Thursday, January 29, 2015

Winter Carnival comes to Brooklyn

Had winter storm Juno not intervened, I would have spent Tuesday night at a college basketball game which was to start at 9:00 p.m., probably would not have ended until about 11;00 so that it would have been after midnight when I finally got home - late hours for this senior citizen.  It's part of a trend that seems to have begun about ten years ago where college football and basketball games start at unusual and sometimes ungodly hours.  Almost without exception there is a one word explanation - television.  Television has, of course, been part of sports for a long time, but it feels like the past decade or so has seen television take over starting times with little, if any, consideration for those actually attending the game.  Sometimes there is even a double whammy, sitting through a night football game in December is bad enough, but it becomes even worse due to lengthy and seemingly unending television time outs.  There's an obvious one word explanation for this as well - money.  The amounts paid by television for broadcasting rights are so huge that they dwarf ticket revenue.  Base ball is also subject to this trend, a major difference from the way things were back in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Charles Byrne - President of the Brooklyn Baseball Association - 1883-1897

From the very beginnings of major league baseball and well into the 20th century, gate receipts dominated club revenues, the same way television money does today.  It's not surprising, therefore, that back in the Deadball Era, for example, far more consideration was given to the fan putting down his 50 or 75 cents.  Starting times were set in the late afternoon to accommodate middle class office workers and games typically lasted 90 minutes or so allowing the clientele to get home in time for dinner.  The importance of gate receipts also helped drive the priorities of club owners.  One example was the attention paid to the schedule with every magnate (contemporary term for an owner) clamoring for his share, if not more, of what were known as "plums" - Saturdays and holidays as well as games with the premier clubs which drew large crowds.  It's a tribute to the skills of Charles Ebbets of the Brooklyn club that he could single handily develop a schedule which left the owners satisfied or at least equally dissatisfied.  Because of the prevailing economics, rain outs were even more of a problem since the forced conversion of two games into a single admission doubleheader was a major revenue loss especially for financially marginal clubs.  It's no wonder some owners, regardless of their religious background, became unapologetic "sun worshipers."

Brooklyn Daily Eagle  - 1909

Regardless of the size of the gate receipts, however, home games were played no more than 70-80 days per year, leaving parks vacant over 75% of the time.  Not surprisingly club owners continually sought alternative admission charge worthy events to generate additional income such as the ice skating at Washington Park discussed in the last post.  In 1919, Charles Ebbets reached what was probably a new low, offering local automobile owners the opportunity to store their cars on the sacred sod of Ebbets Field during the winter, confirming, if any confirmation was necessary, the limited parking in the neighborhood.  Obviously the timing of the auto storage proposal was at least partially driven by the difficulty of finding outdoor events during the winter months.  Not long after base ball on ice went by the boards, Brooklyn owner, Charles Byrne decided to bring another winter sport to south Brooklyn.  As with ice base ball, the idea apparently came from a northern neighbor, this time from outside the United States, in Montreal, Canada.  Beginning in 1883, promoters in the Canadian city decided to use winter as a tourist attraction rather than an excuse to avoid the city.  Through 1889, winter carnivals attracted numerous American tourists to Montreal, many of whom chartered special trains for the trip.

Montreal Winter Carnival

One of the events which apparently caught the fancy of the visiting Americans was tobogganing which by the winter of 1885-86 had been successfully transplanted to nearby Orange, New Jersey which, as anyone who has driven I280 in the winter time can testify, doesn't lack for hills.  Although located in Park Slope, Washington Park wasn't quite at that level or levels.  Bringing tobogganing to the home of Brooklyn's base ball club, meant "considerable expense" to construct a slide that started 10 feet above the steps at the 5th Avenue entrance.  Running some 400 feet, including a "declination" of half that distance, the 12 foot wide slide deposited riders on the 3rd Street side where they could begin the long drag back to the start.  Lit by electric lights as well as sometimes by the moon and the stars, the slide's surface had a base of blocks of ice, 10 inches thick which were covered with snow.  The always prudent Byrne also stored excess snow on a shaded portion of the grounds.   Open to the public on afternoons and evenings, admission cost 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children, who were only admitted in the afternoon.  Recognizing that toboggans were probably not a standard household item in Brooklyn, 100 sleds were also available at 50 cents for the evening or afternoon.  Reportedly opening night on December 11, 1886 saw large crowds with Bryne himself enthusiastically helping people into the toboggans, especially when "so many pretty faces [were] present."

Brooklyn Daily Eagle  - 1-9-1919

New innovations seldom go smoothly and tobogganing in urban Brooklyn was no exception.  As with ice base ball, sufficient cold temperatures were essential and there was a five day gap between opening night and the second session.  Another problem (from Byrne's point of view) was the pricing as the 50 cent toboggan rental for a whole evening allowed five people to monopolize a sled for only 10 cents each.  The pricing problem was easily and quickly solved by changing to a per ride charge with tickets available at rates of 50 for $1.00 or 10 for 25 cents.  Addressing the weather was not so simple and by January 9th, the Eagle was warning Brooklynites to enjoy it while they could and a month later the season was declared almost over.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle  - 12-21-1886

However some in the Brooklyn Base Ball Association weren't ready to give up without a fight.  In December of 1887 it was announced that the tobogganing rights had been awarded to one Charles Ebbets.  While in the end Ebbets, like Byrne, couldn't overcome the climate issues, his marketing efforts anticipated his approach as president of the Brooklyn Dodgers for more than a quarter of a century.  Early in 1888 an article in the Eagle reported on an upcoming toboggan outing by the Nassau Athletic Club, an organization that Ebbets help found and lead for its brief existence.  Throughout his 15 year apprenticeship to Charles Byrne, Ebbets was a member of the local Elks Club, a Masonic Lodge, numerous bowling teams plus other social clubs, many of which would sponsor outings to both Washington Park and later Ebbets Field.  Ebbets also offered free admission plus four free toboggan rides to the students and teachers of school 39, symbolic of the many times, he would make his ball park available for free to good causes and/or provide free admission to Brooklyn games to groups of school children and similar groups.  The Brooklyn owner constantly looked for new paid uses for his ball park, but the tobogganing experience probably convinced him that winter events were a non-starter leading perhaps to his temporarily turning Ebbets Field into a parking lot.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"If the Ice Permits"

The deep freeze which recently gripped the northern part of the country doubtless has many base ball players and fans, not to mention historians, thinking wistfully of warmer temperatures and the advent of a new season.   There was, however, a time when at least some base ball players welcomed colder temperatures because it meant they could get back on the field or at least the ice, in games that could only be played "if the ice permits" on frozen ponds and lakes.  As with everything else in base ball history, it's always risky to claim a "first," but one of the earliest reports of base ball on ice appeared in the New York Clipper during the 1860-61 "secession winter."  A brief  account in the January 19th edition of the paper said that on New Year's Day, two Rochester clubs, the Lone Star and Live Oak played a match on ice before 2500 people with the Lone Star Club prevailing 21-8.  Apparently intrigued by the idea, the writer challenged the New York clubs to hold a similar event at New York's Central Park so the upstate clubs would not be "ice-olated in this respect."

Washington Skating Club in action in south Brooklyn

A response wasn't long in coming, but from another quarter, nearby Brooklyn, then an independent city, where the enthusiasm for competitive base ball equaled, if not exceeded, its Manhattan roots. On February 4th, two well known Brooklyn clubs, the Atlantics and Charter Oak Clubs took the ice "upon what is known as Litchfield's pond" near 5th Avenue and 3rd Streets in south Brooklyn.  Understandably attracted by what the reporter claimed was the first such game "in our latitude," a reported crowd of 12000 including 1500 ladies lined the "abutting embankments" (seen in the drawing above ) while others watched from the comfort and relative warmth of their carriages.  Many in the crowd, however, hadn't come to watch, but to skate as both the Clipper and Eagle reported major difficulties in freeing sufficient space on the pond's ten acres of ice so the game could begin.  Finally, however, enough of the ice was cleared to allow the Atlantics resplendent in "red jackets and blue facings" and the Charter Oaks in "plaid" coats to try their hands at this new and novel approach to the old game.

Dickey Pearce

Each team had ten players with the extra position filled by a second catcher, probably in recognition of the risk of passed balls rolling without end on the slippery surface.  Not surprisingly, the conditions favored the "the best skater" over "the best player," but for the Atlantics, they were pretty much one and the same especially the legendary Dickey Pearce who made "several splendid fly catches," demonstrating he was "as good a shortstop on ice, as he is on a summer's day."  As a result the once and future champions triumphed, just as they frequently did "on terra firma," wining 36-27 to earn a silver trophy ball donated by Mr. Litchfield himself, the president of the Fifth Avenue Railroad Company.  Although the game was completed successfully, the conditions deteriorated as "water oozed up" through "ominous cracks and fissures" in the ice.

1865 Ad for Ice Skates

At the end of his account of the Brooklyn contest, the Clipper reporter again challenged the Manhattan clubs to host "a similar exhibition" at Central Park, but perhaps because of the war only a couple of matches were even attempted over the next few years. According an 1865 article in the Clipper there was an 1863 Brooklyn match at an unidentified site and an 1864 Empire-Gotham match at Sylvan Lake in Hoboken which was wisely halted because of breaking ice.  However early in 1865 with the end of the war hopefully in sight and base ball on the brink of a period of major expansion, the Atlantic and Gotham clubs agreed to play a best of three series beginning with a January 12th contest at Capitoline Grounds.  It was certainly an appropriate venue as the Brooklyn facility first opened to host ice skating and then became one of the first enclosed base ball grounds.  Bases for the match consisted of circles of "powdered charcoal" with runners permitted to over run/over skate the base.  A major challenge for the players was the difficulty in planting their feet on the hard and slippery surface.  As a result the pitchers focused on control to limit the number of passed balls while strikers concentrated on placing their hits outside the limited range of the fielders.  In match that featured the Wright brothers (George and Harry) in the Gotham lineup and the aforementioned Pearce as well as Joe Start and Fred Crane playing for the Atlantics, the Brooklyn club skated to an easy 32-5 win.

Sylvan Lake was reportedly at the foot of 7th Street in Hoboken which would put it on the Stevens family property at Castle Point - map by Andrea Magno 

Things were not so easy for the Atlantics in the return match four days later on the Gothams' home turf/ice at Sylvan Lake in Hoboken where the home team triumphed 39-19 in three hours of cold and wind.  Conditions were even worse for the deciding match on January 26th at Washington Pond (Litchfield Pond) in Brooklyn where it took 4 1/2 hours in the bitter cold before the Atlantics prevailed 50-30.  Beyond the obvious discomfort, the frigid temperatures made the surface so hard, the players had an even more difficult than usual time in getting a foothold in the ice.  By this time the reporter (possibly Henry Chadwick) had had more than enough of base ball on ice claiming that unless the weather was milder, the only appeal was the novelty factor which wore quickly wore thin in conditions that made the game "anything, but sport to players or spectators."

If this was meant to sound the death knell for the winter game, the words were anything, but prophetic as almost two decades later the new version of the New York game was still being played, at least in Brooklyn.  In January of 1883, Prospect Park was the scene of at least two matches of teams chosen by major leaguers William Barnie of Baltimore and John "Candy" Nelson of the Metropolitans (Mets).  Reporting on the event, the Clipper thoughtfully provided the following list of major differences between winter and summer base ball.

New York Clipper - February 3, 1883

A year later, the greater New York version of base ball on ice returned to its birthplace in south Brooklyn where the Brooklyn Base Ball Association (ultimately the Brooklyn Dodgers) built the first incarnation of Washington Park  in the same area as the skating pond mentioned earlier.  Accounts in the Clipper and Eagle make no mention of an admission charge, but the best bet is that anyone who wanted to watch or skate (which went on simultaneously) paid for the privilege as club president, Charles Byrne tried maximize the revenue from his all too frequently vacant ball park.  If the Clipper reporter who wrote so disparagingly of base ball on ice in 1865 was indeed the Father of Base Ball himself, Henry Chadwick had changed his tune by 1884.  Not only was Chadwick present, but he along with Brooklyn manager, George Taylor, selected the two "tens" of both amateur and professional players.  Among the professionals were Sam Kimber and John Cassidy of Brooklyn and it's interesting (at least to me) that Brooklyn management was willing to risk injury to their players even though this was long before such prohibitions in major league contracts.  I have a vague recollection from high school in the 1960's that basketball players were prohibited from ice skating during the basketball season as just such a precaution.  The game was close for three innings, but Chawick's team scores seven times in the fourth and added a ridiculous 27 runs in the fifth for a dominating 41-12 victory.

Base ball on ice at Washington Park 

According to Peter Morris' always valuable, A Game of Inches, base ball on ice seems to have gradually died out as the 19th century progressed although there was talk of a league being formed in Cleveland in 1912 if Lake Erie froze sufficiently.  Peter also reports that at least one old time player, James Wood, claimed that base ball on ice's one legacy was the rule change allowing base runners to over run first base.  While the frozen version of base ball didn't last as long at Washington Park,  a few years later the grounds were the unlikely site of another winter sport which will be the subject of the next post.  

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ringing Out, Ringing In

It's hard for me to believe that A Manly Pastime will reach its third anniversary in February.  The blog began because it seemed to be the best way to start writing about 19th New Jersey base ball.  With minimal forethought, it then expanded into describing the adventures and misadventures of the Flemington Neshanock Base Ball Club seasoned with related historical reflections.  Other topics also found their way on to the "page," especially Brooklyn Dodger history and, more recently, second looks at what well known players considered to be their "greatest day in baseball."  All of this along with an interest in doing more work on the early days of the pre-professional period made it only natural to modify the blog's subtitle, formalizing both the expanded interests and possible future changes.

Article from the Jersey City Daily Sentinel of September 9, 1856, noting that two-thirds of the Eagle Club of New York's lineup in an upcoming match were originally members of Jersey City's first two base ball clubs

Earlier in 2014, in response to some compliments about a series of posts, I explained I was doing a lot of research and the more research, the more blog content.  Most of that work  was concentrated on working my way through all the extant 19th Century New Jersey newspapers.  It was a big job, made significantly simpler due to the large number of weekly newspapers and the high percentage held at Rutgers' Alexander Library.  The research not only confirmed how the game spread throughout the state's 21 counties between 1855 and 1870, but also generated most of the aforementioned blog content.  Much of the data has been entered on the Protoball web site and a goal for 2015 is to finish entering at least all of the club names. Reflecting on this especially in light of the recent SABR symposium on 19th century base ball in the greater New York area has made further study of the 1845-1860 period a future priority.  While that work will still have a heavy New Jersey focus, looking at greater New York as a region is, I believe, extremely important.

Rare box score from the Elizabeth Daily Mercury of July 29, 1869 of a match between two African-American Clubs.  

A subset of this is continued emphasis on African-American clubs through at least 1870.  To say original source material is scarce, is a vast understatement, but some combination of hard work and hard thinking should shed further light on the subject.  Coverage of the Neshanock will resume earlier in 2015 as I understand opening day had been pushed back into March (brr!).I'm also far from done with "My Greatest Day in Baseball," as there are a number of entries from the Deadball Era that merit further attention.  The entries in all three editions, of what was for me a foundational base ball history book, were originally published in the Chicago Daily News.  At some point, I'd love to take a look at the paper in some detail especially to see if there were more articles than the roughly 60 that were incorporated into book form.  To my knowledge, the papers is not available online, but regardless, it's not something I will get to in 2015.

Charles Ebbets in his prime 

I say that with certainty because of a much larger project which will take up most of the next two years, researching and writing a full length biography of Charles Ebbets.  It's a prospect that is more than a little daunting as Ebbets' Dodger career lasted more than 40 years including more than a quarter of a century as club president and primary owner which may partially explain why there are no earlier biographies of Ebbets.  At the same time, I've been interested in Ebbets for a long time and have always wanted to try my hand (and mind) at a biography.  Now with the much appreciated faith of McFarland & Company, I'm about embark on that journey.  Ebbets' years with the Dodgers span my two favorite eras, the 19th century and the Deadball Era and offer the opportunity for an in depth look at base ball club ownership during those periods.  As an added benefit, I'm confident the Ebbets' research will provide interesting content for this blog, so stay tuned.

This is the last post of 2014 and the blog will be back around the middle of January as the batteries need some recharging.  Thanks to all those who read along throughout the year and especially those who took the time to offer feedback, comments and advice.  The first post of 2015 will focus on base ball games where the biggest meteorological concern was whether or not it would be cold enough!  Until then best wishes for the holidays and all of next year.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Poems, Plays and Paterson Base Ball Clubs

Analyzing the spread of base ball in New Jersey requires looking not just at where the game took root, but also at where it didn't.  One of the most important places in the latter category is Paterson, the state's third largest city in 1860, located only about 20 miles from New York and 15-20 miles from Newark and Jersey City.  Yet in spite of its proximity to the cities where New Jersey's first clubs were formed in 1855, the earliest documented clubs in Paterson didn't take the field until 1860, some five years later.  While this is somewhat surprising, it's further evidence of the relationship between the game's growth and a railroad connection to Newark since unlike more rural Somerville and Morristown, a railroad link between Paterson and Newark didn't exist in the ante bellum period.  However, even though young men from Paterson got a later start than their urban neighbors, they finally got organized in 1860 and formed two clubs with the unlikely names of the Unknown and Flora Temple clubs.

Civil War era Paterson 

Not surprisingly the war slowed down the organization of other new teams in Paterson with no further club formations until 1863 (four clubs) and 1864 (another four).  Among the 1864 vintage was the Olympic Club which became Paterson's premier team of the 1860's only to go out of existence at the end of the decade before being re-incarnated in the 1870's and sending four players to the major leagues including future Hall of Famer, Mike "King" Kelly.  As with the rest of the country, the post war period then saw rapid growth in Paterson with 26 teams formed in both 1866 and 1867.  Each of these teams, of course, needed a name many of which came from the categories identified by George Kirsch in his book Baseball and Cricket: The Creation of American Team Sports, 1838-1872 including the use of patriotic/national monikers as well as those claiming some level of athletic ability.  Especially popular in Paterson were names endowing its members, at least figuratively, with superior mental and physical traits such as having a "quickstep," being "active" and "alert" or in such command they "neversweat."  Interestingly  another Unknown club was formed in 1866 with the name also adopted by one of the old-fashioned clubs that played in the summer of 1867.

Flora Temple in a Currier and Ives print

Given the number of teams formed in 1866 and 1867 alone, club organizers had to exercise a degree of creativity in choosing a name.  Some apparently decided to try to replicate some of the country's distinguished clubs like the Atlantics and Mutuals, but at least two other teams followed the example of the Flora Temple Club organizers by going outside of the mainstream.  In 1860 the most casual observer recognized the name Flora Temple and even today, it's an easy name to research.  Born in Oneida County, New York in 1845, Flora Temple was reportedly the famous "bob tailed nag" of Stephen Foster's "Camptown Races."  Originally named Flora, the relatively small mare (14 hands or 56 inches) wasn't recognized for her racing ability until 1852 when renamed Flora Temple, she defeated a horse named Brown Jim.  Over the next nine years, the trotter won 92 races, came in second 14 times and was the first horse to break the 2:20 mile.  Over the course of her career,Flora Temple raced throughout the eastern half of the United States and was immortalized by numerous Currier and Ives lithographs.  Less than two months before an 1860 account of a Flora Temple Club base ball match appeared in the New York Sunday Mercury, Flora Temple swept a best of five heat race against George M. Patchen, another famous horse before 4000 fans in Philadelphia.  It's no wonder these young men from Paterson (home to its own horse racing track) aimed to replicate the speed, strength and heart of the champion race horse.

Currier and Ives print of Mazeppa

Seven years later, another group of Paterson ball players also chose a name with an equestrian connection, but this time with a literary twist, deciding to call themselves the Mazeppa Club.  Unlike, Flora Temple, however, its less likely the average reader of the Paterson Daily Press immediately picked up on the allusion to an 1809 narrative poem by the English poet Lord Byron.  The work tells the story of Ivan Mazeppa, a Ukrainian page at the Polish court who has an affair with the young wife of a much older count.  Outraged when he learns of the incident, the nobleman has Mazeppa tied naked to a wild horse which is then released into the wilderness.  The bulk of the poem describes the long hazardous journey during which Mazeppa almost dies twice but ultimately survives and returns to his native Ukraine.  Unlike the founders of the Flora Temple Club, the reason for the Mazeppa Club member's choice is less clear.  It may be nothing more than a literary joke or possibly an attempt to compare their endurance on the ball field with Mazeppa.  Perhaps there is also a subconscious desire to share his amorous affair with a different end result.

Although the Mazeppa Club members get some points for obscurity, their efforts paled in comparison with the Michael Erle's, one of the old fashioned base ball clubs which sprang up in Paterson in 1867.  The only reference discovered to date is a play called "Michael Erle, the Maniac Lover or the Fayre Lass of Lichfield," by the English author, Thomas Egerton Wilks (1812-1854).  Reportedly one of many plays by Wilks, the text of "Michael Erle" survives, but Internet searches have revealed next to nothing about Wilks beyond an interesting connection to a much better known English author.  In 1837 Wilks edited the memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, a famous British clown which he submitted to Bentley's Miscellany magazine for publication.  Apparently not completely satisfied with the text, Bentley's asked a young, but promising writer named Charles Dickens to finish the job.   Apparently a fan of Grimaldi's from his youth, Dickens undertook the project even though he was hard at work at what would become Oliver Twist.  Given the apparent literary inclinations of the men in Paterson, it's surprising that by the 1860's, at least one new club didn't choose a name from Dickens like the Fezziwigs or the Cheerybles.  Drawing on Dickens' works was left for a group of Jersey City players who opted to call themselves the Dolly Vardons after a character from Barnaby Rudge, one of Dickens lesser known novels.  Although none of these clubs produced memorable results on the ball field, they certainly chose club names that are hard to forget.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Setting the Context for Context

As part of facilitating the NYC 19th Century Baseball Interdisciplinary Symposium on November 15th at John Jay College (CUNY), I had the opportunity to offer the following opening remarks.

Base ball historians and base ball umpires have some things in common, the most important of which is a shared mission to "get it right." Umpires try objectively to interpret what they see to make the correct call, while base ball historians interpret and analyze facts to get the story "right," to help construct a house built on a rock of facts.  Those who work in the pre-professional period (1840-1870) have the added challenge of not just trying to help build something, but also to help dispose of the debris of another house built not on the rock of facts, but upon the sand of myth - the Doubleday myth.  When I give a talk on early New Jersey base ball, right at the beginning, I test the audience by observing that when the first New Jersey clubs were formed in 1855, base ball was a relatively new game since it had been invented less than 20 years earlier by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown.  When I say that, about one-third of the audience looks at me as if to say, "This guy doesn't know what he is talking about," another third seems to think, "I'm not sure, but this guy may not know what he's talking about," and the remaining third looks at the other two-thirds as if to say, "What's the problem?"

So myth deconstruction continues, but committed as we are to the belief that the history of base ball is a history of evolution, not creation, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the process of evolution has times and places that are especially noteworthy.  The greater New York area is one of those places and the pre-professional era is one of those times.  Here, during that period, base ball first became organized, first became competitive and first received significant media attention.  That doesn't make the greater New York area base ball's birthplace, but it is fair to say it was the game's cradle or incubator.

In my view, it's also important to think of the greater New York regionally since different places made significant contributions.  New York City gave the game a critical mass of organized clubs at the same time New Jersey provided an important playing venue and the first instance of organized African-American base ball while Brooklyn broadened the playing population and increased the level of competition.  There were numerous interactions throughout the area some of which we most likely don't completely understand.  For example, the Eagle Club of New York was one of the city's oldest clubs, but after 1856 at least half of its regular lineup was made up of Jersey City residents.  Our initial reaction may be to wonder about far they had to travel to games when, in fact, their trip to neighboring Hoboken was easier than that of the New York members.

Thinking in terms of a geographic region is part of thinking about context.  Today's symposium is all about context which is especially important for the pre-professional period because the fact that much about base ball was just getting started or just getting noticed means original source material is less readily available.  For instance by 1860 in New Jersey, there was a random pattern of clubs throughout the northern part of the state - one connection seems to be that almost without exception the communities which had clubs also had a direct railroad link to Newark.  What that means isn't entirely clear, but the knowledge opens ways to better understand how the game grew and spread throughout the state.  Today, our hope is that by the end of the symposium, each of us will have a better understanding of the context that helped shaped "our game" in the greater New York area.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Stolen Base is a Stolen Base, is a ?

In The Summer Game, the initial collection of his classic "New Yorker Magazine" baseball essays, Roger Angell wrote:

"Good pitching in a close game is the cement that makes baseball the marvelous, complicated structure that it is.  It raises players to keenness and courage; it forces managers to think about strategy rather than raw power, it nails the fan's attention, so that he remembers every pitch, every throw, every span of inches that separates hits from outs.  And in the end, of course, it implacably reveals the true talents of the teams in the field."

Roger Angell 

Anyone looking for support for that argument need look no further than 2014's last major league game, the seventh game of this year's World Series won by the Giants largely on the strong left arm of Madison Bumgarner.   No one who saw any part of his pitching performances will forget the Giant lefty's dominating performance reminiscent of Sandy Koufax's three hit shut out on two days rest in the seventh game of the 1965 World Series almost a half a century ago.  And just as Angell predicted, the strong pitching of both teams produced a full measure of keenness, courage and strategy.

Henry Chadwick 

Especially memorable was the diving stop and scoop of Giant second baseman Joe Panik which changed what could easily have been first and third with no one out to two out with no one on.  As brilliant as that play was, however, it wasn't the only "little" thing that played a "big" part in the game.  Far less attention seems to have been paid to two base running maneuvers which led to two of the game's five runs, most importantly the winning run tallied by the Giants in the top of the fifth.  In each case a runner on second (Alex Gordon of the Royals and Pablo Sandoval of the Giants) tagged up on a fly ball and advanced to third, putting himself in position to score a run that wouldn't have scored if he had waited for a batter to drive him in from second.  Both plays were important, but Sandoval's surprisingly (at least to me) quick move from second to third, led to the go ahead run brilliantly defended by Bumgarner.

Sliding Billy Hamilton 

Both runners, of course, received credit in the box score for scoring a run, but somehow it doesn't seem sufficient recognition for the actual contribution.  In his initial efforts at developing baseball statistics, the only offensive number tracked by Henry Chadwick was runs scored.  I remember reading somewhere that Chadwick's position was that once a runner reached base, it was his responsibility to get himself around the bases to score.  That's a little extreme, but carries the seeds for recognizing the importance of what Sandoval and Gordon did in getting themselves not just in scoring position, but close enough to score on an out.

Regardless of whether it was because of Chadwick's influence or some other reason,19th century major league score keepers had more discretion in recognizing these feats of feet.  According to an article by David Pietrusza and Bob Tiemann in the "Baseball Research Journal," through 1897 scorers could give a stolen base for runners who advanced on fly balls, infield outs and even when advancing from first to third on a base hit.  All but advancing on fly balls were eliminated beginning with the 1898 season and the fly ball out joined the extinct group in 1904.  While on the surface this seems far too liberal, the stolen base was supposed to be awarded only if there was "a palpable attempt" to retire the runner.  At least one study on the subject confirmed that the discretion given to the score keeper was used only sparingly.

Details of Billy Hamilton's 13 game base stealing streak including the opposition pitcher and catcher

Peter Morris in A Game of Inches notes that this difference in scoring makes it impossible to compare more modern base running statistics with those of the 19th century.  Understandable as this may be, however, Morris also notes that far more regrettably, the difference has led to an unwillingness to take 19th century statistics and records seriously.  One example of this is the difficulty Billy Hamilton, who played for the Philadelphia and Boston in the National League in the 1890's, had in being elected to the Hall of Fame.  Although obviously eligible since 1939, it wasn't until 1962, more than 20 years after his death that "Sliding Billy" got his well deserved recognition as an offensive force.  Perhaps the most impressive of Hamilton's accomplishments is 1697 runs scored in 1594 games, the highest ratio of runs scored to games played in baseball history.  Given that number of runs scored, it's not surprising that Hamilton didn't ignore the base stealing side of things. Two of his records which still stand are stolen bases in one game (7 in 1894) and consecutive games with a stolen base, 13 in 1891.  Working only with online newspapers, I was able to check "Sliding Billy's" performance in the latter streak without finding a single instance where a stolen base was awarded for any of the discretionary options,validating at least on that limited research the significance of Hamilton's achievement.

Philadelphia Inquirer - September 1, 1894

Hamilton did, of course, ultimately get his just deserts and the Hall of Fame's new process for evaluating players from the game's early days, which includes input from historians, should help to avoid similar situations in the future.  Unless, however, there's some sabermetric or other modern statistical measure that I'm not aware of for recognizing good base running, consistent performances like those in the seventh game could be over looked or not receive the appropriate emphasis.  While giving a "blank check" to score keepers to award stolen bases would be an over reaction, it seems to me there is merit in finding a way to give due credit to a player who advances on his own "skill and smarts."  After all what a base runner does when he beats a throw to move from second to third on a fly ball is using speed and judgement to "steal" a base.  And as Roger Angell observed, in a pitcher's duel, it's plays like that which make the difference between winning or losing and, as the Giants showed, sometimes the difference in winning it all.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Taking Brevity to a New Level

As anyone who watched the Giants-Royals seventh game is well aware, Tim Hudson, the Giant starter didn't make it through the second inning, the shortest stint by a starting pitcher in a seventh game of the World Series since 1960.  Hearing that reminded me of something I wanted to mention in the post about Buck Weaver and the 5th game of the 1917 World Series, but inadvertently left out.  Without doing any real research that the game may have marked the two briefest appearances for starting players in any World Series game.  Part of this was mentioned in the earlier post in the description of the Giants hot start in the top of the first when they knocked out White Sox starter, Reb Russell after he faced only three batters without recording an out.  The part I left out, however, was that the Giants actually used a pinch hitter in the first inning.

Jim Thorpe

Since Russell was a left-hander, John McGraw replaced Dave Robertson his regular right field with the famous Olympian, Jim Thorpe.  Thorpe had an unusual season that year as the Giants sold him to the Reds in April, but for some reason he was returned to the Giants in August.  All told Thorpe only hit .237, but apparently Robertson, not a lot better at .259, was considered unable to hit left handed  pitching thus the change.  However, Russell's early exit brought right-hander, Eddie Cicotte into the game thus obviating the need for the lefty-righty switch and as soon as Thorpe was due up, the Giant manager quickly replaced him with Robertson.  That move paid off as Robertson singled in the Giants second run of the inning getting the Giants off to the early lead they couldn't hold.  So the net result was that Russell lasted three batters while Thorpe was in the game until the sixth batter (himself) came up or as one writer commented Russell wasn't in the game as long as Thorpe, but saw more action.   Come to think of it, it's hard to imagine any baseball game in history where a starting pitcher and a started player both exited in the top of the first inning.