Monday, May 29, 2017

"Without ever having had a chance to live"

The Neshanock's annual Memorial Day visit to Newtown, Pennsylvania to take on the hometown Strakes was cancelled for obvious reasons.  After taking next weekend off, Flemington will visit the Howell Living History Farm on Saturday, June 10th.  What follows is a reflection on why it's so important to remember our country's war dead originally written to accompany the game account.

Newark Star Eagle May 1919

Recently I've been thinking about something I wrote well over a decade ago, in my first book, The Mutinous Regiment: The Thirty-third New Jersey in the Civil War.  The 33rd's heaviest combat losses came during the Atlanta Campaign which lasted from May to September of 1864.  On July 20, 1864 at Peachtree Creek, the regiment had the extreme misfortune to be caught in an exposed position  in front of the Union lines when the Confederates under John Bell Hood launched a surprise attack.  Although the rebels were finally driven off, it was not before the 33rd suffered their highest combat losses of the war.  Ironically, and it was a bitter irony, Peachtree Creek was not only the 33rd's bloodiest battle of the war, it was also their last.  While it would take another year before the regiment returned home to New Jersey, they would never again be at risk of dying in battle.   Considering that sharp divide between living and dying, it's not surprising I was moved to write "If life is unfair, little in life is less fair than war.  In every war some go through combat unscathed to live long and full lives, while others, for no reason besides luck or chance, die without ever having had a chance to live." More than ten years, three other books and countless articles and blog posts later, I still think it's one of the best things I've written.

Parker Middleton of Newark, 369th Infantry Regiment - Killed in Action, September 30, 1918

What brought it to mind was not so much Memorial Day, but another war related project I'm working on this time about World War I.  I've been asked to give a lecture for the Newark History Society on September 25th about the combat experience of Newark men in what was then called the Great War.  It's not a subject I knew much about and researching it has shown the random unfairness of combat casualties was even greater for the dough boys of 1917-18 than for the Civil War generation.  Not only was the duration of our country's participation in the war shorter, most American troops saw combat for no more than three to four months.  The great majority of the men from New Jersey who served in World War I were part of either the 29th Division (the Rainbow Division) or the 78th Division (Jersey Lightening).  Most of both divisions' combat experience came in the Meuse Argonne, a terrible struggle that lasted from September 26th to Armistice Day on November 11th.  It was the longest battle in American History, lasting 47 days, but since units rotated in and out of line, the actual time in combat was shorter.

William Sawelson, 312th Regiment - Killed in Action, October 26, 1918

None of this is to suggest it was easy duty, Edward Lengel's excellent book on the battle is aptly  entitled To Conquer Hell and describes the terrible losses suffered by inexperienced, poorly trained American soldiers going against some of the strongest German defenses on the western front.  The 78th Division's story is a case in point, they were actively engaged for only nine days, but in that time, saw the unit's strength decline by 50% as they fought and died to take the citadel at Grandpre, a crucial position on the German's last important defensive line.  But while it must have been terrible, the men of the 78th Division were at the most risk of dying in combat for little over a week.  Even more so than the 33rd New Jersey's dead, the "unlucky" in the 78th Division had indeed died "without ever having a chance to live."  Understanding the unfairness of battle and how much those men missed when they lost their lives in the service of our country can helps us, I think, to better understand their sacrifices and the importance of never forgetting them.  As  the British poet, Laurence Binyon wrote earlier in the war.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

May it always be so.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Not a walk-off, no matter how you look at it

Saturday, the Neshanock made a rare trip to northern New Jersey to take on the Nutley Colonels in an event sponsored by Kingsland Manor, an historic home in Nutley dating back to the 1700's.  The sponsors do a great job in hosting the match and I especially appreciate their reprinting something I had written about 1860's score keeping in the program.  While the weather was far more comfortable than the record breaking heat of the end of the week, the few rain drops that fell were a bad omen for the home team since at least so far, the Neshanock play better amidst rain or at least threatening clouds.  Today's game was basically decided early in a rather bizarre second inning which began with the Colonels, down 2-0, putting runners on second and third with one out.  What looked like a golden opportunity to score quickly went by the boards when the Neshanock pulled of the hidden ball trick (the Colonels had been duly warned by the umpire) and then recorded the third out on a foul tip.  

Photo by Mark Granieri

After the first two Neshanock strikers went down in Flemington's half of the second, it looked the game would continue to be a low scoring affair.  However the Neshanock suddenly erupted for six tallies, not all of which would have earned a lot of points for style, but counted in the score book for an 8-0 Flemington lead.  From that point on the strong pitching of Danny "Lunch Meat" (aka "King," aka "Batman") Shaw and Rene "Mango" Marrero and solid defense behind them kept the home team not only off the scoreboard, but also off the bases.  Flemington didn't generate a huge amount of offense either, but did tally 13 times in total led by "Mango" and Jeff "Duke" Schneider with three hits each, followed by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner, Joe "Mick" Murray, Chris "Low Ball" Lowry, "Lunch Meat" and Dave "Illinois" Harris with two apiece.  "Illinois" also stole three bases which a was key factor in the victory or at least so he told me.  Thanks also to Manny for filling in and bolstering our numbers.  Now 5-3 on the season, Flemington will journey to Newtown, Pennsylvania on Memorial Day for the annual match with the hometown Strakes.

Photo by Mark Granieri

A few weeks ago, when writing about the Neshanock's bottom of the ninth inning victory over the Atlantic Club, I carefully avoided using the expression "walk-off win."  Not only wasn't the term used in the 1860's, it wasn't in vogue for most of my 60 plus years of following baseball one way or another.  I've since learned, however, that not only wasn't the expression "walk-off win" used in the 19th century, there was no such thing under the rules by which the Neshanock - Atlantic game was played (1864).  While I probably should have realized this earlier, it was brought home when I started thinking about one of the games on the Nassau Club of Princeton's four game tour of the then independent City of Brooklyn in October of 1863.  After dispatching the Resolute Club of Brooklyn in their first match, the collegians took on the Excelsior Club, a storied team from the City of Churches, largely due to their historic tour of New York state in 1860.  Later that same year, the Excelsiors had some unpleasant experiences in matches with the Atlantic Club leading to a vow not to compete for the championship which doubtless cost them some talented players.  Further weakening the Brooklyn club was the absence of its leader, Joe Leggett, who by 1863, unlike most of the leading players of the day, was serving in the Union Army.

Asa Brainard

At the same time, the Excelsior Club was not without talent, especially pitcher, Asa Brainard, who would go on to pitch for the Cincinnati Red Stockings and then for multiple teams in the National Association.  Opposing Brainard (whose brother was his catcher) was, not surprisingly, Fred Henry, he of the deceptive, curve like pitch, and it's no surprise the game was relatively low scoring.  Striking first, the Excelsiors led 2-1 after three innings and then added three runs in the fourth and two in the fifth while the visitors only managed three runs in the next three innings so that the Brooklyn club led 7-4 after six.  It got worse for the Princeton team over the last three innings and heading to the bottom of the ninth, the Excelsiors had a seemingly comfortable 11-5 lead.  Some of the Excelsiors may have been a little too relaxed since the Brooklyn Eagle (most likely Henry Chadwick) claimed they were paying "sundry attentions to a pail of claret punch."  In any event, the combination of two Excelsior muffs and two passed balls along with some timely Nassau hitting produced seven runs for the visitors and a "walk-off" victory.  But not so fast!  Under the rules of the day, the team striking second had to complete their at bat or the game reverted to the last complete inning when the Excelsiors were ahead  And in the gathering October dusk, it wouldn't take too long for it to be too dark to continue, in fact there were some claims that was already the case.

Joseph Leggett 

One can only imagine Henry Chadwick's horror at what happened next.  Two were out with Fred Henry at the striker's line and the Nassau Club star tried to speed things along by intentionally swinging and missing.  This didn't sit well with the Excelsior Club who "excited" over losing a game they had seemingly won, not to mention the effects of demon rum (or in this case claret), forgot, according to Chadwick, the gentlemanly Leggett's teaching and tried to keep the game going until it had to be called for darkness.  Brainard started pitching wildly and then when Henry finally hit a fly ball, catcher Harry Brainard called for all three Excelsior's circling under the ball to intentionally miss it.  Fortunately, George Cook, in the words of the Sunday Mercury, "remembering the club he played for," caught the ball, restoring order and some semblance of gentlemanly behavior, not to mention a Nassau Club victory.  Fortunately both papers reported that good feeling was immediately restored and the two clubs enjoyed the customary post game celebratory dinner.

New York Sunday Mercury - October 25, 1863

While I was certainly aware of the practice, if not the rule, of playing all nine innings regardless of the score, the way this could impact a game already won or lost, was something I hadn't encountered or thought about.  It, of course, raised the question of when the rule was changed and an email exchange with noted base ball historian Richard Hershberger determined the nine inning rule remained in effect for another 17 years, changing in time for the 1880 National League season.  I have to say, I'm amazed it took that long, especially at the professional or major league level.  I'm guessing that amateur clubs which didn't play as frequently and not quite as competitively, enjoyed playing as many innings as they could.  It surprises me, however, that professionals who had more than their fill of games would want to play any extra innings especially in circumstances like the above situation where it could cost a club a game.  But as Richard pointed out, we should never under estimate the traditional fall back of "we've always done it that way."  In the absence of other explanations for maintaining rules or practices that seem to have outlived their usefulness we should always keep that in mind.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Fred's Curve

Photo by Mark Granieri

If the old adage "when it rains, it pours," were applied to the first few weeks of the Neshanock's 2017 season, it would read "when it rains, Flemington wins."  Follow two wet wins at Old Bethpage village two weeks ago, the Neshanock again triumphed among the rain drops in their annual visit to Ringwood Manor State Park.  Taking part in the event for the first time was the Brandywine Club of West Chester, Pennsylvania, a fine group of ball players who first crossed the paths (base or otherwise) with the Neshanock at the 2017 Gettysburg Vintage base ball festival.  Not only did the visitors have to contend with Flemington's apparent fondness for wet weather, but Sunday also marked the first time the Neshanock were at full strength so much so we were able to lend veteran Mark "Gaslight" Granieri to the short handed Pennsylvania club. Taking full advantage of having its full complement of players, Flemington pounded out 26 hits in the first contest with only a slight drop off to 24 in the second affair.  In the first match the Neshanock led 10-5 after three innings, but allowed only one Brandywine tally thereafter while adding another 13 runs for a 23-6 victory.  A special highlight for me came before the game when Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw gave me a baseball autographed by one Charles H. Ebbets, along with a certificate of authenticity - a thoughtful and much appreciated gift.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Leading Flemington's offensive onslaught was Dan "Sledge" Hammer with four hits including three doubles, coming up only one at bat short of a clear score.  Right behind "Sledge" were Danny "King" Shaw, Bobby "Melky" Ritter and Ken "Tumbles" Mandel with three apiece while five other Neshanocks had two hits.  In addition to his three hits "Melky" notched a put out and an assist while in the pitcher's box demonstrating new found mobility from his still relatively new hips.  After the obligatory break for "Casey at the Bat," the second match began, this time with the Neshanock in the field.  While Flemington continued to hit effectively, much improved Brandywine defense combined with timely hitting kept this one much closer so that the Neshanock led only 12-7 after six innings.  The visitors added one tally in the top of the inning and had two on with two out when a fine "Tumbles" catch of a line drive (without the traditional tumble) kept Flemington in front.  The Neshanock then tallied five times over their next two visits to the striker's line while keeping Brandywine off the board for a 17-8 victory.  "Sledge," Rene "Mango" Marrero and Dave "Specs" Chamlian had three hits apiece for Flemington, but the noteworthy offensive achievements were clear scores for Gregg "Burner" Wiseburn and Chris "Sideshow" Nunn.  Not only did "Burner" avoid making an out, he also tallied in each of his four plate appearances.  "Sideshow's" clear score didn't quite match "Burner's" for style points, but as Henry Chadwick used to say (or should have said), "It's still a clear score in the box score."  Now 4-3 for the young season, Flemington will take part in the Spirit of the Jersies history fair next Saturday at Monmouth Battlefield State Park.

In the last post I mentioned that Fred Henry, Princeton student and pitcher for the Nassau Club, was given (and took) credit for throwing curve balls as early as the fall of 1863.  This was hardly news to me since I had seen references to Henry's deceptive pitch back when I was researching the Nassau Club for the second volume of Baseball Founders.  For whatever reason or reasons, I've never bothered to look at where this fit into the history of the pitch that has been a litmus test for whether a prospective player was of major league caliber.  Having decided it was finally time to pursue this, the first port of call was A Game of Inches where noted base ball historian Peter Morris began his entry on the curve ball by writing that "Few if any origins have as heatedly disputed as those of the curve ball." With that opening, it was no surprise, Peter's essay covers more than ten pages, one of the longest entries in his book.  Henry is, of course, mentioned, but given the complexity of the subject, I want to focus, not on entering the debate for or against any of the many candidates, but rather by looking at contemporary comments to see what was said about Henry at the time.  Where all this fits in the larger story is a subject for another day and perhaps another place.

Fred Henry 

The first media mention that Henry threw something out of the ordinary is found in newspaper articles describing the Nassau Club's September 26, 1863 victory over the Athletic Club of Philadelphia.  The Philadelphia Item reported that the collegiate pitcher threw "a slow ball with a heavy twist" which was "extremely irregular" and bothered the Athletics for the first 2 - 3 innings.  Indeed Henry shut out the Athletics for the first two innings before allowing two tallies in the third by which time the Nassau club had the game well in hand with a 15-2 lead.  The Athletics did manage eleven more runs over the course of the game, but it was far too little far too late in the Princeton team's 29-13 victory.  The 13 tallies were well below the Philadelphia club's average of 22 runs a game which is inflated somewhat by the Athletics 73 run outburst in another 1863 match. In addition to the Philadelphia paper, Henry's pitching was also mentioned by both the Clipper and the New York Sunday Mercury.  The latter paper attributed the Nassau victory to "the fine pitching of Henry" which the paper said was reflected in the number of strike outs and foul catches.  While a number of the newspaper accounts of the match include box scores, none that I've seen record the number of foul outs and strike outs - a standard frustration of 19th century base ball research.

After a victory over the Irvington team (then a junior club), the Nassau club spent their October academic break in Brooklyn taking on the Resolute, Excelsior, Star and Atlantic Clubs, four games in four days with Henry pitching all four contests.  While there were no comments about Henry's pitching in the newspaper accounts of the first three games, only the Excelsior Club reached double digits (11) while the Resolute and Star Clubs were limited to 9 and 7 runs respectively.  Although the statistical information on runs scored by these clubs is incomplete (taken from Marshall Wright's The National Association of Base Ball Players), all three Brooklyn clubs were held under their average offensive production.  The limited scoring was certainly a major factor in the young college players winning all three games.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - July 7, 1864

 Although Atlantic Club was a year away from being a championship team, they appear to have been Henry's biggest test on the trip.  If so, it was a test, he and his teammates failed, losing by an 18-13 count in game stopped for darkness after seven innings.  Even though the Brooklyn club won, one newspaper recognized Henry's proficiency claiming his pitching "bothered the Atlantics exceedingly," citing as evidence the fact that every Brooklyn player had a strike called on him with Crane and Smith striking out.  The significance of each Atlantic taking a called strike would seem to mean they were deceived by pitches they first thought out of the strike zone, but which came back in because of some kind of twist or slant.  Both the commentary and the statistical evidence, as limited as it may be, supports the idea that whatever Henry was doing it was both unusual and effective.  The Nassau Club hurler's early 1864 performance further supported such speculation, not only did he pitch well in the New Jersey - Philadelphia all star game, but he also led the Nassau Club to victories over the Mutual Club of New York and the Star Club in a return 1864 visit to Brooklyn.  An early July re-match with the Atlantics, however did not go quite so well since the Brooklyn team was apparently more than a little ready for Henry's deceptive delivery, hitting five home runs while embarrassing the collegians by a 42-7 count.  Then and now base ball is a game of adjustments.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Another game, another river to cross

Winston Churchill once remarked that golf is a game where the objective is to hit into a very small hole, an even smaller ball with tools totally inadequate for the purpose.  Much the same could be said about taking seven vintage base ball players (at least two over 50) to play the Elkton Eclipse, one of the country's top teams, at their home field.  To make matters even worse, not only were Elkton at full strength, they looked in mid season form especially in the field and the final results were very predictable.  One early surprise was the Neshanock keeping the Eclipse off the score board in the top of the first and then tallying a run to lead 1-0 after one.  After tying the game in their half of the second, Elkton took a 5-1 lead after three, but Flemington stayed close, trailing only 11-7 after six.  At the point, however, the Eclipse's offense got going and then some, tallying seven times in the 7th and nine more in the 8th for a 27-10 victory in a game mercifully stopped after eight innings.  Even more mercifully, the second contest was limited to seven innings, a match that saw Elkton quickly take control in route to a 13-4 victory.  The Neshnock were led on offense by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner with seven hits over the two games, followed by "Jersey" Jim Nunn with six and Lawrence Major and Jeff "Duke" Schneider with five apiece.  Now 2-3 on the season, the Neshanock return to action next Sunday at Ringwood Manor in northern New Jersey hosting the Brandywine Base Ball Club.

After  last week's trip to Long Island led to some reflections on the first time a New Jersey team crossed the Hudson (not to mention the East River) to take on a New York club, it seemed only natural to use this weekend's trip to Maryland to take a similar look at the first time a New Jersey club crossed the Delaware. Since the former case featured one of the state's charter clubs, it didn't take a lot of heavy lifting to remember the first crossing of the Hudson in search of base ball glory, but that wasn't the case when it came to a New Jersey team heading south.  I knew some of the early south Jersey clubs played matches against Delaware teams, but that wasn't until after the Civil War, so it seemed doubtful any of those matches would have been the historic first.  Without looking I remembered the Eureka club of Newark visited Philadelphia for some matches in September of 1863 so I thought that might be the first instance, but such was not the case, although I did have the year right.  Based on current research, it appears the honor goes to the Nassau Club of Princeton which traveled to Philadelphia in May of 1863 to take on not just one, but two clubs from the City of Brotherly Love.

Nassau Club 1863-64 - Fred Henry is the third from the left

I've written about the Nassau Club before both in Baseball Founders and on this blog so hopefully what follows isn't redundant.  Organized at Princeton University during the late 1850's, the Nassau Club was made up of Princeton students, but wasn't yet a school sanctioned organization.  The club is one of the rarer antebellum teams where we know exactly how it came to be formed.  Three young men from Brooklyn, led by Lewis Mudge, Class of 1862, brought their bats and balls with them when they enrolled at Princeton and got the team started although most of their early matches were either with the Princeton Seminary or of the inter-squad variety.  By 1863, Mudge and the other founding members had graduated, although Mudge would play some matches for the Nassau Club while a student at the Seminary (apparently eligibility rules were looser in those days).  In any event on May 22, 1863, the collegians boarded the train and headed to Philadelphia to take on the Athletic Club.  Organised in 1859 as a Philadelphia Town Ball team, the Athletics had a religious experience in 1860, converting to base ball and by 1863 were about to begin taking on the best teams in New York and Brooklyn.

Batting first, the visitors from New Jersey tallied twice, but the lead didn't last long as the Philadelphia team put up three aces of their own and then broke the game open with six in the third and seven in the fourth to lead 20-5 after six innings.  Although the term hadn't been invented yet, the Nassau Club gave it the old college try, rallying for nine aces in the 7th, making things much more interesting at 20-14 in favor of the home team.  This was not, however, to be a legendary come back as the Athletics restored some order by scoring three times in the seventh on the way to a 29-18 victory.  In a fairly detailed account of the match, The Item and Visitor seemed more concerned with the local team's lack of practice, imploring the Athletics to have their first nine play two or three more matches before heading to New York City and Brooklyn to play stronger competition.  The paper praised the visiting collegians as "excellent players and gentlemanly young men," but noted that their play demonstrated a "great want of a pitcher."  It was a very perceptive observation on the writer's part, not because of the lack of proficiency demonstrated by S. H. Jacobus, but because of the presence of a far more talented pitcher out of position at second base, one Fred Henry.

Great Central Fair - Philadelphia, June 1864

Whether they took the paper's advice to heart or not, Henry pitched the following day's 20-14 victory over the Olympic Club and would pitch the remainder of the Nassau Club's 1863 match games.  All six of those contests took place in the fall after a long summer break beginning with a 29-13 victory over the Athletics, this time at Princeton.  In October during a semester break, the collegians headed to Brooklyn, home to a number of the club's players, to take on four teams from the City of Churches.  Over the course of four days, the Nassau team with Henry pitching defeated the Resolute, Excelsior and Star clubs before falling to the Atlantic Club by a respectable 18-13 score.  What was the key to young Mr. Henry's pitching success?  He is one of those credited as being the first or one of the first to throw a curve ball.  While it's impossible to verify how much credit Henry deserves in pioneering the pitch, he could certainly be hard to hit.  A year later in a New Jersey - Pennsylvania all star game as part of the Great Central Fair in Philadelphia, Henry not only struck out four of Philadelphia's top players, he also retired 13 on foul balls, 17 outs without the ball being hit into fair territory.  In the next post we'll take a more detailed look at Mr. Henry's pitching prowess.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

"Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery"

Writing about opening day at Citi Field a few weeks ago, I commented that I really like the Mets ballpark once I get there, the problem is getting there.  My feelings about Old Bethpage Village, the birthplace of vintage base ball and home to the 2017 version of the New York - New Jersey Cup are very similar.  On the way there, the roughly 60 mile trip took a manageable hour and forty-five minutes, but the return took almost three hours due to broken down cars, construction and drivers who thought it appropriate to drive about 30 miles an hour in the center lane.  Within those travel challenges, however, base ball at Old Bethpage is almost always an enjoyable experience especially for the annual showdown between New Jersey and New York teams.  I'm not exactly sure when the competition began, but since 2013, the cup has become a resident of New Jersey, thanks to three Neshanock victories plus one timely rain out.  Both the format and the participants were changed for the 2017 event with the Monmouth Furnace Club a new entry on the New Jersey side and New York adding the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn, in my opinion, the country's top vintage club.

The Striker's Line

In past years, the two New Jersey clubs took on the New York teams with the cup going to the team with the best overall record.  This year, the opening games featured intra-state competition guaranteeing a New York - New Jersey final.  As a result, Flemington began the day playing the Monmouth Furnace Club, a relatively new vintage team playing out of Allaire State Park.  Monmouth went to the striker's line first, scoring one tally before the Neshanock responded with five to take a 5-1 lead.  After that, however, Flemington managed only one tally over the next five innings while Monmouth chipped away to close to 6-4 after six.  Finally mustering some offense, the Neshanock scored twice in the seventh, but the Furnace club was far from finished adding two runs to make it 8-6 with Flemington coming to bat.  Fortunately the Neshanock added two more insurance runs and shut out Monmouth in the ninth for a hard earned 10-6 win.  This was the first time I've seen Monmouth Furnace play in a few years and they've made real progress and should be a real test for any team they play the rest of the season.  Flemington's attack was led by Dan "Sledge" Hammer's three hits with Dave "Illinois" Harris and Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw contributing two apiece.  Joe "Mick" Murray earned his first clear score of the season albeit with some help from the defense.  Still a clear score, is a clear score and Henry Chadwick knew what he was doing in making reaching base a priority, no matter the means of arrival.

The Much Improved Monmouth Furnace Club 

No one on the Neshanock was surprised to learn the Atlantics had prevailed in the New York bracket so that to retain the cup, Flemington had to do something it had never done before, outscore the Brooklyn club.  The Atlantics were missing some of their top players, but the Neshanock were also not at full strength (thanks to Mike, Brick and A. J. for filling in).  Striking first, the Atlantics tallied once which the Neshanock matched and added one to lead 2-1 after one inning.  Pleas from the Neshanock bench to call the game because of rain, darkness or any reason fell on deaf ears.  Flemington's apprehension about what was going to happen proved well founded when the Atlantics started scoring while keeping Flemington off the scoreboard, making the score 7-2 after five innings.  At that point, however, things began to change, the pitching of Danny "King" Shaw and solid Neshanock defense shut out the Atlantics the rest of the way while Flemington added three runs to trail 7-5 going to the bottom of the ninth.  Jeff "Duke" Schneider led off with a single which was followed by some uncharacteristic Atlantic miscues and some well placed hits.  When the dust (or the mist) cleared, the score was tied, two were out and the winning run was on third, with  "Sledge" at the striker's line.  The situation called for a line drive which the Neshanock striker promptly delivered, setting off more than a little excitement on the Flemington bench.

Field before the championship game 

While everyone on the Neshanock is pleased to retain the cup for another year, we can be forgiven, I hope, for being at least as excited about our first victory ever over the Atlantics.  Thinking about it (especially during the traffic jams on the way home), there are many reasons the Atlantics are such a fine club.  Certainly they make a lot of outstanding plays both at bat and in the field, but what sets them apart in my mind is how seldom they make mistakes in the field and employ timely well placed hitting.  How do you beat a team like that you may ask?  By imitating them (the  highest form of flattery) through doing the same things they do so well - consistent play in the field and timely hitting.  That's exactly what the Neshanock did at Old Bethpage, making only two muffs over the course of the match and taking advantage of their offensive opportunities.  "King," "Sledge," "Illinois," "Snuffy," "Mick," and "Duke" each had two hits for Flemington.  All were important, but special notice should be paid to "Duke" who started two rallies including the winning ninth inning rally.  Equally noteworthy is holding the Atlantics to just two runs over the last six innings including shutting them out for the last four.   I want to make special mention of the Atlantics very gracious behavior in defeat - they set a high standard for all of us in vintage base ball both on and off the field.

Photo courtesy of the Atlantic Base Ball Club 

While the New York - New Jersey Cup is a relatively new event, head to head competition between New Jersey and New York clubs dates all the way back to 1855, the very first year young Jersey men formed their own base ball clubs.  In fact, not one, but two fledgling New Jersey clubs crossed both the Hudson and East Rivers that year to take on the Columbia Club of Brooklyn (then a separate city).  A very brief search turned up little information about the Brooklyn team, but both of the New Jersey clubs, the Olympic Club of Newark and the Pioneer Club of Jersey City are known to me and, to some extent, to the readers of this blog.  One of Newark's charter clubs, (first calling itself the Oriental Club) the Olympic Club had little real impact during its sole year of existence.  Although it was equally short lived, Jersey City's first club has an interesting story beginning with how they first played the game or more accurately the game they apparently played.

The Pioneer Club along with the Excelsior Club (Jersey City's second charter club) were founded within a few weeks of each other in the early summer of 1855 and fittingly played their first match games against each other.  Box scores and newspaper accounts of those games include 11 players on a side in high scoring matches that seem only to have lasted a few innings - clearly not reflecting complete compliance with the Knickerbocker rules.  There is at least some retrospective oral tradition of  a "base ball" club or clubs in Jersey City in the 1830's ( which may very well have played by different rules which the new 1855 vintage initially followed to some degree.  Whatever the differences, the Pioneer Club apparently realized the error of their ways and became true practitioners of the New York game by the time they began a best of three series with the Columbia Club in September.

The first match played in Brooklyn was a solid victory for the home team as the Columbia Club doubled up the Pioneer Club's run total in a 26-13 thumping.  Not long after that the Jersey City team played an inter-club match between the married and single men which was covered by a newspaper man who wasn't impressed the Pioneer's on the field prowess.  Claiming they "have much to learn," the writer pointed out the obvious but apparently not honored principle that "two or three of them should not try to catch the same ball."  Even more of a concern was the players' nicotine habit, not because of the long term health concerns, but because the Pioneers smoked not only while in the field, but also when at the striker's line.  Whether or not it was due to the public criticism in the media, the new Jersey City team quickly got their act together winning the return contest 27-12 and then dominating the conquering game on October 14th, winning 23-8 in a match played at the Putnam Club's grounds in east Brooklyn.

A. J. Bixby pitched for the Eagle Club in this September 8, 1857 match at Elysian Fields

The club's late 1855 success augured well for future seasons, but by 1856 the Pioneers had gone out of existence primarily because three of their best players had defected to the Eagle Club of New York which, of course, played its home games, not in Manhattan, but in neighboring Hoboken.  Similar defections also killed the Excelsior Club which went undefeated in 1855 beginning a tradition of New Jersey men playing for the Eagle Club which continued well into the 1860's.  It also marked the beginning of another tradition, New Jersey club's inability to retain their best players. One of the Pioneers who enjoyed significant success after leaving New Jersey was A. J. Bixby who not only played in two of the three Fashion Course games (1858 all star games between Brooklyn and New York clubs) but also served as Vice President of the National Association of Base Ball Players.  Even so victory in the first New Jersey - New York (loosely defined) series showed New Jersey teams were a force to be reckoned with as was proven once again yesterday at Old Bethpage some 162 years later.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Opening Day, Then, Now and in Between

Although opening day would seem by definition, to be a one time thing, multiple observations of the beginning of another baseball season has some historical precedent thanks to one Charles H. Ebbets.  While the Brooklyn magnate's middle name was Henry, the contemporary media sometimes changed it to Holiday because of Ebbet's proclivity for finding or even inventing holidays to boost attendance at his ball parks.  It's no surprise, therefore, that when the park that bore his name opened in 1913, the Brooklyn club president took full advantage of the opportunity by holding, not just one, nor two, but, in fact, three opening days.  First came the "grand opening," an exhibition game against the Yankees on April 5, followed by a "special" National League opening a few days later against Philadelphia and, finally, the "regular" opening on April 18 also against the Phillies.  In that spirit, this post will look at two openings this past week, others over the past 15 years and one from the 19th century.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - April 5, 1913

On Monday, Paul Zinn and I journeyed from Massachusetts and Verona respectively to attend the Mets 2017 opener at Citi Field.  Once I get there, I like Citi Field, the problem is getting there from north Jersey especially on a week day.  As usual the trip took about two hours each way, but I lucked out since I came very close to taking New Jersey Transit which probably would have prevented me from getting there at all.  One of the things I like about the Mets home ball park is the friendly, welcoming and helpful attitude of the staff - it's so wide spread it must be due to standards intentionally set and maintained by the owners.  While it was a small thing, the elderly gentleman who scanned my ticket said, "Welcome back, it's good to see you again."  It cost him or the Mets nothing to do that, but it was a nice touch.  While we were there Paul and I tried to figure out how many openers we've attended, both home and season openers.  A little work on the always valuable retrosheet web site confirmed we've been to five in a row and eight all told since 2002.  Pleasant weather and a Mets win made it another enjoyable experience, but regardless of the weather and the outcome, it's an important father and son experience we hope to continue for a long time.  The traveling party may expand fairly soon, however, since upon hearing of this year's trip, four year old Sophie Zinn proclaimed - "I'll go with you guys."  It was a hard offer to refuse and it probably won't be too long before it becomes a father-son-granddaughter experience!

Left to right - Dan "Sledge" Hammer, Sam "It ain't nothing till I say so" Bernstein, Dean "Dreambucket" Emma - Photo by Mark Granieri 

My second opening day of the week came just five days later when the Flemington Neshanock opened their 2017 as part of the Somerset Patriots Fan Fest in Bridgewater, New Jersey.  This should have been the Neshanock's second playing date of the season, but rain and cold prevented games scheduled for the prior weekend at Allaire State Park against the Monmouth Furnace Club.  Saturday's opponent was the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn, a great group of guys, who also, in my experience, are consistently the best vintage base ball team in the country.  The game got off to a quiet start with Flemington actually holding the Atlantics without a tally in the first two innings.  The Neshanock got on the scoreboard first thanks to a double by Scott "Snuffy" Hengst and a clutch single by Dave "Illinois" Harris, the first of two hits for each player.  After that the combination of untimely walks and errors by Flemington and timely hitting by the Atlantics led to 10 runs for the visitors and a 10-2 lead after five innings.  The Neshanock didn't go quietly however, scoring five times in the sixth and twice in the seventh to pull to within 14-9 before the Atlantics put the match away with four in the eighth and an 18-9 victory.  Flemington's offense was led by Dan "Sledge" Hammer and Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner with multi-hit games and Chris "Lowball" Lowry who recorded the season's first clear score.  After taking this coming weekend off, the Neshanock will journey to the birth place of vintage base ball, Old Bethpage Village on Long Island, on April 22nd for the 2017 version of the New York - New Jersey Cup.

A Neshanock tally is a cause for celebration - Photo by Mark Granieri

For whatever reason, playing a vintage game in a modern professional ball park, got me thinking about the opening day of New Jersey's 19th century "major league" team, the 1873 Elizabeth Resolutes  Major league is in quotes because the Resolutes played in the National Association which is not considered a major league by Major League Baseball.  Without trying to argue that issue, whatever the National Association lacked in terms of major league status, it was not only a league of professional (all paid ) teams, it also had a geographic reach which if it wasn't truly national, was more than local.  One of the Association's weaknesses was the only entry requirement was a $10 fee which even for the time wasn't enough money to bar or discourage financially challenged applicants.  Having had some prior success against Association clubs in exhibition games as well as in New Jersey amateur (or semi-professional) circles, the Resolutes put down their $10 and entered the lists for the 1873 National Association campaign.

Bobby "Melky" Ritter pitching with Joe "Mick" Murray at third - photo by Mark Granieri

Opening day for the Resolutes came against the Philadelphia White Stockings on April 29th at the Waverly Fairgrounds on the border of Newark and Elizabeth.  The team from the City of Brotherly Love was also new to the Association, introducing head to head competition with the much better known Athletic Club.  The game foreshadowed the Resolutes' overall Association experience as the Philadelphia team scored four times in the first and seven times in the third on the way to a 23-5 victory.  Newspaper accounts of the game in the New York Clipper and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (both likely written by Henry Chadwick) had little good to say with the latter paper claiming the game itself was "not worthy of comment."  Both papers lectured the home team on its failure to adequately promote the game to the point that the White Stockings share of the gate receipts probably didn't cover their traveling expenses.  Things would get no better as the Resolutes went 2-21 before giving up on any hopes of competing at the national level.  The New Jersey team did have one moment of glory, however, defeating the league champion, and one of 19th century base ball's greatest teams, the Boston Red Stockings in the first game of a July 4th doubleheader, described at

Photo by Mark Granieri

Looking backward, given the uneven financial playing field, the New Jersey team never had a chance to complete.  The Resolutes were a cooperative club, meaning the players' pay was totally dependent on gate receipts providing little or no financial incentive for superior players to sign with the Elizabeth team.  This is in contrast to the White Stockings which was a stock club where share holders put up money which enabled them to attract good players without even leaving Philadelphia by raiding the Athletics roster.  Since at the time, even the Association's best clubs were having a hard time making ends meet financially, it's no surprise a team with little or no access to money was destined to fail.  In some ways it anticipates Charles Ebbets' long battle for the reverse order draft, giving the lower level teams first shot at new talent regardless of their ability to pay for it.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - April 29, 1873

Considering their poor performance both on and off the field, the Resolutes are an easy target for cheap shots, but they get points, if not medals for finishing (albeit unintentionally) the process where New Jersey found its proper place in the base ball world.   As the game became more competitive in the 1860's, two New Jersey teams, the Eureka of Newark and the Irvington Club tried with some success to compete at the highest levels.   Yet they could not sustain that success at least partially because they quickly lost their best players to better teams with the Irvington Club's loss of Andy Leonard and Charles Sweasy to the legendary Cincinnati Red Stockings the best example.  Elizabeth's ill-fated 1873 season was the final 19th century attempt to see if New Jersey teams could compete at the highest level,  Just a year later, the Olympic Club of Paterson was resurrected and without any pretensions to bigger things developed four future major league players including future Hall of Famer Mike "King" Kelly.  While it certainly wasn't an intentional process, New Jersey had found its place in base ball, as a source of major league talent, a pattern that continues today with modern stars like Mike Trout and Rick Porcello.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

We're Back!

I'm pleased to report the manuscript of my biography of Brooklyn Dodger magnate, Charles Ebbets went off to the publisher around the middle of February.  There's still a lot more work to do and it will be some time before the book is published, the best guess is the final product will see the light of day some time in the first quarter of 2018.   Richard Holmes, in his new book, This Long Pursuit: Reflections of a Romantic Biographer writes that biography "is a simple act of complex friendship."  I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call it a friendship, but trying to understand and describe someone who lived in a very different world and time, is, at the very least, a complex relationship.  It's a literary form, I've always wanted to try and I'm very grateful for the opportunity. The other good news, at least from my standpoint, is that A Manly Pastime is back.  I've missed the research and the writing and especially the much shorter time frame for publication.  Many of the initial posts will draw on material from the Ebbets research, but gradually the focus will shift back almost 50 years into the mid 19th century for reasons I'll share in the near future.  One interesting thing about the sabbatical is the blog has gained five new followers and enjoyed a much higher number of hits when I wasn't writing, less is supposedly more, but it's not an idea I'd like to take to its logical conclusion.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle anticipates the beginning of the 1920 World Series

Charles Ebbets' long career as Brooklyn Dodger club president spanned some 27 years encompassing the entire Deadball Era and even the first half of the Roaring Twenties.  Of special note in the latter period was the 1920 season when Ebbets' team won the National League pennant for the fourth and final time in his tenure.  Unlike 1916 there wasn't a lot of drama to the pennant race since the Dodgers went on a hot streak in September, gradually pulling away to finish seven games ahead of the second place Giants.  What was interesting about 1920, however, was the highly critical, almost hostile attitude of Dodger fans for most of the season, contrary to the popular image of Brooklyn fans being unfailingly loyal no matter how grim the outlook.  After one particularly poor home performance, in a scene unimaginable today, a crowd of fans cornered Ebbets to voice their displeasure, a situation, the Brooklyn magnate was fortunately able to defuse.  Things reached the point long time Brooklyn Daily Eagle writer, Tom Rice, warned the fans, that if they didn't mend their ways, it would cost Brooklyn the pennant.  It's a hard claim to accept, but fortunately better behavior by fans after the lecture from Rice and improved play on the field avoided putting the question to the test.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - June 13, 1920

Earlier in the season, perhaps trying to improve the situation through positive reinforcement, another Eagle writer, Frank Dunham, who was also an artist, did a series of drawings and descriptions of those he labeled "33rd Degree Baseball Fans," a takeoff on the highest honorary title in freemasonry.  The sketches have historical value because they give a sense of some of the people who were ardent baseball fans almost a century ago.  Of the ten or so that were published, what follows is a closer look at three chosen primarily because I was able to find more information beyond that provided by Dunham.  Leading off is the only one I had previously heard of Monseigneur Edward McCarty, a Roman Catholic priest who was part of what was referred to as "clergy row," an ecumenical group also including a Protestant minister and a rabbi.  McCarty may actually have been the inspiration for the series which began in July of 1920, not long after the priest celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood by throwing out the first pitch at a Brooklyn game.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - July 4, 1920

Born in Brooklyn in 1847, McCarty was the pastor of the Church of St. Augustine in Brooklyn, a parish with some 9,000 members including Brooklyn owner, Ed McKeever.  No matter how religious McCarty may have been as a young man, he still had time for one secular activity since he claimed to have followed baseball from when the game was "in its cradle."  The cradle claim has merit because McCarty would have been a boy about the same time organized, competitive baseball was getting started in the 1850's.  Nor was the Monsignor's role limited to that of a fan as he told the Eagle writer, he not only played the game, but did so "behind the bat" when catcher's wore no equipment, something that must have shocked younger fans in 1920.  McCarty and his fellow clergy's support was very important to Charles Ebbets, who recounted on one occasion how a kind word from the Roman Catholic priest at a difficult moment, helped him keep things in perspective.  Either McCarty's congregation were all Brooklyn fans or the pastor didn't care since he made no pretense of objectivity, telling Dunham "Not one of us will be satisfied until the pennant of the World's Championship flies from the flagstaff at Ebbets Field."  Sadly McCarty's 1925 death was a full 30 years before that dream was realized.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - July 14, 1920

Apparently clergy row wasn't strictly limited to the ordained as Colonel Franklin P. Sellers was also a regular member due to his position as the religion editor of the Eagle.  In spite of being called "Colonel,"Sellers' military experience was limited.  Recently on the SABR's 19th century email list, Richard Hershberger told of a newspaper account that called legendary sports concessionaire magnate, Harry M Stevens "Colonel," again apparently without any significant military experience.  I've also seen Ebbets and other base ball owners called "Colonel" especially late in their careers.   Although some states awarded the title as an honor, but New York was not one of them. Sellers wasn't without some military experience, however, as the Eagle reported he had been a drummer boy with the 40th New Jersey during the Civil War.  When the veteran newspaperman died in 1927, the august New York Times even reported he had taken part in a "forced march to join Sherman's army."  A review of the official records, however, indicates Sellers enlisted in the Union Army on March 6, 1865, just about a month before the war's end and was discharged in July, total service of about 129 days during which it's unlikely he did any significant marching, much less fighting.  The Eagle account also claimed Sellers played first base for an amateur team in Belvidere, New Jersey where his father was a newspaper editor.  A review of my files through 1870 shows no such name in any box score, but it's certainly possible.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle July 18, 1920

While McCarty and Sellers' actual playing experience was somewhat limited, there was another 33rd degree rooter who, although he never got to the majors, had experience at the college level, at a time when few people went to college much less played college athletics.  Judge James A Dunne, a member of the next generation of fans was supposedly the "cream of college catchers" at Brown during the 1890's and reportedly turned down several opportunities to play professionally to concentrate on his legal career.  If nothing else, Dunne was creative, having named the fingers on his right hand after the game in which it was broken, beginning with Holy Cross and Wesleyan with his middle finger earning two names (Harvard and Penn) because it was broken twice.  Even if he never played in the major leagues, Dunne didn't lack for exposure to high level players as two of his teammates, Dave Fultz and Daff Gammons both played in the majors.  Dunne was ultimately recognized by his school which elected him to its Hall of Fame in 1977 although his prowess at handball may have been an equally important factor.  Doubtless relying on legend, the profile on the Brown web site claims that in a game against Penn, the Quakers loaded the bases only to have Dunne pick off all three runners.  The profile did admit the future judge's strength was defense, not at the plate, which is confirmed by the 1897 Spalding Guide report of a .174 batting average.

Spalding Guide - 1897

It's to be hoped these and the other accounts of Brooklyn Dodger faithful provided sufficient positive role models for other fans, contributing to the supposed improvement in fan support and the Dodgers ultimate success in the 1920 pennant race.  From a modern perspective the sketches give a sense of the relationship between the club's fan base and Charles Ebbets as an owner.  In addition to the priest, newspaper man and judge portrayed here, the group also included politicians, a postmaster and some local businessmen suggesting the breadth and depth of support for Ebbets' club.  Prior to becoming club president in 1898, Ebbets served a long 15 year apprenticeship in what was a very seasonal job.  Early in that period he moved to Brooklyn and used his "free time" to immerse himself in Brooklyn life including other sports (primarily bowling), social and fraternal organizations and politics.  Politics mean running for office and the Brooklyn baseball man represented his new home town in both the state legislature and the city council.  The end result was a broad network of community relationships that served Ebbets well throughout his even longer tenure as lead owner.  Ebbets not only came up through the ranks, but out of the community building a relationship between Brooklyn and its team which lasted long after his death and may be his greatest achievement.