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.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Laboring on Labor Day

Doubleheaders have been part of professional base ball since at least July 4, 1873 when, in an attempt to boost holiday attendance against the visiting Elizabeth Resolutes, Harry Wright of the Boston Redstockings staged a morning-afternoon affair with, of course, separate admissions.  Over the centuries and decades, base ball has had a sort of love-hate relationship with doubleheaders.  From when I first became interested in base ball in the 1950's through at least my college graduation in 1968, doubleheaders (two games for the price of one) were both scheduled and promoted.  Today, of course, twin bills are seldom, if ever, scheduled and when caused by weather conditions or some other reason almost always end up as separate admissions.  Twin bills with one admission which were the norm in the 1950's and 1960's are avoided like the plague today.  It doesn't appear, however, that there was ever a time when a lot of consideration was given to going a step further and playing three games in one day.

1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys - one of base ball's worst teams

But even though the idea of three games in one day never got a lot of attention, that doesn't mean it's never happened.  At the major league level, there have actually been three different times when clubs played three games in one day.  The only 20th century instance took place in 1920 on the last day of the season when the Pittsburgh Pirates were trying to catch the Cincinnati Reds for third place and, more importantly, the last share of World's Series money.  That event, which was, in fact, the only time fans got three games for the price of one admission, has been covered by A. D. Suehsforf in the Baseball Research Journal, published by SABR found here  To my knowledge, the two 19th century examples of the three in one experience have received far less attention so the rest of this post will focus on the days when fans with enough quarters could see their heroes play thrice. Interestingly, both instances have a number of things in common, beginning with the somewhat ironic fact that the players had to work the base ball equivalent of overtime on Labor Day, then a relatively new holiday.  In addition both match ups pitted the league's best team against its worst with some interesting connections between the two days, some six years apart.

1890 Brooklyn Bridegrooms - Brooklyn's first National League team

Not surprisingly, the decision to play three was driven by rain outs, although the initial one, on September 1, 1890 in Brooklyn, seems like it could have been avoided.  On that date the Brooklyn Bridegrooms were already scheduled to play a morning-afternoon doubleheader with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys so a second afternoon game was added to make up a May 15th rain out.  What's surprising about the decision is that there seems to have been more than ample opportunities to make up the game.  Not only did Pittsburgh play in Brooklyn on July 17-19th, but, in keeping with the practice of the time, another three game series in early August was moved to Brooklyn because of anticipated poor attendance in Pittsburgh.  That anticipation was well founded since the Pittsburgh club had been decimated by Players League defections and would ultimately finish 23-113-2, a mere 66.5 games out of first place.  Pittsburgh's already depleted roster almost literally took another hit the previous Saturday when New York Giants star pitcher,  Amos Rusie hit George "Doggie" Miller in the neck with a pitch.  According to the (NY) Sun, Miller went down "as if he had been touched by an electric wire."  So scary was the moment that  it appeared "the blow was fatal," but Miller proved to be a "very plucky little fellow," and was back at third base the following inning.

George "Doggie" or "Calliope" Miller

After losing both games of the Saturday twin bill to the Giants, the Alleghenys enjoyed a legally mandated Sunday off before turning up for the first pitch at 10:30 on Monday morning at Washington Park.  Whether it was the early start or the intimidating Bridegrooms lineup, Pittsburgh quickly fell behind 4-0 and trailed 10-0 when they came to bat in the ninth, only three outs away from another dismal defeat in a dismal season.  Although Pittsburgh had been shut out thus far by Bob Caruthers, one of Brooklyn's ace pitchers, they managed to load the bases, but only after two were out.  Then, however, things got interesting as Guy Decker, Ed Sales and the .096 hitting Mike Jordan all contributed two run singles closing the difference to 10-6.  Given Brooklyn's natural affinity for the underdog, it's not surprising that some Brooklyns fans reportedly began rooting for the visitors with one "bleaching board occupant" supposedly yelling for the "plucky little" Miller to hit a game tying grand slam.  "Doggie" did his best to oblige, belting a long drive to the left field corner, scoring all three runners and heading for the plate himself in an heroic attempt to tie the score.  Brooklyn was not, however, about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and a Darby O'Brien to Germany Smith to Bob Clark relay, nailed Miller at the plate or at least that's what the umpire and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle thought.  A contrary view was offered by the New York Clipper which labeled the call "dubious."

New York Clipper - September 6, 1890

Apparently not demoralized by coming up just short in such heart breaking style, Pittsburgh mounted another ninth inning comeback in the first afternoon game, this time from a more modest 3-1 deficit.  After Fred Osborne walked to start the inning, Brooklyn's Hub Collins made a great catch which the Eagle said "probably saved the game."  Pittsburgh did not go quietly, however, as Ed Sales drove in the second run, only to be thrown out at the plate when he tried to score on a ball hit to shortstop.  As weak as the Pittsburgh lineup was, they understandably didn't have much of a bench so pitcher Dave Anderson batted for himself and was struck out by Brooklyn's Tom Lovett to end the game.  Having come perilously close to two embarrassing losses to the lowly Alleghenys was more than enough for the Bridegrooms who scored seven times in the first two innings of the third game en route to an 8-4 win the Eagle called "featureless."  That not withstanding, the win was no less important than the first two as the day's work put real distance between Brooklyn and second place Boston.  In addition to being major league base ball's first triple header, it was the only day in major league history when a team gained 2.5 games in the standings in a single day.  While Brooklyn was completing its sweep of Pittsburgh, Boston Beaneaters were in the process of losing both ends of a doubleheader to Chicago, increasing the Bridegrooms lead to 5.5 games, a lead they never surrendered.

Bill McGunnigle as he apparently dressed for games

At least two participants in the 1890 event, "Doggie" Miller and Brooklyn manager, Bill McGunnigle, could have been forgiven if another Labor Day triple header some six years later gave them a feeling of deja vu.  McGunnigle at least had some choice about the 1896 triple header, but this time the former Brooklyn manager had switched roles from leading a first place club, to managing the league's worst team, the Louisville Colonels.  Labor Day weekend in 1896 found McGunnigle and his team, including part time player, "Doggie" Miller in Baltimore to take on Ned Hanlon's first place Orioles.  There had been two rain outs on Louisville's last visit to Baltimore so the plan was to play doubleheaders on Saturday and Monday, but  rain once again interrupted, wiping out Saturday's twin bill.  Determined to make up the games, no matter what, the two managers agreed to play three on Labor Day followed by a doubleheader on Tuesday.  Baltimore's motivation was probably a combination of money and anticipated easy victories, while the last place Louisville club badly needed their share of the gate receipts.

Baltimore's Union Park

Although not as bad as the woeful, 1890 Pittsburgh club, Louisville would finish the season with a cellar dwelling record of 38-93-3, some 53 games out of first place.  Given that record, any competitive effort against Hanlon's powerful team was a surprise, but the lowly Colonels gave Baltimore all it could handle in the morning game which the Baltimore Sun called "one of the most beautiful games played at Union Park in some time."  On the mound for Pittsburgh was 18 year old Bill Hill, a "lithe long-armed, left handed product of the Tennessee mountains," who allowed the defending National League champions only six hits.  Louisville actually led 2-0 before Baltimore tied it in the fifth, only to see the upstart Colonels take a one run lead going to the bottom of the seventh.  Baltimore matched Louisville's run in the seventh and came to bat in the bottom of the eighth with the game still tied.  John McGraw was at bat when his reportedly, and not surprising "abusive" language led to his ejection.  McGraw's replacement Joe Quinn completed the strike out, but in the best inside base ball tradition Willie Keeler beat out an infield hit, stole second and scored what proved to the winning run on Hugh Jennings single.

1896 Baltimore Orioles

After the morning game ended about 12:30, the two clubs took a lunch break before the afternoon doubleheader started at 2:00.  Whether it was due to unwillingness to subject himself to more abuse from McGraw or, as he claimed, a leg injury, umpire John "Bud" Lally declined to work the afternoon contests.  Both clubs then contributed a player to umpire with Louisville represented by none other than "Doggie" Miller.  Reportedly the umpiring for the rest of the day was both "fair and impartial,"  but that may be more a reflection of the one sided 9-1 and 12-1 Baltimore victories as the Sun said the visitors lacked "their snap and excellence" of the first game.  As in the earlier triple header in Brooklyn, the lineups throughout the three games remained pretty much constant except, as one might expect for pitchers and catchers, which makes it even more impressive that Oriole captain and catcher, Wilbert Robinson caught all three games without making a single error.

That was not, however, the end of the portly Baltimore backstop's herculean labors as there was still a doubleheader to play the next day.  Although he did make one error, Robinson once again caught both games.  For some unexplained reason, the clubs were again without an umpire so "Doggie" Miller filled in once more, but just for the first game as he played the second contest.  After three straight losses, it would have been understandable if Louisville threw in the towel, but the last place Colonels were made of sterner stuff and actually led the first game 8-5 before falling 10-9.  Bill Hill, took the mound in the second contest and gave another impressive performance in the 3-1 defeat.  Hill lost 28 games in 1896, hopefully they weren't all as frustrating as these two games in Baltimore.  Unlike the three games in Brooklyn, the Baltimore sweep didn't significantly increase their lead, but the Orioles still coasted to a third consecutive first place finish.  No information survives as to how many Brooklyn or Baltimore fans actually saw all three games, but those who did would have agreed with the Sun that "nobody could complain about the scarcity of base ball."

Monday, August 24, 2015

Weekend in New England - Base Ball and Grandchildren

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

Photo by Mark Granieri

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

Photo by Mark Granieri

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

Photo by Mark Granieri

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

Photo by Mark Granieri

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

Photo by one tired Grandfather

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

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

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Why Did the Fireman Take a Balloon Ride?

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

History of Jersey City 

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

Photo by Mark Granieri

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

Photo by Mark Granieri

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

History of Jersey City

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

Evening Journal - July 11, 1916

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

Durant's 1834 Ascent in Boston 

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

Philadelphia Inquirer - September 11, 1830

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