Friday, November 13, 2015

Ebbets Guards the Gate - the Free Pass Gate

Anyone familiar with Charles Ebbets lengthy stewardship of the Brooklyn Dodgers knows the squire of Flatbush had the reputation of being a cheapskate.  The stories told in support of this characterization are legion, from his arguing over the cost of laundering the team's uniforms to his claim he was the only owner unable to afford a car.  Another incident contributing to this Scrooge like image was an interview that appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle early in the 1907 season.  As was typical for the day, the article didn't carry a by-line so its impossible to know if the writer was as naive about baseball and its ways as he claimed.  In any event, the self-proclaimed baseball novice asked Ebbets about his primary responsibilities as team president.  The Brooklyn owner responded by claiming his three highest priorities were to "dodge people who want passes to the base ball games" or if unsuccessful in dodging to "look pleasant and say agreeable things," but above all to "restrain myself from giving the requested pass."  Beyond dealing with this weighty problem, Ebbets dismissed the rest of his responsibilities as "merely perfunctory," which "give me no trouble whatever."

Baseball Hall of Fame Library - A. G. Mills Collection

Elaborating probably far beyond what most Eagle readers felt necessary, Ebbets claimed that over the last 25 years, he had granted only one pass that was truly justified and which wasn't even solicited.  That situation involved a disabled boy unable to reach the ticket window who was victimized by a wolf in Good Samaritan's clothing, who offered to take the boy's money and buy his ticket, but then absconded with the ducat.  Learning of the dastardly and unmanly deed,  Ebbets not only gave the lad a pass, but "put the little chap in the best seat in the grandstand."  Otherwise Ebbets claimed, he was importuned by everyone "from United States Senators to elevator boys and bootblacks," with "rich men ask[ing] for passes because they are rich, poor men because they are poor."  Ebbets did admit that no red-headed man had ever asked for a pass based solely upon his hair color, but, said Ebbets, "there is time for him yet."  There is, however, evidence that Ebbets was no soft touch for those seeking an "Annie Oakley."  The papers of F. C. Lane, editor of "Baseball Magazine," in the Baseball Hall of Fame Library, contain two letters from the Brooklyn president declining requests for a season pass.


Baseball Hall of Fame Library - A. G. Mills Collection

Clearly having spent most of the interview with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Ebbets finally admitted the club had "a regular free list of over 500 names," obviously a source of dismay and/or embarrassment to the supposedly tightfisted magnate.  If, however, Ebbets attitude toward free passes was evidence of his cheapness, it painted his fellow owners with the same miserly brush.  The pass issue was frequently discussed at owners meetings throughout the period and in no little detail.  Just one example is a proposal Phillies owner William Baker brought before the December 1915 National League owners meeting which was deferred for further consideration and action in February of 1916.  The debate on the proposal and the issue easily filled over 100 pages of the stenographic record with almost universal desire to reduce the number of "dead heads" going through "the sewer" of the pass gate.  Baker's proposal which provoked all the debate would have required the home team to pay the visitors their share of the base ticket price for free admissions.  Since the home club hadn't received any offsetting revenue, the possible net cash loss got everyone's attention which Baker indicated was the real purpose of his proposal.

                                        Baseball Hall of Fame Library - F. C. Lane Collection

Since the ensuing debate was recorded more or less verbatim and the magnates thought no one was "listening," they openly shared information that otherwise would likely have remained confidential.  Perhaps surprisingly the largest number of free passes were given not to politicians or business cronies, but to the local newspapers.  Ebbets refusal to issue passes to weekly and monthly publications was well justified by the apparently insatiable needs of the New York City press.  Brooklyn itself had four daily papers covering the Superbas which wouldn't have been so bad by itself, but he also had to provide for the hard to envision 16 daily newspapers in Manhattan.  Unlike the Giants and Yankees owners, Ebbets had to satisfy all 20 papers, a fact he never tired of sharing with his peers.  The problem was exacerbated by the fact that each publication got an average of 20 passes, not counting the reporters actually covering the game.  Nor was there much that could be done about it as the newspaper publishers considered the passes the only payment received for all the "free advertising" given to the baseball clubs.  One estimate was that theaters paid for 100 lines of advertising for every three purchased by the ball clubs.

                                        William Baker - owner of the Philadelphia Phillies

The second biggest group receiving free passes was also something of a surprise as the number of passes given to clergy also exceeded those given to politicians.   Ebbets didn't provide any figures, but the Cincinnati club reportedly gave out 300 passes to clergy which should have covered the complete ecclesiastical spectrum.  While the magnates might have been able to reduce the number in this category, there was unanimity that regular clergy attendance was worth the lost revenue.  Presumably clergy attending games was another form of free advertising, an endorsement that attendance at baseball games was a socially and morally acceptable activity.  Certainly Ebbets maintained good relationships with Brooklyn clergy including a Roman Catholic priest, a Rabbi and a Protestant minister who sometimes sat together in "clergy row" at Ebbets Field.  Ebbets also paid attention to elected officials as he felt local approval of Sunday baseball was on the horizon and he wanted the legislators on his side.  There were, however, limits in Ebbets largess in this regard as Phillies owner Baker and Boston owner, James Gaffney good-naturedly complained that Ebbets refused to give them passes when they held political office in New York City 

                             Typical Brooklyn Baseball Ad - Brooklyn Daily Eagle - June 1915

But for all the talk and complaining, how much did these lost admissions really cost Ebbets and his fellow owners?  Here again the meeting transcripts shed some light on the subject.  The Brooklyn owner told his peers that in 1915, non-paying individuals passed through his turnstiles some 24,361 times out of total attendance of about 300000.  If the average admission was 50 cents, that means total potential gate receipts were reduced by just over $12,000 or about 8% of total possible revenue.  It's not an insignificant amount, especially given the fact that 1915 was the height of the Federal League War and the Superbas in head-to-head competition with the Brookylyn Tip Tops of that circuit.  According to Ebbets, the Tip Tops were so desperate to be able to claim higher attendance than Ebbets' club that delivery trucks for Ward's bakeries (the owners of the Federal League club) were giving out free passes while delivering baked goods.  Ultimately, the National League owners adopted pass limits for 1916 with a maximum financial penalty of $500, but it certainly didn't end concern or debate over the issue.

Theater Ad - Brooklyn Daily Eagle - June 1915

Reading and thinking about the discussion, it appears the largest categories of passes were simply a cost of doing business that couldn't be avoided.  For the owners the real issue was passes the holder gave to someone other than the intended recipient.  Baker tried to solve this problem with some success by giving 40 game passes rather than the full 77, reasoning that no one person would use all 77, but if limited to 40 there would be less incentive to give the pass to another person who probably didn't merit free admission.   Was the attitude about passes and "dead heads" evidence that Ebbets and his brother (and one sister) owners were cheap?  The numbers above suggest it was a legitimate concern, reflecting once again how much the owners depended on gate receipts for revenue.  It's also important to note that when the issue is a large volume of quarters (small change to us today), each quarter lost is viewed not just on its own, but in multiples thereof.  All in all, it doesn't lead to definite conclusions about whether or not Ebbets was cheap, but it opens a window on his world and that of his fellow magnates.  

Friday, October 30, 2015

Bringing Down the Curtain

By now vintage teams throughout most of the country have concluded their 2015 campaigns.  Travel, time with grandchildren and other conflicts kept me away from the last three weekends of the Neshanock's season, but my sources have given me enough information to provide a brief summary of the season's final matches.  The last report in this blog was after Flemington took two games from the Athletic Club of Philadelphia at the Dey Farm in Monroe Township, New Jersey.  While the next Saturday was to be spent at a new event sponsored by the Saddle Brook Historical Society, playing two matches with the Gotham Club of New York, rain and cold intervened cancelling both games.  The rain out left the Neshanock one game over .500 with four games remaining, beginning with a trip to the Strasburg Railroad Museum near Lancaster, Pennsylvania for an event sponsored by the Elkton Club of Maryland.

William Cauldwell

The first game was a rematch with the Rising Sun Club of Maryland which defeated the Neshanock at the Old Bethpage Village Old Tyme Base Ball Festival back in August.  Although it took a come from behind effort to do it, this time Flemington prevailed 12-10 before losing the second match of the day, 9-6 to the Mid Atlantic Picked 9, apparently a mixture of players from the Diamond State Club of Delaware and the Brandywine Club of Pennsylvania.  The day's results left Flemington again one game above .500 with two to play, a repeat of the end of the 2013 season.  The 2015 season finale was held in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania taking on first the home club and then the Ellicott City Surveyors.  The only information I have is the scores, but after losing a close 7-6 contest to Kennett, as in 2013, the Neshanock came through in the second game, prevailing by a 20-16 count for the second winning season in the past three years.

A successful defense of the New York - New Jersey Cup - a 2015 highlight

2015 marked my eighth year of participation in vintage base ball, two with the Eureka Club of Newark and the last six years with the Neshanock.  While I missed more games this year than usual, the experience was once again rewarding at several different levels.  As I've noted before participating in vintage base ball and watching well over 200 games over that time span helps my understanding of base ball history.  In saying that I want to be clear that in no way can this experience substitute for working with original source material.  My time last week in the Giamatti Research Center at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, researching Charles Ebbets, reinforced that point, if it needed reinforcing.  I've noted before that it appears that very little of the Brooklyn owner's correspondence survives, making it very difficult to learn about Ebbets by reading his own words.  However, the Hall of Fame has the minute books of the National League owners meetings which through 1925 are actually verbatim transcripts of the meetings.  Reading through the literally hundreds of pages of these transcripts provides a golden opportunity not just to "hear" Ebbets in his own words  but to get a detailed picture of the other owners and the issues and concerns they faced during the Deadball Era.  The transcripts will be a real asset in developing a picture of the Brooklyn owner.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Having said that, there are still things to be learned from the re-creation of 19th century base ball.  I realized this once again while working on an essay for the SABR 19th century base ball committee's project on winter meetings.  For the pre-professional period, the goal is to cover all of the meetings of the National Association of Base Ball Players and I'm working on the meetings from December of 1860 and 1864 where the major issue was the fly game vs. the bound game.  During the late 1850's and through 1864 there was a concerted effort to eliminate the bound out, that is awarding an out for catching a fair ball on the bounce.  Despite the efforts of some of the leading clubs and players, the change didn't come about until December of 1864.  One of the prime advocates of the fly game was Henry Chadwick, the father of base ball himself, but he was countered by a less well known, but even earlier base ball writer, William Cauldwell of the Sunday Mercury (thanks to Richard Hershberger for pointing me in Cauldwell's direction).

Henry Chadwick

In writing about the failure of the rule to pass in December of 1860, Cauldwell argued that the bound game was a better game because while players would catch balls on the fly whenever possible, the incentive of recording an out on a bound ball encouraged great effort that would not be forthcoming if the potential reward was eliminated.  Thinking about the many times I've seen vintage base ball players make fine running catches of balls on the bound and/or diving to  do the same quickly verified Cauldwell's claim in my own mind.  Without that experience I would have been more likely, as I think others would be, to think of the fly/bound issue only in the context of the ball hit right to the fielder when the issue is really much broader than that.  It's obviously a moot point since the rule was changed, but it's an illustration of one of the rewards of historical re-enacting.

Photo by Dennis Tuttle 

It's one more reason to be grateful for the opportunity to be part of the vintage base ball community and, in that regard, I want to thank all those who make it possible, beginning with Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw and all my teammates on the Flemington Neshanock.  Among that group, special thanks to Mark "Gaslight" Granieri for taking pictures, putting up with my comments and swinging a big bat once he's able to find the playing field.  I also want to acknowledge all of the teams who the Neshnaock played in the course of season without opponents the season would be one long grind of inter-squad games.  One of the high points of any vintage season is the various tournaments and festivals and I thank the Elkton Eclipse, the Brooklyn Atlantics, the New York Mutuals and the Essex Base Ball Organization for some great times in 2015.   In addition to opponents, base ball can't be played without umpires so a hearty well done to Sam "It ain't nothin' 'til I say" Bernstein for his work in that often unappreciated role.  Finally, thanks to the spouses, significant others, girl friends and now children who attend the matches and support the Neshanock in so many different ways on and off the field.  Huzzah to 2015, best wishes to all for the off season and looking forward another great year in 2016.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Literary Off Season

Long before Rogers Hornsby famously remarked that he spent the winter staring out the window, waiting for the start of a new season, base ball players, especially in the the north, had to endure months away from the ball field.  For many, the long work week of the period may have  absorbed the time previously carved out for practice and match play.  But even in those days of limited leisure, season's end meant at least some time was available for idle hands (and minds) to use for good or ill.  When the Warren Club of Roxbury, Massachusetts (now part of Boston) decided in December of 1860 to intentionally use the winter months for self improvement, it drew high praise and lengthy comment from the New York Clipper.  Reading in a Boston newspaper that the club "had organized itself into a literary and debating association for the winter," gave a Clipper writer, possibly Henry Chadwick, the paper's cricket and base ball editor, sufficient material and motivation to go on for almost a full column of unsolicited advice for any base ball club within the reach of his pen.

New York Clipper - December 22, 1860

If the Warren Club's approach to the winter hiatus was somewhat unique, their on-the-field experience also stood out from what was happening elsewhere in the country.  Like most of their neighbors, the young men from Roxbury opted for the locally popular Massachusetts game rather than the rapidly expanding New York version.  Rather than playing on diamond shaped fields, the Warren Club and their opponents took their positions on a square field with four foot high wooden stakes for bases with varying distances between bases, but in all cases less than 90 feet.  Also different from the New York game was the position of the batter or striker, who stood between the first and fourth bases, facing a player about 30-35 feet away, throwing, not pitching, a softer ball.  If the softer ball and shorter distance favored the pitcher, this was more than compensated for by the absence of foul territory, creating a field far too big to be defended even by the larger teams (10-14 suggested) of the Massachusetts game.  The softer ball was a necessity since like many non-New York games, runners could by retired by "plugging" or "soaking" them with a thrown ball.  And there were plenty of opportunities to do just that in a game made for high scoring with the winning team, the first to reach the century mark.

Massachusetts Game 

Regardless of the differences between the two games, however, winter weather sooner or later ended play for the year, freeing up the time for the Warren Club's decision that was so praised by the Clipper or at least by the article's author.  In recommending using the winter months for high quality literary pursuits, the Clipper writer presumably had something in mind other than the content of his own newspaper.  The first page of the same December 22, 1860 issue contained the first episode of a serial entitled "The Cock of the Walk" or "The Bowery Boys on the Trail of Blood."  Praised as "A Thrilling Story of City Life," written especially for the Clipper, the story opens well after midnight in "a drinking saloon in the Bowery," occupied by pipe smoking men, lacing their conversation with four letter words, made somewhat more tolerable by dashes in appropriate places.  Although the first episode only hints at at future content, there is more than enough questionable material to be confident the writer had other ideas for the proposed literary societies.  Any doubts on the subject were removed by another serial running inside the paper, "Belerius - the Gladiator, a Romance of Old Rome."

Having already made the decision to come together for literary pursuits, and assuming the Clipper wasn't an option, the members of the Warren Club faced practical choices about reading material.  While they could have fallen back on existing works like Shakespeare or most of the complete novels of Charles Dickens, ads in the Boston newspapers offered no shortage of new books.  For the scientifically inclined, there was the third volume of Louis Agassiz's Contributions to the Natural History of the United States, where supposedly "the views of Darwin on the origin of species are also considered."  If nothing else that would have provided plenty of content for the debating side of the association.  More practical perhaps in times of every day application was local author, Ralph Waldo Emerson's collection of essays The Conduct of Life intended to answer "the question of the times" - "how shall I live."  It was an especially pertinent question given what was going on in the nation, especially in the south, and the first two editions were sold out within a week.  The looming national crisis also gave special relevance to John Wingate Thornton's The Pulpit of the American Revolution, a collection of "political" sermons from 1776 intended perhaps to direct the reader back to the nation's founding principles.

Certainly these and other works gave the members of the Warren Club plenty of food for thought and discussion before the new season dawned.  By then, however, events had over taken every day life and, at least for some, the ball field gave way to the battlefield or stopped the new season before it even got started.  A search of Massachusetts newspapers post 1860 shows no further activity by the Warren Club. Only a few members of the club have been identified, but one, J. Henry Symonds spent the 1861 base ball season at the front with the 6th and 22nd Massachusetts, avoiding being hit with a different, much more lethal type of ball.  By war's end, the Massachusetts game had been supplanted by the New York game and if any members of the Warren Club returned to the playing field after Appomattox, it was probably with a new team, playing, for them, a new game.  The extent to which other clubs followed the Warren Club's example and the Clipper's exhortations is also unknown. That may be fortunate for today's vintage clubs which typically put a high priority on historical accuracy, but may not be anxious to spend the off season discussing Darwin, Emerson or the modern equivalent thereof.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Base Ball before the Knickerbockers

One learning from almost seven years of working on New Jersey's observance of the Civil War Sesquicentennial is that all historical anniversaries aren't created equal.  That's especially true of any that aren't centennials or multiples thereof, the energy and the excitement simply aren't the same.  It's no surprise, therefore, that little attention has been paid or will be paid to the 170th anniversary of two important base ball events.  September 23rd, just about a week ago, marked the anniversary of the 1845 formal organization of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York, not the first base ball club, but one of the most important.  October, in turn, will see the 170th anniversary of the first documented match games (games between two different teams).   All three contests between the New York Club and a Brooklyn team preceded by close to six months, the June 19, 1846 Knickerbocker - New York Club match, still described all too frequently as the first competitive base ball game.  In addition to not being the first match game, concerns have been raised that the 1846 contest wasn't even a true match game which would push the date of the  Knickerbockers entry into competitive play to June 3, 1851.

Pioneer Club of Jersey City Constitution - until now considered the city's first base ball club

Not only were match games played prior to June of 1846, but some base ball clubs, like the New York Club, date back into the late 1830's.  Unable to find adequate playing space in Manhattan, these early teams gravitated across the Hudson River to the ample and accessible playing surfaces at Elysian Fields in nearby Hoboken, New Jersey.  However, even with this exposure to what would become known as the New York game, it wasn't until 1855, ten years after the Knickerbockers got started, that the first New Jersey clubs were formed, primarily in Jersey City and Newark, making 2015, by the way, the 160th anniversary of New Jersey's first teams.  There are, however, clear indications that some form of a game called base ball was played by New Jersey men before 1855.  Evidence of this is seen in the formation of what could be called 19th century vintage base ball clubs in Newark in the late 1850's and Paterson in the late 1860's to recreate something they called "old fashioned" base ball.  Another such possibility has now surfaced, which was passed on to me by John Thorn, Official Historian of Major League Baseball, and Ben Zimmer of the Wall Street Journal.

Peter Bentley - Jersey City Mayor and perhaps 1830's base ball player 

Back in July, John forwarded to me an e-mail from Ben which contained the below excerpt from a much longer article in the December 13, 1871 edition of a Jersey City newspaper, The Evening Journal.  This account of roughly 20 lines, describing a base ball team predating the Knickerbockers by almost a decade, appeared in a much longer article entitled "Recollections of a Jersey City Boy, No. 3."  Especially valuable are the first names of these supposed early base ball players, the typical lack of which often stops identification before it even gets started.  Far less clear was the identity of the "Jersey City Boy," whose name didn't appear in this or any of the four other non-sequential (of course) articles about growing up in Jersey City.  Fortunately, information provided in the articles about the author's life and activities was so specific as to positively identify him as Stephen Quaife, an English immigrant, whose family moved to Jersey City in 1827 when he was only one.  Identifying Quaife, however, immediately ruled out his claim of having "acted as the spare pitcher on the first nine," since he was only about 10 at the time.  Quaife's name did, however, ring a vague bell and a look at Jersey City's first base ball clubs finds him listed as a pitcher in a box score of a July 11, 1855 inter squad game of the Pioneer Club, founded that June.  Clearly Quaife was conflating his own brief base ball career with whatever he knew or thought he knew about another club 20 years earlier.

Evening Journal - December 13, 1871

Even with the first names, learning more about the other four alleged base ball players met with some difficulty.  Finding information about the hard throwing Peter Bentley, a future Jersey City mayor, and Joseph Edge, son of a predominant Jersey City pyro-technical manufacturer (fire works) was relatively simple.  Far more difficult was Jerry O'Meara, primarily because he died young at the age of 35 in 1845 which, if nothing else, provides a possible end date for this supposed early base ball team.  Unlike Quaife, age was not a problem for the four, since all of them were in their late 20's or early 30's in 1836 which proves only that they could have been playing base ball, not that they did so.  In addition to writing about the team and some of its players, Quaife also claimed their games were played on "Nevins & Townsend's block," which can be found on blocks 29 and 42 on the below map.  Located in the Paulus Hook district, one of the oldest parts of Jersey City, it's use as a base ball field, testifies to the limited population and development of the day.

1848 Map of Jersey City 

This 1871 account of a club some 35 years earlier has the same problem as other descriptions of pre-New York games in New Jersey, they are all retrospective, none come from contemporary sources.  In search of such evidence, I spent a few hours last week at the Jersey City Public Library (thanks to Jim Madden and Danny Klein for facilitating my visit) working my way through the Jersey City Gazette and Bergen County Advertiser.  Unfortunately, the library's copy covered 1835 and 1836, but not 1837.  If such a club existed, it most likely only played inter squad games which wouldn't have been newsworthy so I didn't realistically expect to find any game accounts or things of that nature.  However, an ad  or "card" announcing a meeting or a game was a possibility and, at the very least, the paper was a source that had to be checked.  Unfortunately, although I learned about William Henry Harrison's successful presidential election campaign, a new work by an author using the pen name "Boz," and read multiple ads for Isiah Edge's fire works, there was no mention of base ball, a club or anything even close.  The library does hold other newspapers from 1838 to 1845 which need to be checked, but it will be some time before that happens.

Jersey City Daily Sentinel  - August 16, 1855

Could there be something to Quaife's claim of a late 1830's base ball club?  When he wrote his 1871-72 memories of Jersey City, he was only 45 and hardly senile since he lived until 1903.  Unless and until it's proven otherwise, the most that can be said is that there may have been a group of men who played some kind of bat and ball game without the accouterments of an organized club.  There is, however, some further evidence of pre-New York base ball in Jersey City.  The July 12, 1855 Jersey City Daily Telegraph article describing the game Quaife did play in, clearly states there were 11 on a side and that the five games were played in one day.  Similarly the Pioneer and Excelsior Clubs first match games in 1855 featured 11 on a side before the two teams began playing other New Jersey and Brooklyn clubs and nine on a side became the norm.  Contemporary evidence is still lacking, but Quaife's account further supports the idea that young men in New Jersey were in the field with bats and balls well before the state's first clubs were formed in 1855.  It's a topic that clearly merits further research.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Good Harvest at the Farm

A conflict kept me from the Neshanock's matches this past weekend, but Mark "Gaslight" Granieri graciously provided not just pictures, but a guest post.  Already an accomplished catcher, striker and photographer, not to mention navigator, "Gaslight" clearly has a future in blogging.  Thanks to Mark for keeping the Neshanock's vast fan base up to date on the weekend's matches.

“It’s déjà vu all over again.” – Yogi Berra

Photo by Mark Granieri

The Neshanock experienced their own deja vu while playing the Athletic Club of Philadelphia at Dey Farm in Monroe Township this past Saturday.  First, their two victories brought the club over the .500 mark which had not been seen since June.  Second, these matches marked the return of Bob "Melky" Ritter (2nd match, 9th inning relief) and Gerard "Jacks" D'Angelo (2nd match, first base relief) who both had not seen the field of play due to injuries for far too long.  This event now held for several years at Dey Farm (circa 1820) is sponsored by the Monroe Township Historic Preservation Commission.

Photo by Mark Granieri

 The first match was a well played contest won by the score of 10-5 behind the hurling of Danny "Batman" Shaw.  The Neshanock led 4-1 after the first inning and stayed ahead of the troublesome Athletics who were always within striking distance.  Flemington was led by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner who had  a "clear score" with four hits and also tallied four runs.  A well-earned break between matches saw Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw recite the exploits of a long ago ballist named Casey to the delight of a sizeable crowd of cranks which included several local politicians.  The current ballists (at least this one) were kept happy by a basket of cookies.

Photo by Mark Granieri

 The second match was an offensive explosion, resulting in a 27-8 score in which Flemington batted around the order once and sent nine strikers to the line in three other innings.  The Neshanock were fueled by Dan "Sledge" Hammer who hurled the match and contributed seven hits in striking for the cycle including a two run homer, two triples and seven scored runs.  Other striking worth note was Chris "Lowball" Lowry (four hits, four runs), Joe "Mick" Murray (three hits, three runs), Chris "Sideshow" Nunn (three hits, four runs), Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner (three hits, one run) and Bo "No Nickname" Koltnow (three hits, one run).  The match also saw Ken "Tumbles" Mandel's attempted slide into first base result in a divot so large the Preservation Commission is worried that filling the area with fresh dirt may exhaust their remaining funds.  A meeting will be held next week to discuss the matter.  The Neshanock have two dates left on the calendar this season, including traveling to Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, next weekend to battle the New York Gothams.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Saturday, September 26, 2015

In Honor of the 2015 New York Mets

In Honor of the 2015 New York Mets 
"The relationship between a losing team and its admirers is more complex and compelling than the simple delight in conquest enjoyed by the winners' fans. Winning teams are grand and heroic, qualities that lack a human dimension. But losing teams are all too human. They are cursed by chance, by their own limitations, by failures of will and desire. But when they win, their victories speak to fans who, having witnessed so much misery, can draw lessons from those triumphs."
Michael Shapiro - "The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers and Their Final Pennant Race Together"


Sunday, September 20, 2015

All Muffins Are Not Created Equal

On Saturday, September 12th, the Neshanock traveled to Wilmington, Delaware and defeated the Diamond State Club by a score of 6-3 in a match that lasted 11 innings.  I understand it was an exciting game and I'm sorry that I missed it.  Much closer to home, at least for me, this past Saturday, Flemington made a rare north Jersey appearance in Nutley to play the Nutley Colonels, a team formed by the Kingsland Manor, a 1700's historic home.  Base ball doesn't appear to go back to the 1700's in Nutley, but in August of 1869, when Nutley was known as Franklin, the Long Star Club, the community's first base ball club took the field and defeated the Senecas of Bloomfield by a whopping 38-13 count.  Today's match was much lower scoring, not just by 19th century standards, but even within the context of the modern game, a tribute to both clubs, but especially to the Colonels in their first attempt to play by the rules of the 1860's.  The popular name for first time, inexperienced players was "muffins," because of their proclivity to miss or "muff" batted or thrown balls.  A team of first time players would by definition be a muffin club, but the Colonels quickly proved themselves to be no muffins.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Flemington scored one tally without a hit in their first opportunity at the striker's line, but the Colonels immediately responded with two runs of their own for a 2-1 lead they held until the 5th inning, primarily due to good defense which included throwing out two Neshanock runners at the plate.  The Neshanock broke through in their half of the fifth, however, tying the game on a hit by Joe "Mick" Murray and then taking a 4-2 lead on a two run single by Jack "Doc" Kitson.  The Neshanock added another run in the sixth when Rene "Mango" Marrero's second double of the game drove home Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner.  After that it was all about the Neshanock pitching and defense which allowed only one hit after the second inning with that runner put out on a double play.  From the second inning on the Neshanock retired 21 of the last 22 Colonel batters, with the only Flemington error, a second inning walk (Henry Chadwick counted walks as errors on the pitcher).  While Nutley struggled offensively, their defense was rock solid, making only one muff and that on the very first play of the game.  All told it was a well played game with the hope on both sides to do it again in 2016.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Writing Neshanock game accounts seldom involves discussing money, something that also hasn't entered into much of my writing about historic 19th century games. An exception was encountered while researching one of my current projects, four game accounts for a forthcoming SABR book about the Boston Red Stockings, the National Association's most dominant team.  Founded in 1871, the Association was the country's first large scale professional league, although, if I understand it correctly, its records are not recognized by Major League Baseball.  Flawed at many levels, the Association was probably doomed from the outset and passed out of existence after the 1875 season when it's five surviving clubs joined William Hulbert's fledgling National League.  After finishing second in 1871, the Boston club, under the management of Harry Wright, won the last four Association pennants including the 1875 season when the pennant race, such as it was, was over by June.  The Red Stockings on the field dominance isn't too hard to fathom since their lineup included Albert Spalding, George Wright (Harry's younger brother), "Deacon" White, Jim "Orator" O'Rourke, all of whom, in addition to Harry are members of the Hall of Fame.

Boston Red Stockings Stock Certificate 

While the team enjoyed great success on the field, the elder Wright's responsibilities didn't end with the final results on the scoreboard.  At the time, managers were also responsible for another score sheet, the club's financial ledgers and the bottom line difference between revenue and expenses.  In that arena, even though the club's won the 1872 pennant, the financial results were a disaster.  Bill Ryczek in his history of the National Association, Blackguards and Red Stockings, wrote that the Boston club finished the season with a $5000 loss, resulting in an equal amount of debt including unpaid player salaries.  No matter how well the club had played, these losses threatened the club's very existence and that winter it was not at all clear the Red Stockings would even attempt to defend their title in 1873.  Fortunately for everyone concerned, enough of the team's fans were willing to put up their money and invest in the club, money they might never see again.  In addition, while they might not have had much choice in the matter, the players chipped in by agreeing to have the balance of their 1872 salaries paid in installments.

With the sins of the past wiped away, not by divine intervention, but rather Boston bucks, Harry Wright was charged by the club's new investors, not just to bring home another pennant, but to do so without another flood of red ink.  Trying to manage both the team and the box office was probably more than a little challenging and most likely explains the detailed financial records, Wright entered in a notebook which is now part of the Albert Spalding collection in the New York Public Library.  Just one example, covers what was described as a "southern trip" during the first half of June in 1873.  Beginning on June 2nd and running through June 12th, Boston won eight games and lost two on a trip that took them to New York, Elizabeth, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore.  In addition to the game results, Wright also recorded Boston's share of the gate receipts which are as follows:

Brooklyn Atlantics   204.92
New York Mutuals   258.90
Elizabeth Resolutes      38.00
Philadelphia White Stockings   416.10
Baltimore Canaries   295.25
Washington Nationals                 55.65
Baltimore Canaries   228.16
New York Mutuals   231.17
Brooklyn Atlantics   129.83
Elizabeth Resolutes     86.67
Total 1944.65

Against the receipts, Wright also recorded expenses for the 12 man traveling party of $533.64, about half of which was for railroad fares with the balance for hotel expenses.  Some of the hotel items are for 3/4 of a day which probably reflects using local hotels for a locker or changing room before and after an overnight train ride.  Matching revenue and expenses reveals a "tidy" profit of $1411.01, before, of course, a base ball club's biggest expense, then and now, player salaries.  Recognizing this, and probably wanting to keep it in front of him, Wright entered a listing of the roster and salaries in his notebook which totaled $15700 for the season (six months).  Salaries ranged from $2000 at the top of the scale for Harry, brother George and star pitcher, Albert Spalding to rookie Jack Manning at the bottom of the ledger, earning a mere $400.  Adding 1/2 month's payroll of $1309 to the debit side of the ledger, put the trip's bottom line at $102 just over break even.

Jack Manning

One of the striking things about professional base ball through more than half of the 20th century, is the extent to which clubs depended on gate receipts as the only real source of revenue.  Good teams like the Red Stockings probably looked to their drawing power to at least break even on the road while generating even healthier returns at home.  Lower level teams probably struggled financially both at home and on the road with visits to and from front running clubs like Boston serving like manna in the wilderness if nothing else to meet payroll.  When all was said and done for the 1873 season, Boston again finished on top of the standings and at least avoided the 1872 financial disaster.  Understanding the club's finances is complicated by the fact that there were two separate organizations, the Boston Baseball Club and the Boston Association, but an article in the December 13, 1873 edition of the New York Clipper seems to indicate that gate receipts basically covered operating expenses with the proceeds of stock sales paying off old debts and improving the club's cash position.

1873 Boston Red Stockings 

Working with these numbers reinforces a concern I've had while researching Charles Ebbets' career with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  On the surface, the dollar amounts seem so small that it's hard to understand and appreciate their significance.  Take, for example, the Red Stockings $5000 loss/debt at the end of 1872.  While $5000 is still not an insignificant amount today, a business with that level of debt would hardly be driven to the wall as it seems was the case with the Boston club.  Thus far, the most valuable tool I've found in translating historic dollar amounts into modern equivalents is the web site, which compares the value of assets (or effectively liabilities) in three different ways.  The table below lists Boston's $5000 debt in each of those categories comparing 1872 to 2014.

Historic Standard of Living       $100,000
Economic Status    $1,380,000
Economic Power  $10,400,000
The first category looks at the purchasing power of an amount to buy a "bundle" of goods and services that the average household would buy.  While considering the $5000 1872 debt as equal to what $100,000 would buy today gives a better sense of the relative amount, it still doesn't seem to be at the crisis level that was experienced.  Economic status, on the other hand, measures the prestige value between two periods and  the 1873 debt expressed as $1,380,000 in 2014, gives a better sense of the crisis.  Perhaps even more persuasive is the economic power option which measures the relative influence of an amount in the economy so that $5000 owed in Boston in 1872 would be like owing $10.4 million today, an amount that would have major impact on any local or national economy.  I recognize that this is one of those subjects that can make people's eyes glaze over, but a sense of the real significance of these relatively low dollar amounts is essential to understand base ball finances in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and, ultimately, the important role of ownership in the history of the game.