Friday, July 13, 2018

Why Bother?

Right now there is a not entirely rhetorical question being asked by some baseball fans across the country including those who root for the Mets, Orioles and Marlins among others.  Given that your team is hopelessly out of contention, why bother paying good money to see bad baseball.  It's a question probably as old as the first pennant races in the major and minor leagues, something New Jersey fans first experienced in 1883,the inaugural season of the fledgling Interstate Association.  As noted in earlier posts, New Jersey started the season with two clubs in the new league, one in Camden which wouldn't even survive past July and another in the state capital of Trenton.  There had been some sort of semi-pro club in Trenton the prior few seasons so the coming of the Interstate Association meant a more structured environment and above all competition for a league championship.  Trenton didn't get off to a good start and, if the local media is anything to go by, the city didn't have a lot of patience for poor performance.  By mid May, the Daily True American complained that the local team "have done more to the discredit of Trenton in the matter of baseball than any other club that ever played under the name of Trenton" - strong words indeed!

Craig Brown's rendering of the 1883 Trenton uniform based on a very detailed newspaper description in the Trenton Evening Times of  July 20, 1883.  This is the earliest uniform Craig is aware of with a breast pocket, for more of Craig's work go to    
The paper demanded an infusion of new talent which wasn't long in coming, but the problems persisted and by late August, Trenton was still below .500 at 21-27, mired in sixth place (in a seven team league) well behind front running Harrisburg.  Although the Pennsylvania team was in first place when they visited Trenton on August 25, they were losing ground to Brooklyn (yes, that Brooklyn club) which would ultimately win the Interstate Association pennant.  There seemed little reason therefore for the practical Trenton fan to waste his hard earned dimes and quarters on the game at the Trenton cricket grounds on East State Street.  One possible incentive to attend was to see the club's new pitcher, John Valentine who had come to Trenton from the Columbus major league club, his 2-10 win-loss record being all the explanation needed for his availability.  It's perhaps a little surprising the club had added Valentine since they already had a competent pitcher in John Harkins, a local boy from nearby New Brunswick.  Previously a college student at Rutgers, Harkins was a rarity in professional baseball and would go on to play a few years in the major leagues spending most of his time with Brooklyn.

John Harkins

Valentine was described as "a fine specimen of athletic manhood" who even before he pitched a game for Trenton had made an impression on a portion of the fan base since "the luster of his diamond shirt-pin flashes with bewildering effect on the occupants of the ladies' stand."  Perhaps management figured that even if Valentine couldn't pitch, he might attract a few more fans to the ball park.  Thus far the new pitcher had done well, winning three of his first four starts, although the one loss, in his last outing, had seen him "slugged" by the Wilmington, Delaware club.  Interestingly, Jack Leary, the Harrisburg pitcher was also a relatively new member of his team, having joined the Pennsylvania team that same month.  Like Valentine, Leary had been in the major leagues earlier in 1883 with Louisville and Baltimore, not only as a pitcher, but also playing multiple infield and outfield positions.  While he may have indeed been literally a "jack of all trades" (sorry), he certainly wasn't a master batter, hitting below .200 with both teams.  He had, however, made a good first impression in Harrisburg, described by the Harrisburg Patriot as "a tricky man," one who "apparently uses brain work."  Leary also had a 3-1 record also losing his last start although in more low scoring fashion.

John Valentine 

The game began with Harrisburg in the field and Trenton wasted no time getting on the board, scoring twice as the game started in what the Trenton Evening Times described as "hurricane fashion," a pace maintained by Harrisburg who responded with three tallies of their own.  Apparently quickly losing patience with their new pitcher, "some in the crowd [were] discourteous enough to call for Harkins in the second inning."  Fortunately, Trenton captain, Jake Goodman stuck with Valentine who rewarded Goodman's faith by shutting out Harrisburg for the next six innings.  Leary, however, was nowhere near as effective, allowing Trenton seven more runs and the home team led 9-3 going to the bottom of the eighth inning.  Any Trenton fans who had been on the fence about attending the game were clearly feeling better about their decision and according to the Patriot "some of the crowd were already dispersing in anticipation of an easy victory."  There were however reasons why the Trenton club was in sixth place and even though as the Evening Times noted they had "played brilliantly at times," the eighth saw "a spell of that fumbling and monkeying which often proved disastrous."  Particularly at fault was outfielder Tom Lynch who reportedly "tripped over the ball a couple of times in left field, and then lay on the ground wholly regardless of the runners flying around the bases."

Thomas Lynch

Lynch is often confused with his far better known namesake who was a well known major league umpire before becoming president of the National League where he earned Charles Ebbets undying enmity.  This Lynch had his own brief major league career and upon his death in 1955 was believed to be the oldest living major league player.  When the dust finally cleared on the carnage reportedly brought on by Lynch's misdeeds, the game was tied at 8-8, heading to the ninth.  Any cynical Trenton fan probably expected the local club to fail to score in the top of the inning paving the way for Harrisburg to win in the bottom of the half, making an already painful loss, even worse.  However the game still had some surprises in store for both players and fans. Not only did both teams fail to score in the ninth, they also posted blanks for four more innings so the game was still tied after 13 innings.  At that point the Evening News felt the game should have been called for darkness, but it was decided to play one more inning.  Doubtless aided by fatigue on the visitors part, Trenton tallied twice in the top of the fourteenth on a combination of errors and passed balls.  Needless to say "the air was rent with applause" with Trenton understandably "considering themselves victorious."

A box score with a warning label - Trenton Evening Times - August 26, 1883

 Unfortunately, Harrisburg still had one more at bat and they "pounded Valentine unmercifully," combining three straight hits and a throwing error to tally three times and win the game 12-11.
Among those overwhelmed by the day's events was the Evening News reporter who warned his readers it was "only just to say the following score may contain several errors, as the reporter was not present for fourteen innings, and used all his paper, besides which other reporters were yelling like mad men and mixed things up."  Interestingly, a comparison between the local box score and that of the Harrisburg Patriot as well as one that appeared in Sporting Life reflects only minor differences.  Equally drained was the crowd which "went home silently," because of the tough loss, but also because it had "yelled itself hoarse" for a little under three hours (14 innings in less than three hours!).  Hopefully the game taught the reporter to be better prepared and also taught the Trenton fans that no matter how bad their ball club, every day at the ballpark has the potential for an unforgettable experience.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Mutuals in New Jersey - then and now

We begin with a correction.  Reporting on the Neshanock's visit to Princeton two weeks ago, I wrote that Chris "Side Show" Nunn had broken Mark "Gaslight" Granieri's record for putouts by a catcher with 10 in a match against the Monmouth Furnace Club.  But this past week I got an email (from guess who) claiming that, in fact, "Gaslight" had also recorded 10 putouts in a game in Delanco, New Jersey almost exactly a year ago.  Checking the old score book, something I should have done in the first place, confirmed the claim so "Side Show" and "Gaslight" are now tied for the honor.  It should, however, also be noted that "Side Show's" feat was in a seven inning game potentially sparking a debate about asterisks, like the famous, or infamous, qualification of Roger Maris' 61 home run season. But since vintage base ball lacks a commissioner, we'll let that pass.  Last week the Neshanock were supposed to travel to Easton, Maryland for two games with the Talbot Fairplays, but the excess heat prompted cooler heads to call the cancel the matches.  With the benefit of a week off, therefore, the Neshanock made a rare north Jersey appearance on Saturday, traveling to River Edge for the sixth annual game on behalf of the Bergen County Historical Society.

William "Boss" Tweed

The two seven inning matches were played at New Bridge Landing, an important Revolutionary War site with the Neshanock's old friends, the New York Mutuals providing the opposition just as they did a year ago.  After allowing the New York club one tally in the top of the first, Flemington responded quickly with four of their own keyed by doubles from Rene "Mango" Marrero and Joseph "Sleepy" Soria.   The Neshanock added one in the second and three more in the third while keeping the Mutuals off the scoreboard in their next five at bats.  After Flemington added two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth, the New York team got some offense going in their last time at the striker's line, but it was too big a mountain climb and the Neshanock prevailed 10-5.  Flemington was led by "Sleepy's" clear score as well as two hits apiece from "Mango," Brian "Spoons" LoPinto and "Jersey" Jim Nunn.  The match also saw the welcome return of Steve "Cuz" Thompson who contributed a ringing double to the Neshanock attack.  Another offensive highlight was a double from Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner which was more crashing than ringing since it broke a window in one of the historic houses inconveniently placed in right field.  

After a respite long enough not just for "Casey at the Bat," but also "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," the second match began with the Neshanock at the striker's line.  Flemington tallied twice, but lost the opportunity for a big inning when two runners were tagged out on the bases.  That may or may not have been a negative Neshanock record, but, as Jeff "Duke" Schneider pointed out to me, it can't be far off.  Having dodged a bullet, the Mutuals quickly scored four runs and added four more in the second inning, using timely hitting to take an 8-2 lead.  After that the Mutuals defense took over (the New York club played excellent defense in both contests) and limited the Neshanock to only one run over the next five innings.  After the Mutuals added two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth, predictably, Flemington got its offense going, scoring five times and getting the tying run to the plate. It wasn't to be, however, and the New York team held on for a well earned 10-8 lead.  "Thumbs" led the Neshanock with three hits and a clear score, fortunately without inflicting any further damage on the historic windows.  After "Thumbs" came two hit contributions from Dan "Lefty" Gallagher, Joe "Mick" Murray, "Mango," "Sleepy," and Matt "Professor" Ayres.  With the split, Flemington stands 9-6 on the season heading into an open date before the ninth annual Gettysburg Vintage Baseball Festival, beginning on July 21st. 

What will henceforth be known as the Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner window at New Bridge Landing

Like the modern version of the Mutuals the original club was a frequent visitor to New Jersey especially during the 1860's and 1870's when the New Yorkers crossed the Hudson to take on the likes of the Eureka and Irvington Clubs.  One such visit to Irvington took place in 1867, just a year after the Irvington Club burst on to the national scene upsetting prominent teams like the Atlantics and the Eckfords.  Already blessed with such talented players as future major leaguers Charles Sweasy and Andy Jackson Leonard, the Irvington club leadership hadn't been idle during the off season, adding Mahlon Stockman and Lipman Pike.  Stockman wasn't a great hitter, but according to historian William Ryczek, his defensive skills were at the same level as George Wright and Dickey Pearce, the top shortstops of the day.  Pike, the "first great Jewish baseball player," was at the beginning of a 15 year professional career and would become, according to Robert Schafer, his SABR biographer, "among the premier sluggers of his time."  With the addition of Pike and Stockman, the Irvington infield, which already featured Sweasy and Hugh Campbell, was, in Ryczek's opinion,"equal to any in the country."

Lipman Pike 

With Irvington now literally and figuratively on the base ball map, the match was guaranteed to draw a large crowd and a reporter for the New York Sunday News provided a vivid description of the scene on the road to the small farming community near Newark.

                    On Friday, June 28th, the Mutuals visited Irvington, N.J., to play the 
                    first game of home and home match with the celebrated Irvington Club of
                    that place who have acquired the first rank in the base ball world in
                    consequence of their victories over such clubs as the Union of Morisania,
                    and the Eurkeas of Newark, N.J.  For weeks prior to the match it has 
                    the topic of conversation in base ball circles, and the excitement in regard
                    to it surpassed anything we have known for the past several years.

                    In addition to the usual modes of conveyance, via cars, etc. to Newark, the
                    roads from Jersey City leading to Irvington were literally thronged with a
                    procession of vehicles of every description, including carriages, baroches,
                    light wagons, ominbuses, and hotel coaches, the Mutuals going out in two
                    of the St. Nicholas coaches.  Among those we noticed on the road going to
                    witness the afternoon's pastime were Judges Barnard and Handley, 
                    Supervisors Tweed and Hayes, Alderman Shannon, O'Brien, Norton and 
                    others; Councilman Long, Hartman and Kinney. A very pleasant party,
                    consisting of Coroner Gover, Jas. McConnell, George W. Millar, M. Howlett
                    and Fred Goodieson, were in a barouche, and apparently enjoyed themselves
                    to the top of their bent from the start to the finish.

The presence of such a large number of politicians shouldn't be surprise since the Mutuals were very closely connected to Tammany Hall, the New York City Democratic political machine.  Had they recognized the politicians, especially "Supervisor Tweed," knowledgeable Irvington fans would have realized their team had more at risk than just the game.  Before what the Sunday Mercury described as "a dense mass of spectators numbering fully 15,000," the Mutuals quickly took charge, building a 15-6 lead as the game headed to the bottom of the seventh.  Up to this point, the large crowd had apparently been relatively orderly, but so many people and so few police made some kind of disturbance inevitable and the inevitable happened as the Irvingtons came up for their seventh turn at the striker's line.  The Sunday Mercury reporter described the action off-the-field.  

                     The tally now stood 15 to 6, and things began to look bad for the Irvingtons.
                     Just about this time, a pickpocket's fight occurred, time being called for
                     about ten minutes.  The disturbance was caused by four Newark rowdies
                     and a party of Newark roughs of the lowest order, who had imbibed from
                     the liquor stands on the grounds, this crowd being incited to a row by a 
                     party of pickpockets who wanted to get hold of several gold watches and 
                     flush pocket-books they had seen in the crowd.  For a time the scene was 
                     very turbulent, about a dozen fellows being engaged in it, nearly all being
                     of the bull-necked low-brow'd, crop-haired brutes, who degrade humanity
                     so much in our cities.  Both clubs did their best to quell the disturbance, 
                     the Mutuals especially, as the fight was undoubtedly working against their
                     interests; in fact its effect on the play of the nine was made plainly apparent
                     before the close of the seventh inning.

Contemporary picture of an 1866 Atlantics-Athletics match in Philadelphia - note the gamblers and pickpockets in the lower left hand corner

It would be fascinating to know how the reporter distinguished between "rowdies" and "roughs" and the presumed difference between "roughs of the lowest order" and any other category of rough.  In any event, order was eventually restored, but when play resumed, the Irvington offense woke up and not a moment too soon.  The local team tallied six times in the seventh and four more in the eighth while holding the Mutuals to only one run so the match entered the ninth tied at 16.  The Sunday News reporter picked up the story.

                     The Mutuals went to the bat but were only allowed one run, Zeller having 
                     the credit of it, making the score 17-16 in their favor, with an inning left
                     for the Irvingtons.  The latter sent in Lewis their first striker, who was finely
                     disposed of by Jewett on a foul-fly catch, which equalled anything we ever
                     witnessed in a base ball field.  Pike now stepped forward with an evident
                     determination to tie the game if possible.  He hit a long and high ball to the 
                     center field, which was caught by Zeller on the fly, and notwithstanding 
                     his good intentions he was obliged to retire.  Leonard now took the bat as 
                     the Irvington's forlorn hope, but unfortunately struck a ball toward Martin,
                     who quietly fielded it to Bearman thus ending the game in favor of the 

While the Sunday Mercury described the game as "one of the most exciting we have witnessed for years" that was little satisfaction to the Irvington Club and in the end they lost more than the game.  In July, after playing just six games for Irvington, Lipman Pike defected to the Mutuals where according to a Newark newspaper he had "secured a $1200 clerkship under Supervisor Tweed," doubtless a position with a very flexible work schedule.  Understandably outraged, the Irvington Club expelled Pike rather than accept his resignation,raising the question of his eligibility to play for the Mutuals, an issue the New York club simply ignored.  Clearly the Mutuals recognized talent when they saw it, weren't afraid to go after it and had the resources to do so.  Even without Pike, the Irvington Club still had another good season in 1867, but the handwriting was on the wall - although willing to pay players, the New Jersey team lacked the financial wherewithal to hold on to top quality talent.  


Sunday, June 24, 2018

"The Most Practical Thrower in America"

Amidst overcast, but fortunately not weeping skies, the Neshanock made their annual trip to Greenway Meadows in Princeton for an event hosted by the Historical Society of Princeton.  The opponent this year was the Monmouth Furnace Club from the Jersey shore, a still relatively new team and an important addition to the state's vintage base ball community.  As noted on numerous prior occasions, one of the ways vintage base ball consistently recreates the original is in the importance of who shows up on a given day.  Saturday, unfortunately, the Monmouth club was shorthanded and although some muffins filled in valiantly, the Neshanock won both games by large margins. In the first of two seven inning contests, the Neshanock prevailed 18-0, setting some records and team firsts in the process.  On the defensive side catcher Chris "Side Show" Nunn set a Neshanock record by recording ten put outs, eclipsing the previous record held by Mark "Gaslight" Granieri.  Recording 10 of Monmouth's 21 outs on foul balls was a big assist to Scott "Snuffy" Hengst's in his first appearance in the pitcher's box, a hard to top performance allowing just two hits and no runs.  Offensively, Gregg "Burner" Wiseburn and Joe "Mick" Murray contributed three hits apiece, but the big offensive feat was a clear score by Dan "Lefty"Gallagher, featuring not one, but two home runs along with two singles.

"Mick's" three hit performance was also noteworthy since he twice made his base striking from the left hand side of the plate, falling only one at bat short of a clear score.  Also coming close to a clear score was Ken "Tumbles" Mandel who took a different route, even for  him, reaching base three times on walks also believed to be a Neshanock record.  Several Neshanock had to leave after the first contest, but the remnant managed another victory this time by a 19-3 count although the game was not as one sided as the score indicates.  The Monmouth Furnace defense improved considerably in the second game and it took a seven run second inning for the Neshanock to build a lead and then put the game out of reach with a eight run seventh inning.  Apparently not satisfied with his two home run performance in the first contest, "Lefty" added another in the second game along with a double and a triple, giving him the cycle for the day.  Joining "Lefty" in the home run column was Tom "Thumbs" Hoephner while "Snuffy" added four hits to the Flemington attack.  All of that pales in comparison (or so he claims) to Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw who earned a clear score reaching base five times without making an out.  Defensively what had to be one of the ugliest shut out innings in base ball history was offset by a fine second to short to first double play in another. With the two wins, the Neshanock have an 8-5 record heading into a visit next Sunday to the Talbot Fair Plays, a game that I will unfortunately miss.

Surprising as it may seem the headline for this post doesn't refer to a crafty pitcher who uses guile and trick pitches to outwit dangerous hitters.  In fact, as we shall see, the quote bears no relationship whatsoever to base ball.  In discussing early New Brunswick base ball last week, I mentioned that the game had taken hold even earlier in Trenton, in 1856, only the second year New Jersey teams were in the field.  Base ball's popularity in the state capital proved to be no flash in the pan and Trenton became one of the first New Jersey cities to host a minor league team.  As with most things about base ball history, there is debate about the first true minor league, but one of the earliest circuits was the 1883 Interstate Association which boasted not one, but two New Jersey teams, Trenton and Camden.  Unfortunately neither team had much staying power.  The Camden club, although it had the best record in the league, folded at the end of July and its best players were quickly scooped up by the Brooklyn franchise, the team ultimately known to history as the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Trenton didn't do a whole lot better lasting only until mid way through the 1885 season.

Trenton Evening Times - October 13, 1883

New Jersey's struggles to support 19th century minor league base ball is a story for another day, but the problem was obviously a lack of paying customers.  That doesn't mean, however, that the Trenton team was totally bereft of enthusiastic followers.  Although we usually don't know much about 19th century New Jersey base ball fans, in October of 1883, the Trenton Evening Times gave a vivid description of one "Cap" Brindley who didn't lack for passion both inside and outside the ball park.  Brindley was apparently so well known to the paper's readers it wasn't necessary to give his first name which was little help in trying to identify him and learn more about this base ball aficionado.  It's the same problem posed by a lack of player first names in game accounts which makes identifying players difficult and, at first, it appeared it would be the same story with "Cap."  Fortunately, however, our Mr. Brindley was such a household name in Trenton that newspaper searches with "Cap" as the first name produced enough hits not only to identify him (including a picture), but to fill in a life story more than a little out of the ordinary

John Brindley - Trenton Evening Times - July 15, 1888

Born in Tunstall, Staffordshire, England in 1835, Brindley, who described himself as a "potter by birth," arrived in Trenton in 1876 less than a decade before minor league base ball came to the state capital.  Since some of my ancestors made a similar move from the same part of Staffordshire to Trenton only a few years later, Brindley's choice of desination's was no surprise.  At the time, both cities were major pottery centers, but high protective tariffs in the United States enabled Trenton pottery workers to earn twice as much as their English counterparts explaining why Trenton's population tripled between 1860 and 1890.  Brindley quickly made the transition from cricket to base ball and his "sturdy figure," "bushy head of whitening hair" and "mellifluous comments" became a regular feature in the grandstand right behind the catcher.  While there is no record of him playing base ball,  he was considered "the most practical thrower" in the country.  "Throwing" in this context means shaping the clay while it is on the potter's wheel and Brindley was so skilled he could reportedly "throw anything from a thimble to a ten gallon piece [of pottery]."

Trenton Evening Times - July 5, 1895

Although more skilled than his peers, the English immigrant still identified with his fellow workers becoming an "indomitable champion of worker's rights" especially when pottery owners tried to cut the workers' pay.  In 1885, Brindley and some other men started their own company, but Brindley died very suddenly in July of 1893 and, according to his obituary, left "a wife and four children."  The account had the correct number of children, but was one short on wives since Brindley, unbeknownst to most people (including presumably his American wife), also had a wife in the England, the mother of his eldest son James.   The sordid details might not have leaked out, but there was money involved, specifically Brindley's ownership interest in the pottery which Fannie Lawton previously known as Fannie Brindley claimed had been given to her.  James sued claiming the gift was "null and void" because it was "against public policy and good morals" and an "inducement" for Fannie to live with Brindley in "a state of adultery."  Somewhat surprisingly,  considering this was the Victorian era, the court decided in Fannie's favor, ruling that the gift once given, couldn't be undone.  Brindley's passion for base ball wasn't sufficiently widespread to save minor league base ball in Trenton, but he certainly was a colorful person in his own right.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

"On the Banks of the Old Raritan"

Home to Rutgers University for over 250 years, New Brunswick, New Jersey doesn't always get the recognition it deserves in its own right. First settled in 1681, New Brunswick was a stop on the King's Highway between New York and Philadelphia during colonial times and an important river port for most of its early history.  The city's favorable location led to its inclusion on the railroad which, as we shall see, was a contributing factor to the development of antebellum base ball in what would become the county seat of Middlesex County.  New Brunswick's first team was the Liberty Club possibly named after a local fire company and a wise choice when Lawrence Major, then a member of the Elizabeth Resolutes, decided to start a new team.  Over the past five years or so there have been more false starts than successes with new vintage teams in New Jersey so credit to Lawrence for taking the time to put a solid club on the field which is off to an excellent start.  On Saturday, the Neshanock traveled to East Jersey Olde Towne Village in Piscataway to take on the Liberty who, while only in their first year, are by no definition muffins.

The first match was played under 1858 rules, the primary difference being that there are no called balls with strikes being called only sparingly.  This is only the second time I've been part of an 1858 game and in the hot sun, it's not hard to understand why called balls were added for the 1864 season.  After six innings the Liberty led 6-4, but the top of the seventh hurt Flemington badly.  Four straight hits set the stage for a big inning and some untimely Neshanock muffs (there probably isn't a timely muff) contributed to five tallies and a 11-4 Liberty lead.  The Neshanock rallied for three in their half of the inning, but even though Flemington shut the Liberty out the rest of the way, the Neshanock could muster only one more run and lost the first contest 11-8.  Special note should be made not only of the Liberty's timely hitting, but also consistent play in the field, making only two muffs over the course of the game.  Brian "Spoons" LoPinto led the Neshanock attack with a four hit clear score while Rene "Mango" Marrero added three hits and Adam "Beast" Leffler and Ken "Tumbles" Mandel had two apiece.  "Tumbles" was especially impressive at the striker's line with a perfectly executed fair foul and a long double.

After a brief respite, the second contest got underway this time with the Neshanock striking first in a game under 1864 rules.  Four straight Flemington strikers made their base leading to three tallies, but the Liberty matched that in their half of the inning.  Although the first two Neshanock strikers went out in the top of the second, Flemington still managed two tallies keyed by a ringing triple by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn who, as usual, had a fine game behind the plate.  After limiting the Liberty to one tally in the bottom of the inning, Flemington tallied twice more this time thanks to back-to-back doubles by Jeff "Duke"Schneider and "Tumbles."  Flemington had a 7-4 lead at that point, but the Liberty chipped away while shutting out the Neshanock over the next three innings and the New Brunswick team led 8-7 going to the top of the seventh.  Flemington wasn't done, however, scoring three times in their turn at the striker's line largely due to another double by "Tumbles" that sent two Neshanock runners across the plate.  Once again, however, the Liberty had plenty of answers combining well struck hits and some more untimely Neshanock muffs to take a two run lead.

Flemington loaded the bases in the top of the eighth with only one out, but managed only one tally to close within one run.  In the bottom of the inning, the Liberty loaded the bases with none out, but were kept off the scoreboard largely due to a double play off a foul ball.  After the first Neshanock striker went out in the top of the ninth, Flemington had first and third again with just one out, but the Liberty returned the favor, retiring the side on another foul ball driven double play for a 12-11 Liberty victory.  "Sideshow" had an outstanding game at the plate, recording a five hit clear score.  "Duke" contributed four hits while "Tumbles," Joe "Mick" Murray and Steve "Muffin" Colon (playing for the first time) had three apiece.  Also of note was a two hit game by Joe "Irish" Colduvell.  Although the second contest was much closer, the Liberty once again prevailed due a combination of timely hitting and exceptional defense again making just two muffs.  Lawrence Major has done a fine job getting the Liberty Club off to a good start, one that all of us hope is sustained over the long term. With the two losses, Flemington is now 6-5 on the season heading into next Saturday's matches in Princeton with the Monmouth Furnace Club

Unlike most vintage teams, I'm very familiar with the original incarnation of the Liberty club since I wrote an essay about the team for the book - Baseball Founders, my initial foray in writing about 19th century base ball, even before A Manly Pastime.  Founded in 1857, the Liberty Club of New Brunswick has the distinction of being the first New Jersey base ball club to join the National Association of Base Ball Players, the loose confederation of clubs whose primary role was to set rules.  New Jersey's first base ball clubs got on to the field in 1855 so it's interesting to see that the game had spread that far into the state in such a short period of time.  In fact, the New York game had reached even further into New Jersey a year earlier with the formation of the Trenton Club, an indication of the importance of the railroad to the game's expansion throughout the northern half of the state.

New Brunswick Fredonian 

Before base ball received extensive newspaper coverage, exposure to the New York game was largely limited to playing it, watching it or hearing about it from someone who had played or watched it.  Access to New York City (and Hoboken) increased those opportunities considerably and New Jersey's relatively sophisticated railroad network facilitated just those kind of opportunities.  The difference between railroad development in the northern and southern parts of the state makes the point very effectively.  New Brunswick residents who lived some 36 miles from Manhattan, could reach the city in two hours with a choice of eight different trains throughout the course of the day, making a one day round trip more than feasible.  A south Jersey resident of Bridgeton, however, wishing to make the relatively similar 42 mile trip to Philadelphia had to rise at the ungodly hour of 4:00 a.m. for a combined 6 1/2 hour stage coach and ferry ride to the City of Brotherly Love - needless to say limiting the number of those exposed to Philadelphia town ball.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - October 30, 1861

Like most early New Jersey clubs, the Liberty began playing local teams, but the New Brunswick team took a quantum leap in class when they started playing the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn  Not surprisingly it didn't go well at first, including an 1858 61-14 rout where they trailed 26-1 after just two innings, but the Liberty was in no way intimidated. In an 1860 game, the Liberty led the Atlantics 16-11 going to the bottom of the ninth before the Brooklyn team tied it, although they were unable score the winning tally.  Understandably the Liberty  felt "like victors, because they "were not beaten'' by a team that "seldom fails of success." Doubtless the Liberty Club felt good about their prospects for 1861, but like many teams, the coming of the Civil War kept them off of the field for most of the season.  Late in October, however, they did manage a match in Newark against their friends from Brooklyn and this time thrashed the Atlantics by a resounding 30-12 count.  Although bemoaning the loss to a "country club," the Brooklyn Daily Eagle acknowledged the "total defeat" of the Atlantics.   It was the first time the Brooklyn team had lost to a team from outside of New York something that wouldn't happen again until their 1866 loss to the Irvington club.  Clearly the Liberty Club has a proud historical record, one being duly honored by the modern re-creators.  

Sunday, June 10, 2018

From Hops to Hay

After spending last weekend amidst beer hops and weeping skies in Cooperstown, the Neshanock spent Saturday in the heat, hay and humidity of the Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, New Jersey.  The purpose of this year's visit to an historic site well worth visiting was to play a match with the Elizabeth Resolutes, New Jersey's senior vintage club.  Under the leadership of founder and captain Paul Salomone, the Resolutes roster has been almost completely rebuilt and based on Saturday's performance there is a lot of reason for optimism about their future.  Perhaps it was due to the absence of Danny "Lunch Time" Shaw the master of the bat toss, but the Neshanock lost the choice of at bats and went to the striker's line to start the game.  Play was called at 12:08 with Brian "Spoons" LoPinto at the line and the Neshanock lead off hitter quickly made his base and then came around to make his run on a hit by Scott "Snuffy" Hengst.  After putting out the Resolutes in order in the bottom of the inning, Flemington tallied again in the top of the second after Meshack "Shack" Dusane made his base, stole second and third and then made his run on a Resolute muff.

The Resolutes went out in order again in the second although it took a fine relay throw from Dan "Lefty" Gallahger to "Snuffy" to Ken "Tumbles" Mandel to retire the final Resolute striker.  Neither team scored in the third inning, but Flemington combined hits from "Snuffy," Adam "Beast" Leffler and "Shack" to tally a third run in the top of the fourth.  The Neshanock might have done further damage in that inning, but a fine fielding play by the Resolutes pitcher stranded runners at second and third.  Doubtless inspired by the defensive gem, the Elizabeth club followed some untimely Neshanock muffs with a combination of well struck and well placed balls to tally three times in the bottom of the inning to tie the match at 3-3 after four innings.  Flemington quickly regained the lead in the top of the fifth, however, and retired Elizabeth without a tally in the bottom of the inning, but still held only a one run lead.

The Neshanock got off to a quick start in the top of the sixth when Lee "Muffin" Middleburg, playing in his first vintage game, made his base starting a parade of Flemington base runners.  Five of the next six strikers made their base and when the dust (and hay) had cleared, four Neshanock had made their runs for an 8-3 lead.  Elizabeth went out in order in their half of the sixth and when the first two Neshanock went out in the seventh (one on a fine fly catch by the Resolute shortstop) it looked like the score would remain the same.  "Tumbles," however, got things started with a base hit, moved around the bases and scored on a well timed walk by Joe "Irish" Colduvell.  The Resolutes were not done yet, however, adding a tally and putting two on with just one out before the Neshanock managed to shut the door.  Flemington added another tally in the eighth, but Elizabeth refused to go quietly, scoring twice to close within 10-6 after eight innings

Flemington wasn't able to score in the ninth, but fortunately retired the first two Resolutes in the bottom of the inning before the next two Elizabeth strikers made their base creating some unease on the Neshanock bench.  Fortunately Chris "Sideshow" Nunn recorded the last out on a foul fly just one example of his solid play behind the plate aided by another strong pitching performance by Bobby "Melky" Ritter.  In spite of losing the match, 10-6, the Resolutes played well especially considering that a number of their players were playing their first match and others are also still new to the game.  As noted earlier they appear to have a good future ahead of them.  Flemington's offense was led by "Spoons," "Snuffy" and "Shack" (how's that for alliteration).  "Spoons" and "Shack" each had three hits while "Snuffy" recorded a clear score in four times at the striker's line.  Also of note was somewhat more balanced scoring with three Neshanock tallies coming from the lower part of the batting order.  Now 6-3 on the season, Flemington heads to East Jersey Old Town Village in Piscataway next Saturday to take on the newly formed Liberty Club of New Brunswick an important New Jersey team that began play in 1857.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Baseball at the Brewery

Our first trip to Cooperstown was some 32 years ago and I've long since lost track of how many times we've visited the pristine village on the shores of Otsego Lake.  Hard as it may seem to believe, back in 1986 there wasn't a single baseball memorabilia store on Main Street although there were a few baseball card stores on some of the side streets.  That first visit also predates the past 20 years or more of extensive and intensive research into the game's early days so one of the first things encountered in the Hall of Fame was an exhibit case with an old baseball purportedly proof Cooperstown was the game's birthplace given added emphasis by a sign proclaiming "Only a cynic would need further proof" or words to that effect.  Now, of course, no such claims are made and with the benefit of hindsight it seems hard to believe that creation story had such a long shelf life - perhaps it's because Cooperstown is the kind of place where we would like to think baseball was born.  Someone may have already done so, but I think it would be interesting to research the history of organized baseball in Cooperstown itself, beginning with when the village had it's first competitive team  My best guess would be late 1860's or early 1870's, but I've never seen any such research and it's one project I have no intention of undertaking.

Brewery Ommegang

The cause of these rambling reflections was the Neshanock's visit to Cooperstown or more specifically Brewery Ommegang for a vintage base ball festival organized and hosted by the Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn.  Other participants included the Rising Sun Club from Maryland, the Brandywine Base Ball Club from Pennsylvania, the New York Mutuals and the Bouckville Summits, a relatively new team.  Flemington's first match on Saturday afternoon was with Rising Sun which got off to a promising start when the Neshanock limited the Marylanders to a single tally, closing the door with a runner on third and just one out.  Things looked even more promising in the bottom of the first when Danny "Lunch Time"Shaw and Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner each made their base and then used aggressive base running to make their runs and give Flemington a 2-1 lead after one inning.  Rising Sun more than returned the favor, however, in their next two opportunities at the striker's line, combining strategic hitting and their own aggressive base running to score five times and take a 6-2 lead heading to the bottom of the third.  Fortunately the Neshanock rebounded quickly thanks to Joe "Irish" Colduvell and "Lunch Time" who each made their base and then their runs on a highly productive out from "Thumbs" who drove in two runs on a bound out to right.

Note the extra fielder who had extremely limited range

Although the Neshanock didn't score in the next two innings, they kept the deficit at 6-4 thanks in part to a fine running catch of a foul fly by Dave "Illinois" Harris at first.  While the top of the Rising Sun lineup was held at bay in the fifth, the lower half came through in the sixth, earning two tallies and giving the Maryland team an 8-4 lead.  Flemington again held the top of the Rising Sun order in check in the seventh, aided this time by a fine bound catch at third by Joe "Mick" Murray.  The Neshanock finally broke through with two runs in the eighth, but the Maryland team added three in their half of the ninth and quickly retired the Neshanock for a well earned 12-6 victory. It was, to put it mildly, a weak offensive showing for Flemington which managed only five hits. With one game in the books, the Neshanock moved to another field to take on the Summits, a relatively new club located only about 50-60 miles from Cooperstown.  After the Summits went out in order in the top of the first, Flemington finally got its offense untracked in the bottom of the inning scoring ten times to put the match out of reach early in a 17-3 victory.  "Lefty," "Thumbs," "Illinois" and Chris "Low Ball" Lowry each contributed four hits for Flemington, but the standout offensive performance belonged to "Illinois" who managed a clear score in five times at the striker's line - no small feat.

The Bouckville Summit Club

A cloudy, somewhat misty Sunday morning turned into a cloudy, misty Sunday afternoon while the Neshanock waited for an 11 inning game between the Mutuals and Rising Sun teams to end before playing a match with the host Atlantic Club of Brooklyn.  While there are many fine vintage clubs throughout the United States, of all the teams I've had the chance to watch in person, the Atlantics are, in my opinion, consistently the best.  It was remarkable therefore that the Neshanock entered the match not having lost to the Atlantics in well over a year, the fact that the teams had only played once in that period being merely a technicality.  Having lost the bat toss for the only time all weekend, the Neshanock went to the striker's line first and got off to a fast start when six Flemington strikers made their base and Dan "Lefty" Gallagher and "Thumbs" made their runs.  Although the Neshanock left the bases loaded, they quickly retired the top of the Atlantics order (no small accomplishment) without a run and then added three more tallies in the second for a 5-0 lead.  No one with any experience with the Atlantics thought that lead would last and the Brooklyn club tallied five times in the bottom of the second and then, to make matters worse, pounded out nine hits in the bottom of the third, scoring six times for an 11-5 lead.

Flemington was not done, however, adding three in the fourth and two more in the fifth to close within one after five innings.  "Thumbs" contributed his third and fourth hits during these two rallies while "Lefty" added his third with "Lunch Time" and "Mick" contributing two well placed hits.  The Neshanock could not, however, get any closer and the Atlantics broke the game open in the bottom of the sixth by scoring five runs and then retiring the top of the Neshanock order 1-2-3 in the seventh.  Although the Atlantics added two more in the bottom of the seventh, the rally was cut short by a fine relay from Jeff "Duke" Schneider to "Mick" to "Thumbs" to put out an Atlantic runner at the plate.  Although the game was closer than the final 18-10 score indicated, it was a well earned victory for the Atlantics who once again lived up to their reputation.  Just one statistic tells the tale, while nine of Flemington's ten runs were scored by the Neshanock's first three strikers, the Atlantics got six from their first three, six from the next three and six from the bottom four - talk about balance!  "Thumbs" led the Neshanock with four hits while "Lunch Time," "Lefty" and "Duke" added three apiece.  Now 5-3 on the season, Flemington will spend the rest of June in New Jersey beginning with two games on Saturday June 9th against the Elizabeth Resolutes at the Howell Living History Farm near Lambertville.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

"Until the ending of the world"

Thus far the most consistent performer in the 2018 vintage base ball season has been the weather which has managed to rain out all but four of the Neshanock's scheduled matches, two of which were played on one day. Monday marked the renewal of the annual game with the Newtown Strakes as part of that Pennsylvania community's Memorial Day festivities.  Since the game had been rained out the past two years there was some concern about history repeating itself, but the game was played although before a smaller crowd than usual.  The Strakes are made up of players who come together for just this one game, but even with the two rain outs, the game has been played so many times the Newtown team can in no way be considered muffins.  Any doubts on that score were removed by the Neshanock's inability to pull off any of the trick plays Flemington saves for unsuspecting opponents.  As per usual for this game Flemington had an excellent turnout from its roster - 16 players almost enough to field two teams while the Strakes had only one less.  For a brief moment, it appeared like a Neshanock game would actually start on time, but some opening ceremonies delayed play being called until 12:12 with the Strakes at the strikers line.

With Bobby "Melky"Ritter in the pitcher's spot and a stout defense behind him, the Strakes went out without incident giving Flemington a chance to take the early lead and the Neshanock took full advantage.  Dan "Lefty" Gallagher led off with a double and made his run, followed by Dan "Sledge" Hammer, Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Gregg "Burner"Wiseburn all of whom made their base and then their run.  There was no scoring over the next four innings, but there was some good defense by both sides including a double play pulled off by the Strakes in the bottom of the second and fly and bound catches by "Melky" on the pitching lines.  Newtown however was too a good team to be shut down completely and the Strakes tied the game in the top of the fifth through a combination of some well placed hits and aggressive base running.  The match, however, did not stay tied for long as Flemington had the top of its order up in the bottom of the inning.  "Sledge" caught the left fielder playing too shallow and doubled over his head which was followed by extremely well placed hits by "Thumbs," Rene "Mango" Marrero and Meshack "Shaq" Dusane producing four Neshanock tallies.  Two more runs followed courtesy of productive outs by Scott "Snuffy" Hengst and Danny "Lunchtime" Shaw and the Nehsanock had broken the match open by taking a 10-4 lead.

Any hopes the Strakes had of a comeback were frustrated in the top of the sixth when "Mango" made a fine stop at third and threw the striker out at first.  Flemington added two more in the bottom of the seventh led by "Lefty's" triple, his second extra base hit of the day.  Newtown did manage to score twice in the top of the eighth and the local club's center fielder and third baseman made two excellent defensive plays in the bottom of the inning to thwart any chance of the Neshanock adding any more tallies.  Although two Strake runners reached base in the top of the ninth, no runs were scored and the Neshanock earned a 12-6 win.  It was a very efficient offensive game for Flemington which saw 12 of its 17 base runners score, it's not something I've tracked before, but it certainly stood out today.  "Sledge" had a clear score, although probably not the kind Henry Chadwick had in mind when he invented the statistic.   "Lefty," "Thumbs" and local hero Ken "Tumbles" Mandel each had two hits with "Tumbles" also making a mercifully brief appearance in the pitcher's box.  With the win Flemington is now 4-1 on the young season before heading into next weekends event at the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, the birthplace, not of base ball, but apparently some fine adult beverages.  Although not historically accurate video coverage of the match can be found at and going to the video marked "Old School Baseball on Memorial Day."

Yesterday's game was, of course, played on Memorial Day 2018 a time for remembering those who gave their lives for our country, perhaps taking added significance this year as the 150th anniversary of the first Memorial Day observance back in 1868 as well as the World War I Centennial.  For whatever reason, remembering and honoring the war dead brings to mind Shakespeare's Henry V, especially the Band of Brothers speech which to me is one of the most powerful speeches in the English language calling on something deep within the human spirit.  In that speech, the embattled king does not promise his beleaguered and badly outnumbered army that they will win, survive or gain anything material from fighting the battle of Agincourt.  The only thing he promises his soldiers is that they will be remembered and not just in their own generation, but literally "until the ending of the world."  And since Shakespeare was a man of his word, both literally and figuratively, that is exactly what has happened as some 600 years later they are still remembered even if the battle itself had little lasting significance.

Newark Daily Advertiser - May 30, 1868

What is now called Memorial Day, began back in 1868 on "order" of General John Logan, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans organization, with instructions that flowers should be laid on the graves of Union veterans.  A quick review of newspaper accounts indicates observations in Elizabeth, Trenton, Jersey City and Newark, plus, I'm sure, other New Jersey cities and communities.  Commenting on the beginning of the parade in Newark from Military Park to Fairmount Cemetery, the Newark Daily Advertiser noted the significance of the event because it marked the first time the nation was honoring not just the dead resting in identified graves, but also "the thousands of graves of the "unknown" who were buried on battle fields and in prison yards all of the South from the Potomac to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Mississippi to the Atlantic." 

Meuse-Argonne Cemetery

Obviously remembering was easier for that first generation since at least some of the dead were their friends, family and acquaintances.  The more years in between the more difficult it becomes and the World War I dead are a good, but sad example of that.  Above is a picture of the Meuse Argonne Cemetery located near Romangne, France about 150 miles from Paris.  It is the largest American military cemetery in Europe, the final resting place of 14, 246 American soldiers most of whom died in the battle of the same name, many of them from New Jersey.  Sadly, supposedly the only Americans who visit the cemetery today are those seeking the grave of an ancestor or relative, otherwise most of the visitors come from other countries.  Obviously distance is an issue, but it's also reflective of how World War I has been supplanted in the historical memory by World War II as well as Korea and Vietnam.  The World War I generation was the first generation to experience compulsory military service on a large scale and they conducted themselves in a way that reflected credit on themselves and set an example for those of us who came after.  Our responsibility to them is to see that they are remembered and not just during the Centennial, but as Shakespeare put it "until the ending of the world."