamenting that he hadn't had 10 more minutes and bidding the jailer not to "scold me, . . I wanted my liberty.  You would have done the same under similar circumstances."  Condit was wise in trying to escape as this time, he didn't get away with his nefarious deeds with the judge, another Princeton graduate, sentencing his fellow alumnus to four years at hard labor.  Even so the former first baseman wasn't rattled, supposedly receiving his sentence "with a great deal of self composure."


Duluth News-Tribune - September 24, 1903

Condit must have served some or all of his sentence and then dropped out of the public eye although not apparently because he had seen the error of his ways.  Almost 20 years later, in Belmont, Massachusetts, Edward A. Cranston, a real estate broker was arrested for forging checks in a creative manner.  Cranston, through a messenger, would approach banks and brokers with what appeared to be a certified check for an amount slightly more than the price of a stock purchase with instructions that the small overage, typically not much more than $80, be given to the messenger.  Ultimately, of course, the check itself was a forgery.  Confronted by the police, Cranston took to his heels, while demonstrating "a buoyant and cork like agility in scaling fences and dashing over plowed fields, that in a man of his years was nothing short of marvelous."  If the accused's athletic feats suggested a sports background that was the case since at his trial Cranston admitted that he was none other than the former collegiate base ball player, Edward A. Condit.  Cranston was apparently only the most recent alias Condit used to support himself by creative criminal ploys, but this malfeasance earned him a prison sentence of 10-15 years.  Unfortunately no information about Condit's life after that has come to light, but even if he did survive prison, it's doubtful he attended many class of 1866 reunions at Princeton, although if he did, he certainly had no shortage of stories to tell and, perhaps, classmates to fleece.




Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Pictures on the Wall - Gettysburg 2016

Vintage base ball games typically conclude with the recreation of a traditional practice of  the 19th century game, brief (hopefully) speeches by both captains, followed by cheers for the opposing team.  Almost without exception the speeches include praise for the umpire (hard to visualize today at any level), thanks to the fans, regardless of the number, and praise for the opposition.  If there is a host organization, they too receive the thanks of both teams.  While I didn't see all of the matches at the 2016 Gettysburg National Base Ball Festival this past weekend, one thing I can say with complete confidence is that the thanks offered to the Elkton Eclipse for arranging and managing the event was heart felt and in no way perfunctory.  First played in 2010, the festival has become what I suspect many, including myself, feel is simply in a class (the highest) by itself, an opinion in no way intended to find fault with many of the other fine vintage festivals and tournaments throughout the country.


Schroeder Farm early Saturday morning 

Since the Neshanock were fortunate enough to be part of the inaugural six team event, I've had the opportunity to observe the growth of the festival, growth far beyond just the number of participating teams - 18 in the 2016 version.  Opinions about what makes for a great vintage event are, of course, subjective, but what stands out to this observer is the initial vision of holding the event in Gettysburg, the shift from a tournament to a festival and the change in local venue.  Six years later the choice of Gettysburg may seem obvious, but for all it's historical importance (more about that later), the small village in southern Pennsylvania isn't particularly significant in terms of base ball in the Civil War period.  Originally the event was a tournament played to determine a champion, there's certainly nothing wrong with that approach, but it makes scheduling more complicated and uncertain, while also limiting the number of participants.  The festival format with each team playing four games scheduled well ahead of time is not only efficient, it facilitates setting up enjoyable and competitive contests.  All of these factors along with the move to the far larger Schroeder Farm, which allows five games to be played simultaneously, facilitates two things enjoyed by almost every vintage base ball participant, the chance to play teams from other parts of the country and to see old friends from the clubs we play more regularly.


Photo by Mark Granieri

So like the other 17 participating clubs, the Neshanock club wholeheartedly thanked the Eclipse Club at the end of each of its four matches which began with an early Saturday morning contest against one of vintage base ball's best clubs, the Old Gold BBC of Saginaw, Michigan.  Both teams tallied in their first at bat, but for the next four innings none of the Neshanocks touched home plate while Saginaw tallied seven more times.  Like most superior vintage clubs, the Michigan team played sound defense, not just in terms of difficult plays, but in simply making the routine, but no less important play.  The Old Golds also proved very consistent in scoring, never putting more than three runs across the plate, but scoring in all, but one inning.  Down 10-3 headed to the eighth, Flemington rallied for four runs, closing the gap to a manageable 10-7 margin, setting up the opportunity for a come behind win, if Saginaw could be held in check in their half of the eighth.  That looked feasible when, after allowing a lead off hit, the Neshanock retired the next two batters, but the Michigan team was not to be denied bunching two hits and a Flemington muff to tally three more times and a 13-7 victory.  Although limited on offense, the Neshanock were led by Dave "Illinois" Harris with three hits, followed by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn, Dan "Sledge" Hammer and Jack "Doc" Kitson with two apiece.


Special thanks to Stormy Banschbach of the Belle River Club for the use of two of his fine photos

Playing early on what promised to be a hot day (this is after all, Gettysburg in July) was a plus and Flemington was fortunate enough to play two straight finishing the day's work before 1:00.  In the second Saturday contest the opposition was again provided by a Michigan team, this time the Richmond Bees.  The first half of the game was another low scoring affair with the Neshanock holding Richmond to just three runs through five innings, but able only to score four tallies of its own turns at the striker's line.  Fortunately, Flemington scored seven more times over the second half of the game while shutting out the Michigan team the rest of the way for an 11-3 win.  Leading the Neshanock offense was "Sideshow," Flemington's lead off batter who not only had four straight hits, but scored each time.  Unfortunately his bid for a clear score fell one short when he was retired in his last at bat in the eighth inning.  Chipping in with two hits each were "Sledge," Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, Ken "Tumbles" Mandel and Chris "Muffin" Smith, the latter making his first, but hopefully not last appearance in a Flemington uniform.  Departing from standard practice,the post game speech omitted the customary praise of the umpire which may be because the speaker was Danny "Batman" Shaw and the umpire, one, Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw.


Photo by Stormy Banschbach

After an afternoon and evening of sampling what Gettysburg has to offer, the Neshanock returned to the Schroeder Farm on another hot day under a pristine blue sky spotted with picturesque white clouds.  The first Sunday game brought another Midwest opponent, the Belle River BBC of Rising Sun, Indiana, not to be confused with the team from Rising Sun, Maryland which was also a participant.  Sometimes the story of a base ball match is not the game itself and such was the case in Flemington's 19-4 win over the game and gentlemanly Indiana team.  After "Sideshow's" flirtation with a clear score in the second Saturday game, three members of the Neshanock attempted to meet one of Henry Chadwick's highest standards, playing an entire game without making an out.  Under Chadwick's criteria, getting on base on an error is as good as a hit and even hitting into a force play doesn't disqualify the striker.  The latter exception, however, is a two edged sword as under Chadwick's system, the out on the force out is charged to the runner.  Successfully meeting the test was "Sledge," with four hits including a triple and a home run hit into the right center field gap.  Also on the clear score quest was "Gaslight," working for the somewhat less than stylistic variation of one of the ugliest clear scores in history, reaching base twice on muffs before being retired in his last at bat.  Finally there was "Tumbles," doubtless Flemington's favorite player who after two singles, followed "Sledge's" example by doubling into the gap.  With the pressure on in the bottom of the eighth, "Tumbles" came through with another well placed hit, only to be denied the clear score when he was forced out at second - "sic transit gloria."


Photo by Mark Granieri

After the high drama or low comedy of the clear score quest, the Neshanock still had one match left, against a more familiar opponent, the Lewes BBC of Delaware.  Back in 2014, the two clubs met twice at the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, splitting two close contests and the Delaware club remains a worthy foe.  Low scoring was once again the order of the day, but taking a page from the Saginaw's book, Flemington scored at least once in the first six innings and led 8-4 at that point.  Lewes rallied for two in the bottom of the seventh, but the Neshanock got those back to lead 10-6 heading into Lewes' last time at the striker's line.  In an inning reminiscent of the last game of the New England Festival three weeks ago, the Neshanock made it a lot harder than necessary, but retired the last striker with the tying run on base to finish the festival with a 3-1 mark, Flemington's best performance in the seven years of the event.  Excelling for the Neshanock was Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner with four hits, featuring two doubles and a triple plus some fine work in the field especially throwing a Lewes striker out at first from his knees.  Joe "Mick" Murray contributed three hits (after two in the first game) with "Gaslight" and "Illinois" coming up with two each.  Now 15-6 on the season, Flemington plays an exhibition game of sorts in Princeton on Saturday followed by a Sunday match with the Atlantics of Brooklyn at MCU Park at Coney Island in Brooklyn.


Commemorative coin used for coin toss and awarded to the winning team
photo by Mark Granieri 

That Gettysburg National Park has tremendous drawing power is evident by just looking at the license plates in the parking lot, seen this time, for example, were cars from as far away as Nevada and the state of Washington.  Some of the appeal is based on the premise that the battle of Gettysburg was the decisive event of the war, but that is certainly an arguable proposition.  One of the things that stands out about Gettysburg, I think, is it is one of those few places where the words ultimately matched the deeds, the place where some 272 words by Abraham Lincoln did indeed hallow the ground for all time.  The scope of what happened at Gettysburg is so vast that its natural to focus on the big picture historical debates such as the decisions of generals like Lee, Longstreet and Meade.  Equally, if not in some ways more important, however, is putting a human face on the ordinary soldiers, particularly those who made the ultimate sacrifice  Christ Lutheran Church in Gettysburg, just off the square, does just that through its Candlelight at Grace concert offered most Saturday evenings in the summer, http://candlelightatchrist.org/.  Drawing on the church's experience as a Civil War hospital the program features songs and readings that honor those who there "gave their lives that that nation might live."


Candlelight Service at Christ Lutheran Church Gettysburg

The musical selection includes well known songs like the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Dixie," but also some songs perhaps less well remembered, that give a sense of the personal loss and suffering.  Especially noteworthy this year was Henry Clay Work's "The Picture on the Wall," a sad message of irretrievable loss which is perfectly captured in the refrain:

"Among the brave and loyal,
How many lov'd ones fall!
Whose friends bereft, Have only left
A picture on the wall."

If life is unfair, war is the unfairest part of life because some die before they have ever had the chance to live.  Nothing can recover those lost lifetimes, but everything can and should be done to be sure what they did in the time they had, is remembered and honored, and it's never too late to do that.  A case in point is that of  Alonzo Cushing, who was born in Delafield, Wisconsin and grew up in New York state before attending West Point.  


Alonzo Cushing

On July, 3 1863, the 22 year old Cushing was the commander of Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery positioned on Cemetery Ridge near the copse of trees and the stone wall known to history as the High Water-Mark of the Confederacy because it represents the Confederates deepest penetration of the Union line.  Cushing used his battery to fill a gap in the Union lines at that crucial place and while commanding his troops received a wound in the shoulder, a horrific wound in the groin in addition to burning one of his fingers to the bone on a cannon.  Yet in spite of being urged to withdraw to seek treatment for his wounds, Cushing refused and was finally killed by another Confederate bullet.  His  place was taken by Sergeant Frederick Fuller who was later awarded the Medal of Honor, the country's highest military award.  No such award was forthcoming for Cushing, due to a hard to believe army regulation that the Medal of Honor could not be awarded posthumously.  When that regulation was wisely changed, Cushing's feats were somehow overlooked until over a century later in 1987 when Margaret Zerwekh, no relation to Cushing, of Delafield took up the cause.  Interested in local history (her house was on land once owned by the Cushing family), Zerwekh researched Cushing's story and then spent 27 years (five more years than Cushing lived) striving to do justice to this young man.  Medal of Honor awards more than five years after the person's death requires a special act of Congress, but finally the necessary legislation was passed and on November 6, 2014 President Obama presented the medal to one of Cushing's distant relatives with the 94 year old Zerwekh in attendance.


Monument to Battery A, 4th U. S. Artillery at Gettysburg 

Ensuring Cushing's actions were appropriately recognized and honored took more than a quarter of a century of work by a very committed and tenacious woman, something few of us could or would undertake.  But the contributions of programs like Christ Church also matter because they raise up the individual sacrifices that explain why the Union prevailed not just at Gettysburg, but ultimately in the war itself.  And by starting and developing a vintage base ball festival near that hallowed ground, the Elkton Eclipse help attract even more people from all over the United States to visit Gettysburg and hear those stories.  In the theater's there's a saying that "there are no small parts, only small actors."  The same thing is even more true of remembering the past, no contribution is too small and for all these contributions we should be truly grateful.  I, for one, am already looking forward to the 2017 festival.