Monday, August 24, 2015

Weekend in New England - Base Ball and Grandchildren

Based on the large number of vintage base ball teams currently promoting games on social media as well as the many accounts of tournaments and festivals, the new version of the old game seems to be in good shape.  Perhaps like any American enterprise, approaches to vintage base ball, while always honoring historical accuracy, differ even in such basic issues as how to structure a schedule.  Many clubs like the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Elizabeth Resolutes follow the historical practice of playing primarily home and home matches with some games and tournaments at neutral sites.  Implicit in this approach is a home field, like that of the Atlantics in Smithtown, Long Island or the Resolutes' grounds at Rahway River Park.  The Flemington Neshanock, on the other hand, schedule matches as part of special events throughout New Jersey on the premise that such events, as a rule, draw bigger crowds.  It's an approach that works for Flemington, but I will admit that playing a certain number of games at a conveniently located home field has a certain appeal.


Photo by Mark Granieri

All of this came to mind this past weekend when the Neshanock traveled north to Massachusetts for a series of matches with the Essex Base Ball Association.  Founded in 2002 as the Essex Base Ball Club by the Danvers Historical Society, the Essex Club is now the traveling team for the larger  Association. which plays at the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury, Massachusetts, not far from the New Hampshire border.  What's different about this, at least to me, is that the Association sponsors four other clubs which play most of their games at the farm, an historic site in its own right.  The net result is a lot of vintage base ball in one place, offering fans and visitors multiple opportunities to witness the 19th century game.  Not only does this expand access for spectators, the relatively limited travel almost certainly facilitates player participation.  In keeping with historical accuracy, the other four clubs are modern re-incarnations of 19th century teams from Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  The Granite State representative is the Portsmouth Rockinghams while the Massachusetts clubs are the Lowell Baseball Nine, the Lynn Live Oaks and the Newburyport Clamdiggers.


Photo by Mark Granieri

The Neshanock's last visit to the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm was in 2012, shortly after our granddaughter Sophie was born, and there was a certain symmetry to this year's trip as her baby brother, Henry, arrived at the end of June.  So for the Zinn family the stage was set for a great weekend of vintage base ball and grandchildren.  The farm is a beautiful venue for base ball and the weather which was forecast to be wet, turned out to be sunny and comfortably warm with a refreshing breeze.  Flemington's first opponent was the Rockingham Club, the newest member of the Association, based on a club that played in nearby Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1866 and 1867.  As has been the case for most of the season, Flemington won the bat toss, sending the home team to striker's line first.  Off to a good start defensively, the Neshanock set Rockingham down without a run and then got off to a hot start in their first two at bats, to take a 6-1 lead after only two innings.


Photo by Mark Granieri

However, based on today's play, Rockingham is a solid club and they battled back to tie the game at 6-6 after four innings and then went ahead 7-6 going to the bottom of the sixth. However, the Neshanock were far from done and scored four times to take a 10-7 lead.  Rockingham quickly got back to work tying the match at 10-10 and then shut the Neshanock out over the last two innings (the game was limited to 8 innings due to time constraints) while scoring two in the top of the eighth for a hard fought 12-10 victory.  Flemington did well at the striker's line throughout the match, led by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn, Dave "Illinois" Harris and Ken "Tumbles" Mandel with three hits apiece.  They were ably supported by one of the Neshanock's two father and son acts, Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw and Danny "Batman" Shaw each with two hits.


Photo by Mark Granieri

After a very short respite, again due to time limits, Flemington took the field for a match with the Lowell Baseball Nine of Boston, a team that was founded in 1861 and named after John A. Lowell, one of the founders and a top ball player of the time.  According to the Association's web site, the team played their matches on Boston Common and were one of the top New England clubs at the end of the decade.  The modern re-incarnation was certainly worthy of the original as they quickly got off to a 3-0 lead.  Flemington came back just as quickly to tie the game and the two teams settled down for another back and forth affair.  Lowell led 5-4 going to the bottom of the fifth, but another Neshanock big inning plated four runs and an 8-5 lead headed to the top of the sixth.  Unfortunately teams that live by the big inning sometimes die by the big inning and that was the case in this match as Lowell scored seven times in the sixth on their way to a 14-9 win.  It was another good offensive performance for Flemington with "Sideshow" repeating his three hit performance, joined this time by his dad, "Jersey" Jim Nunn and Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw.  Further offense came from"Batman," "Illinois" and Mark "Gaslight" Granieri with two hits each.


Photo by one tired Grandfather

As on the Neshanock's 2012 trip to  Massachusetts, the Sunday games were at Fort Warren on George's Island, a short ferry ride into Boston Harbor.  However, since grandchildren outrank almost everything, Carol and I didn't make the Sunday games, but instead spent the rest of our visit in on-the-job training in watching a three year old and a two month old simultaneously.  If I'm lucky I'll recover by the time of our next visit in October.  Fortunately, as always, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, having successfully found Georges Island, was kind enough to provide pictures and a brief recap.  Sunday's games were scheduled against the Lynn Live Oaks and Newburyport Clamdiggers.  The Lynn club recreates a team from Lynn, Massachusetts which played in the International League in 1877 and 1878.  Regardless of the team's talent levels in 1877, their pitchers got plenty of guidance as the team was managed by Hall of Famer, Candy Cummings, whose plaque credits him with inventing the curve ball.  Newburyport, which if I understand the geography correctly, is the adjoining town to Newbury, the site of the farm, was home to the Clamdiggers Club, a team which played in the New England League in 1885 and 1886.

Apparently, Newburyport only had a few players available, but there is strength in the numbers of having four different teams so the Neshanock with the help of players from the other two teams, played the Lynn Live Oaks twice.  In the opener, Flemington got off to an early lead and held it for a 17-8 win behind the pitching of Danny "Batman" Shaw.  Reportedly a key part of the Neshanock attack was a three run home run by Ken "Tumbles" Mandel which is hard to visualize, but since the New York Mets scored two runs on Sunday on back-to-back wild pitches, I suppose nothing should surprise me about base ball.  The second match was limited to six innings to allow both clubs and their fans to catch the 2:00 ferry and it was a relatively easy win for Lynn which prevailed 12-2.  Although the overall record was only 1-3, it was an enjoyable weekend and it's clear that the Essex Base Ball Association has a good approach that works well.  While I'm sure many people make it happen, special mention should be made of Brian Sheey, president of the Association and his brother, Chris, captain of the Lowell Club.  On October 17th, the Association's final event of the year will be the third annual Jan's Pitch, a fund raiser for breast cancer research and the arts, in honor and memory of Brian and Chris's mother, Jan, an art teacher, who died from breast cancer in April of 2013.  It is an event and a cause well worth the support of the entire vintage base ball community.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Why Did the Fireman Take a Balloon Ride?

For the second consecutive year, the South Bound Brook Fire Company, under the leadership of Nashanock emeritus, Harry "Cappy" Roberts, hosted an afternoon of vintage base ball at Memorial Park in that central New Jersey community.  This year's event consisted of an 1864 match between long time rivals, the Elizabeth Resolutes and the Flemington Neshanock, followed by an exhibition match between the Neshanock (with some help from the Resolutes) and a team of firemen, much younger firemen.  Resolute-Neshanock matches are by definition close, intensely played games and today was no exception.  The early going indicated it was going to be a low scoring affair as the match was scoreless until the bottom of the third when Flemington broke through with one tally.  Elizabeth answered quickly in their next opportunity at the striker's line, scoring three times which the Neshanock answered with one in their half of the inning.  Elizabeth was busy again in the top of the fifth scoring twice, but Flemington responded with three tallies of their own to tie the match at 5-5 after five innings.


History of Jersey City 

Although both clubs put the lead off batter on base in the sixth inning, neither advanced any further and the game went to the seventh still tied, but it didn't stay that way for long.  Jesse Tomlinson belted a triple to lead off the inning and promptly scored on a singly by Shawn Kelly who shortly thereafter tallied a run of his own.  Flemington managed to put two runners on base with two out in the bottom of the seventh, but the Resolutes recorded the final hand without any damage.  Elizabeth batted in the eighth with a chance to expand their lead, but the Neshanock got three hands without allowing a base runner.  Having held the field in the top of the inning, the Flemington offense got going in the bottom of the eighth keyed by a resounding double by Mark "Gaslight" Granieri and extremely well placed hits by Chris "Low Ball" Lowry, Ken "Tumbles" Mandel and Will Murray.  By the time the third out was made, the Neshanock had scored four times to take a 9-7 lead into the top of the ninth.  Although the Resolutes got a man on with two out, Flemington recorded the final out to take the match behind a second consecutive strong pitching performance by Dave "Illinois" Harris.  Special thanks to Kyle and Mike Roberts, two muffins who helped out a somewhat shorthanded Flemington squad.  Thanks to "Cappy" and the fire company for sponsoring this fine event.



Photo by Mark Granieri

Like South Bound Brook, the majority of New Jersey communities rely upon volunteer fire companies for protection and related services.  Larger urban areas, like Newark and Jersey City, on the other hand, understandably have large full time professional fire companies.  It wasn't, however, always like that, back in the 19th century, New Jersey's largest cities also depended upon volunteers who were ready, willing and able to answer the alarm at a  moment's notice.  A case in point is Jersey City which, although it covered a smaller geographic area in the 19th century, was one of the state's largest communities.  Volunteer fire companies in Jersey City actually date back to 1829 when the local population was barely over a 1000.  However, the perceived danger was sufficiently lethal that residents demanded fire protection from the local selectmen.  Money for a fire engine was the first problem.  Alexander McLean wrote in his 1895 History of Jersey City that not only did the governing body lack funds, they had "no means of raising it [the money] by tax."  Fortunately the residents were prepared to back up their demands with their wallets and a public subscription raised the $800 needed to purchase the city's first fire engine.



Photo by Mark Granieri

With the equipment provided, manpower was next so an organizational meeting was held at the home of Hugh McCutcheon on September 21, 1829.  While this is a good 25 years before the first Jersey City base ball clubs (New York game any way), it's hard not to notice the similarities between volunteer fire companies and base ball clubs, a point discussed by Warren Goldstein in his book, Playing For Keeps.  This is hardly surprising since in both cases, young men joined a formal organization calling for both commitment and teamwork.  And just like the early base ball clubs, one of the new fire company's first actions was to establish a constitution to govern their affairs.  Since behavior was significantly more important in fighting fires than on the base ball grounds, it's no surprise that an even more extensive system of fines was adopted and applied.  According to excerpts from the company's minutes which appeared years later in the Evening Journal, multiple firemen were fined 12 1/2 cents (a penny went further in those days) in the department's first year of existence, primarily for not showing up for the onerous task of washing the fire engine.  One miscreant, William B. Jenkins was fined $1 (a hefty amount at the time) for an unspecified violation of section 12 of the constitution.  The constitution must have been both rigorous and all encompassing as on at least three separate occasions, members were fined 50 cents for declining to serve after being elected to a company office.


History of Jersey City

Many early base ball clubs were short lived due to the inability to recruit new members and Engine Company Number 1 in Jersey City experienced similar problems in 1834 when there ranks dwindled to  just 13 members.  Notice was sent to the Board of Alderman that "without some aid and more encouragement," that is, help in recruiting new members, the remnant would return the engine to the city.  Something must have worked as the company was able to continue serving the city and its residents.  Even with an engine and a sufficient number of men, fire fighting at the time presented challenges undreamed of today, especially regarding the supply of water.  Several of the accounts published in the Journal, describe the difficulty of connecting the engine to a pump or the Hudson River and then sucking out sufficient water to put out a fire.  Fortunately these accounts also reflect a relatively limited number of serious conflagrations.

Evening Journal - July 11, 1916

Neither base ball clubs nor fire companies lacked for unique personalities and Jersey City's first fire company certainly had one in Charles F. Durant.  Born in New York City in 1805, Durant's family moved to Jersey City in 1811 where he was a founding member of the fire company, including serving as its first secretary.  Durant also served for eight months as foreman (the company's highest elective office), but he was better known for his scientific and aeronautical feats.  Among his scientific works was Algae of the Bay and Harbor of New York, which almost a century later, the Evening Journal called "one of the greatest works on the subject."  As gripping as the title may sound, public demand did not, however, match the level of scholarly achievement as supposedly only a dozen copies were printed, one of which is reportedly in the Jersey City Public Library.  Durant also cultivated silk worms at his home at 103 Hudson Street which earned him a medal from the American Silk Institute for  the first silk made in the United States.


Durant's 1834 Ascent in Boston 

From a popular standpoint, however, these achievements paled in comparison to Durant's exploits as one of the country's first balloonists.  On September 9, 1830, he became the first American to make a balloon ascent (the Philadelphia Inquirer hoped he would be the last).  According to one newspaper account, some 10000 people crowded the the streets near Castle Garden in lower Manhattan "to witness the interesting spectacle."  Inflating the balloon took some three hours so it was not until 5:00 that the "undaunted voyager" stepped into "his frail bark."  The fragile vessel barely cleared Castle Garden's walls, but once past that impediment, the wind took Durant and his balloon southwest across Staten Island, eventually landing on Peter Johnson's farm in South Amboy, an journey of some 25 miles.  Later that month another large crowd, estimated at twice the original number watched a second launch which this time took Durant and his craft near Hackensack, New Jersey.  All told, Durant made 13 separate voyages, all before his 1837 marriage, including the one from Boston Common which could have proven fatal had not a boat in Boston Harbor come to the rescue.


Philadelphia Inquirer - September 11, 1830

Although Durant stayed on terra firma for the rest of his life, it was by no means a retired existence.  In 1841 he ran for Mayor of Jersey City as the Whig candidate, losing to Jacksonian and prominent Jersey City resident, Dudley S. Gregory by a three to one margin.  Vote totals of 201 for Gregory and 60 for Durant give an indication of the limited numbers of voters at the time.  Clearly not one to walk away from a fight, Durant's obituary commented that he had "many pugnacious encounters with the authorities" about "rights" and clearly enjoyed a full and robust life.  He is buried in the Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery.  No record survives of any attempts at base ball, but like some of the firemen in South Bound Brook, it's not hard to envision him witnessing a match and taking a turn at the striker's line.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

"But for Tumbles"

After heading north and east last weekend to Bethpage, Long Island, the Neshanock moved south on Saturday to Pennsauken, New Jersey not far from Philadelphia.  Play was hosted by the Pennsauken Historical Society which  attracted a good crowd for two seven inning games of 1864 base ball.  The opposition was provided by the Bog Iron Boys of Allaire Village, aided and abetted by volunteers from the Diamond State and Atlas Clubs of Delaware, the Brandywine Club of West Chester, Pennsylvania and the Athletics of Philadelphia, all coming together to play as the vintage all-stars. Thanks to all of these gentleman and I apologize if I missed any of the participating clubs.  Twelve was apparently the Neshanock's magic number for the day as Flemington finished with the same tally total in both matches.  In the opening contest, the Neshanock scored seven times in the bottom of the second for a 9-2 lead only to see the all-stars tally five times in the fourth to close to within 9-7.  Fortunately, Flemington added three more in the fifth and hung on for a 12-9 triumph.  


Sinnickson Chew - Editor of the West Jersey Press

Leading the offense for the Neshanock were Scott "Snuffy" Hengst and Chris "Low Ball" Lowry both with clear scores, the second time in a row for both strikers.  They were supported by "Jersey" Jim Nunn, Dave "Illinois" Harris, Joe "Mick" Murray and Danny "Batman" Shaw each with two hits, "Batman" also pitched for Flemington.  After a brief break, the second match got underway with the all-stars jumping out to an early lead which they held until the top of the third inning.  It was all Neshanock after that, however, as Flemington scored twice in the third and seven times in the fifth en route to a 12-1 victory.  Two more Neshanock players recorded clear scores as both Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Joe "Mick" Murray achieved the feat in support of Dave "Illinois" Harris at the pitcher's line.  In keeping with tradition, the day also included an addition to the living legend that is Ken "Tumbles" Mandel.  Although his performance in the second game was brief, Tumbles had two "but for's," as in "but for" Tumbles' errant throw, "Illinois" would have had a shut out and "but for" Tumbles' pinch running base blunder, Jack "Doc" Kitson would have had a clear score.  All in a day's tumbles!


Photo definitely not by Mark Granieri

Saturday's match was reportedly the first vintage game, not just in Pennsauken, but in all of Camden County, a place that has its own unique place in New Jersey base ball history.  To date, the City of Camden is the only documented community in New Jersey to have an organized club playing a bat and ball game other than base ball or cricket.  Founded in 1857, the Camden Club played something called Philadelphia town ball.  Town ball has become a catch-all term for many different kinds of bat and ball games, but Richard Hershberger's in depth research and analysis has provided a clear understanding of the Philadelphia version which I've summarized in prior posts.  As the name suggests Philadelphia town ball was developed by clubs from the City of Brotherly Love, especially the Olympic Club, and was played until the early 1860's when the Philadelphia clubs converted to the New York game.  The Camden Club played town ball at least through 1863, but it too came around to the New York game in 1864 and played against the leading Philadelphia clubs through the early post war period.  At least one future major league player, Weston Fisler, got his start with the Camden Club before playing many years with the Athletic Club of Philadelphia, including participating in the first National League game in 1876.



Photo definitely not by Mark Granieri

In addition, the Camdens also have the distinction of being the only ball club of any kind, excluding cricket, south of the state capital in Trenton during the antebellum period.  This began to change towards the end of the Civil War and in the late 1860's numerous clubs were formed throughout the southern part of the state.  In Camden County there was a team in Haddonfield and within Camden itself, the Union Club supplanted the Camden Club which gradually faded out of existence.  Extensive knowledge of base ball in Camden County is somewhat limited because, for some reason, the media didn't pay a lot of attention to the game.  The two leading newspapers of the period were the Camden Democrat and the West Jersey Press neither of which seemed to make base ball much of a priority.  That's understandable to some extent as these weekly newspapers with the typical political missions of the era had limited the space for leisure events.  But even so, the West Jersey Press in particular seemed less than enthusiastic about base ball's expansion.  One example is the below article, describing not game action, but two somewhat gruesome injuries and suggesting that the game might not be worth the risk.  




West Jersey Press - October 10, 1866


Those comments pale in comparison, however, with the below article published three years later in the same newspaper which seems to be a combination of wishful thinking and incredibly inaccurate opinion when base ball was in the midst of rapid post war expansion.  The exotically named Sinnickson Chew was the editor of the Press throughout the period and clearly was no base ball enthusiast. 



West Jersey Press - May 19, 1869

However, Mr. Chew seems to have changed his tune, at least to some degree, when the honor of Camden was at stake.  One of the early clubs in southern New Jersey was the Mosacsa Club of Salem which was founded on May 31,1865 (thanks to J. Harlan Buzby of the Salem County Historical Society for providing the date) and by 1870 had developed into a formidable team in their own right. Reportedly undefeated for two years, the Salem team entertained what was advertised as the Union Club of Camden for a match on their grounds.  As "S" sadly informed the readers of the Salem newspaper, the local heroes had, however, taken on not just another group of amateurs, but a team "many of whom were professionals" representing "the best clubs in the country."  Because of the makeup of the opposition, "S" felt there was no dishonor in the 23-20 defeat.  The quasi-anonymous author was still confident enough in his club to throw down the gauntlet to any club "south of Newark," which encompasses a number of clubs in central New Jersey with much more experience than the Mosacsa or any south Jersey club.




National Standard August 17, 1870

Although editor Chew chose not to enter the debate himself, he was at least willing to give the local club a platform by printing a letter from "U," refuting the claims of "S," while at the same time derisively calling the Salem team a "Country Club."  With regard to the claim about "professionals," the Union man insisted that six of the nine were, in fact, club members while the others were substitutes, but not necessarily active members of other clubs.  Analysis of the Union line up confirms the first assertion as six players were  members of the Union Club in prior years.  Of the three who could not be positively confirmed as members of the victorious Camden team, only Hayhurst appears on any of the Philadelphia club rosters in Baseball Founders.  Hayhurst could conceivably have been Elias Hicks Hayhurst, the well known Philadelphia player and manager who three years earlier led the ill-fated effort to admit the black Pythian Club of Philadelphia into the Pennsylvania State Association of base ball clubs.  Although Hayhurst was over 40 in 1870, he had been a back up player for the Athletic Club of Philadelphia a year earlier so it's not impossible he could have helped out the  short handed Union Club.  Since the Hayhurst in the Union line up that day made six outs without scoring, at least one "professional" didn't contribute much to the Union victory.


West Jersey Press  - August 24, 1870

It doesn't appear that the two clubs met the following year, but the competitive aspect of base ball was clearly taking hold in the the southern part of the state.  That by itself was enough to ensure that Mr. Chew's vision of imminent doom for base ball had no chance of coming to fruition.  Hopefully his political prognostications were more accurate.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Poorly Begun Is To Be Undone


Photo by Mark Granieri

On September 2, 1963, in the second game of a Labor Day doubleheader, New York Mets pitcher, Jay Hook, lost 1-0 to the Cincinnati Reds which by itself wasn't that unique.  After all, the Mets were in their second year and not that much better than their horrendous inaugural 1962 season.  What was unique about the game, however, is that the Reds scored their only run on rookie Pete Rose's home run, not only as the game's first batter, but also on the very first pitch.  While I didn't see the game, I've always remembered either a sportswriter or a Mets coach saying that Hook should have thrown one more warm up pitch.  The Flemington Neshanock had a day like on Saturday at the 18th Annual Base Ball Festival at Old Bethpage Village on Long Island, the birthplace of vintage base ball, although in Flemington's case it would have taken entire warm up inning, not one pitch. Hosted by the Mutual Base Ball Club of New York and this year honoring base ball pioneer, Daniel "Doc" Adams, the event drew vintage clubs from as far away as Rhode Island and the Washington, D.C. area.



Photo by John Zinn

In their first match, Flemington drew the Rising Sun Club of Maryland, a first time opponent, but hopefully a future one as well.  At best the Neshanock were going to be short handed for the day, but when the Nunn family got struck in traffic and Mark "Wrong Way" Granieri somehow ended up in the middle of Queens, the first match was marked for a bad beginning.  Although graciously assisted by "Hawk" of the Atlantics, "Mister" and "Dirt" of the Newtown Sandy Hook Club and "Bar Keep," wearing a Bridgeport uniform, the Maryland club struck quickly for a 6-0 lead in their first at bat.  Once the Neshanock were fully assembled and got organized, everyone settled down and Flemington held Rising Sun to only four runs over the remaining eight innings.  Unfortunately stout defense by the Maryland club limited the Neshanock and others to just four aces and a 10-4 defeat.  Too bad "Mulligans" aren't part of base ball.


Photo by Mark Granieri 

One high point for Flemington was a clear score by Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw who batted four times without making an out, using his many years of experience to strategically place his hits.  Once Mark "Gaslight" Granieri finally found Old Bethpage Village, he added to the growing list of victims of his "foul ball ploy."  The maneuver begins with the Flemington catcher coming up with a foul tip or foul pop and then throwing the ball into the outfield.  Unsuspecting or not totally informed base runners, mistakenly think they can advance which is, in fact, prohibited under 1860's rules.  Once recovered the ball is then thrown to the pitcher who then doubles off the runner by either throwing to the base or going to the base himself.  After using the trick play to pull of an inning ending double play at Gettysburg, "Gaslight" put another notch in his gun in the top of the ninth against Rising Sun, this time for a triple play, I believe the second in recent Neshanock history.


Famous picture of an 1859 match at Elysian Fields between the Knickerbockers and the Brooklyn Excelsiors, "Doc" Adams is the fourth from the left.

As noted earlier, this year's event honored Daniel "Doc" Adams, a base ball pioneer whose story was seemingly lost to history.  Thanks to John Thorn in Baseball in the Garden of Eden and a Society for American Baseball Research biography (http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/14ec7492), Adams role in the legendary Knickerbocker Club of New York and the early days of organized base ball is now better known.  With degrees from both Yale and Harvard (Medical School), the young doctor came to New York City in the late 1830's and began playing whatever form of base ball was played at the time.  Just a month after the Knickerbocker Club was founded, in October of 1845, Adams joined, became president the next year and held the position until 1862.  While the Knickerbockers sometimes get credit for things they didn't do, the club did introduce the shortstop's position and Adams recalled that "he was the first to occupy that place."  Beyond initiating this key defensive position, "Doc," also played a crucial part in the first efforts to standardize the rules as the chair of the National Association of Base Ball Players Rules Committee. In the latter role he helped establish the ninety foot distance between the bases, often taken for granted today, but such a vital part of the game.  "Doc" was well represented at Old Bethpage by his Great Granddaughter Marjorie Adams, who is spearheading an effort to get this base ball pioneer into the Baseball Hall of Fame - best wishes to her and everyone working towards that end.


Photo by Mark Granieri

After the first game ended, the Neshanock didn't have long to digest the result (or anything else for that matter) as the second match began almost immediately against the Capital City Stars, a select group from the Washington D.C. area.  This time Flemington made the first inning their own, scoring seven times and coasting to a 15-2 victory in a match limited to four innings due to time constraints.  The Neshanock knocked out 20 hits in just four at bats, featuring clear scores from Chris "Low Ball" Lowry and Scott "Snuffy" Hengst plus a double and a triple from "Gaslight" who remarkably found third base without difficulty.  Free of the stress of traffic on the Southern State Parkway, the Neshanock's father and son act, "Jersey" Jim Nunn and Chris "Sideshow" Nunn each had two hits.  "Dirt," "Mister," and "Bar Keep" stayed with us for the second game and contributed both at bat and in the field.  Thanks also to Sam "Israelite" Bernstein who for this day, exchanged his umpire's regalia for a Neshanock uniform and added a hit to the Neshanock attack. Old Bethpage Village is a beautiful venue for base ball and the New York Mutuals deserve high praise for hosting such a quality event over such a long period of time.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

"Like That"

One of the many things that I've learned from a lifetime of sports is that there are games and even seasons that are "like that."  Times where a result or pattern of results happen, no matter or in spite of past performance, logic or any rational explanation.  The Elizabeth Resolutes, New Jersey's first vintage base ball club, has suffered through a season "like that," where the results (victories) have been far fewer than any one could logically expect.  Before Saturday's match at Rahway River Park, for example, the Neshanock had won all four previous encounters, three of which were close affairs that could have gone any other way.  On Saturday, Flemington got a taste of the experience with a day that was simply "like that."  Among other things, after playing good defense the previous weekend, the Neshanock made more muffs in one game on Saturday than  in the four Gettysburg games combined.  




Curtis Campbell at Ebbets Field, September 23, 1944

This is in no way to take anything away from the Resolutes performance as the Elizabeth club was clearly the superior team, taking a 12-3 lead after two innings and then dominating the match for a convincing 32-11 trashing of the Neshanock.  While there were no bright spots for Flemington on defense, there were some noteworthy offensive performances, Danny "Batman" Shaw had five hits followed by Gregg Wiseburn with four.  Chris "Low Ball" Lowry and Scott "Snuffy" Hengst each chipped in three hits while Dave "Illinois" Harris and Joe "Irish" Colduvell had two apiece.  While he wasn't in uniform or on the field, the Nesahnock also welcomed back Bob "Melky" Ritter who looked remarkably spry for someone recovering from two hip replacements. 




Why there are days and seasons "like that" is an unanswerable question as is why it seems like everyone and any one who ever went to Ebbets Field has a story.   Even if that question could be answered, there is no end to the stories, even though the Brooklyn ballpark has been gone longer (55 years) than it was there (47 years).  The latest story to come my way began in June of 2014 after the Neshanock played a match in Woodbridge, New Jersey.  The game was filmed by a local cable station and I was asked to provide historical background and context which led to mention of my interest in Brooklyn Dodger history.  A few weeks later, I received an e-mail from the cable station indicating that Mr. Curtis Campbell, an Iselin resident, had an Ebbets Field story he wanted to share.  It took quite some time for us to finally meet, but a few weeks ago I had a chance to spend some time with this remarkably robust octogenarian.  Curtis also visited with us on Saturday so for once, "Melky" wasn't the oldest pitcher at the game.



Born in 1927, Curtis was in high school during World War II, attending Queens Vocational High School.  Located in an intensely urban setting, the school had no athletic teams and since Curt spent most summers in Maine, he never had much of a chance to play competitive baseball.  Fortunately, however, in both 1943 and 1944, he did spend the summer in Long Island City and pitched for a team in a YMCA sponsored league.  Intent on taking full advantage of the opportunity, the young right hander worked at his craft, developing multiple release points for pitches while also changing his position on the pitching rubber depending on whether the batter was left handed or right handed.  Curtis initially had a problem with tipping off his curve ball, but when an opposing manager started warning his hitters by calling out "curve ball,” Curtis solved the problem by crossing up the batter with a fast ball.  Curt enjoyed considerable success those two summers, but hadn't thought much beyond the YMCA league when opportunity knocked through a newspaper ad.


Clove Lakes Park, Staten Island
Reading a New York newspaper, in September of 1944, Curtis saw a notice that the Brooklyn Dodgers were holding open tryouts on Saturday, September 16th at Clove Lakes Park on Staten Island.  It was probably one part due to the war time shortage of players and one part due to Branch Rickey's practice of collecting large pools of talent, but regardless, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.  However, just getting there by the 8:00 a.m. reporting time was a challenge.  Leaving Long Island City at 6;00, Curt took the subway to Grand Central Station, another subway to the Staten Island Ferry, the ferry to Staten Island and finally a bus to Clove Lakes Park, arriving with 10 minutes to spare.  Upon arrival he found all the prospective major leaguers divided over six fields by position.  Curtis pitched to some hitters and then to a Dodgers coach who relatively quickly, and cryptically, said he had seen "enough."



What "enough" meant was clarified equally quickly when a letter arrived at the Campbell home from Branch Rickey Jr. inviting Curtis back for a second try out, this time at Ebbets Field itself.  One of only about six invited back, he arrived at the Brooklyn ball park where, in spite of what the letter said, he was given a Dodger uniform even though it was just for the day.  Fortunately at a time long before smart phones, young Mr. Campbell had the foresight to bring a camera.  When it came his turn to pitch, Curt surprised the Dodgers coach by saying the protective screen in front of the pitcher (used during batting practice) had to be moved because of his different release points.  Whether it was the multiple release points or some other explanation, Curtis had remarkable control that day as only about six pitches missed the plate.



Finally Brooklyn catcher, Bobby Bragan stepped in with manager Leo Durocher watching off from the side.  After Bragan hit a few routine fly balls, Curtis went against batting practice protocol by throwing an overhand curve ball.  Caught totally off guard, Bragan missed the pitch by six inches provoking a tirade from Durocher that cannot be repeated in a family blog.  Whether in spite of or because of his audacity, Curtis was sent home with the words ringing in his ears that the Dodgers would contact him about spring training.  However, days, weeks and months passed without any follow up and as a high school senior in war time, Curtis didn't have time to wait.  Finally he was given the opportunity to take the test for a special army training program which would allow him to attend the University of Delaware while he was in the army.  Perhaps not surprisingly, once he was irrevocably in the army, Curtis did get the call from the Dodgers, but it was too late.  By the time he got out of the army in 1948, he was ready to get married which along with family responsibilities which meant a steady job was a necessity.  Thus began a long career in banking, fatherhood and over 60 years of marriage that continues to this day.  Curt doesn't have any regrets, but he's never forgotten that special day at Ebbets Field, a day, I’m glad has been preserved at A Manly Pastime.  


Monday, July 20, 2015

Mad Dogs, Englishmen and Vintage Base Ball Players

Rudyard Kipling, Noel Coward or someone famously remarked that "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun."  After this past weekend in Gettysburg, vintage base ball players, umpires, score keepers plus their families and friends can be added to the list.  Temperatures at Schroeder's Farm on both days easily topped 90 degrees with no small amount of humidity.  Yet the discomfort was well worth the reward at what is, in my experience, the premier vintage base ball event in the country.  Begun by the Elkton Eclipse Club of Maryland as a six team tournament, the event has been expanded to this year's 18 club festival with teams traveling from as far away as Maine and Tennessee.  Located on Pumping Station Road, Schroeder's Farm is large enough to accommodate five games simultaneously on quirky fields that emulate some of the conditions faced by 19th century players.  The Neshanock's last game on Sunday was played on a field where the slope of the ground meant the outfielders couldn't be seen from home plate - a challenge indeed for the umpire.


Photo by Mark Granieri

Besides hosting vintage base ball, the farm was also a site for the movie "Gettysburg" and the terrain certainly resembles the real thing.  Watching the game with the outfielders out of sight reminded me of the experience of Civil War soldiers who went over such crests not knowing what awaited them on the other side.  In posts about prior Gettysburg Festivals, I wrote about the battle itself, so my intent was to limit this year's article to base ball, but proximity to that "hallowed ground," makes it almost impossible to avoid some reflections.  Not long after our arrival on Friday, Carol and I stopped at the 5th New Jersey monument on the west side of the Emmitsburg Road, not far from the Klingle Farm.  Like the 11th New Jersey whose monument is nearby, the 5th was heavily engaged at Gettysburg on July 2nd when 45% of its 206 officers and men were killed, wounded or missing by day's end.


5th New Jersey Monument 

What motivated the stop was some research that Scott "Snuffy" Hengst of the Neshanock has been doing on the Logan Base Ball Club of Lambertville, New Jersey, the village's first base ball team, formed just after the Civil War.  My own research on Lambertville had covered the antebellum period when cricket was the community's sport of choice.  Looking at box scores for both the cricket and base ball clubs, there was one common name, an A. Angel.  The last name was familiar as on Memorial Day, I had posted some pictures of the Union dead including a Captain Charles Angel, killed in Georgia on July 4, 1864.  It turns out that A. Angel, is Ashbel Angel, the younger brother of Charles and both brothers served with the 5th New Jersey.  I'm not sure if either of them was with the regiment at Gettysburg and, if so, whether they were wounded that day, but I want to do some work on the stories of New Jersey men and women in the Civil War and this may be a good starting point.



Photo by Mark Granieri

Friday was cloudy and humid in Gettysburg and Saturday began with thunder, lightning and a torrential down pour that delayed the the festival's first matches.  One of the major attractions of the Gettysburg Festival is the opportunity to play teams from different parts of the country.  The Neshanock began play on Saturday afternoon with a match against the Columbus Club from Ohio, a team Flemington had played once before, but this time had a very young and proficient lineup.  The Ohioans played almost flawless defense and hit strategically and effectively to earn a convincing 15-0 victory.  Despite the one sided margin, this was one of those games that was actually closer than the score indicated as it was 3-0 after five innings and 6-0 after six before Columbus exploded for 9 runs in the seventh and final inning.


Photo by Mark Granieri

 The match was close for as long as it was because the Neshanock also played good defense making only two muffs over the course of the match.  A Flemington defensive highlight was a trick play pulled by the Neshanock catcher, crafty veteran Mark "Gaslight" Granieri.  With one hand out in the 2nd inning, Columbus had the bases loaded when their striker tipped a foul ball that "Gaslight" easily caught for the second out.  He then intentionally threw the ball into left field prompting all three Columbus base runners to take off.  Unfortunately for the Columbus players, in 19th century base ball runners cannot advance on a foul ball and a quick throw from left field to third base recorded the final out.  It was a double play that could have easily been a triple play as all of the Columbus runners  took off on the apparent bad throw.  The only negative was that base ball historian Richard Hershberger was watching another match as he had offered $20 if he ever saw the Neshanock  pull off the play.  What little offense the Neshanock generated also came from "Gaslight" who had a clear score with two hits in two plate appearances while the other 14 Neshanock strikers managed only three more combined.


Photo by Mark Granieri

After a very brief respite, the Neshanock got back on the field, this time against the Harrisburg Keystone Club, a team Flemington defeated at Cooperstown in 2014 after losing an earlier match to the Pennsylvania club at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.  Flemington continued to play strong defense and scored their first runs of the festival in the very first inning to take a 3-0 lead that grew to 6-2 after four innings and then 11-8 after six.  Unfortunately, as has happened previously this season, the Neshanock bats went silent thereafter scoring only one run in the last three innings.  Harrisburg, which had been kept at bay by the Flemington defense, broke through in the last three innings with strong hitting up and down their lineup to score eight times and win a close, well played match by a 14-12 count.  The Neshanock attack was led by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn and Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner both of whom had clear scores and Scott "Snuffy" Hengst who contributed two hits.  It was, however, not enough and the first day of hot, humid, but enjoyable base ball ended with the Neshanock at 0-2.


"Candlelight at Christ"

For the past 3-4 years, Carol and I have spent the Saturday night of the festival at "Candlelight at Christ Church," at Christ Lutheran Church,  http://www.candlelightatchrist.org/default.html.  Located near the square in Gettysburg, the historic church was a hospital during the battle and now hosts Saturday evening concerts during the summer.  The program which is free, in an air conditioned church (especially helpful this year), combines readings from contemporary letters and diaries as well as Civil War era music.  Listening to the readings and songs like "Tenting Tonight" in such a historic setting makes the sacrifices and suffering of the Civil War generation come alive  One reading described a mother who lost one son at Gettysburg, had another in a Union hospital and a third in a Confederate Prison.  Yet her first hope was that "God will save our country."  Like any historic/tourist site, there is the risk of losing what is really important about what happened at Gettysburg.  Programs like the concert at Christ Lutheran Church help maintain the proper focus.


Photo by Mark Granieri

Unfortunately the temperatures in the air conditioned church and the hotel couldn't be transferred to Schroeder's Farm so the stage was set for an even hotter day of base ball on Sunday.  The Neshanock's day began with a mid morning match against a new participant, one of the two that  made the longest trip - the Hog and Hominy Picked Nine from Nashville, Tennessee. As I understand it, the H&H team is the traveling squad for the Tennessee Vintage Base Ball League, which has teams throughout the state.  Much more information is available at their well designed and well worth examining web site (www.tennesseevintagebaseball.com.)  All told there are 10 different teams in the league that play a regular schedule with the Hog and Hominy team traveling to events like Gettysburg.  I'm guessing that the H&H roster varies from event to event with the players being drawn from the different clubs.  One thing was for sure, the Nashville club had the most eclectic selection of hats I've ever seen on a vintage base ball field.


Photo by Mark Granieri

One thing Flemington did perfectly throughout the festival was win the bat toss (4-0) so once again the opponents went first to the striker's line.  The visitors from Nashville promptly scored once and loaded the bases with one out, but a pitcher to home to first double play not only ended the threat, but H&H's scoring for the match.  In a contest limited to seven innings by time constraints, the Neshanock scored seven times, combining timely hitting with muffless defense to earn their first win of the festival, 7-1.  Once again Flemington's offense was led by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn with his second consecutive clear score.  "Sideshow" was joined in the clear score column by Jack "Doc" Kitson who had three hits in as many at bats.  Danny "Batman" Shaw pitched the full seven innings in stifling conditions while also fielding his position extremely well as did the rest of the Flemington defenders.


Photo by Mark Granieri

With their first match complete, the Neshanock literally went out in the "noon day sun," for their final game of the festival with the Brandywine Club of West Chester, Pennsylvania.  Surprisingly the two clubs had never met before, but the day ended with mutual commitment to change that in 2016.  Flemington got off to a 3-1 lead after three, but the game became a back and forth affair during the middle innings so that at the end of six the Neshanock led 7-6.  From that point, however, Flemington's defense tightened, shutting out the Pennsylvania club while adding two more tallies for a 9-6 win.  Pitching duties were shared by Chris "Low Ball" Lowry and "Batman," who closed out the match.  Offensive production came from some new sources as Joe "Mick" Murray earned a clear score while newcomers David Lowry and Gregg Wiseburn had two hits apiece as did Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner.  Once again the Neshanock defense was strong with only one muff.


Photo by Mark Granieri 

So Gettysburg 2015 ended for the Neshanock with a 2-2 record, the always enjoyable experience of playing some new clubs and the opportunity to spend time with familiar foes.  One of the many pluses of the event is having so many mid Atlantic clubs in the same place so that the weekend becomes something of a vintage base ball reunion.  Flemington's large player turnout (16 each day) is ample testimony of how much we enjoy the weekend.  Many thanks to the Elkton Base Ball Club for organizing this fine event and working so hard to accommodate so many teams and different points of view.  A final high point for me was when one of the younger members of the Neshanock said to me on Sunday that playing base ball in these conditions gave him a better appreciation of what the soldiers went through in 1863.  Another example of how recreating 19th century base ball can help us appreciate and understand history both on and off the field.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Base Ball in (New) Barbados

On Saturday, the Neshanock traveled to historic New Bridge Landing for the third annual day of vintage base ball sponsored by the Bergen County Historical Society.  For the second consecutive year, Flemington played two seven inning matches of 1864 base ball against our old friend Eric Miklich and his Brooklyn Eckford team.  At the time of the American Revolution, New Bridge Landing was a small mill community centered around a bridge across the Hackensack River.  The bridge played a crucial part in the events of late 1776 when on November 20th, the British invaded New Jersey driving before them George Washington and his rapidly shrinking Continental Army.  Timely use of the bridge enabled the Americans to stay ahead of their pursuers and begin the long tortuous retreat across New Jersey which finally ended with the attack on Hessian garrison at Trenton on Christmas night 1776.  The area around New Bridge Landing was built for many things, but base ball wasn't one of them - the space available is so limited that it could take a separate blog post to fully describe the ground rules.  It's perhaps reminiscent of the challenges the early Manhattan clubs faced in finding adequate space.  Challenges that made nearby Elysian Fields look so attractive.


Photo by Mark Granieri

Although a relatively new team, the Eckford and their irrepressible leader are very talented and easily dominated the first contest winning by a 21-2 count.  The combination of only six Neshanock hits and some untimely lapses in the field let the game get out of hand early and stay that way.  Flemington's scoring was summed up in Rene "Mango" Marerro's two run first inning home run.  Another bright spot was two hits by Neshanock newcomer, Greg "Muffin" Wiseburn.  After a brief respite, the two clubs went at it a second time in a much closer contest, but with the Eckford again coming out on top.  Flemington got off to a 3-1 lead in the first inning only to see the Eckford take a 7-3 lead after three innings.  The Neshanock kept Eric and his mates off the scoreboard for the rest of the game, but managed only two more tallies to lose a well played 7-5 match.  "Mango" and Dan "Sledge" Hammer each had two hits in the second game with "Hammer" contributing a double and a triple.


Photo by Mark Granieri

One unique moment in the second game came in the bottom of the third when the Eckford loaded the bases with only one out and Eric Miklich at the plate.  The leader of the Brooklyn club managed first to hit a foul grounder that led to a base runner being put out for trying to advance on a foul ball and then hit a bound out to right field.  In effect Eric hit into a double play but took two swings to do so, one of the most unusual methods of killing your own team's rally that has been seen in a long time.  There was also a moment in the first game when it appeared Eric was not only mistaken about a play, but even admitted his error, although some witnesses (read Eric) dispute that interpretation.  Any day of base ball with Eric Miklich is enjoyable and today was no exception.  Next weekend the Neshanock journey to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the annual vintage base ball festival featuring 18 teams from as far away as Tennessee, playing at a venue so large that five games are played simultaneously.  Historically it's been a great weekend and this should be  no exception.



Photo by Mark Granieri

Historic New Bridge Landing is located in River Edge next to Hackensack where the Zinn family lived for about 70 years from 1850 to at least 1920.  Visiting the area so soon after the arrival of Henry George Zinn on June 25th naturally brought back memories of those historic roots.  Historic enough that the Zinns lived in the area prior to the formation of Hackensack's first base ball club.  That honor appears to belong to the Ionic Club, organized in June of 1866.  It's somewhat surprising, at least to me, that Hackensack didn't have a club before then, but organized base ball seems to have been slow to reach Bergen County despite its proximity to Manhattan and what appears to be significant traffic between the two locales.  In any event, the Ionic patriotically played their first match on July 4, 1866 and received an ungentlemanly 54-5 drubbing (in just five innings) at the hands of the Everett Club.  The local paper tried to pour journalistic salve on the club's wounds by reporting the opponents were a picked nine from the Active and "one or two other city clubs."  Apparently unwilling to allow the new club to salvage even a modicum of respect, the secretary of the Everetts corrected the paper insisting their team was "without exception" made up of club members.


Eric Miklich ready for action or a verbal repartee
Photo by Mark Granieri

Apparently able to put that disaster behind them, the new Hackensack club got back on the field less than two weeks later defeating the Alpha Club of Coytesville (now a section of Fort Lee) by a basketball like score of 68-56 in a game that lasted five hours although there was an hour's rain delay.  Getting more than a little bit ahead of itself, the Bergen County Democrat claimed the victory showed "that all they [the Ionics] need is practice to make them the champions of the county."  Having thus tempted the base ball gods, it's no surprise that the Ionics immediately lost two straight games before hitting their stride in a home and home series against the Star Club of Cresskill.  Playing for a bat and ball, the Hackensack boys won both games, one by a margin of 30 runs and the other by an improbable 53 tallies, scoring 87 times in the process.  Not surprisingly the Ionics scored in every at bat including 15, 17, 18 and 20 run innings.  The scoring was surprisingly balanced up and down the lineup with six Ionics crossing the plate at least 10 times.



Bergen County Democrat - September 7, 1866

Attempts to identify Ionic Club members from the 1870 census, even with first initials, was the usual exercise in frustration, but three positive identifications of young men in their early 20's indicates this was not a junior club.  Interestingly all three were residents, not of Hackensack, but neighboring New Barbados.  From what I've read, New Barbados was originally a township formed in 1710 which covered a huge area of what is now Bergen County.  Gradually sections of the township became separate communities, what was left of New Barbados was absorbed into Hackensack in 1921.  A map from about the time the Ionics began play shows New Barbados as an area south of Hackensack.  Scrolling through the pages of the 1870 New Barbados census produced an added benefit as I also found John Zinn and his wife, Katherine, who immigrated from Germany in 1849.   The search engine had picked up the "Z" as a "G," explaining why prior searches had come up empty.


Centinel of Freedom - June 26, 1810, William Quick was Charles Ebbets great-grandfather

New Barbados always seemed a strange name for a place in northern New Jersey and the explanation opens the door to one of the more unsavory sides of New Jersey history which predictably isn't that well known.  According to James Gigantino, in his book, The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1776 to 1865, between 1660 and 1670, planters/farmers on the Caribbean Island of Barbados were effectively driven off the island by a sugar boom.  Some of them made their way to Bergen County where they found good farm land and a large market for their crops in New York City.  Looking to preserve some aspect of their former home, they called the new one New Barbados.  Unfortunately in addition to whatever farm implements they brought with them, the planters also brought their black slaves.



John G. Zinn is the second player from the left, in the second row - the thing on his right hand is a base ball glove

The popular image of slavery is, of course, large southern plantations with hundreds of slaves working the fields.  As Gigantino points out, Bergen County slave holders typically owned far fewer slaves who worked as farm laborers, artisans and other laboring jobs.  By 1790 there were almost 11500 slaves in New Jersey, more than all of New England combined and more proportionately to population than far more larger New York City.  Leading the way within the state was Bergen County with just over 2300 slaves in 1790 which grew to over 2800 a decade later, the last census before the state abolished the institution of slavery in 1804.   One Bergen County slave owner was Charles Ebbets maternal great grandfather, William Quick, who in 1810 offered to sell a 17 year old boy for $200 (about $4000 today). The reason Quick still owned a slave after the passage of the abolition bill is that the law freed only slaves born after July 4, 1804 and then only after 20-25 years of involuntary servitude to the mother's owner.  The process was so drawn out that the disposition of slaves (usually sold rather than freed) was part of estate settlements in Bergen County into the 1840's.


Henry G. Zinn 

When the Ionics took the field in 1866, however, no slave labor was available for Bergen County farms.  In 1870 both 44 year old John Zinn and his 20 year old son (also John) gave their occupations as farm laborers.  Perhaps the decreasing number of slaves in Bergen County in the 1830's and 1840's, made the area more attractive to immigrants especially those with an agrarian background.  At the same time, the elder Zinn reported on the 1870 census that he owned real estate worth $4000 (about $74000 today) and $1000 ($18000 today ) in personal property so they clearly were doing more than scraping out a subsistence existence.  Somehow, seeing their names on the 1870 census as farmer laborers, convinced me that no matter how many base ball clubs there were in Hackensack at the time, these two generations didn't play their new country's game, at least not formally.  But the family was there and the game was there so taking it up was probably only a question of time and my grandfather (and namesake) was a first baseman for the Borden's Milk company team while his son, Henry (young Henry's namesake) went on to be an all Bergen County outfielder in the 1930's.  The connections between our family and base ball remain strong and hopefully that will continue with this new generation of Zinns.