Monday, November 6, 2017

"It Might Have Been"

One of the many New Jersey base ball stories to be found in the upcoming Morven exhibit is how, beginning in 1865, three teams from the state tried unsuccessfully, to earn a position among the leading clubs of the day.  Each of the teams, the Eureka Club of Newark, the Irvington Club and the Elizabeth Resolutes have different stories, but were unsuccessful for basically the same reason.  Founded in 1860, the Eureka Club was made up of well to do young men from some of Newark's first families.  Edward Pennington, for example, the club's first president and regular second base man, was the son of one New Jersey governor and the grandson of another.  However, the Newark players weren't just socially prominent, they could also play the game.  In 1865, the Eureka twice came within one heart breaking run of defeating the champion Atlantic Club and then a year later, thrashed the Brooklyn team 36-10, one of the worst defeats in that storied team's history.  But no matter how bright the Eureka's future might have appeared after that historic victory, by the end of the 1868 season, the Eureka were no more.  The club folded primarily because their best players could no longer give enough time to base ball and the club couldn't or wouldn't pay the new breed of professionals to take their place.

No one could have mistaken the working class Irvington Club for the Eureka, but the upstart team from the outskirts of Newark certainly didn't lack for talent.  As is well known in 19th century base ball circles, in June of 1866, the self-described "country club," upset the Atlantics and came very close to knocking the Brooklyn club out of the championship race at the very end of that chaotic season.  So talented was the Irvington team, two members, Andy Leonard and Charles Sweasy went on to successful professional careers including playing for the legendary 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.  The Irvington Club's problem was they couldn't afford to keep their top players and weren't able to sustain their early success.  Eventually the team's best remaining players moved to the Elizabeth Resolutes and were part of the Union County club's ill-advised attempt to compete in the National Association in 1873.  Since the Resolutes were a cooperative club, the players' salaries were dependent on gate receipts, if any, which meant the club couldn't compete with other Association teams for the best players.  Ultimately, all three clubs were unsuccessful largely because they lacked what today are euphemistically called financial resources, but in plain English means money or the lack thereof.

Were the three failures to put a club at the top, inevitable or could a different approach have produced a different result?  Could a New Jersey team have made it to the heights of the base ball world and stayed there?  In 1867, there was a chance to create a very talented club with plenty of money behind it,  and then, who knows?  Unfortunately, however, when the opportunity first presented itself, the Eureka and Irvington Clubs were too strong, or thought themselves too strong, to believe they needed each other.  Neither club could be blamed for being optimistic going into the 1867 season. Irvington had shocked the base ball world in 1866 and with a year of experience play at the highest level under their collective belts, they had every reason to believe their success would continue.   And the Eureka's 1866 performance also gave them plenty of reason to be optimistic about their future.

Before the season was very far along, however, the Newark Daily Journal caused "no little excitement" by reporting talk that Andy Leonard and Lipman Pike (a great 19th century player who played briefly with Irvington) were about to defect to the Eureka Club.  The rumors had been denied, but the paper went on to a far more important bit of speculation with possible historic implications.  According to the Journal, discussions were underway to combine the two clubs or, rather absorb the Irvington players on to the Eureka team. Perhaps a tad optimistically, the paper said the new club "would render it almost certain for New Jersey to carry off the championship of the United States."  Rose colored glasses indeed, but the combined roster would have included three future major leaguers (Sweasy, Leonard and Everett Mills) plus some other fine players.  In addition, the Eureka had far better and more accessible grounds and were highly regarded by the media and the base ball world.  Obviously, nothing came of it and it's impossible to know how serious the discussions were.  The sharp disparity in the social backgrounds of the two clubs alone might have made the possibility unworkable.

Charles Sweasy

Even if, however, the two clubs formed one "dream" team, there was still the risk those players would be lured away for higher salaries, but ironically that same season, a possible solution to that problem arose.  Earlier in 1867, the New Jersey State Legislature granted the Eureka permission to incorporate as a stock company, that is, they were authorized to sell stock to investors.  Interestingly, the authorization was for $50,000 worth of stock (about $1.5 million today), an incredibly high amount even by contemporary standards considering that in 1883, the team that would become the Brooklyn Dodgers had initial capitalization of only $2,000.  Little else was reported publicly about the stock sales until August, when the Eureka hosted the Charter Oak Club of Connecticut for a match, followed by a tour of the city and a gala dinner.  A day or so later, the Newark Evening Courier, in what was basically an editorial, said the Eureka would like to host other clubs in a similar manner, but didn't have enough money because they lacked an enclosed ground where they could charge admission.  The paper then emphasized how much free advertising the club provided for Newark businesses which alone should have been sufficient motivation for local business men to buy some of the stock.

Everett Mills 

Doubtless the Eureka needed money, but it wasn't for gala dinners, rather, it was to pay players which was against National Association of Base Ball Player rules and certainly wasn't going to be publicly mentioned by the paper.  To take irony to another level, the Eureka didn't even have to look far to find investors with big bank accounts.  Charles Thomas, the club's highly regarded shortstop had an 1870 net worth of $30,000 ($900,000 today) while Stephen Plum's father's total assets that same year were $160,000 ($4.8 million today).  They and others could have purchased a few shares and perhaps they did.  It either wasn't enough or the Eureka decided paying professionals wasn't their style, something they later admitted they had done in 1867 and were unwilling to continue.  But had both the players and the money been forthcoming, would it have made a difference?  The best answer is probably not.  New Jersey was then and remains today so oriented towards two major league cities, it's unlikely a top level club in Newark could have been sustained over the long term.  But it would have been fun to have tested the possibility.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Not Quite There

On Sunday, October 15, the Neshanock closed out the 2017 base ball campaign with a visit to Fort DuPont State Park in Delaware for matches with the host Diamond State Club of Delaware and the Mohican Base Ball Club of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.  First up was a match with the Diamond State Club which saw Flemington get off to a 3-1 lead in the first inning, but the Delaware team quickly matched that and led 6-3 after three innings.  Both teams added three runs so that after five innings Diamond State led 9-6 in what was still a close contest.  However, in the top of the sixth, Diamond State's strikers came through with some clutch two out hits driving in three runs for what proved to be an insurmountable 12-6 lead.  The final score was 15-9 with Flemington's offense led by Dan "Lefty" Gallagher with three hits and the Neshanock's father and son act, Chris "Sideshow" Nunn and his father, "Jersey" Jim Nunn chipping in two apiece.  Rene "Mango" Marrero also contributed two hits for Flemington including a double with the bases loaded.

After a brief respite, the second contest against the Kennett Square squad got underway.  Once again, the Neshanock had a productive first inning, tallying twice, but that was the extent of Flemington's offense for the seven inning match.  This was the first time, I've seen the Mohican Club and they combined well placed, strategic hitting with sound defense and pitching.  Not only were the Neshanock limited to two runs, but Flemington's bats only produced five hits, two coming from "Lefty."  With the two losses, the Neshanock record fell to 29-13 for the season, coming up just short of an unprecedented 30 wins.  Still the 2017 team set a new club record for wins, four more than the 2016 squad with a .690 winning percentage compared to .658 a year ago.  All told a very successful year highlighted by wins over the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn, the Talboy Fairplays and the Walker Tavern Wheels plus the retention once again of the New York - New Jersey cup.

Expressions of thanks have to begin with a tip of the hat to club founder and president, Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw for everything he does to put together a schedule approaching 50 games and making all the necessary arrangements.  A major reason for the improved records of the past two years has been an influx of new blood, especially younger talent.   The Neshanock roster now ranges from high school students to those around the scriptural three score ten.  Thanks to everyone who played regardless of whether it was one match or 42. Although he's not on the roster, thanks are also due to Sam Bernstein who umpires many of the Neshanock's matches, it's a pleasure to work with Sam.  As always, it's essential to thank the spouses, partners and significant others who support the team in so many ways.  In addition the off the field supporters has been expanded to include parents who drive their teenage sons all over the East Coast as well as some of the players' young children who bring a new and enjoyable presence to the season.  Thanks to all.

With the end of the 2017 season, A Manly Pastime reverts to its off season schedule with a goal of posting something every two weeks.  I say goal because as with last year, there may be a need for some type of sabbatical between now and next season.  When I took a sabbatical last year to finish my biography of Charles Ebbets, scheduled to be published in early 2018, I thought there would be no need for further breaks from blogging.  However, even before I finished the Ebbets biography, I fell into the opportunity to write a book about early New Jersey base ball which will be the companion to the exhibit scheduled to open in June of 2018 at the Morven Museum in Princeton.  I'm not sure if a sabbatical will be necessary this time especially since I'd like to use the blog to preview some parts of the book and the exhibit so we'll see.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Almost There, but a Long Way to Go

On Sunday, the first day of October, nine Neshanock players, one slightly disabled club president, a rapidly aging score keeper and the always supportive group of spouses, parents, significant others and children traveled to Garret Mountain Reservation in Woodland Park as the club continues its pursuit of an unprecedented 30 win season.  The opposition was provided by a Picked Nine, consisting primarily of Gothams with a Hoboken, a Resolute and assorted muffins mixed in for good measure.  Last week in Monroe Township, the second was the big inning for the Neshanock, but this time it was the third when Flemington tallied ten times for the most part with two out.  The Neshanock lead expanded to 16-3 at one point, but the Picked Nine scored five in the sixth and four in the seventh in a seven inning game as Flemington held on for a 17-12 win.  Three innings of the second game was played before the depleted ranks of the Picked Nine made it impossible to continue, the Nine were ahead at the time, but three innings did not qualify for an official game.

In the first game, the Flemington offense was led by Dan "Lefty" Gallagher, Dave "Illinois" Harris and Jeff "Duke" Schneider with four hits apiece.  "Illinois" and "Duke" would have earned clear scores but for being put out on the bases.  Danny "Lunch Time" Shaw and Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner added three hits each and everyone in the Neshanock line up had at least one hit.  The defensive play of the game came in the top of the first when a runner from the Picked Nine tried to score on what would have been a sacrifice fly only to be cut down by a remarkable throw from "Lefty" which even more remarkably, Ken "Tumbles" Mandel snagged on the fly.  The victory left Flemington's record at 29-11 for the season, but more importantly still one victory shy of the coveted 30 win mark.  The Neshanock's final chance at reaching the big 30, will take place on Sunday, October 15th at Fort Dupont Delaware when Flemington will play two of the following fine clubs - the Diamond State of Delaware, Lewes, Delaware and Kennett Square.  No matter the opposition, it will be a big challenge. Stay tuned or better still join the Neshanock as we bring down the curtain on the 2017 season.

As part of working on the book about early New Jersey base ball which will accompany the 2018 exhibit at the Morven Museum in Princeton, I've been going through multiple years of articles in the sporting papers of the day.  Recently I found the below article in the September 30, 1876 issue of the New York Clipper describing an unusual game where the New Haven nine played two other nines, the Star and Gerard Clubs simultaneously.  In other words, the combined team batted 18 players and also had the same number in the field.  A quick search didn't provide any further information about this game, but batting more than nine is similar to vintage base ball where in respect for those who give their time everyone gets to hit.  It doesn't usually reach 18, but I can remember at least one occasion when the Neshanock had a line up of that number which needless to say didn't work very well as the best hitters get less chances at the striker's line.  That may explain the Star and Gerard Club's limited offensive output of three tallies, but it's hard to understand how New Haven managed to get nine runs even with restricted roles for the multiple fielders.  Maybe the fielders got in each others way!

New York Clipper - September 30, 1876

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The New York game comes to south Jersey (with some help from Philadelphia)

Having suffered three straight losses, the Neshanock were more than ready to get back on the winning side of the ledger when they visited the Dey Farm in Monroe Township for the annual matches with the Athletic Club of Philadelphia.  While there didn't appear to be any gamblers present, anyone who took the Neshanock in the second inning would have well rewarded as Flemington tallied nine times in the second inning of the first contest and then topped that by scoring 11 times in their second at bat in the second game.  Both big innings got Flemington started on what turned out be easy victories.  Leading the Neshanock attack in the first game was Dan "Sledge" Hammer who had four hits and a clear score.  Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner also had four base hits with Dan "Lefty" Gallagher, Dave "Illinois" Harris and "Jersey" Jim Nunn adding three apiece.  In the second contest, "Sledge" added another clear score while Chris "Sideshow" Nunn, "Lefty," "Illinois," Jeff "Duke" Schneider and Meshack "Shack" Desane added four each followed by Ken "Tumbles" Mandel and Scott "Snuffy" Hengst with three apiece.  As usual Bobby "Melky" Ritter delivered a strong pitching performance aided by a solid defense behind him.  With the two wins, the Neshanock are now 28-11 for the season, heading into two games next Sunday against the Gotham Club of New York at Garret Mountain in Woodland Park.

"Illinois" at the striker's line

Back in August when Flemington played the Providence and Boston clubs at Old Bethpage, I described it as playing 19th century base ball royalty.  The same could be said of the Athletic Club of Philadelphia which was one of the power house teams in the years immediately after the Civil War and it turns out the Philadelphia team also contributed to the spread of the New York game into south Jersey.  Other than the Camden Club, which played Philadelphia town ball through 1863, I haven't found any New Jersey newspaper accounts of base ball clubs south of Trenton until after the Civil War.  There is, however, evidence that one south Jersey community had a club during the war years.  Early in the 1864 season, as part of the Great Central Fair in Philadelphia, a picked nine from New Jersey played, and defeated, a similar squad from the City of Brotherly Love.  Included in the New Jersey lineup was Baird, representing the Bridgeton Club, the county seat of Cumberland County in extreme southern New Jersey.  I need to look again, but I'm fairly sure that the Bridgeton papers from 1863 make no mention of such a team.  It wasn't until I was looking for something else in the Philadelphia City Item (courtesy of Richard Hershberger) that I found an account of the founding of the Bridgeton club.  Falling down a metaphorical rabbit hole is a fairly common occurrence for 19th century base ball researchers.

According to the September 23, 1863 issue of the Item, Franklin Westcott, and others were in the process of organizing a base ball club in Bridgeton.  Westcott, it turns out was a prominent local lawyer, very active in Republican politics and an outspoken supporter of the Lincoln administration.  He graduated from Princeton in 1858, a time when according to Frank Presbrey's 1901 history of athletics at what was then called the College of New Jersey, "base ball clubs of all descriptions were organized on the back campus" which may have been Westcott's introduction to the game.  Just about six weeks after the September article, the November 4, 1863 issue of the Item reported on a visit paid to Bridgeton by the Athletics Club.  Founded as a town ball club in 1859, the Athletics had converted to the New York game and 1863 marked the beginning of the club's climb to a prominent role in base ball circles.  The Athletics' visit to Bridgeton was their second trip that year to take on a less experienced club, in September they journeyed all the way to Altoona where they pounded the Mountain Club 73 to 22.   Trips of this nature would become the norm for the Philadelphians in the 1860's where they would visit and overwhelm local clubs who apparently enjoyed the experience.

Frank Westcott's grave, he died in 1875, only 36 years old

While I'm not completely familiar with the nature of these other visits, the trip to Bridgeton on Tuesday, November 2nd seems to have taken a somewhat unique format.  After arriving in the south Jersey village, the two clubs played two games, first a game between the two teams and then a second contest where the two clubs divided into teams with five players from the Athletics on one squad with the remaining four joining five members of the Bridgeton Club on the other team.  It's safe to say the Athletics won the first contest, although no score or box score is provided which was also the case for the second contest.  After enjoying the local hospitality for the night, the two teams played another game the next morning, again without any score being reported in the paper.  The Athletics then enjoyed one more meal with their hosts before returning to Philadelphia.  While little or no details were provided about the matches, far more information was provided about the off the field activities.

President of the Athletics and Publisher of the City Item

When the first two games were over both clubs adjourned to the Bridgeton Hotel for dinner featuring a speech by the honorable John T. Nixon, like Westcott a prominent local lawyer and a leader of the Republican Party.  Once that speech was complete, the players went to the Union meeting hall at the town hall where Thomas Fitzgerald, president of the Athletics and publisher of the Item "spoke upon the issues of the day" for 90 minutes to a crowd of 500-600 people.  Not surprisingly his paper reported that "Mr. Fitzgeral's justification of the leading measures of the administration was most heartily endorsed by the intelligent and loyal citizens of Bridgeton."  Fitzgerald, needless to say, was also a Republican noted for his progressive views on racial issues.  It feels at some level, like the visit was as much about politics as base ball.  Perhaps the idea was to help the local Republicans solidify their position as the country headed into a presidential election year where the outlook was not at all favorable to the Republicans.  It couldn't have hurt as the Lincoln carried Cumberland County 2669 - 2032, a result the Camden Democrat claimed was due to the "corrupting influence of Philadelphia." Be that as it may and regardless of whether the game was a side benefit to political machinations, base ball had arrived in south Jersey to stay.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Satisfaction to All

Unfortunately I was again unable to make this week's Neshanock game, a visit to South Orange, New Jersey to take on the local town team.  Multiple sources confirm that Flemington held the lead going to the top of the ninth, but the host club rallied for three runs and a two run lead headed to the bottom of the inning.  As they have all season, the Neshanock rallied, scoring once and putting the tying run on third, but this time it was not to be and the South Orange club held on for a 13-12 win.  A lone source informs me the Flemington attack was led by Bobby "Melky" Ritter, Dan "Lefty" Gallagher and David "Illinois" Harris with three hits apiece.  According to the same source, "Illinois" parleyed his three hits into a clear score and also stole six bases, three times when his wily base running skills forced the opposing pitcher into a balk or at least that's what I'm told.  But who could possibly question the veracity of a gentlemanly 19th century base ball player, even a 21st century re-creator. 

Photo courtesy of Karen Marlowe's Facebook Page

Just one example of base ball's gentlemanly is past is how detailed newspaper accounts of matches invariably ended with the phrase "the umpire's decisions gave satisfaction to all" or words to that effect.  It was apparently a standard formula to emphasize base ball's gentlemanly nature even in the heat of competition.  While that was probably to some extent wishful thinking even then, by the beginning of the post Civil War era, winning became the priority with little being done to disguise that reality.  The below exchange in a Jersey City newspaper in 1866, between what were most likely junior clubs, illustrates the changing nature of the game and the extent to which those disputes became public.

American Standard (Jersey City) - July 14, 1860

American Standard - July 16, 1866

This was clearly not unique to the Orion and Aetna clubs since a similar dispute between the Una and National clubs later in the season, led the paper to wisely opt out of another dispute.

American Standard - September 26, 1866

By the end of the 1860's, not only was the "satisfaction to all" attitude gone forever, it had been replaced by actual public criticism of the umpires, one of whom was unwilling to take such criticism without a response.

Daily Times (Jersey City) - July 30, 1869

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Faces in the Base Ball Crowd

Returning to the base ball wars after taking the Labor Day weekend off, the Neshanock saw their winning ways come to an end, losing both games to another fine vintage club, the Eckford, by scores of 17-10 and 11-9.   With the twin losses, the Neshanock's overall record falls to 26-10.  Unfortunately I wasn't at the games so  I have no more information beyond the scores.  With five scheduled games remaining Flemington still has a shot at 30 wins, but there's little margin for error.

In lieu of any additional game information, I've posted below some New York Clipper drawings of some important 19th century New Jersey base ball players. They and some of their peers will be part of the early New Jersey base ball exhibit opening at the Morven Museum in Princeton in June of 2018.

New York Clipper - July 26, 1879

Andy Jackson Leonard was part of the Irvington Club's historic upset of the Brooklyn Atlantics in June of 1866.  Heading west a few years later, he played on the famous Cincinnati Red Stocking Club in 1869 and enjoyed a distinguished major league career.  Coincidentally, the Grave Marker project of SABR's 19th century committee, led by Ralph Carhart dedicated a new monument to Leonard at his grave in Massachusetts on Saturday.

New York Clipper - May 29, 1880

Although the above article incorrectly lists Paterson as Mike "King" Kelly's birthplace, the future Hall of Famer did begin in his base ball career in what was some times known as the "Cataract City."  Called professional base ball's first matinee idol, Kelly had a life time .300 average over 16 major league seasons before dying young at the age of 37.  

New York Clipper - June 7, 1879

New to me is this south Jersey product who played in the major leagues for 13 seasons, hitting .299 with Buffalo, Detroit and Boston among others.

New York Clipper - September 27, 1879

Less prominent than the above threesome, John Farrow played for Brooklyn's first major league team in 1884 after being part of two National Association clubs, including the the ill-fated 1873 Elizabeth Resolutes.  

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Short Handed but Not Short Changed

About the only thing consistent in vintage base ball player attendance, is it's inconsistency, a problem that also sometimes plagued 19th century clubs.  Last Saturday for example, it looked like the Neshanock would have enough players for two teams, allowing perhaps for a two platoon system.  This Saturday, however, on a gorgeous day at an attractive venue (Rahway River Park), Flemington could muster only six players to take on the Elizabeth Resolutes, New Jersey's senior vintage club in years of service and the Neshanock's long time rival.  Fortunately, as was probably the case in the 19th century, other players were on hand, including Steve Dienes and Mike Ohlson, who gracefully stepped into the Flemington lineup and made major contributions in the field and at the striker's line.

Having unaccountably lost the bat toss, the Neshanock hit first and were retired without a tally which was followed by the Resolutes scoring twice for an early 2-0 lead.  Flemington then did to the Resolutes what other teams typically do to the Neshanock (or what the Neshanock usually does to itself) scoring four times after there were two outs and nobody on.  Elizabeth quickly returned the favor, however, tallying three times after there were again two out and none on.  Flemington tied the game in the top of the third and matters were even at 3-3 when the Neshanock batted in the fourth.  Keyed by Dan "Lefty" Gallagher's first vintage home run, a three run shot, Flemington scored seven times for a 12-5 lead.  Although the Neshanock added one more in the fifth, Elizabeth countered with two in their half to pull within seven at 13-6.  Neither team scored in the seventh, but Flemington added four in the top of the eighth for a commanding 17-7 lead with a final count of 17-10.

The Flemington offense was led by Joe "Mick" Murray with four hits, a total also matched by Steve who regularly plays for the Monmouth Furnace Club.  Mike, the Neshanock's other guest player contributed three hits, followed by Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw, Danny "Lunch Time" Shaw, Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Bobby "Melky" Ritter with two apiece.  "Brooklyn" and "Melky" shared the pitching duties, rotating to first base and based on their performance at that position, the regular Neshanock first base men would be well advised to remember Wally Pipp.  With the win, Flemington is now 26-8 on the season, setting a record for most wins in a season.  After taking Labor Day weekend off, the Neshanock have seven matches left on the schedule and the opportunity to reach the 30 win mark for the first time in the club's history.  Stay tuned.

Playing the Resolutes was appropriate since my work on my book on early New Jersey base ball is now focused on the post Civil War period, specifically 1865-1880.  Based on prior research, I thought there were two major themes for the period, the spread of the game throughout the rest of the state and the efforts of New Jersey clubs to play at the game's highest levels.  In the second half of the 1860's, two New Jersey teams, the Eureka Club of Newark and the Irvington Club competed against the country's best, but fell short, sometimes heartrendingly short.  The last club to take up the state's banner was the Elizabeth Resolutes, but they were also unsuccessful, marking the last time in the 19th century a New Jersey club tried for national prominence.  In reading through the New York Clipper and the New York Sunday Mercury, I've realized there was another trend that I missed.  As national prominence became less viable, success at the state level became more important, sparking the beginning of local rivalries within New Jersey.  I need to look at the state championship competition more closely, but the Resolutes were state champions in 1870 and, I believe, runners up to the Champion Club of Jersey City in 1871.  Again, stay tuned.