Friday, January 12, 2018

New Pitch - New Strategies

Earlier this month, John Thorn, Major League Baseball's official historian, used his always interesting and informative "Our Game" blog for a two part look at the part Princeton University base ball players might have played in the development of the curve ball (https://ourgame.mlblogs.com/l).  Both posts drew on Frank Presbrey and James Moffatt's 1901 book Athletics at Princeton, a source I've used extensively in my own research.  My introduction to 19th century base ball research was writing a series of essays on early New Jersey clubs for the book Baseball Founders including one on the Nassau Club of Princeton.  Presbrey and Moffatt's book was an oasis in a desert of limited historical information because the game accounts and box scores included first names making it far easier to research specific players, especially when the University archives maintains files on each alumnus.  More recently, I've had occasion to go back to Athletics at Princeton in preparation for the upcoming exhibition on early New Jersey base ball at the Morven Museum, located in, of all places, Princeton.  The story laid out so comprehensively in John's blog will be part of the exhibit, but in this post I want to explore another aspect of the curve ball's impact on base ball.



Although there were contemporary claims Princeton pitchers Fred Henry and Ed Davis threw curve balls in the 1860's, rules restrictions prior to 1872 reduce the significance of whatever type of deceptive pitch they may have used. By the time Joseph Mann, Class of 1876 arrived on campus, however, throwing a curve was permissible, assuming, of course, the pitcher knew how to throw it.  That was no small issue at a time when there were few, if any, players with prior experience who could help a newcomer master the pitch.   In a June 10, 1900 letter to the New York Times and in Athletics at Princeton, Mann claimed he accidentally discovered how to throw a curve ball in the fall of 1874 during a game between teams made up of students aligned with the Democratic and Republican parties.  Suffering from a sore finger, Mann changed his grip on the ball and to his surprise started throwing pitches that curved as they approached the plate.  Note that the Princeton pitcher didn't claim he discovered the curve ball, but much more modestly, although still importantly, how to throw it.



James McCosh - president of Princeton 1868-1888

Throughout the winter of 1874-75 Mann spent a great deal of time in the college gym practicing and refining his new pitch.  The gym, it should be noted, was relatively new because Princeton president James McCosh used his October 27, 1868 inaugural address to solicit funding for it which was quickly forthcoming showing that even then Princeton didn't lack for financial resources. While building a new gym may not seem significant, two other New Jersey colleges, Rutgers and Seton Hall (much, much smaller schools in the 1870's) didn't even have dormitories much less gyms.  Mann's use of the winter to develop his new pitch is not unlike a basketball player who uses the off season to develop a new move or perhaps how to use his off hand.  While this may not have been the first time this kind of off season player development took place in base ball, it's an early example of deciding to use the winter months to improve and then actually doing it. After a winter of practice, Mann got the opportunity to test his new pitch in an early season game against Harvard. Interestingly both Mann's 1900 letter and the 1901 book draw on an account of that game written by James Tyng of the Harvard team. According to Mann's letter, Tyng described the game in a Harper's Weekly article that appeared "a few years ago," dating so vague that attempts to find the original have thus far been in vain.


James Tyng

Tyng, who later became a very successful golfer, was a good enough base ball player to be the first Harvard graduate to play in the major leagues, enjoying the 19th century equivalent of "a cup of coffee" with Boston and Philadelphia in the National League.  While Tyng went straight from Harvard to the majors, he didn't lack for experience since he played base ball at Harvard for seven years. Obviously eligibility rules were looser in those days.  Ultimately Princeton took exception to Tyng and some other Harvard post graduates' continued appearances in the lineup, conveniently forgetting that Lewis Mudge, the father of base ball at Princeton, played for the Nassau Club after he had moved on to Princeton Seminary.  The dispute eventually led to the formation of the American College Base Ball Association, a league which included four other future Ivy League Schools plus Amherst with stricter eligibility rules.  Tyng has his own place in base ball history as the first player to wear a catcher's mask in an 1876 game against the Live Oaks of Lynn, Massachusetts.




According to Tyng's account, when the two schools met at Princeton on May 15, 1875, eight of the first nine Harvard batters struck out and Princeton led 7-2 heading to the bottom of the sixth inning.  At that point a Crimson player standing behind the catcher noticed the pitches were curving away from the batter which led to a "general exodus" for a better view of this "unheard of phenomenon."  Tyng went on to mention something else, which unsurprisingly didn't appear in Mann's letter, not only was the Princeton pitcher, throwing curves, it was the only pitch he was throwing.  Analyzing the situation (they were Harvard men after all), the visitors switched to the "longest bats we could find" and then laid off what appeared to be good pitches swinging only at those that seemed be coming right at them.  Whether solely due to the new strategy or for other reasons, Harvard scored three times in the sixth and twice in the seventh and the game was tied going to the ninth when the Crimson scored two runs "to pull the game out of the fire" for a hard earned 9-7 win.  Small wonder the Harvard Crimson of May 21, 1875 claimed "it is not too much to say that they [the Harvard team] have never earned so credible a victory" because of the Princeton pitcher's delivery that "suddenly swerves from its course" proved "a very trying one to strike."


Mann's diagram of how his curve ball worked which appeared both in his June 10, 1900 letter to the New York Times and Athletics at Princeton 

The introduction and development of the curve ball is, of course, a watershed moment in base ball history so that stories like those of Mann and his experiences with the new pitch are important in their own right.  What especially interests me here, however, are the strategic adjustments.  First, we have Mann, after having spent all winter practicing his new pitch, use his new weapon to dominate the Harvard strikers.  Mann's performance is such the Harvard players watched closely, analyzed what was going on and developed a new approach in terms of which pitches to take and which ones to swing at.  It's easy to think Mann foolish for throwing only curves, but it's not unlike something more common in football where, for example, a team finding the opposition can't stop the run, stay with it until, and if, they do.  The Harvard players, of course, get full credit, not just for figuring out what was going on, but especially for coming up with a new strategy during the game.  Mann's failure was not in exclusively throwing curves at the beginning, but in not making a counter adjustment to Harvard's adjustment.  All he had to do was throw a few straight balls over the plate to make the Harvard men either reconsider their strategy or strike out in the process.  While the Harvard players had success with their new strategy, it was still a very close game and a slight adjustment on Mann's part might have saved the game for Princeton.


1875 Princeton Team - Mann is seated on the left 

Claiming any base ball first is a dangerous proposition, but it's not excessive to say that this May 1875 game is an early example of in game hitting and pitching adjustments at least at the college level.  Adjustments required because of the introduction of  a pitch which Peter Morris believes changed "the competitive balance of baseball." All the accounts including the contemporary report from the Harvard Crimson agree the curve ball was new to these college players - a strategic weapon demanding adjustments and counter adjustments.  Base ball historian, Richard Hershberger believes colleges were late in coming to the curve so that the pitch's introduction (and corresponding adjustments) came earlier for professional and amateur clubs.  Even so, the experience of the Harvard - Princeton game suggests how the process might have worked at those levels regardless of when it actually took place.  And story of the curve ball is a powerful illustration of base ball's evolutionary nature, a process that continues to the present day.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Do Base Ball Players Ever Go to Heaven?

 Readers of the August 28, 1873 edition of the Paterson Daily Guardian must have been a more than a little taken aback when they saw the headline "Is it possible for the member of a base ball nine to inherit the kingdom of heaven?"  The not entirely rhetorical question was raised in the wake of the Reverend S. Miller Hageman's appearance at the Auburn Street Congregational Church's weekly prayer meeting.  The 25 year old grandson of Samuel Miller, one of the founders of Princeton Theological Seminary, chose the occasion to respond to charges of conduct unbecoming a minister including "that he played base ball."  While Hageman said he would have stopped if told, "it was undignified or unbecoming to a minister of the Gospel" to play base ball, he made no apologies, claiming he done nothing on the ball field "of which he was ashamed."  The young pastor went on to defend himself against other charges including incurring debts he hadn't paid which turned out to be the real issue.  Hageman ended his response by announcing his resignation from the pulpit, but demanded a council of clergy investigate the charges so he could clear his name.



Parable of the 10 Virgins by William Blake 

Although the hearing before the clergy group focused on the debt issue, including bouncing checks at Paterson banks, base ball was still on the agenda.  Clearly not tired of the base ball theme, the Guardian headlined its account by proclaiming Hageman "put out at third base, and now in the field."  The paper claimed the discussion was so intense the body moved behind closed doors for "lively arguments" focused "on the ethics and morality of ball playing."  It's not clear how the Guardian knew what was going on in a closed session, but the paper reported the problem was not Hageman's ball playing, but the "odium brought upon the church by the report their pastor had swore a swear while playing ball."  The very idea!  Even if this vicious rumor was true, Hageman was not without his defenders, one of whom complained that those taking exception didn't explain "how a man was going to avoid swearing when his knuckle was knocked out of joint by a hot ball from the bat." It's a sentiment many vintage base ball players can identify with.  In the end, the council took no action which was probably fortunate for the young former pastor who skipped town, taking with him his library even though the books had been attached for payments of his debts.


Mike "King" Kelly

While it's doubtful most people in Paterson in 1873 found base ball morally objectionable, the game's popularity had clearly waned from where it stood in the years immediately after the Civil War.  In 1869, the Paterson Daily Press claimed all the focus on base ball was hurting business and whether for that or other reasons, the Olympic Club, the city's leading team stopped playing and organized play seems to have dropped off dramatically.  A year after the Hageman controversy, however, the Olympic Club was resurrected, sparking renewed interest in base ball that never abated.   From 1874 to 1876 four future major league players, Edward "The Only" Nolan, William "Blondie" Purcell, Jim McCormick and Hall of Famer, Mike "King" Kelly played for the Olympics, a first step on their way to fame and glory.  Not only were the four good ball players, they were more than a little rambunctious or in more genteel terms "colorful."  While Hageman was gone by then, had he been on the same nine with that group of ball players, church leaders would not have been pleased to see their pastor cavorting with them, especially if it extended to off the field activities.


Samuel Miller - Hageman's grandfather

There's no disputing Kelly was the best player of the four, but considering Nolan's nickname, there's room for debate about who was the most colorful.  But let's stick with Kelly, for those who need it, information about his career on and off the field can be found in Marty Appel's biography or more briefly at https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/ffc40dac.  Like the future Hall of Fame player, Rev. Hageman was no slacker when it came to being colorful. In fact, it could be argued he was the "King" Kelly of Brooklyn clergy where he spent the rest of his ministry after leaving Paterson.  Like Kelly, Hageman was very talented, so talented, he excelled not just at preaching where he could hold an audience's attention for inordinate amounts of time, but also as a poet and a musician.  While some of Hageman's literary work were more than a little out of the ordinary, his poem, "Liberty," written for the dedication of the Statue of Liberty was praised by John Greenleaf Whittier, no mean poet himself.


A sample of Hageman's poetry - Brooklyn Daily Eagle - June 19, 1905

Talented as he was, however, Hageman, like Kelly, also had a special gift for getting intp trouble.  Hageman left the Presbyterian church because he was unwilling to accept  the doctrine of pre-destination and then went on to successfully start a number of  non-denominational congregations in Brooklyn only to see them blow up in his face.  Just one example was the Miller Memorial Church which Hageman founded in 1883, literally helping to build the church building itself. Two years later, however, when the congregation sought denominational membership within the structure of the Congregational Church, the church body accepted the congregation, but not Hageman for reasons that weren't disclosed publicly but seemed to relate to one of his literary works, "Alone."  Based on the below summary the decision isn't very surprising.  At least in this case, Hageman, unlike future endeavors, wasn't at war with his congregation, the most dramatic being an 1894 incident where only a police presence prevented a riot.



Brooklyn Daily Eagle - October 9, 1887

 Unfortunately I haven't found a picture of Rev. Hageman, but over the years, the Eagle painted a pretty vivid word picture. Only a year after leaving Paterson, the paper said Hageman "looks very much like an actor," probably not a compliment for a minister,  with "long flowing dark hair" and "a brilliantly flashing black eye."  Thirteen years later in 1887, he now had two "glittering black eyes," between "intensely black hair" and an equally "intense" mustache.  Perhaps explaining Hageman's penchant for controversy, the paper claimed Hageman "looks upon critics as a deadly enemy."  With regard to the minister's literary ambitions, the Eagle felt that "something has put it in his head he is the successor of Edward Allan Poe" and was trying to outdo "that weird genius in the presentation of literary grotesqueness."   Hageman made his final effort at ecclesiastical empire building in May of 1897 when he had female members of his congregation act out the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) to encourage the governing body to think of him as their Messiah or at least  worthy of "some salary."  No record of such payment survives and Hageman died in 1905 eulogized by the Eagle as a talented jack of all trades, who spread himself too thin to be effective at one  One thing is for sure, in the 19th century, base ball wasn't the only profession with its share of eccentric characters.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A National Game?

Can a sport be national when it's only played regionally?  The New York Clipper obviously thought so in 1856 when it claimed base ball was the national game, even though, as Bruce Allardice points out in Baseball: A Journal of the Early Game (2016), it was played in just four states.  In his study of the spread of the early game, Bruce demonstrates that base ball could only be considered national in the sense of  being "invented in America," not as a game "played throughout the nation."  Sadly, for those who care about such things, we now know that baseball wasn't invented in the United States, ruling out that possibility.  In a country, however, founded on the premise of equal opportunity, base ball might have been national, if it was a game consistent with American values, a game everyone could play. Research for the 2018 Morven exhibit on early New Jersey base ball led me to one New Jersey community where shortly after the Civil War it seemed everyone was on the ball field.  And to my surprise, the community was not in north Jersey where base ball first took hold, but Bordentown in south Jersey, where the organized game didn't get started until the mid 1860's.



Described by the local historical society as "a square mile enclave tucked on to the bluffs of the Delaware River," Bordentown was an early transportation hub due to its favorable location roughly halfway between Philadelphia and New York City.  The riverfront community was also home to prominent Americans like Clara Barton, Thomas Paine and Francis Hopkinson, a New Jersey signer of the Declaration of Independence.  For Bordentown, like anyplace else, the first step in becoming a base ball playing community was having a local team and the Columbia Club was organized about 1865.  A year later, the Columbians hosted the Athletic Club of Philadelphia, one of the country's top teams for two match games.  Although busy competing for the 1866 championship, the Athletics also found time to help local teams develop by visiting their home community for a game. Such contests were typically no contest, just one example is a 92-2 trouncing of the Alert Club of  Danville, Pennsylvania. As a vintage base ball score keeper, I'm profoundly grateful not to have been part of that game.  Although the Columbia club also lost badly to the Athletics in the first game, 65-6, the Bordentown boys weren't easily intimidated so they asked for, and were granted, a return match.  In the second contest, the Columbia Club scored 26 runs, more than any of their peers managed against the Athletics, but far short of the powerful Philadelphia team's 63 tallies.


The Sketch - July 22, 1896

Having a base ball club in 1866 was hardly unique, but organized base ball in Bordentown took other forms as well  A year later, the Newark Daily Advertiser told of a "considerable rivalry" between two local women's teams, the Bellevue and Galaxy ("accent on the Gal,") clubs.  Although the paper hoped to provide further reports, in typically maddening fashion for the modern researcher, no further contemporary mention of the teams has been found.  For once, however, it doesn't end there because more than 30 years later, one of the participants told her own story.  In Autobiography of a Tomboy, published in 1901, Jeannette Gilder described in some detail her base ball playing days in Bordentown.  Not only did she play, Gilder was a team captain and claimed it was not unusual for her to hit a home run every time at bat, bragging that was not just unmanly, but simultaneously unladylike, no mean feat.  Gilder claimed her sole regret was she didn't have a crooked finger to prove that like the boys she caught the ball without a glove.  Like any account written so many years later, the details of the story have to be taken with some degree of skepticism.  But Gilder cleared up one point - why a Newark paper devoted space to women's games in south Jersey.  Jeanette Gilder's elder brother, Richard Watson Gilder, the founder of The Century magazine and a distinguished poet, was a reporter for the Newark Daily Advertiser in 1867.




Charles Biddle Hopkinson 

Regardless of whether or not the two women's clubs played as extensively as Gilder claimed, they were still unique for the time.  But base ball in Bordentown had an even broader reach, perhaps best illustrated by a game played on Thanksgiving Day of 1866 on the Columbia Club's grounds.  Unfortunately, the contemporary Bordentown newspapers don't survive, but the game was such a "big" deal, in more ways than one, it attracted detailed coverage by the Daily True American of Trenton and The Mirror of nearby Mount Holly.  Labeled as "about as big a thing as we have had in New Jersey for many a day," the match was between teams chosen from the fat and lean men of Bordentown.  According to the True American , the game drew a crowd of at least 1200 since "gate receipts" of $112 were collected at the rate of 10 cents a head which the paper stressed was the minimum attendance since the ground was not enclosed and "hundreds could see without paying."  The festive atmosphere was further enhanced by a band of roughly 30 "musicians" about  one-half of whom had violins "of which they had very little knowledge."  So varied were the other instruments The Mirror claimed they ranged from "a Jews harp to a bass drum with the head stove in," all of which produced music, or more accurately noise, that "belched forth in operatic grandeur" especially whenever a run was tallied.


The Mirror - December 13,1866

Needless to say the "laughter was immense" or at least as large as the eleven heavyweights, all over 200 pounds, led or topped off by Joseph Regan at 268 with William Darby at 265 not far behind.  Supposedly all the players weighed in before the game and the papers thoughtfully provided the tonnage along with first names or initials facilitating the identification of some participants.  A number on the rotund side had no problem affording food and drink such as 236 pound tinsmith George Thompson who had an 1870 net worth of $50,000 while Levi Davis, the proprietor of the Bordentown House, weighing in at 252 pounds had assets of $38,000.  Whatever accounted for the slimness of the 12 man lightweight team (ranging from 98 to 145 pounds), it wasn't because they couldn't afford to buy food.  Especially well off was 128 pound David Carslake, a merchant with an 1870 net worth of almost $100,000.  Nor did the participants lack social prominence, particularly 108 pound Charles B. Hopkinson, the great grandson of  the aforementioned Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Sadly, as we shall see there was a reason, the 28 year old Civil War veteran was so thin.


 The Mirror - December 13, 1866

The game itself was remarkably close with the heavyweight side coming from behind to score seven times in the ninth inning and then holding on for a 24-18 victory.  The portly ones may not have been that tired because the organizers thoughtfully provided not only "sponges, pails of water, brushes and blankets," but chairs at each base, not to mention wheelbarrows to help them "run" the bases.  Manfully, however, the stout side "scorned their use."  The festivities continued after the last out with the presentation of a series of prizes, all of the gag nature such as a coral necklace which was in actuality a "rusty dog chain."  A number of the awards were further ridiculed as being from New Brunswick, part of some inter-city rivalry that has been lost to history which is probably just as well.  All the gate proceeds went to the Columbia Club which must have kept them in bats and balls for some time to come.


Daily True American - December 1, 1866

While making fun of the overweight is insensitive, especially by modern standards, games like this proved men across the full range of physical condition could both play base ball and have fun doing so.  This may have been doubly important for this group because considering their ages, its unlikely they played organized base ball in their youth.   Charles Hopkinson's story is particularly noteworthy.  The young man reportedly had a frail constitution, but when his country needed him, he served as a captain in the 9th New Jersey regiment.  While in the swamps of North Carolina, Hopkinson contracted typhoid fever that forced him to leave the army.  Supposedly he never fully recovered and died just four years after the Thanksgiving game at the age of 32.  But not before enjoying at least one day of fun and even glory on the base ball field, earning a clear score, the only one on his team to do so.  Hopefully he treasured his experience of playing in a truly American game for the rest of his brief life.




Monday, November 6, 2017

"It Might Have Been"

One of the many New Jersey base ball stories to be found in the upcoming Morven exhibit is how, beginning in 1865, three teams from the state tried unsuccessfully, to earn a position among the leading clubs of the day.  Each of the teams, the Eureka Club of Newark, the Irvington Club and the Elizabeth Resolutes have different stories, but were unsuccessful for basically the same reason.  Founded in 1860, the Eureka Club was made up of well to do young men from some of Newark's first families.  Edward Pennington, for example, the club's first president and regular second base man, was the son of one New Jersey governor and the grandson of another.  However, the Newark players weren't just socially prominent, they could also play the game.  In 1865, the Eureka twice came within one heart breaking run of defeating the champion Atlantic Club and then a year later, thrashed the Brooklyn team 36-10, one of the worst defeats in that storied team's history.  But no matter how bright the Eureka's future might have appeared after that historic victory, by the end of the 1868 season, the Eureka were no more.  The club folded primarily because their best players could no longer give enough time to base ball and the club couldn't or wouldn't pay the new breed of professionals to take their place.


No one could have mistaken the working class Irvington Club for the Eureka, but the upstart team from the outskirts of Newark certainly didn't lack for talent.  As is well known in 19th century base ball circles, in June of 1866, the self-described "country club," upset the Atlantics and came very close to knocking the Brooklyn club out of the championship race at the very end of that chaotic season.  So talented was the Irvington team, two members, Andy Leonard and Charles Sweasy went on to successful professional careers including playing for the legendary 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.  The Irvington Club's problem was they couldn't afford to keep their top players and weren't able to sustain their early success.  Eventually the team's best remaining players moved to the Elizabeth Resolutes and were part of the Union County club's ill-advised attempt to compete in the National Association in 1873.  Since the Resolutes were a cooperative club, the players' salaries were dependent on gate receipts, if any, which meant the club couldn't compete with other Association teams for the best players.  Ultimately, all three clubs were unsuccessful largely because they lacked what today are euphemistically called financial resources, but in plain English means money or the lack thereof.



Were the three failures to put a club at the top, inevitable or could a different approach have produced a different result?  Could a New Jersey team have made it to the heights of the base ball world and stayed there?  In 1867, there was a chance to create a very talented club with plenty of money behind it,  and then, who knows?  Unfortunately, however, when the opportunity first presented itself, the Eureka and Irvington Clubs were too strong, or thought themselves too strong, to believe they needed each other.  Neither club could be blamed for being optimistic going into the 1867 season. Irvington had shocked the base ball world in 1866 and with a year of experience play at the highest level under their collective belts, they had every reason to believe their success would continue.   And the Eureka's 1866 performance also gave them plenty of reason to be optimistic about their future.



Before the season was very far along, however, the Newark Daily Journal caused "no little excitement" by reporting talk that Andy Leonard and Lipman Pike (a great 19th century player who played briefly with Irvington) were about to defect to the Eureka Club.  The rumors had been denied, but the paper went on to a far more important bit of speculation with possible historic implications.  According to the Journal, discussions were underway to combine the two clubs or, rather absorb the Irvington players on to the Eureka team. Perhaps a tad optimistically, the paper said the new club "would render it almost certain for New Jersey to carry off the championship of the United States."  Rose colored glasses indeed, but the combined roster would have included three future major leaguers (Sweasy, Leonard and Everett Mills) plus some other fine players.  In addition, the Eureka had far better and more accessible grounds and were highly regarded by the media and the base ball world.  Obviously, nothing came of it and it's impossible to know how serious the discussions were.  The sharp disparity in the social backgrounds of the two clubs alone might have made the possibility unworkable.


Charles Sweasy

Even if, however, the two clubs formed one "dream" team, there was still the risk those players would be lured away for higher salaries, but ironically that same season, a possible solution to that problem arose.  Earlier in 1867, the New Jersey State Legislature granted the Eureka permission to incorporate as a stock company, that is, they were authorized to sell stock to investors.  Interestingly, the authorization was for $50,000 worth of stock (about $1.5 million today), an incredibly high amount even by contemporary standards considering that in 1883, the team that would become the Brooklyn Dodgers had initial capitalization of only $2,000.  Little else was reported publicly about the stock sales until August, when the Eureka hosted the Charter Oak Club of Connecticut for a match, followed by a tour of the city and a gala dinner.  A day or so later, the Newark Evening Courier, in what was basically an editorial, said the Eureka would like to host other clubs in a similar manner, but didn't have enough money because they lacked an enclosed ground where they could charge admission.  The paper then emphasized how much free advertising the club provided for Newark businesses which alone should have been sufficient motivation for local business men to buy some of the stock.


Everett Mills 

Doubtless the Eureka needed money, but it wasn't for gala dinners, rather, it was to pay players which was against National Association of Base Ball Player rules and certainly wasn't going to be publicly mentioned by the paper.  To take irony to another level, the Eureka didn't even have to look far to find investors with big bank accounts.  Charles Thomas, the club's highly regarded shortstop had an 1870 net worth of $30,000 ($900,000 today) while Stephen Plum's father's total assets that same year were $160,000 ($4.8 million today).  They and others could have purchased a few shares and perhaps they did.  It either wasn't enough or the Eureka decided paying professionals wasn't their style, something they later admitted they had done in 1867 and were unwilling to continue.  But had both the players and the money been forthcoming, would it have made a difference?  The best answer is probably not.  New Jersey was then and remains today so oriented towards two major league cities, it's unlikely a top level club in Newark could have been sustained over the long term.  But it would have been fun to have tested the possibility.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Not Quite There

On Sunday, October 15, the Neshanock closed out the 2017 base ball campaign with a visit to Fort DuPont State Park in Delaware for matches with the host Diamond State Club of Delaware and the Mohican Base Ball Club of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.  First up was a match with the Diamond State Club which saw Flemington get off to a 3-1 lead in the first inning, but the Delaware team quickly matched that and led 6-3 after three innings.  Both teams added three runs so that after five innings Diamond State led 9-6 in what was still a close contest.  However, in the top of the sixth, Diamond State's strikers came through with some clutch two out hits driving in three runs for what proved to be an insurmountable 12-6 lead.  The final score was 15-9 with Flemington's offense led by Dan "Lefty" Gallagher with three hits and the Neshanock's father and son act, Chris "Sideshow" Nunn and his father, "Jersey" Jim Nunn chipping in two apiece.  Rene "Mango" Marrero also contributed two hits for Flemington including a double with the bases loaded.


After a brief respite, the second contest against the Kennett Square squad got underway.  Once again, the Neshanock had a productive first inning, tallying twice, but that was the extent of Flemington's offense for the seven inning match.  This was the first time, I've seen the Mohican Club and they combined well placed, strategic hitting with sound defense and pitching.  Not only were the Neshanock limited to two runs, but Flemington's bats only produced five hits, two coming from "Lefty."  With the two losses, the Neshanock record fell to 29-13 for the season, coming up just short of an unprecedented 30 wins.  Still the 2017 team set a new club record for wins, four more than the 2016 squad with a .690 winning percentage compared to .658 a year ago.  All told a very successful year highlighted by wins over the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn, the Talboy Fairplays and the Walker Tavern Wheels plus the retention once again of the New York - New Jersey cup.


Expressions of thanks have to begin with a tip of the hat to club founder and president, Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw for everything he does to put together a schedule approaching 50 games and making all the necessary arrangements.  A major reason for the improved records of the past two years has been an influx of new blood, especially younger talent.   The Neshanock roster now ranges from high school students to those around the scriptural three score ten.  Thanks to everyone who played regardless of whether it was one match or 42. Although he's not on the roster, thanks are also due to Sam Bernstein who umpires many of the Neshanock's matches, it's a pleasure to work with Sam.  As always, it's essential to thank the spouses, partners and significant others who support the team in so many ways.  In addition the off the field supporters has been expanded to include parents who drive their teenage sons all over the East Coast as well as some of the players' young children who bring a new and enjoyable presence to the season.  Thanks to all.



With the end of the 2017 season, A Manly Pastime reverts to its off season schedule with a goal of posting something every two weeks.  I say goal because as with last year, there may be a need for some type of sabbatical between now and next season.  When I took a sabbatical last year to finish my biography of Charles Ebbets, scheduled to be published in early 2018, I thought there would be no need for further breaks from blogging.  However, even before I finished the Ebbets biography, I fell into the opportunity to write a book about early New Jersey base ball which will be the companion to the exhibit scheduled to open in June of 2018 at the Morven Museum in Princeton.  I'm not sure if a sabbatical will be necessary this time especially since I'd like to use the blog to preview some parts of the book and the exhibit so we'll see.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Almost There, but a Long Way to Go


On Sunday, the first day of October, nine Neshanock players, one slightly disabled club president, a rapidly aging score keeper and the always supportive group of spouses, parents, significant others and children traveled to Garret Mountain Reservation in Woodland Park as the club continues its pursuit of an unprecedented 30 win season.  The opposition was provided by a Picked Nine, consisting primarily of Gothams with a Hoboken, a Resolute and assorted muffins mixed in for good measure.  Last week in Monroe Township, the second was the big inning for the Neshanock, but this time it was the third when Flemington tallied ten times for the most part with two out.  The Neshanock lead expanded to 16-3 at one point, but the Picked Nine scored five in the sixth and four in the seventh in a seven inning game as Flemington held on for a 17-12 win.  Three innings of the second game was played before the depleted ranks of the Picked Nine made it impossible to continue, the Nine were ahead at the time, but three innings did not qualify for an official game.


In the first game, the Flemington offense was led by Dan "Lefty" Gallagher, Dave "Illinois" Harris and Jeff "Duke" Schneider with four hits apiece.  "Illinois" and "Duke" would have earned clear scores but for being put out on the bases.  Danny "Lunch Time" Shaw and Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner added three hits each and everyone in the Neshanock line up had at least one hit.  The defensive play of the game came in the top of the first when a runner from the Picked Nine tried to score on what would have been a sacrifice fly only to be cut down by a remarkable throw from "Lefty" which even more remarkably, Ken "Tumbles" Mandel snagged on the fly.  The victory left Flemington's record at 29-11 for the season, but more importantly still one victory shy of the coveted 30 win mark.  The Neshanock's final chance at reaching the big 30, will take place on Sunday, October 15th at Fort Dupont Delaware when Flemington will play two of the following fine clubs - the Diamond State of Delaware, Lewes, Delaware and Kennett Square.  No matter the opposition, it will be a big challenge. Stay tuned or better still join the Neshanock as we bring down the curtain on the 2017 season.


As part of working on the book about early New Jersey base ball which will accompany the 2018 exhibit at the Morven Museum in Princeton, I've been going through multiple years of articles in the sporting papers of the day.  Recently I found the below article in the September 30, 1876 issue of the New York Clipper describing an unusual game where the New Haven nine played two other nines, the Star and Gerard Clubs simultaneously.  In other words, the combined team batted 18 players and also had the same number in the field.  A quick search didn't provide any further information about this game, but batting more than nine is similar to vintage base ball where in respect for those who give their time everyone gets to hit.  It doesn't usually reach 18, but I can remember at least one occasion when the Neshanock had a line up of that number which needless to say didn't work very well as the best hitters get less chances at the striker's line.  That may explain the Star and Gerard Club's limited offensive output of three tallies, but it's hard to understand how New Haven managed to get nine runs even with restricted roles for the multiple fielders.  Maybe the fielders got in each others way!



New York Clipper - September 30, 1876