Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Base Ball and Hot Dogs - Together at Coney Island

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

MCU Park

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

The Neshanock survey the field

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

Nathan’s celebrates 100 years

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

Rene “Mango” Marrero and Gregg “Burner” Wiseburn

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

“Brooklyn” versus Brooklyn where else but in Brooklyn

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

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

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Character and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York World - December 19, 1876

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

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

Duluth News-Tribune - September 24, 1903

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Pictures on the Wall - Gettysburg 2016

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

Schroeder Farm early Saturday morning 

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

Photo by Mark Granieri

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

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

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

Photo by Stormy Banschbach

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

Photo by Mark Granieri

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

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

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

Candlelight Service at Christ Lutheran Church Gettysburg

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

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

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

Alonzo Cushing

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

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

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

Saturday, July 9, 2016

In the Footsteps of the Knickerbockers

After a well deserved break last weekend, the Neshanock returned to action on Saturday with their fourth annual visit to historic New Bridge Landing  in River Edge, New Jersey for an event sponsored by the Bergen County Historical Society.  For the third consecutive year, Flemington hosted the Eckford Club of Brooklyn, another of the country's best vintage clubs led by the inimitable (thankfully) Eric "Express" Micklich.  Although the visitors got off to an early 2-0 lead in the first of two seven inning matches, the Neshanock rallied for three tallies in both the second and third innings for what proved to be a short lived 6-3 lead after three.  The two clubs went back and forth over the next two innings with Flemington leading 7-6 headed to the sixth when the Eckford erupted for six tallies and then added four in the seventh for a 16-9 victory.  The Neshanock were led on offense by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner who had three hits and Dave "Illinois" Harris, Danny "Batman" Shaw, Rene "Mango" Marrero and Dan "Sledge" Hammer with two apiece. 

Photo by Hal Shaw

 Having come from behind to win the first match, the Eckford showed no inclination to repeat the experience getting off to a 6-1 lead in the first two innings of the second contest and while the Neshanock fought back it was not enough with the visitors winning the second contest 10-6.  "Thumbs" added two hits in the second game which were matched by Scott "Snuffy" Hengst and Bobby "Melky" Ritter.  The Eckford hit well and ran the bases aggressively, but like any good vintage team, their defense is worthy of special note as they made only two muffs in the first contest and none in the second.  Flemington would like to thank Charles "Bugs" Klansman and Joe "Sleepy" Soria of the Gotham Club who joined the Neshanock side for the day.  With the two losses, Flemington is now 12-5 on the season, headed into next week's festival in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, one of the premier vintage base ball events in the county. 

The railroad and eventually base ball come to Englewood and Bergen County - Book of Englewood

In one of those obscure, but interesting quirks of history, Flemington's trip to Bergen County was only a few days shy of the 150th anniversary of a similar visit by one of base ball's most historically important clubs, the pioneering Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York City.  On July 14, 1866, the New York club visited nearby Englewood where it soundly defeated the Palisade Club of that village by a score of 39-17.  Nor was that the Knickerbocker's sole 1866 visit to Bergen County as the two clubs played a three game series, with the final and deciding game also played in Englewood, this time a 42-27 victory for the local team in an modern like, two hours and thirty-five minutes.  Having led the way in popularizing and formalizing the New York game, by 1866 the Knickerbockers were playing fewer match games, something that was never one of their highest priorities.  Why then did the Knickerbockers make, not one, but two trips to Englewood to play a local club that was hardly one of New Jersey's most prominent teams?  That question was posed a few months ago by Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw, founder of the Neshanock and new president of the Vintage Base Ball Association (don't forget it for a moment).

Record of the Knickerbocker - Palisade Matches from Peverelly's Book of American Pastimes

The Palisade Club of Englewood, sometimes confused with an earlier team of the same name in West Hoboken (Union City), was formed in August of 1860, according to an article in the September 8th issue of the New York Clipper.  While the article calls the team the Englewood Club, the player names are the same as the Palisade Club of the post war years and its seems pretty clear this is the same team.  Somewhat surprising was the amount of newspaper space devoted to the founding of just this one club, but the reason became clear when the writer, almost certainly Henry Chadwick, noted the team was only the second "especially formed to play the 'fly game.'"  While claiming it was not necessary to repeat the paper's position on the issue, Chadwick did just that, asserting that "we look upon 'the fly' as the only true standard of the game - and the one to which it will ultimately come."  As with many antebellum clubs, and the Palisade Club just makes it into that category, the new team didn't get on the field much during the war years, apparently playing its first full schedule in 1866, the year it took on the Knickerbockers.

Manning and Houmans (sic) play for the Knickerbockers - New York Clipper, October 25, 1865

All of this was interesting, but shed no light on why the young men from Bergen County rated three matches against one of the games most prominent, if not competitive clubs.  Much work has been done on the Knickerbockers, led by John Thorn, Official Historian of MLB, including a valuable essay in Baseball Founders which features the biographies of well over 100 club members.  A few years ago, trying to understand how the New York game moved into New Jersey,  I looked through these biographies, searching for members with New Jersey connections and found quite a few.  That seemed like a good place to look for overlap between the two clubs which might at least partially explain how the series of matches got started and that premise proved correct, but not in the most productive way possible.  In addition to the 100 plus Knickerbockers with biographies, was a list of about 20 names, club members who had not been identified.  One name on that list, Homans,matched the name of a founding director of the Palisade Club who also played for the team in 1866, including, presumably, the Knickerbocker games, to date, no box scores have been found for those matches.

The discovery led to a quick e-mail to Peter Morris, one of those who worked on the Knickerbocker biographies who told me that a player by that name was listed in Marshall Wright's always valuable, The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870 as having played three games for the Knickerbockers in 1865.  All too frequently finding just a last name leads nowhere, but happily this was not one of those cases as the Homans family played an important part in the settlement of Englewood in the years just before the Civil War.  Homan's father, Isaac and his eldest son, with the same name, were the publishers of Bankers Magazine and the family moved to Englewood not long after the opening of a railroad connection between Jersey City and the new Bergen County community in May of 1859.  Apparently the relatively convenient railroad - ferry connection between Englewood and lower Manhattan facilitated the move of people from Manhattan and Brooklyn to this new suburb, bringing among other things some young men interested in and knowledgeable about base ball.

Three trains per day between New York City and Englewood - Book of Englewood

The two elder Homans were apparently too busy with their magazine and real estate development in Englewood to get involved in base ball so that fell to Edward 17 in 1860, working as a clerk, most likely on Wall Street and, as noted, a founding director of Englewood's base ball team.  Homans' base ball career had a hiatus after 1860 when he spent the war years as a member of the 22nd New York regiment.  Interestingly a number of the young soldier and ball player's letters to his future wife survive in the collections of the New York Public Library.  While I haven't yet had a chance to look at them, according to the finding aid, had more modern rules been in effect, Homans could have been one of the first players banned for drugs as he apparently experimented with marijuana and hashish.  However much dabbling Homans did in drugs, it apparently didn't have any lasting effect since after the war and his base ball career, he became a stock broker and member of the New York Stock Exchange, living a respectable life until his death n 1894.

One paragraph of the Bergen County Democrats' 12 paragraph diatribe about the umpiring of William Manning - Bergen County Democrat - June 22, 1866

One connection between the fledgling Bergen County club and the historic Knickerbockers is impressive, but apparently Homans wasn't the only Palisade club member who sojourned with the Knickerbockers.  Bergen County, like most of New Jersey, had only weekly newspapers in the 1860's, but for some reason in June of 1866, the Bergen County Democrat devoted significant space to a game between the Palisade Club and the Sparkhill Club of New York.  Not content to write a detailed account of the match, the writer went on to a 12 paragraph diatribe against the umpire, one Manning of the Knickerbocker Club for his poor enforcement of the ball - strike rule.  Another look at Baseball Founders failed to turn up Mr. Manning either with or without a biography, but the October 25, 1865 box score of a Knickerbocker - Eclectic match lists a Manning playing right field for the KBBC, next to Homans who was in center.  And perhaps, not surprisingly at this point, the founding vice president of the Palisade Club in 1860 was one William S. Manning.  Like his Palisade and Knickerbocker teammate, Manning came from a prominent family and went on to a career in the life insurance industry where he made a name for himself with clams of corrupt practices in the industry.

William S. Manning 

None of this, of course, is of any ground breaking significance, but the story of Englewood's development after the coming of the railroad especially with people moving from Manhattan is further evidence of how northern New Jersey's relatively sophisticated railroad network helped spread the game throughout the northern part of the state.  In addition, the identification of these two admittedly very tangible members of the Knickerbockers brings us even closer to a full record of those base ball pioneers.  Finally, the back and forth of these two young men between their local club and the far more well known Knickerbockers is a reminder of the regional nature of the early game in the New York metropolitan area including New Jersey.   As Bruce Allardice noted in the most recent issue of Baseball: A Journal of the Early Game (once again a must read) back in 1855 organized amateur base ball was played in only three states, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Cornish Town Races (With apologies to Stephen Foster)

Some 20 years before the opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, National League club owners were approached by two gentlemen from that beautiful village on Otsego Lake who wanted to sell them the baseball history equivalent of the Brooklyn Bridge - the land where Abner Doubleday supposedly laid out the first baseball diamond.  Secure in the "definitive" conclusions of the relatively recent Mills Commission, the baseball magnates took the idea seriously enough to authorize league president John Heydler to look into the matter.  The idea of a farmer's field in Cooperstown being baseball's birthplace or the existence of any such sacred site has by now, of course, been thoroughly discredited. Anyone with an interest in honoring the location of an historical baseball first, might better use their time on the site of the first organized match (a game played between two competing clubs) which, let it be said one more time, didn't take place on June 19, 1846 at Elysian Fields in Hoboken.  Rather, based on current research, that honor belongs to the grounds of the Union Star Cricket Club at the corner of Myrtle and Portland Streets in Brooklyn where on October 10, 1845, a team of eight (no shortstop) from Brooklyn defeated a like number from New York.

There's always the possibility, some enterprising researcher (please Lord, let it be me) will find an earlier match at a different location so it's impossible to be certain the claim for Brooklyn will never be challenged.  Certain beyond any doubt, however, is another base ball field first, the location of the first game played on an enclosed ground, a game played on July 20, 1858 at the Fashion Race Course near the village of Flushing in Queens County, New York, the first of a best of three match series between select or all-star teams from Brooklyn and New York. Anticipating the future heart break of Brooklyn teams playing their New York counterparts, the Manhattan team took the series by winning the third and decisive game.  With a total capacity of 50,000 including 10,000 seats, the race course was not only capable of accommodating the anticipated large throngs, but also facilitated charging admission, another first for these historic matches.  The story of what are known to history as the Fashion Course games, is well chronicled in Robert Shaefer's essay in the Fall 2005  issue of Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture.  In typical baseball irony, the race track was built on land purchased from one Samuel Willets, who probably had little interest in base ball, but will always be associated with it since the subway stop for Shea Stadium and now Citi Field bears his name.

New York Clipper - July 24, 1858

What brought all  of this to mind was the Neshanock's visit to Maine this past weekend to take part in the 2016 New England Vintage Base Ball Festival held on the race track at the historic fairgrounds in Cornish, Maine.  Owned by the town of Cornish since 1994, the fairgrounds hosted regional fairs going back into the 19th century with the racetrack and the grandstand apparently built around 1900.  Although no longer used for competitive racing, harness horses are still trained at the facility, continuing one of the community's oldest traditions.  The vintage base ball event featured five out of state clubs, three from Massachusetts, one from Rhode Island and the Neshanock.  The sixth club and host team was the Dirigo Club of Maine which got assistance on the base ball side from the Essex Base Ball Organization.  The event itself was sponsored by the Cornish Historical Society as well as the Cornish Fairgrounds Committee which along with the two base ball organizations did a great job.

While I've been to racetracks before, this was the first time  on the "infield" itself which was large enough to host two games simultaneously with more than enough room to spare for parking and other amenities.  Flemington's first match on Saturday morning was against the Mechanics Club of North Andover, Massachusetts, the newest of the six club sponsored by the aforementioned Essex Base Ball Organization (  After winning the coin toss (as it would in each of its four matches), the Neshanock took the field only to lapse once more into the unfortunate pattern of giving the opposition extra outs (three in this case) early in the game.  In spite of the three first inning muffs however, the damage was limited to two Mechanics' runs which Flemington more than matched, putting five tallies across in its half of the first. After the three errors in the initial inning, the Neshanock defense clamped down, making only four more over the next eight innings and holding the North Andover club to only three more runs.  Flemington erupted for 10 runs in its half of the third, to break the game open, but in spite of the final 22-5 score, the lead never felt quite secure.  The Neshanock were led at the plate by Dan "Sledge" Hammer and Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner, both with four hits while "Jersey" Jim Nunn and Ryan "Express" Pendergist added three each.

With one game in the books, the Neshanock had a break, allowing ample time not only to get out of the hot sun, but also to restore the "inner man" at the concessions thoughtfully provided by the hosts.  Rested and refreshed, Flemington's second match was against the Mudville Club from Holliston, Massachusetts, with the Mudville name providing all the incentive Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw needed to honor them with a special recitation of "Casey at the Bat."  The Neshanock's offensive production fell off dramatically during the second match with only nine tallies, less than half of the 22 tallied in the first contest.  One Neshanock who experienced no drop off was "Sledge," who had another four hit performance, this time earning a clear score.  "Express" had another three hit game, joined in that category by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn while "Thumbs" and Dave "Illinois" Harris added two apiece.  Much more impressive, however, was the Neshanock's defensive performance, not only playing without a muff for eight innings, but limiting Mudville to three batters in six innings and four in the other two.  Some sloppiness in the top of the ninth plus a few Mudville hits put two tallies across the plate, for a 9-2 Flemington triumph.

Photo by Jonmikel Berry Pardo

With the first day behind them, the Neshanock dispersed for the evening, preparatory to an early 9:30 first pitch on Sunday morning against the Essex Club.  The Essex Club is the travel team for the Essex Base Ball Organization and, in my opinion, one of the best vintage teams in the country.  Games against that level of competition are both challenges and opportunities and what happened on Sunday morning was more than worthy of the occasion.  Flemington had another strong defensive performance with only two muffs, which as impressive at was, was bettered by Essex with only one miscue.  That kind of defense usually means a tight low scoring game and this contest was no exception.  Essex used some aggressive base running to score one run in the top of the first which Flemington matched in their half and then added another in the second for a 2-1 lead.  The lead proved short lived when the Massachusetts club tied the game in the third and added one more in the fifth for a 3-2 lead going to the bottom of the sixth.  Now, however, it was the Neshanock's turn and Flemington scored twice in the sixth and added four more in the seventh for what against almost any other opponent would have been an insurmountable 8-3 lead.  No one, however, expected Essex to go quietly and the Bay State contingent scored once in the eighth, added another in the ninth and had runners on base on when Flemington closed out a hard earned 8-5 win.  As noted the Neshanock defense was stellar behind the pitching of Danny "Batman" Shaw with the offense keyed by the hitting of "Sideshow," "Illinois," Doug "Pops" Pendergist, "Thumbs" and Joe "Mick" Murray.

As intense as the Neshanock - Essex game was, and it was plenty intense, the match lasted just a little over an hour so that Flemington had some time to catch their collective breath before the final game against the host Dirigo Club.  It's risky to draw conclusions about a club from just one match, but the local team seems to be ideally built to play the 1864 or bound game which favors strikers who can hit the ball into the gaps between the fielders which the Dirigo players to a man did with great consistency.  In addition, the Maine team played strong defense making only two muffs over the course of the game, all of which suggested another close game, much more so than anyone on the Neshanock bench wanted.  Flemington took leads of 6-3, 9-6 and 11-8, but Dirigo kept chipping away.  Finally in the top of the ninth, the Maine men scored twice and put the tying run on third with two out.  The striker then hit a ball that was deflected by Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw, the Neshnock pitcher, to "Thumbs" at short, whose strong throw into the sure hands of "Illinois'" at first was just in time to secure the Neshanock's fourth win of the festival, insuring a happy, albeit long, ride home.

Photo by New England Base Ball Festival 

In my seven years with the Neshanock, I've had enough experience at festivals and tournaments to know the New England event was a great success by any standard.  Playing on such an historic venue, of a type connected to the game's early history, was great, and the hosts did a wonderful job on both the base ball and non base ball aspects of the event.  All of those involved should be very proud of their efforts.  The Neshanock especially thank Doug "Pops" Pendergist and Ryan "Express" Pindergist who played with us during the four games and were an important part in the Neshanock's hard earned success.  With the four wins, Flemington now stands 12-3 on the season, probably the club's best start ever.  Things don't get any easier, however.  After a well earned weekend off for the July 4th holiday, Flemington visits New Bridge Landing near Hackensack, New Jersey on July 9th to take on the Eckford Club and then its off to Gettysburg for some very challenging match ups.  If you are anywhere near either venue, do yourself a favor and stop by, you won't regret it.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Mustaches, Firemen and Hard Luck in the World's Series

On Saturday, the Neshanock made their third annual visit to South Bound Brook to take part in an event organized by Flemington's own Harry "Cappy" Roberts in support of the local fire company of which "Cappy" is a proud member.  This year Flemington took on a team made up of members of the fire company who worked hard at picking up the differences between today's game and the 1864 version.  The locals played well in the field, but not surprisingly Flemington was in charge throughout on the way to a 15-3 victory.  One of the highlights for the Neshanock (or at least for one member) came before the game even started, during the inaugural "Mr. Mustache" competition which was won by our own Dave "Illinois" Harris.  The accomplishment, which "Illinois" assured me came amidst very heavy competition, led to a number of suggestions for a new nickname for the veteran Neshanock first baseman, but it sounds like there will be no change in that department.  The match was also graced with the presence of Marjorie Adams, great granddaughter of the legendary, "Doc" Adams of the Knickerbockers who played such an important part in the early development of organized competition.

Sherry Smith in the 1916 Brooklyn Superba uniform

In the match itself, Flemington was led offensively by Danny "Batman" Shaw, Dan "Sledge" Hammer and newcomer Brian "Spoons" LoPinto.  Going into his last time at the striker's line, "Batman" was flirting with his second consecutive clear score only to be turned away on a fly ball to left field, one of his longest hits of the day.  "Sledge" had another multi-hit game and was never retired by the opposition successfully earning his second clear score of the season, after just missing last weekend in the second Elkton match.  "Spoons" playing for the second time with Flemington had three hits and scored all three times.  Flemington again played solid defense behind the combined pitching of "Batman" and Bobby "Melky" Ritter.  Next weekend the Neshanock will head far north for the New England Vintage Base Ball Festival in Cornish, Maine.  A good turnout is expected and everyone is looking forward to the trip with matches on both Saturday and Sunday.  Pictures and details of the matches will be available right here no later than the following Tuesday.

Dave "Illinois" Harris 

In addition to working on the Ebbets biography, I have been finalizing my contributions to some other projects.  For one of them, I've been looking at contemporary newspaper accounts of the 1919 World's Series, (that's how it was spelled in those days) looking specifically at how sportswriters who didn't know the fix was in, accounted for the questionable play of the White Sox.  One interesting pattern was how some writers claimed that two of Chicago's pitchers and co-conspirators, Ed Cicotte and Claude Williams were hard luck losers.  In Cicotte's case it was due to losing a game where all the Red's runs were scored in one inning while for Williams it was because he allowed only four hits in each of his first two starts and still lost both times.  Of course, after almost a century of 20-20 hindsight, we know hard luck had nothing to do with it, but it was interesting that some writers actually considered the two to be among the hardest luck pitchers in the first two decades of the World's Series.  Thinking about that while working on the 1920 fall classic for the Ebbets biography made me think of a far better candidate for the pitcher with that dubious distinction, both before and since, one Sherrod "Sherry" Smith of the Brooklyn Dodgers, a player probably unknown to most.  This opinion is based not on a scientific study, in fact it's not based on any study at all, but just knowing about Smith's misfortunes in the 1916 and 1920 fall classic makes it hard to believe anyone got less support from his teammates.

After pitching briefly for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1911 and 1912, the left handed Smith joined Brooklyn for the 1915 season winning 14 games both in his initial season and in the pennant winning 1916 campaign.  Winning the pennant in 1916 brought Brooklyn into the World's Series against the defending champion and heavy favorite Boston Red Sox.  After losing a tough 6-5 decision to Boston in the first game, the two teams took a mandatory Sabbath break before the second game on October 9th.  On the mound for Boston was a young left handed pitcher named Babe Ruth, making his first World's Series start.  Most writers thought Brooklyn manager Wilbert Robinson would counter with Larry Cheney or Jack Coombs, but supposedly because of the cloudy, overcast weather, the Brooklyn manager opted for Smith believing or hoping his fast ball would be more effective in the almost twilight like conditions.

Hi Myers of Brooklyn homering off of Babe Ruth in Game 2 of the 1916 World's Series

After Ruth retired the first two batters in the first, Brooklyn center fielder Hi Myers hit one that got in between Harry Hooper and Tilly Walker rolling all the way to the wall in spacious Braves Field, allowing Myers to circle the basis and give Smith a 1-0 lead.  The Red Sox's home games during the series were played at Braves Field because of the greater seating capacity.  Interestingly, the supposedly money obsessed Charles Ebbets was urged to make a similar arrangement for the Polo Grounds, but declined.  The 1-0 lead lasted until the third when Boston matched the Brooklyn tally aided and abetted by some sloppy fielding by the Superbas second baseman George Cutshaw.   That was all the scoring in regulation although Boston threatened in the ninth, putting 1st and 3rd with none out, only to be denied when Myers again played the hero, throwing out Hugh Janvrin at the plate attempting to score on a sacrifice fly.

Hi Myers throws out Hugh Janvrin at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning to save the game, for the moment.

As a result the game headed to extra innings with neither team able to score as the game went into the bottom of the 14th.  By this point even though the game had taken less than three hours, it was getting dark and this would clearly be the last inning.  Since a tie game would be replayed the next day, all those who had checked out of their hotels preparatory to an overnight train trip to New York were getting more than a little nervous.  Fortunately for them, but not for Smith and Brooklyn, Boston pushed across the winning run in what is still tied for the longest series games in terms of innings played, but took only 2 hours and 32 minutes.  All Smith had to show for his day's work was a loss even though he pitched 14 innings against the best team in baseball, allowing only seven hits and two runs while striking out Babe Ruth twice.  It has to be one of the hard luck losses of all time, but Smith was just getting warmed up in that regard.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - October 10, 1916

Fast forward to 1920 when Brooklyn again won the National League pennant with Smith winning 11 games with an ERA of 1.85.  1920 was the second of three consecutive World's Series which were best of nine affairs.  After the teams split the first two games in Brooklyn, Smith took the mound for the third contest at Ebbets Field.  After his 1916 experience, Smith probably felt he had to pitch a shut out to win, a feeling strengthened earlier that season when he pitched 19 innings against Boston and lost 2-1.  Smith didn't quite get a shut out against the opposing Indians, but he did limit the American League champion to three hits and one unearned run, just good enough to win when his teammates produced two runs, both in the very first inning.  At that point, Cleveland manager Tris Speaker pulled his starting pitcher, Ray Caldwell, replacing him with Duster Mails who held Brooklyn scoreless for the next 6 2/3 innings which should have been a warning to Smith and his teammates.  At least, however, the Brooklyn left hander had one series win to his credit.

A crucial double play in Smith's only World's Series victory - Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 8, 1920 

The scene then shifted to Cleveland where the Indians won the next two games to take a 3-2 series lead.  The second of those two Brooklyn losses, the fifth game, is the one game of the 1920 series that most people know about since it saw two World's Series firsts, the first grand slam home run and the first, and thus far only, unassisted triple play by Cleveland second baseman, Bill Wambsganess.  However, Cleveland still needed two more wins and a Brooklyn win in game six would have tied the series and insured a return to Brooklyn.  So in this crucial spot, Sherry Smith more than rose to the occasion, allowing only one run even though according to Tom Rice of the Eagle, Smith's "fadaway was not dropping properly."  Smith was opposed by Duster Mails who in spite of a good year in 1920 had a remarkably mediocre major league career, but on this day shut Brooklyn out only three hits, thereby allowing Brooklyn no runs in 15 2/3's World's Series innings.   To make things even more frustrating for Charles Ebbets and Wilbert Robinson, they had released Mails after two ineffective seasons with Brooklyn.  But that was nothing compared to the frustration that Smith must have felt when he looked back on his three World's Series appearances.  The Brooklyn left pitcher had pitched 31 innings in the fall classic, allowing three earned runs for a .87 ERA, but had only one win to show for it because his teammates only scored three times..  Bad enough that once was against baseball's greatest player in Babe Ruth, but Duster Mails?  Talk about hard luck!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

History Repeats Itself, Except When It Doesn't

Photo by Mark Granieri

In a post a few weeks ago, I mentioned one of the ways that history repeats itself, at least in terms of vintage base ball compared to the original.  The issue was the importance then, and now, of who shows up for a match.  In discussing the 19th century, I used the example of how when the Eureka Base Ball Club of Newark finally defeated the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn, four of their best players didn't make it because of work commitments.  This week the Eureka feature in another example of historical repetition, in this case as the 19th century example of how some teams have opponents they just can't seem to defeat no matter how hard they try (or perhaps because of how hard they try.  For the Eureka that was the self-same Atlantics, a club, the premier New Jersey team of the 1860's managed to defeat just once suffering some especially heart breaking losses along the way.  In 1865 for example, the Eureka suffered two one run losses to the defending champion Atlantics, first when a ninth inning rally fell one run short and another where they couldn't hold a five run lead against the Brooklyn club.

Eureka Base Ball Club of Newark - Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society

The Neshanock, who no one would or should confuse with the Eureka, have more than one opponent in that category, but the Elkton Eclipse, Saturday's foe at the Howell Living History Farm near Lambertville, New Jersey, is right up at the top of the list.  This is my seventh season scoring for the Neshanock and never once has Flemington prevailed over the Maryland team, one of the country's consistently best vintage clubs.  Initially the losses were seldom close, but in recent years its gotten even more frustrating because of close games that always seem to come out the wrong way, at least from the Neshanock's point of view.  A 12 inning loss in the Philadelphia Navy Yard Classic a few years ago, after Flemington led going to the bottom of the ninth is just one example.  Hope springs eternal, of course, and the Neshanock had a strong line up for today's two games, a nine inning affair followed by a seven inning game both under 1864 rules.

Tom "Schoolboy" Duffy (left) and Scott "Snuffy" Hengst - photo by Mark Granieri

Elkton struck quickly in the top of the first, tallying twice, but the Neshanock quickly countered with three in their half and after four innings, it was a close game with Elkton up 4-3.   In the top of the fifth, however, came one of those innings that always seems to doom Flemington against Elkton, when Neshanock muffs, effectively gave the Eclipse six outs opening the door for four runs for the Maryland club and an 8-3 lead.   Flemington also did nothing to help its own cause when on two separate occasions, the Neshanock had men on second and third, but failed to score.  The Neshanock did have one rally left in them, however, scoring four times in the bottom of the eighth to trail by only one heading into the last inning.  Considering how things have gone in these games, it shouldn't have been surprising that with two out, Elkton broke the game open scoring nine times for an 18-8 victory, much closer than it looked and, therefore, no less frustrating for Flemington.  The Elkton attack was led by Steve "Smiles" Pogue and Erik "Dubs" Myers, each with three hits and as per usual the Eclipse played solid defense behind the always entertaining pitching of Tom "Schoolboy" Duffy.  Flemington was led on offense by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner with three hits and Rene "Mango" Marerro and Jack "Doc" Kitson with two apiece.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

After a break for "Casey at the Bat," sustenance for the inner man and other necessities, the two clubs went at it again, this time with the Neshanock first at the striker's line.  Flemington wasted no time taking charge as consecutive hits by Danny "Batman" Shaw, Dan "Sledge" Hammer, "Thumbs," and "Mango," followed by a two out hit by Joe "Mick" Murray gave the Neshanock four tallies, all the offense, the Neshanock would need.  Flemington added two more in the third on back-to-back doubles by "Batman," "Sledge" and a single by "Thumbs."  Elkton rallied for two in their half of the third, but it was the only time the Eclipse crossed the plate for the match.  Flemington broke the game open with four more in the fifth and shut Elkton out the rest of the way behind the pitching of "Batman" and Bob "Melky" Ritter who added two hits of his own.  "Batman" had a clear score for the match, with "Sledge" only a put out on the bases away from a clear score of his own.  "Thumbs" chipped in four hits while "Mick" and "Jersey" Jim Nunn added two each.  Elkton only managed eight hits in the match, three by "Smiles."  Late in the match,"Schoolboy" was struck by a hard line drive off the bat of "Mango" and everyone on the Neshanock wishes him a speedy recovery.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Why didn't history repeat itself on this occasion. On reflection, there have been common threads in the multiple frustrating losses to Elkton, patterns that were repeated in the first game, such as giving a very good team far too many outs or chances.  That changed in the second game and so did the result, perhaps there is a lesson there about how to avoid the frustrations of the past.  It's perhaps just one instance of how we can learn from history by going deeper inside the result to understand what needs to change so the result itself can be changed.  Perhaps, I'm more conscious of that at the moment, because of thinking about how returning to some better practices of the past, can lead to better results in the present.  This came to mind a few weeks ago, when the New York Mets were in the process of tying a very dubious record for baseball futility.  Over the course of 13 innings, the Mets were the beneficiary of 13 walks, yet managed to score only one run in a 2-1 loss to the White Sox.  This matched only the equally inept offense of the Brooklyn Dodgers who on May 19, 1953, could score only one run in 10 innings again with the benefit of 13 walks, of this more later.

Photo by Mark Granieri

By coincidence, Carol and I were listening to the game on the car radio when the Mets came up in the bottom of the 12th with their 2-3-4 hitters, Ashdrubal Cabrera, Michael Conforto and Neil Walker coming to the plate.  Probably to no one's surprise, Cabrera walked, bringing up Conforto, whose five fruitless appearances at the plate featured four strike outs.  Immediately the conversation between the announcers, Josh Lewin and Howie Rose turned to the possibility of Conforto bunting.  They checked and unsurprisingly found that in over 200 minor and major league games (admittedly a small sample), Conforto had never attempted a bunt even once.  Lewin then went on to speculate that it was probably unlikely that the Met outfielder had ever been asked to bunt in either high school or college.   Naturally, of course, no one was going to go against history in that situation so, equally naturally, Conforto hit into a double play and the Mets went on to lose the game in the 13th.

I was more than a little surprised to find that any Brooklyn team from the 1950's shared that dubious mark and even more so that it was the 1953 team.  Although that club gets less attention than the other three of Brooklyn's 1950's pennant winning squads, Dave Anderson, the long time New York Times writer told me in an interview for our Ebbets Field book, that the 1953 team was the best of the bunch and that the players felt the same way.  I also had a long interview with Dodger pitcher Carl Erskine and as I recall (there's that memory thing again), he said the same thing.  The 1953 team won 105 games, hit 208 home runs with a team batting average of .285, but on that May night in 1953, could manage only run in spite of the wildness of Bud Podbielan, the Reds pitcher.   Cincinnati finally won the game in the 10th inning on a Ted Kluszewski home run off of Preacher Roe.  Looking at the play-by-play I found three opportunities where a lead off walk set up a possible bunt scenario.  Only once did a Dodger try to bunt and, ironically, it turned into a double play.

Somehow Bud Podbielan walked 13 Brooklyn Dodgers, but held them to one run in 10 innings

There was, however, another situation, with far more at stake that the Dodgers took a very different approached and it's the one of the reasons, I find what happened or what wasn't tried in the Mets game so frustrating.  On October 4, 1955, the Dodgers and the Yankees played the 7th game of the World Series at Yankee Stadium and after five innings, Brooklyn was clinging to a 1-0 lead as hope built throughout the Dodger faithful that this might finally be next year.  In the top of the sixth, Pee Wee Reese singled bringing up Brooklyn' s number three hitter, Duke Snider, the same Duke Snider who in 1955 hit .309 with 42 home runs and 136 RBI's, the same Duke Snider who had already hit four home runs in the World Series.  Did Snider try to hit one over the short right field fence at Yankee Stadium?  He did not, instead he bunted and when Yankee first baseman made an error, Snider was safe and Brooklyn had first and second with no one out.  That brought up Dodger cleanup hitter, Roy Campanella who was the 1955 National League MVP with a .318, 32 and 107 in the relevant categories.  Did Campy go for the big inning?  He did not, like Snider he bunted, moving both runners up and and a few minutes later, Brooklyn got the badly needed insurance run on Gil Hodges's sacrifice fly.

October 4, 1955 - Next Year arrives in Brooklyn

Think about it, two famous players who earned their way to Cooperstown, in large measure because of their power hitting were not only directed to bunt in the biggest game of their lives, but did so successfully.  What this piece of history suggests to me is that Michael Conforto and countless other players have been ill served throughout their baseball careers by not being expected to learn how to bunt.  And that's not to excuse the players themselves, for all the time they spend playing baseball on their way to the major leagues, why can't they use some that time to develop a skill that can be the difference between winning and defeat.  Some will say that I am advocating "small ball," but frankly I hate that term because it seems to denigrate one part of baseball as being unworthy or to suggest one must choose one strategy over another.  What happened in the climatic game of the 1955 World Series, on baseball's biggest stage reminds us, I believe, that one of the many great things about baseball is the multiple paths to success.  It seems a shame, therefore, to discard one that has made the difference between failure and success before and can do so again.