Monday, May 30, 2016

"His Widow and His Orphan"

The Neshanock's annual Memorial Day visit to Pickering Field in Newtowon, Pennsylvania was rained out, Flemington returns to action on Saturday, June 11th at the Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, New Jersey against the Elkton Eclipse. 

Back in early April, I was asked to speak about 19th century base ball at the New Jersey State Library in Trenton.  As per usual, I tried to find a few local references in addition to the broader topics of the early game and more specifically its development in New Jersey.  In the process, I remembered some thing I had seen regarding what may have been one of the first enclosed base ball grounds in the state.  The facility was constructed in Trenton, but what was interesting was the reference to its location near the Soldier's Children's Home at Hamilton and Chestnut Avenues.  I was well aware of several soldier's homes in New Jersey built for the aging, ill and impoverished Civil War veterans, but had never seen anything regarding the children (or more properly the orphans) of Union soldiers.  Not surprisingly some Internet searching revealed more information including the finding aid for the facility's records which are housed in the State archives.  Even more detailed information was available in an 1872 report of an investigation of alleged abuses at the facility.

Soldier's Children's Home of New Jersey

Coincidentally and simultaneously with learning about the Soldier's Children's Home, I'm reading Brian Jordan's book, Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War which along with this weekend's observation of Memorial Day, started in 1868 to honor the Union dead, made the home, a timely topic for a blog post.  Jordan's book, based on what seems to be exhaustive research, details the many problems and issues Union soldiers faced when they tried to adjust to living in a civilian society that wanted to put the war behind them.    As it difficult it was for the veterans, and it was difficult, at least they had their own voices and those of others, including some prominent politicians to speak up for them.  The dead, of course, had no voice nor the ability to help those who Lincoln in his second inaugural so eloquently (and concisely) described as "his widow and his orphan."

New Jersey Governor - Joel Parker 

Apparently even before Lincoln spoke those deathless words in early March of 1865, some people in New Jersey were trying to do something for the orphan children of Union soldiers.  According to the historical section of the investigatory report mentioned earlier, in January of 1865, a group of "benevolent ladies," who sadly, with one exception, were unnamed, were in the process of opening a home for these unfortunate children.  While it reportedly worked well, the demand so exceeded the capacity that on March 23, 1865, the Soldier's Children's Home was incorporated to provide a home, support and education for the destitute children of Union soldiers living or dead.  The decision was made to move the home to Trenton and a few weeks later, the state legislature authorized $5,000 for the project.  The group rented a home near Trenton which also was inadequate to meet the need so in July of that year Governor Joel Parker arranged for almost $11,000 donated by the Camden and Amboy Railroad to promote military enlistments be re-directed to this purpose.

Portion of a letter from the Trenton State Gazette, February 20, 1866 urging the establishment of the Soldier's Children's Home

One of the sad things about this story is how little information survives (at least that which is available through the Internet) about these "benevolent ladies," without whom the idea would most likely never have come to fruition.  The original president was a Mrs. A. O. Zabriskie from Jersey City who resigned in November of 1865 and was succeeded by Margaret Dayton of Trenton, who continued as president throughout the home's existence.  Mrs. Dayton was the widow of William Dayton, Republican vice presidential candidate in 1856 and U. S. Ambassador to France, who died in Paris in 1864, according to at least one historian, under somewhat mysterious circumstances.  Internet searches for information about Mrs. Dayton and her three major helpers Mary A. Hall, Mary F. Johnston and Mary G. Abbot, produced almost nothing.  In fact, Mrs. Dayton's 1892 obituary makes no mention of her eleven year long leadership of the home.  Mary Hall, served as treasurer, like Mrs. Dayton for over a decade, while Mary Johnston and Mary Abbott split the secretarial duties.  This tells us little or nothing about them,but their names are included here so that their efforts (mostly without pay) are at least in a small way, not completely forgotten.

General Gershom Mott

Continuing to limp along in a rented house, the organization was home for 40 children at the end of 1865 when a study determined there were almost 1600 orphans and half orphans of Union soldiers in New Jersey under the age of 12, about 300 of whom needed the residential programs offered by the home.  Parker continued to appeal to the legislature in the belief that "New Jersey will never, never repudiate her debt of gratitude to our noble soldiers."  At least on this occasion, the legislature listened, ultimately appropriating $69,000 for the land and buildings as well as providing operating funds for each child.  After an expansion of the original facility, the home could accommodate 300 children, although occupancy never exceeded 250 at one time,  Since the total population was limited and the children would ultimately become adults, operating funds were provide for a ten year program.  When the funding ran out in March of 1876, there were still 75 children in the home, but the managers were able to place all of them in a "suitable situation."  All told, the home providing housing and care for some 300 children and when the home closed, the building reverted to the state and in 1882 became the "New Jersey Institute for the Deaf and Dumb."

William McDaniels Grave - Cold Harbor National Cemetery, Virginia 

The exact origin of the complains of abuse, neglect and mismanagement wasn't clear from what I found, but when they learned of them, Mrs. Dayton and her associates wisely asked Governor Parker to appoint an independent committee to investigate.  He did so and named three men with impeccable credentials, Civil War General Gershom Mott, newspaper editor, Charles Deshler and Charles Elmer, a highly respected lawyer.  During the war Deshler served as New Jersey's state agent in the west, traveling to Union hospitals to visit some 275 hospitalized soldiers in Tennessee and Kentucky over a two month period.  The committee's report, which is available online, probably not surprisingly,  found some things which needed correction, but rejected the allegations while offering high praise for the institution and the women who made it possible.

Abraham Snyder's Grave - Andersonville National Cemetery

As valuable as all of this information may be, it's impossible to get a full sense of the story without trying to put a human face on the people involved.  The finding aid in the state archives included about 15 or so names of both the child and the veteran and from that small sample, three stories were available in pension files.  At least one child of Abraham Snyder from Hainesburg in Warren County lived in the home after his/her father, a member of the 35th New Jersey died of disease in Andersonville Prison.  Snyder's death in the service of his country, left his widow, Susan with five children under the age of ten and it's not surprising she needed help with at least one of them.  Less clear is the story of Peter Dorus, an African-American man from Hillsborough in Somerset County, who also with five children, enlisted in the 127th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops and died of disease in route to a hospital in Virginia.  Little information about the family could be found, but it appears his widow, Martha, couldn't keep the family together and placed one child, Frances in the home.  Leaving only one child was William McDaniels from Bordentown (12th New Jersey), but one who was especially vulnerable since it appears his mother known as "Railroad Mag," used her pension money to support a scandalous life style, while abandoning her son, William to the home.

Peter Dorus's grave - Fort Harrison National Cemetery, Virginia

There are doubtless far more stories in the records in the state archives that would make a worthy project for a Civil War researcher or New Jersey historian.  But on Memorial Day 2016, I hope this post helps us to remember the story of  a time when elected officials and dedicated volunteers came together to honor in a very real way those who "gave their lives that that nation might live." As the investigating committee noted, "It is impossible, not to look with profound sympathy upon the two hundred fatherless and motherless children."  Thanks to Margaret Dayton and the three Marys, plus countless unnamed others, the people of that time backed up their sympathy in a real and tangible manner.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Neshanock Get Stopped and Edward "The Only" Nolan Keeps Going

Morning Call - May 19, 1913

Throughout its almost decade long existence, the Eureka Base Ball Club of Newark played some tough, competitive matches with the Brooklyn Atlantics, but on only one occasion, in 1866, did New Jersey's premier pre-professional club emerge triumphant.  For that one game, at least, the Eureka were clearly the better team, routing the Atlantics 36-10, most likely taking out some of the frustration from two heart breaking one run losses a year earlier.  Surprisingly, although the game was very one sided, reportedly three members of the Newark team's first nine were absent because they were "detained by business."  That illustrates one of the realities of the period, even at the higher levels of competition - who showed up was both important and uncertain.  As I've noted before, it's at least one aspect of 19th century base ball that is repeated in the vintage game, player attendance can vary from game to game and makes a huge difference.  The Flemington Neshanock gave that reality a new twist on Sunday when six of the eight players who made their way to Goffle Brook Park in Hawthorne were over 50 years of age.  It's safe to say that never happened in the 1860's.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Age brings certain benefits in experience (or at least I hope it does), but speed, athleticism and a half a dozen or so other things tend to suffer.   Such was the case today when the Neshanock took on the Gotham Club of New York City, far too good a team to play at such a disadvantage.  To their credit, Flemington kept both games close, but the Gothams ultimately broke both contests open for relatively easy wins.  In the first match, the Neshanock were down only 7-5 after six innings, but the Gothams tallied three times in both the eighth and nine innings for a a 14-5 victory.  One of the bright spots for Flemington was the return of Bob "Melky" Ritter  who after working four innings last weekend, pitched both games today just about a year or so after a double hip replacement.  "Melky" also contributed three hits, leading the offense along with Dave "Illinois" Harris also with three and Ken "Tumbles" Mandel with two.  Unfortunately Flemington left 12 men on base including runners on third with less than two out in two consecutive innings, hardly the way to beat a team like the Gothams.  The second contest was basically a mirror of the first with the Gotham prevailing by a 10-4 count in a game shortened by mutual agreement to seven innings.  Flemington had fewer opportunities to score in the second contest, but did get two hits apiece from "Melky," Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Mark "Gaslight" Granieri.  With the twin losses, Flemington is now 6-2 on the season, heading into its annual Memorial Day visit to Newtown, Pennsylvania to take on the Newtown Strakes.

Driving to the matches in Hawthorne takes one through Paterson, which looks even more different today than one might expect from the city depicted on the above map.  Most of 19th century Paterson was destroyed by the great fire of 1902, one of the worst urban conflagrations in American history, with property damage reported at $6 million including City Hall, the library and its 37,000 volumes and most of the business district.  Working as a policeman at the time of the fire, was former major league pitcher, Edward "The Only" Nolan who played for the Olympic Club of Paterson before turning professional.  As noted in an earlier post, the re-creation of the Olympic Club in 1874 coincided with Nolan's emergence as a more than above average base ball talent. An injury to the club's original pitcher, gave the young player an opening and he never looked back, working as the club's primary pitcher for almost every other game that season.  It was also Nolan's first experience with  public scrutiny including an unexplained story of temporarily leaving the club and then returning.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Nolan's ability was such that it was only a question of time before he moved on to a bigger stage, but the fortuitous timing of being part of the Olympic team just as that club again became prominent in New Jersey base ball circles, at the very least, facilitated his progress.  If Nolan thought his 1874 performances had been forgotten, he was quickly disabused of that notion on April 30, 1875 when a crowd reported at 500 gathered to watch not the season opener, but merely a practice game featuring his pitching.  The crowd apparently got what they wanted as the Paterson Daily Press reported the crowd "manifested considerable enthusiasm" at Nolan's superb pitching, especially now that he had "adopted the underhanded style declared to be indispensable."  Not surprisingly considering the club's record the prior year, the 1875 version of the Olympics got off to a quick start winning their first six games in May behind Nolan's pitching.

Photo by Mark Granieri

However, the Olympics didn't fare quite so well on the scoreboard over the next six weeks, but that was due in large measure to a significant upgrade in the quality of their opponents.  Paterson's proximity to New York City also aided Nolan's development as it gave him the opportunity to pitch against professional clubs, specifically three teams from the National Association.  Then in its fifth and final season, the National Association was the country's first "national" professional league although its records are not recognized by Major League Baseball.  Since it was a relatively short trip from New York to Paterson, three different Association clubs visited the city for exhibition games against the Olympics.  None of the three were anywhere near the top of the lopsided National Association with two, the Atlantics of Brooklyn and the New Haven Elm City's failing to finish the season.  The Atlantics were such a shadow of their formal selves that the club could manage only two wins in their league schedule against a mind boggling 42 losses with the New Haven Club not a whole lot better at 7-40.

Long time major league pitcher, Patersonian Jim McCormick

In spite of the abysmal records,however, these were still professional clubs, who played at a much higher level than anything Nolan had ever experienced.  It was probably a surprise, therefore, to the Brooklyn club when they managed only three hits and one unearned run against the young Paterson pitcher which proved to be enough since the Olympics were unable to score.   About a month later on July 2nd, the third Association club, the New York Mutuals arrived in Paterson reportedly short handed especially with the absence of first baseman Joe Start.  Although not a first division Association club, the Mutuals had a far better overall record than the other two, admittedly something not that difficult to achieve.  The Mutuals were apparently accompanied by a reporter from the New York Clipper, most likely not Henry Chadwick since he described Paterson as being "noted for locomotives, silk and factory girls," (if it was the Father of Base Ball, then for shame).   Once again the professionals won, but were limited to five runs by Nolan, only one of which was earned.  The writer did criticize Nolan for copying Bobby Matthews, the Mutuals pitcher in "wasting the first ball by throwing it over the striker's head,"  which shows the teenage pitcher was paying attention.  In the end the Mutuals supposedly "congratulated themselves on winning by a score of 5 to 2."

Bobby Matthews - pitched for the New York Mutuals against Nolan, July 2, 1875

The loss was actually the second in two days as the prior day had seen the Olympics fall to the Trenton Club by an 8-2 count where the Paterson Daily Guardian, claimed the game would have been a rout were not for "Nolan's swift pitching."  If they didn't already know it, the game introduced Nolan and his teammates to the reality that there were some fine amateur clubs in New Jersey.   A decision by the club's leaders to play a state wide schedule also introduced Nolan and his teammates to the challenges of playing on the road.  Previously away matches had been close enough to be made in one day, albeit long days, but in August the club ventured to the state capital in Trenton as well as far south as Burlington.  On August 7th, in a game against Trenton, Nolan learned something about adversity.  For the first six innings, the young pitcher had shut out what was supposedly a strong Trenton team with the Olympics leading 3-0 going to the top of the seventh.  With one out, two dropped third strikes prolonged the inning and according to the Daily Press Nolan "suddenly seemed to be affected by the heat and to give out" allowing 17 runs over the next three innings (abetted by four errors) for an embarrassing 17-3 defeat.

Hall of Famer and one time Olympic of Paterson - Mike "King" Kelly" 

While the club and Nolan rebounded from the loss, it wasn't his only painful experience of the season as in late September, the Olympic pitcher received his first significant media criticism.  Apparently Nolan didn't pitch in a match because of some kind of  hand injury, but did play second base, leading the Daily Guardian to question why "Nolan should be able to play second base and handle hot grounders, after pretending to be too severely injured to pitch."  Speaking probably as someone with limited playing experience, the writer felt that it was "more damaging to play at second than merely pitch the ball."  Nolan had not, however, lost his popularity with the female set since at an early September match, he was "resplendent" in a blue silk base ball suit "suitably adorned and inscribed at the belt with word "Olympic,'" reportedly a "gift of the popular pitcher's admiring lady friends."

New York Herald - October 5, 1875 - appears to show Nolan, "King" Kelly and Jim McCormick, all future major leaguers playing in the same game for the Olympic Club of Paterson 

Certainly in the end, no one in Paterson, even a cranky newspaper reporter had any reason to complain about the Olympic's 1875 performance.  According to the New York Clipper, the New Jersey State Amateur Athletic Association named the Paterson club the amateur champion of the state.  While the overall 26-15 record might not have seemed that impressive, after subtracting the games with professionals, the team finished with an overall 26-10 mark.  The last game for which I've seen a box score with Nolan pitching for the Olympics was from a 13-5 October 4th win over the Reliance Club of Brooklyn.  The account in the next day's New York Herald noted that both clubs were short three regulars so that "the play was not up to the standards of either club."  However, two of the substitutes for the Olympics were Kelley and McCormac, most likely Mike "King" Kelly and Jim McCormick who would go on to even more distinguished major league careers than Nolan.  Like the precocious pitcher, their play for the Olympics would help prepare them for the bigger and better days ahead.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Familiar Faces at the Fair

On Saturday, the Neshanock participated in the Spirit of the Jerseys State History Fair at Monmouth Battlefield State Park.  Since I was unable to attend, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri not only played and took his usual fine photos, but kindly filled in as guest blogger.  Thanks to "Gaslight" for making sure the Neshanock's international fan base can stay current with the club's latest exploits.

Fair Demonstration

This weekend the Neshanock along with the Hoboken Nine Vintage BBC and Monmouth Furnace BBC (formerly known as the Bog Iron Boys) appeared at the “Spirit of the Jerseys” NJ State History Fair held at Monmouth Battlefield State Park in Manalapan NJ. Visitors were able to experience NJ history from over 140 organizations which included military drills, historical characters, war era music, vintage automobiles (including the Trenton produced Mercer) and of course 19th Century Base Ball.

Flemington Neshanock

In the first game, Flemington faced Hoboken who has been troublesome to the Neshanock in the recent past. The first familiar face of the day was from Bob “Melky” Ritter who returned to the mound as starter after a lengthily absence. “Melky “showed some initial rust by giving up 2 runs in the first inning but blanked Hoboken over the next three while Flemington built a 14-2 lead. “Melky” was followed by a parade of pitchers which included Rene “Mango” Marrero, Joe “Mick” Murray and Dave “Illinois” Harris as the Neshanock won their 6th of the year without a loss by a final tally of 19-7.

Bob “Melky” Ritter

On the offensive end, the Neshanock were led by Dan “Sledge” Hammer, Chris “Lowball” Lowry and “Illinois” each totaling 4 hits apiece. Defensively the quick thinking of 2nd basemen Ken “Tumbles” Mandel helped to produce a triple play and stop a rally cold in the 2nd inning. The Hoboken striker popped to “Tumbles” with runners on first and second. To start the odyssey, “Tumbles” instinctively dropped the ball which was followed by a quick flip to shortstop Tom “Thumbs” Hoepfner . “Thumbs” tagged the runner at 2nd for the first out, then stepped on 2nd base for the second out and relayed the sphere to 1st base for the final out. This play is possible by the absence of an infield fly rule in 1864. However when executed, it always seems to creates confusion and consternation for your opponent.

Flemington vs Hoboken

The 2nd match saw Hoboken take on the Monmouth while the Neshanock watched the game or roamed through the Fair. Hoboken took the contest by a score of 23-4.The 3rd and final match was cancelled as the lure of the homestead proved too strong for a majority of the ballists. Both games were ably officiated by Sam "It ain't nothin' 'til I say" Bernstein whose objective calls were complimented by all clubs in attendance.

Monmouth Furnace Base Ball Club

A second familiar face spotted at the Fair was Neshanock alumni Ron “Bones” Colgona who is now part of the NJ Frontier Guard. “Bones” held to his guard duties and did not play with the Neshanock so he was not able to build upon his impressive lifetime statistics. “Bones” will always be a team and crowd favorite and someday soon we hope he considers a return to the Manly Pastime.

Ron “Bones” Cologna

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Neshanock Keep Going and Edward "The Only" Nolan Gets Started

Saturday, the Flemington Neshanock visited Nutley, New Jersey for their fifth match of the young season still undefeated due to both manly play along with helpful assistance in the form of some strategic rain outs.  The match in Nutley, played at a very attractive venue in Yanticaw Park, was the second annual base ball classic hosted by the Kingsland Manor, an historic site in that north Jersey community.  The opposition was once again provided by the Nutley Colonels, a local club put together for the event.  A year ago, the Colonels proved that all muffins aren't created equal, playing excellent defense while dropping a low scoring 5-2 match to the Neshanock.  This year's event proved to be very different due primarily to the presence of almost all of Flemington's heavy hitters.  Vintage base ball doesn't always accurately recreate the 19th century game, but one definite similarity is the importance of who shows up.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Striking first, the Neshanock scored four tallies and proceeded to hold off the local club to lead 5-1 after three innings in what looked like something of a repeat from a year ago.  In the next two innings, however, Flemington tallied 11 times to break the game open on the way to a 19-8 win.  Although the Colonels didn't come as close as in 2015, they again made some good defensive plays and clearly work hard at understanding and playing the 19th century game.  Flemington was led on offense by Dan "Sledge" Hammer with five hits (one at bat short of a clear score) followed close behind by Danny "Batman" Shaw and Gregg "Burner" Wiseburn with four apiece.  Not far after this trio of Neshanock, were Rene "Mango" Marrerro, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri and Joe "Mick" Murray each with three hits.  Other than two walks, which Henry Chadwick considered errors on the pitcher, the Neshanock made only one muff over the course of the match. All told it was another solid effort for Flemington which goes into next Saturday's New Jersey history fair at 5-0, the club's best start in roughly 150 years.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Last week before the Neshanock's annual visit to Ringwood State Park was rained out, I tried looking in more detail at the Hewitt Club, an early Ringwood base ball team which was playing by at least 1874.  The club is mentioned in two articles in the Paterson Daily Press that amazingly lists the players' full names which should, at least theoretically, have made it easier to identify them.  However, searching the 1870 and 1880 census led to only two positive identifications so there wasn't much to go on.  Looking at the article a little closer, however, I realized something more interesting, the Hewitts played against one of New Jersey's most important 19th century teams, the Olympic Club of Paterson, a team I wrote about in Baseball Founders.  The Olympics were organized in 1864 and quickly became very competitive with an especially notable September 1866 upset of the Irvington Club, the same year that upstart team from the outskirts of Newark defeated the defending champion Atlantic Club of Brooklyn.  The Olympic win gave the Paterson men more than a little revenge since earlier in the season they had been embarrassed and then some in a 77-6 humiliation by the Irvingtons.

Edward "The Only" Nolan

As in most of New Jersey, the immediate post Civil War period saw base ball activity grow in Paterson, including what might be termed the 19th century equivalent of vintage base ball when a number of teams were organized to play a form of the "old-fashioned" game.  This burst of activity came to an abrupt halt, however, as in 1869 the Daily Press noted that both base ball and cricket had been played to such a degree of excess that it caused "a heavy loss to our industries by the negligence of their employees," which led, among other things, to the Olympic Club playing very sporadically, if at all.  Many New Jersey clubs during the 1860's proved short lived and there would be nothing unique about the Olympics, were it not for what happened when the team was revived in 1874.  Not only did this new incarnation prove to be even more competitive than the earlier version, but it also provided important competitive base ball experience for four future major league players including Hall of Famer, Mike "King" Kelly.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The Olympics' 57-18 victory over the Hewitt Club in June of 1874 was actually a prelude to the effort to revive the club with the players reportedly willing "provided they receive pecuniary support to compensate for the time they lose in practicing."  Interest was such that on July 10th, some 50 fans of the "national game" gathered to reorganize the club, hoping to "emulate the glory of its former days."  Less than a week later, the newly reconstituted Olympics played a match with the Franklin Club of Paterson that included a Wally Pippesque moment.  According to the paper, the Olympic pitcher (who was unnamed) "was not present, and Nolan took his place."  The seventeen year old Mr. Nolan ultimately reached the major leagues and took or was given, one of the game's most memorable nicknames - "The Only." While Nolan didn't enjoy tremendous on the field success in the majors, his career certainly had its moments.   Much more about Nolan's post Paterson playing days and his distinctive nickname can be found at John Thorn's Our Game blog at

Paterson about 1870 - note the offices of the Daily Press

While I haven't yet looked at Nolan's pre-1874 base ball activities , the young pitcher certainly got off to an impressive start with the Olympics, holding the Franklin Club to just five runs while forcing or inducing 11 strikers to go out on foul tips.  After that game Nolan became part of the Olympic's regular starting lineup, although until August it isn't not clear if he was the pitcher.  However on August 6th, the Olympics traveled to Newark to take on the Marion Club at their grounds at the intersection of Orange and 7th Street in the Roseville section of Newark.  It was another dominating performance for the precocious pitcher,  as he allowed only four runs in the Olympic's 24-4 victory, this time getting 16 outs on ground balls to shortstop.  Nolan's success continued later in the month against the Irvings when he also apparently added some theatrics to his repertoire as the Press reported the Olympics pitcher's "antics frequently amused the spectators."  Nolan's "antics," may have been due in part to having to overcome what the Press described as "eleven errors in succession," by second base man Art Fitzgerald.  In spite of his failings on the field, Fitzgerald apparently knew something about the business side of the game since according to his obituary, both "King" Kelly and longtime major league pitcher, Jim McCormick consulted with Fitzgerald early in their careers before signing their contracts.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Although the team was enjoying a lot of on the field success in 1874, the situation on the Olympics was apparently something less than Camelot as on September 3rd, the paper reported that "Nolan has returned to the Olympics as pitcher," although why he left has not yet been determined.  Apparently his return was just in time for a important inter-city series with the Channel Club.  Doubtless to everyone's surprise, perhaps Nolan most of all, the opposition hit his offerings early and often in a 19-6 drubbing.  While some of this was attributed to the presence of two ringers in the Channel line up, the Press also noted that the other Paterson club had seen Nolan pitch so many times, they had "no difficulty in batting his balls," which went "whizzing every time."  The rematch came in early October with both teams apparently loading up as the Olympics supposedly had three "foreign players," with the Channel Club going one better.  Probably because of the outcome of the first game, Nolan was not the starting pitcher, but it made little difference as the Channels led 10-1 after only four innings.  Things turned around quickly, however, when the young phenom went back to "his old place as pitcher," shutting out the opposition the rest of the way as the Olympics came back for an 11-10 win forcing a decisive third game.

Paterson Daily Press, October 27, 1874

Having dodged what appeared to be sure defeat, the Olympics were not about to fall short of the mark and they won the deciding game by a 17-11 count.   While Nolan was the winning pitcher, it was another part of his game that reportedly most impressed the fans as he "astonished the crowd most by his mode of catching some of those "hot liners," that were sent from the bat at a rate of swiftness almost invisible to the naked eye."  Apparently giving the young ball player, the highest praise he could think of  the writer said his fielding exploits "would have reflected honor on a Japanese juggler."  All of this was impressive enough, but Nolan had apparently so captured the popular imagination in the city that school boys began emulating his pitching motion "by which swift balls are sent in a direct line with that sudden and peculiar underhanded jerk," putting Paterson pedestrians at risk.  It was certainly a very successful season for young Mr. Nolan and another post will take a look at Nolan's second and final season with the Olympics before he moved on to a far bigger stage.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Another Saturday - Another River to Cross

Saturday saw the Neshanock on the road again (that's actually a little redundant since we're always on the road) one week after crossing the Hudson River, this time crossing the Delaware to visit the Brandywine Club of West Chester, Pennsylvania at their home grounds in East Goshen Park.  Last year the two clubs met in the final game of the Gettysburg Festival which was such a good experience that it was decided to play a regular season match.  If today was any indication, it was the first of many to come.   Danny "Batman" Shaw got the day off to a good start for Flemington by winning his third consecutive bat toss, putting the Neshanock in the field.  Although Brandywine scored once in the top of the inning, Flemington quickly answered with two tallies and gradually built a 6-2 lead after four innings as the Neshanock were once again very strong on defense.

William Cauldwell - Editor of the Sunday Mercury

In the bottom of the fifth, Flemington again used a big inning to break open a match, scoring six times for a 12-2 lead on the way to a 15-2 final score.  Before giving any other details, it's essential to report (at least according to him) that the highlight of the game was when Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw eschewed the use of a pinch runner and actually stole a base!  Also contributing to the Neshanock attack was Dan "Sledge" Hammer who earned Flemington's third clear score of the season with four hits, scoring four times in the process.  Playing in his first match of the season, Gregg "Burner" Wiseburn chipped in with three hits, followed by "Batman," Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner, Dave "Illinois" Harris and Chris "Low Ball" Lowry with two apiece.  As noted the defense was solid, marred by only one muff.  Catching the first game, "Sledge" matched Mark "Gaslight" Granieri's feat from last week, throwing out three runners trying to steal, but doing so without divine intervention.

After a brief respite, Brandywine took the field for the second game and it was clear from the outset that this was going to be a very different contest.  In fact, it was almost the mirror opposite through five innings with the local team taking a 6-1 lead into the top of the sixth.  The Neshanock came back with three runs and had the bases loaded with no one out, apparently setting the stage for another big inning.  Brandywine recovered, however, to put the next two strikers out and looked like they might escape still in the lead.  Fortunately for Flemington, a clutch two out hit by "Jersey" Jim Nunn not only kept the inning alive, but sent the Neshanock on the way to very big inning indeed, scoring nine times in total for a 10-6 lead.

Even with the lead, no one on the Flemington bench was feeling especially comfortable and the tension rose considerably when Brandywine rallied for two in the seventh and two in the eighth. Although the West Chester club did shut down Flemington in the seventh and ninth innings, the Neshanock had one moderately big inning left in them, putting four tallies across the plate in the top of the eighth, taking a 14-10 lead into Brandwine's last at bat.  No one expected Brandywine to go quietly and they quickly scored twice and put two runners on when Flemington took full advantage of a big break and were able to hold on for a 14-12 win.  "Sledge" again led the Neshanock attack with three hits, aided by "Burner" who had two big doubles.  All told it was a balanced effort with every member of the Neshanock scoring at least once.  Although Flemington won both games, there was general agreement that everyone enjoyed the experience which ended with renewed promises to make this a regular affair.  Now 4-0 on the young season, the Neshanock will make their initial New Jersey appearance next Sunday at Ringwood Manor State Park, the originally scheduled match in Lambertville on Saturday has been cancelled.

The beginning of any base ball season is full of adjustments, for me as a base ball historian, it means starting to again learn about the 19th century by watching it being played in addition to whatever archival research I might be doing.  Nothing, of course, substitutes for documented, contemporary evidence, but watching the game being recreated complements what's found in old books, documents and newspapers.  A case in point is something I've been working on this past winter, two essays for a book to be published by the 19th Century Base Ball committee of the Society for American Baseball Research.  The essays are for a book about the off season meetings of the National Association of Base Ball Players which began in the late 1850's.  My essays are about the meetings that took place in December of 1860 and December of 1864 when one of the major issues was the fly game vs. the bound game, that is allowing an out for any fair batted ball caught on a bounce.

Those arguing for the change in 1860 included the prestigious Knickerbockers and Henry Chadwick, the Father of Base Ball himself.  In spite of their efforts the proposed change was voted down in 1860 and again in 1863 before it was finally adopted in December of 1864.  On the opposite side of the question in 1860 was William Cauldwell, the editor of the Sunday Mercury who actually preceded the better known Chadwick in giving extensive newspaper coverage to the emerging competitive game.  Cauldwell was opposed to eliminating the bound out in 1860 because he felt the incentive of retiring a batter on one bounce led to extraordinary defensive efforts which would be lost if the rule was changed.  Four years later, the New York writer had changed his mind and was in the uncomfortable position of arguing against himself.  While Cauldwell gave a number of reasons for the change, the primary one was that outfielders were playing very deep in order to take the easy, and perhaps unmanly, approach of catching the ball on the bounce.  According to Cauldwell, this was happening with such frequency that the disadvantages of continuing the bound out exceeded the relatively limited number of outstanding bound catches.

Almost a decade of watching vintage base ball has shown me that there is a lot to both what Cauldwell believed in 1860 and his new position some four years later.  I've seen more than a few extremely athletic attempts to come up with a ball on one bounce that sometimes meant the difference between killing a rally or the other team going on to a big inning.  And I've also seen how playing deep and taking the easier catch on the bounce, can abuse the spirit of the rule and makes the game far less interesting to watch, and I would think, play.  Cauldwell's change in opinion in some ways simply reflected how the game was evolving, the bound out originally had a place, but as the game developed it started to hurt the game and needed to be eliminated.  It's a part of the process of evaluation and change that has been with base ball at least since the beginning of organized competition, a process that will most likely never change which is probably a very good thing.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Cup Stays in New Jersey (With Some Help from New Yorkers)

Picture by Mark Granieri

One of the early events of the vintage base ball season is the annual New Jersey - New York Cup played at the birthplace of vintage base ball, Old Bethpage Village on Long Island.  Even though it's only the middle of April, it's still one of the most pristine and enjoyable venues we play at over the course of a season.  Typically the Neshanock go into the event having played at least one prior match, but this year Flemington's first two games fell victim to the weather, making the first games of the season more competitive than usual.  For at least the past few years, the same four teams have competed for the cup, the Neshanock and the Hoboken Nine from New Jersey with the Gotham Club of New York and the New York Mutuals making up the New York contingent.  Flemington won the cup in 2013 and 2015, and retained possession in 2014 when the event was rained out. The Mutuals are the host team and although it's a much smaller event than their early August festival it's always well run.

Picture by Mark Granieri

As if the uncertainty of the first game of the season wasn't enough, the Neshanock were extremely shorthanded with only six players making the long trip across the Verrazano - Narrows Bridge to Long Island.  Fortunately some members of the Mutuals graciously helped out, special thanks to "Big Bat," "Samurai" (interesting name that), "Crazy Mike" and Danny for playing with Flemington at various points in the two games.  Today also marked the premiere of the Neshanock's new uniforms (at least in some cases), long pants instead of knickers, reflecting the reality that most of Flemington's matches are played by 1864 rules and long pants were the norm of the period.  Base ball players are nothing, if not superstitious so success in the new garb was important in it's first outing.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The new pants may or may not have been a good omen, but it was definitely a positive sign when captain Danny "Batman" Shaw won the bat toss for the Neshanock's first game against the Mutuals.  Mark "Gaslight" Granieri quickly established a pattern for the match, retiring the first Mutual striker on a foul bound out and New York went out without scoring.  Led by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn and "Batman," Flemington quickly put two tallies on the board and led 3-0 after two innings.  The Mutuals broke through in the top of the third, however, scoring twice to close within one before Flemington broke things open in the bottom of the inning.  When the dust had cleared, the Neshanock had recorded seven tallies, opening up a 10-3 lead and coasted the rest of the way to a 16-5 win.  "Gaslight" recorded nine put outs on foul flies or bound outs, one short of his and the team's unofficial record and also recorded two assists on fair ground balls.  "Batman" not only pitched the whole way, but led the offense with five hits, recording a clear score by reaching base six times without making an out.  "Gaslight" didn't neglect the offensive end either, contributing four hits while Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner wasn't far behind with three.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

After a brief respite Flemington moved bag and baggage to another field to take on the Gothams who had defeated the Hoboken Nine in their first match which meant the winner of the Flemington - Gothams match would take home the cup.  Although "Batman" again won the bat toss, things didn't get off to a particularly auspicious start when the Gotham's lead off striker hit a home run.  However, the damage was limited to that single tally and the Neshanock quickly got that back, adding two more in the bargain.  Strong defense on Flemington's part held the Gothams relatively at bay through the first six innings and when the Neshanock tallied seven times in the fourth and five in the sixth to take an 18-5 lead, it looked like another lopsided match.  The Gothams, however, are far too good a team to go quietly and they rallied for six runs in the seventh cutting the margin to an uncomfortable, 18-11.  But Flemington was far from done, scoring five times in the bottom of the seventh for a commanding 23-11 lead which held up even though the New Yorkers scored five times in the ninth before going down to a 24- 18 defeat.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Obviously when a team scores 24 times, there's a lot of offense going on and the Neshanock were again led by "Batman" who not only matched his first game feats, but exceeded them, reaching base all eight times he came to the striker's line and scoring seven runs.  It marked two clear scores on the same day for "Batman," meaning he batted 14 times and didn't make a single out.  Rene "Mango" Marrero also had a big offensive game with six hits including a double and a triple coming only one at bat short of his own clear score.  "Thumbs," "Sideshow," and "Jersey" Jim Nunn each added four hits to the Flemington attack.  The Neshanock also played strong defense throughout the match highlighted by "Gaslight" who while he didn't record as many foul outs, actually threw out three runners trying to steal.  None of them were exactly things of beauty, but each one ended an inning, cutting off the Gotham's efforts to get back in the game.  It's hard to imagine a better start to the season, playing two solid games and retaining the New Jersey - New York Cup for another season, not to mention breaking in the new pants.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Next Saturday, Flemington travels to West Chester, Pennyslvania to take on the Brandywine Base Ball Club before making its inaugural 2016 New Jersey appearances in Lambertville on April 30th and in Ringwood, the very next day.  Come out and join us!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Opening Day - A Hundred or so Years Ago

It was sometimes suggested, partially in jest, that Charles Ebbets' middle initial "H," stood for holiday because the Brooklyn magnate was always looking for special days he could use to promote attendance.  Although it's limited to the baseball world, opening day was one occasion Ebbets didn't have to flog in order to attract fans to the ballpark.  Even though the Brooklyn club spent a lot of time in the first 15 years of the 20th century mired in the second division, the season opener was still a big occasion in Brooklyn.  Certainly it was important enough to catch the attention of Brooklyn Daily Eagle which always took notice through a special drawing or photos.  What follows, in honor of opening day 2016, are a series of drawings and pictures (click to enlarge) depicting the game's return to the City of Churches after a long hard winter.

At the time, the season didn't open until about mid April and some like Charles Ebbets felt that was about two weeks too early.  In 1904, an even colder than usual forecast had the Eagle concerned about possible sub arctic conditions, but as indicated in the below picture, it was cold, but not that bad.  Either way the Brooklyn club was cold, falling to the Giants 7-1 on the way to a sixth place finish.

A few years later in 1907, the theme was about dreams or some combination of hope and faith.  Certainly the World Championship vision was more than a little over the top although the club did climb to the top of the second division.  Once again opening day was something less than successful, a 4-1 defeat again at the hands of the Giants.  Since Washington Park was a wooden ballpark, the knothole idea of young entrepreneur in the lower left wasn't totally unrealistic.

By 1911 the Superbas had been down for so long that the Eagle apparently thought it better to focus on the game's overall appeal than indulge in any wishful thinking about Brooklyn's chances.  The paper was wise to be cautious as after finishing 6th in 1910, the club fell to 7th in 1911.  Opening day was prophetic for the entire season with Brooklyn falling to the last place Boston Rustlers by a 9-5 count.

By opening day 1912, the Eagle had progressed to an all picture approach to their opening day feature.  It had little impact on the field as the opener was a disaster at every level except the box office.  On the field, the Giants hammered Brooklyn 18-3 partially because the large crowd spilled on to the field leading to extraordinary ground rules and another bad start with the team again on the way to a 7th place finish.  The chaotic scene gave Charles Ebbets one more reason to be glad that next year his team would have a new home.

Things had improved dramatically for Brooklyn by the time the 1914 opener rolled around.  Not only were they in a new park, pictured below, but they had a new manager, Wilbert Robinson and would climbed to 5th place.  On opening day they overpowered the not yet miracle Braves by an 8-2 count.

Just 100 years ago this month, Brooklyn opened the 1916 season, again with a loss, this time to Boston, but the club was soon in first place and stayed there almost the entire season to bring home Brooklyn's first 20th century pennant.  A decisive victory against Philadelphia in late September was largely due to an unlikely out of the park home run by Casey Stengel off of Grover Cleveland Alexander who won 33 games, threw 16 shut outs (still a record) with a 1.55 era.

Interestingly the above picture includes Brooklyn's iconic trolley, but clearly names the club the Superbas after a turn of the century vaudeville act.  In fact, through 1925 the paper seldom, if ever, called the team the Dodgers and the club's stationary read simply Brooklyn Baseball Club.  But by whatever name, the team was well loved and hope always sprang eternal as it does for base ball fans throughout the country on opening day 2016.