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.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Manly Sabbatical

As some of the readers of this blog know (and may be tired of hearing about), I'm working on the first full length biography ever written of Charles Ebbets longtime Brooklyn Dodger club president.  The deadline is February 1, 2017 so I'm now in the last 90 days of the project and I need to focus on the manuscript even more intensely to deliver a high quality final product.  As a result I'm going to take  a sabbatical from the blog, but plan to return no later than the beginning of the 2017 vintage base ball season.  It's hard to believe that I began this in 2012 and still don't have a problem finding topics to write about.  Thanks to all those who have taken the time to read and best wishes for the holiday season and all of 2017.  Base ball and the blog will be back again next year.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fit to be Tied

Earlier this year, Sophie, our four year old granddaughter, was regaling us with the story of how her parents bought her three books at a local bookstore.  Demonstrating she heard the message which accompanied the purchase, she observed "That's a lot of books."  How many books constitutes "a lot" may be debatable, but there is no question there are "a lot" of baseball games in a major league season.  In 2016, 30 major league teams played some 2,430 regular season games assuming every game was played.  Even back in the days of 16 teams there still over 1,200 games played in the course of the 154 game schedule.  Given that number of games, there has to be something special about any one game to make it stand out, especially years later.  Usually that means games which were crucial in the pennant race or record setting performances like no-hitters and perfect games.  It was interesting, therefore, that in looking through the Spalding Guide for 1918 I found an entire page devoted to a game played eight years earlier in August of 1910.  Not only did the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Brooklyn Superbas (as they were called then) not matter in the pennant race or see a record setting performance, there was no winner or loser.  Rather the game, which was the second half of a doubleheader, ended as an 8-8 tie, called on account of darkness, an all too frequent occurrence in the days before lights.  

What made the game so special?  Below is the box score as it appeared the next day in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the box score reflects what made game unique, but because the Eagle box scores included more information than most, the answer is somewhat obscure, but it's there.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - 8-14-1910

The next box score from the Pittsburgh Press gives a clearer picture of the answer, but there is one difference from what appeared in the Spalding Guide which still hides to some degree the unique feature of this otherwise more than a little insignificant game.

Pittsburgh Press - August 14, 1910

Finally, there is the below box score from the Pittsburgh Post which hopefully shows why this was a game worth remembering even though there was no winner or loser.  According to this version not only did the two teams score the same number of runs, they also had the same number of at bats, hits, assists and errors. 

Pittsburgh Post - August 14, 1910

Interestingly the box score which appeared in the Spalding Guide is slightly different from the above, reporting each team with one less assist, but still an equal number.  In addition the account in the Guide also mentioned that each team used 10 players, including two pitchers, who had the same number of strike outs, walks, passed balls and hit batsman.  Somewhat surprisingly, at least to me, none of the three newspapers seems to have picked up on the statistical oddity both in the game account or in the next few days.   But someone was paying attention even if it was years later otherwise this quite unique game, in spite of there being no result, would have been lost to history.

Spalding Guide - 1918 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Saddest Words

Photo by Cindy Wiseburn

The 19th century American poet, John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote that "Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been."  It's a great line, if for no reason, because of its universal application, all of us have experienced or will experience missed opportunities at some point in our lives .  In base ball regardless of the type or the kind of involvement there are some equally sad words - "This is the last game of the season," words that no one escapes.  They became reality for the Flemington Neshanock this past Sunday at the Strasburg Railroad Museum in Strasburg, Pennsylvania in the scenic Lancaster countryside.  The Neshanock, of course, never do things in a small way so Sunday saw not just a last game, but three last games, in an event sponsored by the Elkton Eclipse.  Not only are the Eclipse a fine vintage club, they really know how to organize quality vintage events including this one and especially the annual festival in Gettysburg.

Photo by Cindy Wiseburn

On this windy, but sunny day, the Neshanock and Eclipse were joined by the Rising Sun Club of Maryland and the Keystone Club of Harrisburg with each club playing three seven inning matches by 1864 rules.  Flemington opened the day's play against the Rising Sun Club, a team the Neshanock defeated for the first time back in September at the Philadelphia Naval Yard Classic.  In a low scoring game, Rising Sun prevailed by a 4-1 count reportedly in large measure due to the Maryland club's excellent defense.  Next up was the rubber match (a bridge term applied to base ball as far back as the 1850's) with the Elkton Club since the teams had split two games back in June at the Howell Living History Farm.  Although Flemington got off to an early 2-0 lead, defeating the Eclipse twice in one year was too much to hope for and the Maryland club won a close 9-6 decision.   In it's truly "last game" of the season the Neshanock took on the event's only Pennsylvania club, the Keystone Club of Harrisburg led by some time Neshanock Doug "Pops" Pendergrist.  This time Flemington got its bats going, taking a 13-4 lead into the last inning which Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw preserved with some masterful relief pitching or so he told me.  In any event Flemington won it's final game of 2016 by a 13-9 count, finishing with a 25-13 record, the best record in the club's storied history.  Trust me, the Neshanock may not always be the best team, but we never lack for stories.

Photo by Cindy Wiseburn

 2016 marked my ninth year serving as a vintage base ball scorekeeper and while winning always makes things more enjoyable, each season has been a winning experience.  That's because of the people involved and especially those who do the heavy lifting to make it happen.  In that regard, special thanks to Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw who does so much work to get everything organized and then uses encouragement, threats and whatever is necessary to get us to different and sometimes distant venues every weekend from April through October.  Next, of course, are all those who play for the Neshanock, even if it's only a few time a season.  I owe a special debt of thanks to Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, official blog photographer, who this year, more than ever, kept the Neshanock's worldwide fan base informed of the team's results.  "Gaslight" also set a personal record in 2016, throwing out three runners stealing in one game, interestingly the same number he threw out all season.

Photo by Dennis Tuttle

Over the course of the 2016 season, Flemington literally played teams from Maine to Delaware, missing, I think, only Rhode Island.  Thanks to the gentlemen on all of those clubs for their commitment to vintage base ball, a form of living history that seems to expand more and more every year.  Three things are essential to any base ball match, two teams and an umpire, Flemington is fortunate to be able to call on the services of Sam "It ain't nothin' 'til I say" Bernstein.  Finally, but most important of all, thanks to all of the wives, partners, significant others, girl friends, parents and now children who attend games ranging from the stifling heat of Gettysburg in July to the cold of April almost anywhere.  It was to put it mildly another splendiferous season and the same will doubtless be true of 2017.  I wish everyone in the vintage base ball community a wonderful off season and hope to see you sometime, somewhere, next year.

Monday, October 3, 2016

A Pennant Comes to Brooklyn - Part III

Since Boston and Philadelphia were playing a second straight doubleheader on Tuesday, October 3rd, their first game began before the Giants-Dodgers contest got started in Brooklyn. The Phillies scored once in the fourth and when center fielder Dode Paskert, hit a home run in the fifth, things looked good for the home team.  Although the Braves cut the lead in half in the seventh, it seemed like Philadelphia would stay ahead when Boston's Ed Fitzpatrick hit an “ordinary” ground ball to Philadelphia's substitute shortstop, Milt Stock.  However, the ball got past Stock, hit the glove of Brave center fielder, Fred Snodgrass (opposing players typically left their gloves on the playing field while at bat), causing Paskert to also muff it. The tying run scored on the play, followed shortly thereafter by the go-ahead score.  Boston wasn't done, scoring two more times in the inning on their way to a 6-3 victory, pushing the Phillies to the brink of elimination.

Jeff Pfeffer

As the Phillies' pennant hopes began to crumble, Nasium of the Philadelphia Inquirer noticed the posting of a “one-sided and suspicious looking score” from Brooklyn.  “Suspicious” is a subjective term, but if the game was “one-sided,” at the outset, it was in favor of the Giants.  In their first at bat, New York got three hits which along with three Brooklyn errors, put the Dodgers behind 3-0 before they even came to bat.  While Brooklyn made up one run in the second, the Giants got it back in the top of the third, aided by another Dodger miscue.  Down 4-1 in the bottom of the inning, however, the Dodgers got their act together and scored four times, to take a 5-4 lead.  New York still wasn’t done, and they rallied against Jeff Pfeffer, who relieved Sherrod Smith in the fourth, tying the game at five.  Things didn’t stay that way for long when with two out in the fifth, Brooklyn's Ivy Olsen drove in Mike Mowrey for a 6-5 Brooklyn lead.  At some point during the bottom of that inning (accounts differ) John McGraw stormed off the field and wouldn’t return for the rest of the season.  He wasn’t the only unhappy Giant.  Art Fletcher and Rube Benton had words earlier in the contest, and Buck Herzog was reportedly so annoyed with New York’s pitching, “it looked as if he was going in and pitch himself.”

George "Possum" Whitted

With a 6-5 lead and Pfeffer now in command, the Brooklyn added single runs in the next three innings while holding the Giants to a meaningless tally in the 9th.   At the end of Brooklyn’s 9-6 win, the Phillies and Braves were tied in their second game.  Erskine Mayer had started for Philadelphia against Lefty Tyler, and the Phillies took a 1-0 lead on George Whitted’s home run.  Whitted had sprained his ankle in the first game and was basically playing on one leg, since this was literally the last ditch for Philadelphia.  In the sixth, Mayer struck out the first two Braves, but Joe Wilhoit hit one that Whitted could only limp after, ending up on third before scoring the tying run on Bert Niehoff’s “inexcusable boot.”  Even though the Dodgers game was over, many Brooklyn fans remained in the stands, while the players changed into their street clothes and sat in the locker room, “silent and watchful.”  Another gathering, this one at the Brooklyn Daily Times offices, which had followed the Brooklyn game on a message board, stuck around, hoping for word of a pennant won. The waiting must have seemed like an eternity, but finally there was good new when in the Boston seventh, a double by Dick Egan and a throwing error by Philliess’ third baseman Bobby Byrnes allowed the Braves to take 2-1 lead.  Any hopes of a Philadelphia come back ended in the eighth when Boston scored four times.

Wilbert Robinson

Finally at about 5:30, in the time it took for the score to reach Brooklyn by telegraph and for a reporter to run to the locker room, the Dodgers learned they had won the 1916 National League pennant race.  “Like a thunderstorm, the riot broke out,” as some players threw things, while the eyes of others welled up with tears.  In response to a demand from his players, Wilbert Robinson tried to say something but “just gurgled.” Outside in the gathering twilight, the fans didn’t wait for the final result to start celebrating.  When the Braves scored in the 7th, “pandemonium broke loose,” and most of the crowd left “laughing, grinning from ear to ear,” while some staid business men were reported to have “skipped along merrily.”  It was an “inspiring scene,” but supposedly nothing like the “demonstration” at the Brooklyn Daily Times offices.  The news that Boston had taken a 6-1 lead was greeted with a roar so loud “the air was shattered.” Those who swore, “swore hard,” and those who laughed “laughed hard.”  Finally, the growing darkness and thoughts of supper and “angry wives and mothers” sent “the devotees of the only game in the world away from the most pleasant sight of the ages.”  1916 may not have been baseball's greatest season, but it was definitely baseball at its best.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Pennant Comes to Brooklyn - Part II

Fortunately for anyone at risk of 1916 pennant race apoplexy, the prohibition on Sunday baseball in the East, meant October 1 was a day off for the four contenders.  While the players rested, the fans and writers had time for in depth speculation about the season's final and deciding week.  Due to September rain outs, Boston and Philadelphia were forced to play six games in four days, beginning with two doubleheaders while the Dodgers and Giants had four single contests.  The math was simple – Philadelphia had to win two more games than Brooklyn, so, if,for example, Brooklyn defeated the Giants once, the Phils only had to split with the Braves.  Boston's sole chance to win the pennant was to take five of six from the Phillies while the Giants swept Brooklyn, a long shot at best.  All that was left for New York was the spoiler's role.  Added to the Phillies' burden was the injury to Bancroft, since his absence required Philadelphia to play with an infield that hadn’t played previously together.  Another unknown was how well New York would play now that their record setting streak was over with some observers suggesting a letdown was inevitable. 

Otto Rettig

Before the Dodgers-Giants series began on Monday, both teams played Sunday exhibition games.  At Ebbets Field, a game was played between Brooklyn's reserves and some September roster additions.  The Giants, however, traveled to Paterson, New Jersey to take on the Paterson or Doherty Silk Sox, a local semipro team.  The Silk Sox had enjoyed an excellent season but lost their two prior major league exhibition games to the Yankees and Philadelphia A’s.  Not surprisingly, a large crowd of 10,000 gathered to see the record-setting Giants.  With one exception, New York played their regulars, against Paterson’s star hurler, Otto Rettig, who had pitched the day before.  In one more 1916 surprise, Rettig used his “slow ball” to shut the Giants out on three hits, while striking out 13.  Predictably, some questioned New York’s effort, but they had been promised additional money for runs and home runs, none of which they collected.   Rettig would eventually enjoy an extremely brief Major League career, winning only one game, a 1922 victory over the St. Louis Browns, but an important game nonetheless since the Browns finished only one game behind the first place Yankees.

Ferdinand Schupp

After the embarrassing loss to a semi-pro club on Sunday, McGraw’s team arrived at Ebbets Field on Monday with newly discovered star pitcher Ferdinand Schupp on the mound.  After spending most of the season on the bench Schupp had been a crucial cog in the Giants 26 game winning streak, winning six straight and giving up a microscopic three runs in the process. A relatively large October 2nd, “wash day” crowd, estimated at 15,000, was on hand, although it was reported nearly half of them were rooting for the Giants.   In the top of the first, New York loaded the bases with two out, bringing Benny Kauff to the plate against Jack Coombs.  The veteran Brooklyn hurler fell behind 3-0 but came back to strike Kauff out on a slow, waist high pitch that “suddenly dropped into Miller’s big glove.” Since Brooklyn didn't figure to score much, if at all, against Schupp, it was a key out. The contest remained scoreless until the bottom of the fourth when with one out, Jake Daubert reached first on a ground ball that was ruled a hit, but some writers felt was an error. Daubert then tried to steal second, and while Bill Rariden’s throw to second was perfect, second baseman, Buck Herzog dropped the ball, putting a runner in scoring position.  Zach Wheat wasted no time taking advantage, “crackling a whistling single to left,” giving Brooklyn a crucial run. 

Jack Coombs

Down one run in the eighth, McGraw went to a pinch hitter for Schupp, but the Giants failed to score and the Dodgers added an insurance run for a 2-0 win.   Schupp was once again brilliant, allowing only an unearned run on four hits.   However, this was Coombs’ day, as he shut out New York on six hits, for his sixth victory over McGraw’s team since 1915.  One writer claimed it was the greatest game of “Colby Jack’s” career, validating Wilbert Robinson’s decision to pitch him in this crucial match up.  No doubt aware of the veteran pitcher's record against New York, Robinson chose Coombs,even though Larry Cheney and Sherry Smith had equal rest.  Coombs’ success in changing speeds, coupled with the off-speed success of the semipro Rettig the previous day, suggests the exhibition game might have hurt the Giants’ timing.  Some “disgruntled” Giant fans claimed New York “did not play their best” due to their friendship with Robinson.  Other observers said the Giants played as if they had a collective hangover and might have been “pulling their punches," but most writers believed Coombs was simply too dominant

Zach Wheat

When Coombs took the mound earlier that afternoon, the Dodgers were actually in second place because the Phils won the opener of their doubleheader against the Braves.  Although some thought Alexander was suffering from overwork, he pitched his 16th shutout, even though it was Alex’s third start in five days.  The loss finally eliminated Boston from the race, but that didn’t mean they would quit.  While some fans thought Grover Cleveland would start the second game as well, instead Al Demaree faced off with Ed Reulbach.  The score was 1-1 until manager George Stallings' team scored once in the sixth and twice in the seventh, while Reulbach held off the Phils.  The Braves’ win, coupled with Brooklyn’s victory, severely damaged the Phillies’ pennant hopes.  Some of the Philadelphia writers were quick to put the blame on Bancroft’s absence, but the Phils’ lack of offense was equally important.  At day’s end, Brooklyn was on the brink - if the Dodgers beat the Giants on Tuesday and the Phils’ lost twice, Brooklyn would win the pennant.  However, there was little room for error since the opposite result would put Brooklyn in second place.  Philadelphia writer Jim Nasium (pen name for Edgar Forrest Wolfe) captured the atmosphere perfectly, writing that the “nerve shattering strife for the baseball supremacy of the National League continued unabated.”

                                Team                         Win      Losses   Games Behind

                                Brooklyn                     92        59                    -

                                Philadelphia                90        59                    1