Sunday, July 27, 2014

Philadelphia Town Ball: A Second "Look"

 Saturday the Neshanock returned to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the Berks' Vintage Base Ball Festival in Leesport, PA, not far from Reading.  Unfortunately two days of base ball combat at Gettysburg had taken their toll on the Flemington forces so the Neshanock took the field with reduced numbers.  We were glad to welcome back, albeit briefly, Greg "Southwark" Stoloski after his return from a triumphant tour of not one, but two continents including jumping off a bridge in Bosnia.  In the first match, Flemington took on the New York Mutuals and unlike last weekend, the Neshanock got off to a good start and led 6-2 after three innings.  In the process, however, Flemington was living dangerously by allowing the Mutuals extra outs, although the Neshanock escaped with little damage.  But when the same pattern continued in the top of the fourth, the Mutuals erupted for 10 runs and a 12-6 lead which they never relinquished on the way to a 18-14 triumph.  Leading the way for the Flemington attack  were Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Danny "Batman"Shaw with four hits apiece and Dave "Illinois" Harris with three.  In the second match against the Diamond State Club of Delaware, the Delaware club controlled the game from start to finish, winning 12-3.  Next Saturday Flemington travels to Old Bethpage Village on Long Island for the annual Old Time Base Ball Festival.

A number of the clubs which played at Gettysburg were also present on Saturday which naturally led to further conversation about the numerous rules variations used at the Festival.  By my count eleven different sets of rules were used, ranging from 1854 (first team to 21 runs wins) to 1884 (overhand pitching).  Some years were most likely chosen as part of recreating classic games such as the 1870 Cincinnati Red Stockings - Brooklyn Atlantics match or historic moments like the National League's inaugural 1876 season,while other selections were probably made for educational purposes.  In one match between the Elkton Eclipse and the Providence Grays, the rules changed every two innings, thereby covering 1854, 1864, 1874 and 1884 in one game.  While all of the differences couldn't have come into play in two innings, the match gave some sense of how the rules evolved.  Unfortunately, because of scheduling conflicts, I didn't get to see many of the less played variations, but I was determined to see at least part of the most unique match of the weekend - a game, not of base ball, but  Philadelphia town ball.  The descriptive use of "Philadelphia" is important because town ball was a broad general term applied to multiple variations of bat and ball games played under different rules throughout the country.

The Philadelphia version has been reconstructed primarily thanks to Richard Hershberger who researched and wrote a detailed description in the fall 2007 issue of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game (much of the information in this post is drawn from that article).  The participants in the Gettysburg recreation were the Columbus Capitals Club of Ohio and the Athletic Club of Philadelphia.  The original Athletics played Philadelphia town ball before the Civil War and the vintage club has been involved in prior demonstrations.  While Philadelphia town ball was first played by residents of the City of Brotherly Love, like their New York counterparts, they frequently crossed a river to play in New Jersey, in their case crossing the Delaware to play in nearby Camden.  In the same way that New Jersey men in the northern part of the state formed their own clubs to play the New York game, young Camden men founded their own town ball club (the Camden Club)  which played the game through 1863 before converting to base ball.  The Camden Club's unique experience as the only known (to date) New Jersey town ball club and the belief some other variation of town ball was played elsewhere New Jersey before 1855, gave me plenty of incentive to watch at least part of the Capitals - Athletics match.

Photo by Mark Granieri

One of the most distinctive features of Philadelphia town ball is the extremely small size of the equivalent of the infield which, instead of base ball's diamond shape, is a circle with a diameter of only about 30 feet.  As the picture above illustrates (click on the picture to enlarge it), stakes are used instead of bases, which, because of the small size of the circle, are only about 19 feet apart.  Given the cramped quarters within the stakes, placing fielders and base runners in standard base ball positions would create more than a little confusion, something like the 19th century equivalent of cramming people into a telephone booth.  On the far right hand side of the picture, the man in the white shirt and the blue pants, having struck the ball, is running around the stakes for one of the only two possible outcomes of every batted ball, a home run or an out.  The striker has just avoided one attempt to put him out by dodging the ball (dark dot on the ground to the batter's left) which was thrown at him by the player (also to the batter's left) in the blue checked shirt and the blue pants.  Note the ball was thrown not to another fielder for a tag or force out, but in an attempt to actually hit the runner, a ploy known as "soaking" or "plugging."  While still not soft, the ball is not as hard as an 1864 ball, much less the modern ball.  Batters could also be retired in the more traditional means of catching a batted ball on the fly or on the bounce, bare handed, of course.  Although it's not entirely clear, strikeouts also appear to have part of the game, although a small one.

While the first picture captures the claustrophobic nature of the infield, the second illustrates the position of the striker, pitcher and some of the fielders.  The only player inside the stakes is the pitcher, facing both the striker and the catcher who are positioned outside of the staked area.  All of the players in the field (ignore the other game in the far right hand side of the picture) are fielders except for the two with their backs to the camera wearing the same uniform as the striker.  Although they appear to be in a "bench" type area, they are actually in the field of play because there was no foul territory in Philadelphia town ball, every batted ball was in play.  Where the non-striking offensive players are supposed to stand isn't clear, but there are, in fact, eight more of them outside of the picture since the game was played eleven players on a side.  Perhaps even harder to visualize or accept is the rule that every offensive player had to be put out for the side to be retired, effectively giving each team eleven outs.  As each batter was retired, he lost his chance to hit in that inning with the remaining strikers continuing to have a turn until they were put out.

Needless to say with no foul territory and eleven outs per inning, games tended to be high scoring occasionally breaking the century mark.  Scenes like the above where the striker runs out a home run while the defense waits in vain for the timely retrieval of the ball were probably fairly frequent.  Philadelphia town ball fell out of fashion beginning about 1860 when the local clubs shifted to the New York game, but even though the game didn't survive, it was interesting and informative to see how it was played.  If nothing else it gives a sense of the options open to mid 19th century young men as they looked for their game of choice.  While Richard's article is an excellent description of the game, actually seeing it played helped clarify a number of features.  It shows what can happen when dedicated vintage base ball players apply the research of equally dedicated historians to recreate a sense of the past.  Thanks to everyone involved for making this happen. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gettysburg - 2014

 Photo by Mark Granieri

My first year as tally keeper or score keeper for the Flemington Neshanock was in 2010 after two years in the same capacity for the Newark Eureka, a Neshanock spin off which didn't bear fruit.  During its two year existence, the Eureka played relatively infrequently so 2010 was my introduction to the much more extensive Neshanock schedule.  All of it was so new that I didn't pay particular attention to a six team tournament in Gettysburg.  It was hardly my first visit to the area of the great Civil War battleground in southern Pennsylvania and I had encountered most of the participating clubs during my time with the Eureka.  It turned out, however, that the inaugural event was just the beginning of what has become a top flight vintage base ball experience at a great venue in a picturesque and historic setting.  Much credit goes to the Elkton Eclipse for their work not only for starting the event, but also for expanding and enhancing the experience. 

Abner Doubleday doesn't belong in Cooperstown, but definitely has a place at Gettysburg where he took over command of the Army of the Potomac's First Corps after the death of John Reynolds

Photo by Mark Granieri

Very wisely, in my opinion, the organizers shifted the format from a tournament played to determine a champion to a festival where every club plays four matches primarily against infrequent opponents from other parts of the country.  Avoiding the complexities of brackets, tie-breakers etc., facilitated expanding the field from six in 2010 to eighteen clubs this year, representing Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, Michigan, Ohio and the District of Columbia.  A side benefit is the presence in one place of many of the eastern clubs so, for example, members of the Neshanock can visit with their friendly rivals from the Atlantics, Gothams, Mutuals and Eckfords.  Another factor essential to expanding the number of participants was the 2013 move to Schroders Farm (formerly the Yingling Farm), a space so large five different matches can be played simultaneously.  My understanding is that the farm was also used in the filming of the movie "Gettysburg" and the landscape certainly is similar to the embattled fields between nearby Seminary and Cemetery Ridges.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

A new feature of this year's festival was assigning the rules of different years to each match on a much broader basis than the more typical 1864 or 1873 alternatives.  It had its comical moments such as the Neshanock - Forest City match where no one including the umpire knew if base runners advance on a walk as they do under the 1864 rules.  The confusion produced a rule book consultation and discussion worthy of a modern instant replay review before finding that the rule was indeed the same.  Using different rules especially 1850's rules can also offer some interesting insights.  In discussing one major 1855 rule (first team to score 21 tallies wins) with Dean "Dreambucket" Emma of the Brooklyn Atlantics, he mentioned the Atlantics had previously played an 1855 match where the game went on long enough that the game was stopped before either team reached the magic number.  To the extent I've thought about the 21 run scenario, I've only  considered the potential to create a shorter game, never the possibility that good pitching, good defense, weak hitting or a combination of the three, could make it hard to bring a game to a conclusion.  Of all the variations which were used, the most fascinating was a Philadelphia town ball match which will get a more detailed treatment within the next few weeks.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The Neshanock's first festival action began early Saturday afternoon against the familiar faces of the Talbot Fair Play Club of Maryland under the equally familiar 1873 rules.  For some reason, the Neshanock followed a pattern throughout the weekend of digging a hole and then trying to climb out of it, not an approach that typically works well against a fine club like Talbot.  The Maryland club quickly scored five times in the top of the first and added six more in the fourth for an early 12-1 advantage.  Although Flemington scored four times in the fifth, Talbot got three back in their half of the sixth for a seemingly comfortable 18-5 advantage.  Having dug a seemingly insurmountable hole, however, the Neshanock proceeded to score 12 times in one inning, amazingly making up almost the entire deficit by combining eight Flemington hits with five Talbot walks and muffs.  Only two more innings were played because of a time limit and the Neshanock defense did its part allowing only two more Talbot tallies, but Flemington was unable to score again in a 20-17 defeat.  The Neshanock attack was led by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Dave "Illinois" Harris, each with three hits, supported by Dan "Sledge" Hammer, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, "Jersey" Jim Nunn, Chris "Lowball" Lowry and Joe "Mick" Murray all with two apiece.

Photo by Mark Granieri

After a brief break, Flemington returned to action with an 1864 match against the Franklin Base Ball Club of Pittsburgh, a one time 2011 opponent at the Ommegang Brewery Tournament in Cooperstown.  Hole digging reached a new high or low in this affair when Franklin tallied 11 times in the first before Flemington had even come to bat.  Earlier in the day we had been joined by base ball historian Richard Hershberger, who has a comprehensive and encyclopedic knowledge of the game's development.  During the lengthy Franklin at bat, Richard mentioned he had never seen a home run in a vintage game even though home runs were certainly been part of early base ball.  Always anxious to oblige, the Neshanock quickly took care of that when lead off striker, Mark "Peaches" Rubini belted out a four base hit.  That was only the beginning, however, as Flemington added six additional home runs, more, in fact than the Neshanock have hit in the prior four seasons combined.  Given that kind of fire power, it's no surprise, the Neshanock wiped out the early 11 run deficit in just two innings, clubbing their way to a football-like 35-24 victory.   "Peaches" added a second home run, joined by "Thumbs" with two and "Sledge" with three.  Nor was the onslaught limited to the long ball as the Neshanock had 29 hits of the lesser variety, led by "Illinois" with five and matched by"Thumbs" who also earned a clear score.  Among the others with multi-hit games were Chris "Sideshow" Nunn, Jack "Doc" Kitson, Joey "Midnight" Gallo and Danny "Batman" Shaw.  The sole negative for Flemington (other than giving up 11 run in one inning) was an injury sustained by "Illinois" which sidelined him for the rest of the festival.

  Photo by Mark Granieri

 Early Sunday morning saw the Neshanock back at Schroders Farm for an 1867 match with the Forest City Club of Cleveland, another 2011 Cooperstown opponent.  Flemington tried to avoid the early deficit by striking first (literally), tallying three runs in the top of the first, but the lead was short lived as the Ohio club answered with eight tallies.  The Neshanock bounced back with four in the second led by another "Sledge" home run, but Forest City was too strong and coasted to a 20-11 victory.  Flemington did have some stand out defensive performances by "Sideshow" who made some fine running catches in center field and at third base by Danny "Batman" Shaw who played well at a relatively new position throughout the festival.  After a break of almost 90 minutes, the Neshanock took the field for the last time against another Ohio club, the Cincinnati Red Stockings in a match played under 1864 rules.  Once again, Flemington fell behind early, but rallied for to open a 13-7 lead after four and held on for a 14-11 victory and a 2-2 festival record.  Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw pitched the match and contributed three hits to his own cause, aided, among others, by Ken "Tumbles" Mandel with two hits matching his performance in the morning match.  After that it was time to change, take in a little of the Philadelphia town ball match and head home after a highly enjoyable and entertaining weekend.

Memorial to Battery B, 1st New Jersey Artillery (Clark's Battery) near the Peach Orchard

Although the agenda for the weekend was base ball, any visit to Gettysburg requires remembering the historic events that took place there 151 years ago especially when the route to and from the Festival passed through the center of the battlefield.  The route is full of monuments and the total for the entire battlefield must number at least in the hundreds to the point that it would take days, if not longer, to read them all.  I had the opportunity on Friday night to take some of the Neshanock party on a brief tour (I'm far from an expert on Gettysburg) including some young adults of college age.  It reminded me of the growing challenge of adequately commemorating what happened there as we get further and further away from the actual event.  There is, I fear, the danger that the monuments may become like the dry bones in the biblical passage from Ezekiel, marble memorials that have no life in them.  However, just as God could breath life into those dry bones, we can do the same so the monuments continue to serve as doorways to the stories of "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here."

Just one example is the story of Richard Price, a young 25 year old man from Newark, a member of Clark's New Jersey artillery battery which, at the Peach Orchard on July 2nd, fired over 1300 rounds, supposedly the highest number of shells fired by any one artillery battery on a single day in the entire war.  Price was badly wounded during the battle, suffered at least one amputation and then almost drowned when the army hospital was washed out by a flash flood.  Sadly almost 60 days after the battle, Price died and was ultimately buried in the New Jersey section of the new National Cemetery.  In 1886, some 23 years after the battle,  some of Price's comrades, along with his father and other family members came to a reunion on the anniversary of the battle.  According to Michael Hanifen's history of the battery, after the veterans praised Price and his sacrifices, his father broke down sobbing, "My boy, my boy, O God, why did you take my boy? He was all I had."  Supposedly nothing could comfort him until a woman hugged him and said, "Look at that flag.  Your son died for that flag . . . When you and I are dead, patriots standing where we are now, will remember his name."  

The retelling of that story has once again honored that promise.

"That these dead, shall not have died in vain"

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ty Cobb's Greatest Day in Baseball Revisited

The Tigers and Athletics mascots decorate the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer - October 1, 1907

Life is full of little ironies.  One of mine is that I'm frequently asked how I became interested in the Civil War, which I can't answer, but am never asked the same question about my interest in baseball history, which I can.  The answer is books and one book in particular.  When I first became interested in baseball in the mid 1950's, it quickly became such a consuming passion that when I wasn't playing baseball or watching it on television (in glorious black and white), I read books about it.  Most of the books came from the Bloomfield Junior High Library where my father was a teacher and, of all of them, the one which still stands out is My Greatest Day in Baseball as told to John Carmichael and others.  As the name suggests, it's a collection of what are now called oral histories, in this case told by baseball's premier players, each recalling his greatest day in the game.  My Greatest Day anticipated Lawrence Ritter's timeless classic, The Glory of Their Times and had the good fortune to include the stories of Ty Cobb, Cy Young and Babe Ruth and other great players who were dead by the time Ritter embarked on his own quest.  In fact, Ritter wrote in his preface that it was Cobb's 1961 death that gave him the idea for The Glory of Their Times.

View of Columbia Park, home of the Athletics from 1901-1908, note the lack of dugouts and the fans in the foreground standing behind ropes in the outfield

Although My Greatest Day encompasses games from roughly 1900 to 1950, for some reason the stories that were the most fascinating to me were from the Deadball era (1901-1919) such as the famous (or infamous) Merkle game and the ensuing makeup contest which decided the mythical 1908 National League pennant race.  Almost 60 years later, I thought it would be interesting to revisit some of those games to see whether what so excited a 10 year old boy was really the stuff of legends.   One of the stories I've never forgotten is Ty Cobb's account of a game in only the third year of a career that spanned over 20 years from 1905 to 1928.  Cobb played in over 3000 major league contests, but what stood out for one of baseball's fiercest competitors was a September 30, 1907 game with the Philadelphia Athletics even though the Tigers didn't win the game.

Some of the crowd on the way to Columbia Park by trolley car - Philadelphia Inquirer, October 1, 1907

1907 was only the American League's sixth pennant race which for most of the season, according to Cobb, was a four team competition among Philadelphia, the defending champion White Sox, Detroit and Cleveland before turning into a Tigers-Athletics dash for the flag.  In an interesting twist, 1907 was the last pennant race where the clubs didn't necessarily play the same number of games because the home club decided whether or not rain outs and ties (more common then due to a lack of lights) were made up.  Philadelphia manager, Connie Mack, supposedly to preserve his pitching staff, opted not to make up nine games so the A's ultimately played five fewer games than Detroit which meant the pennant would be won by the team with highest winning percentage.  At the end of September, Detroit came to Philadelphia for a crucial three game series after which each team had seven games remaining.  Philadelphia was in first place by percentage points, but fell from the lead when Detroit took the first game on Friday, September 27th.  Two games remained on Saturday, the 28th and Monday, the 30th (Sunday baseball was illegal in Philadelphia in 1907), but the Saturday game was rained out, forcing a doubleheader on Monday.  Detroit went with their ace, "Wild Bill" Donovan while Connie Mack countered with spitballer Jimmy Dygert, reserving ace Eddie Plank for the second game.

Philadelphia Inquirer - October 1, 1907

A two day break in an intense, winner take all pennant race, not only gave both teams badly needed rest, but also helped build fan excitement about Monday's crucial doubleheader at Columbia Park, a wooden structure holding about 18000 fans, to unprecedented levels.  Although a record crowd should have been anticipated, like the 1865 Atlantics-Mutuals match at Elysian Fields, the local authorities were apparently unprepared for the estimated 40,000 fans who tried to cram into the park.  The official attendance was listed at 24,127 so over 6000 people had to find standing room, some of which, in the custom of the day, was available in roped off sections of the outfield.  For reasons I can't explain over half  a century later, when I first read Cobb's account, the idea of fans standing on the field behind ropes somehow seemed incredibly cool - testimony to the game's importance.

Detail from Jim Nasium's cartoon drawing of the action outside the park, Philadelphia Inquirer, October 1, 1907

Although the gates to the park were closed at 1:00, people still kept trying either to find a way inside or an alternative view of the action.  Supposedly a number climbed over the outfield fence, including an enterprising dozen who climbed up and over a rope some friendly soul dropped from the 29th Street end of the bleachers.  Equally enterprising were property owners along 29th Street beginning with the owner of  a three story house at 29th and Oxford Street who offered those denied admission to the park, the choice of a window or the roof for $3.  When enough people forked over their money without complaint, the entrepreneur  boosted the charge to "five simoleons" and "he got it."  Further along 29th Street at Columbia Avenue, a druggist charged $1-3 to 200 fans to stand on soda fountain stools for what sounds like a limited view.  Others stood on wagons that enabled them to see well enough to pass on a running play-by-play commentary to the less fortunate stuck at street level .

Cartoon drawing by Jim Nasium who was also a long time Philadelphia sportswriter, Philadelphia Inquirer, October 1, 1907

It's not uncommon for games with this kind of buildup to be anti-climatic, but that was far from the case on this early fall afternoon in Philadelphia.  As Ty Cobb remembered many years later, by the time the game was over, "with the street lights aglow,"  he had "experienced everything that can come in baseball" even though he was only 20 years old.  The game didn't, however, start in quite so memorable a fashion for Cobb and the Tigers as the A's jumped all over Donovan in the first to take a 3-0 lead.  But in the Tigers second, Dygert tried to give the lead back, combining poor judgement and poor fielding to allow one Tiger run while loading the bases with only one out and the top of the order coming up.  By then, Mack had seen more than enough so he pulled Dygert for the eccentric Rube Wadell who was uncharacteristically focused, fanning the next two batters (and four of the next six) with what Cobb described as "a pitch that broke down from your waist."

A number of the key players in the September 30, 1907 clash, New York Herald, October 1, 1907

With the Tigers denied, if only for the moment, the Philadelphia onslaught against Donovan continued unabated and the Athletics led 7-1 after six innings.  Even at a time when starting pitchers usually went the distance, no matter the score, Donovan would typically have joined Dygert in the showers.  Cobb and others asserted that Tigers manager Hughie Jennings left Donovan in because he didn't want embarrass his star pitcher in front of his family who lived in Philadelphia.  Norman Macht, in the first volume of his biography of Connie Mack, dismissed the idea that Jennings would make a sentiment driven decision with the pennant on the line.  Macht is probably on target in thinking Jennings had more likely given up on the first game and decided to save his pitching staff for the second contest.  Jennings did, however, replace Charles Schmidt, his regular catcher, with weak hitting Fred Payne who had the "better arm and head."   According to Macht, Donovan suspected the A's had stolen the Tigers signals so he and Payne changed them.  Regardless of the cause from that point on Philadelphia had a much harder time generating much offense.

Eddie Plank - Philadelphia Inquirer, October 1, 1907

Even so when the Tigers came up in the seventh, down by six runs, many A's fans had probably started thinking ahead to the second game.  Some of the A's players may have lost their focus as well since two errors and a walk loaded the bases for Sam Crawford who promptly unloaded them with a double.  Detroit got another run in the seventh plus one in the eighth, but Philadelphia added one in the bottom of the seventh for an 8-6 lead headed to the ninth.  Crawford got on base to lead off the inning bringing up Cobb who was without a hit to that point and hardly on his way to any kind of memorable game, much less his greatest day in baseball.  According to Macht, Wadell threw the first pitch on the inside corner for a strike and then guessing Cobb would expect an outside pitch, came inside again only to be outguessed by Cobb who hit a home run (only his fifth of the season) over the right field fence to tie the game.  Seldom have so many people gotten so quiet so quickly including Connie Mack who reportedly "slid so far on the bench that he tumbled into the bats lined up on the ground."  Realizing that not only was the scored tied, but that there was no one out, Mack recovered quickly, forgot about the second game and brought in Plank who retired the side without further incident.

Connie Mack - Philadelphia A's owner and manager for over 50 years

Philadelphia failed to score in the bottom of the ninth and incredibly a game tied 8-8 reverted to a more typical Deadball era pitcher's duel between Plank and Donovan who by rights should have been out of the game a long time ago.  Things looked good for Detroit in the 11th when Cobb hit into the crowd behind the ropes (a ground rule double) and scored on Claude Rossman's single, but Philadelphia tied it, aided by Donovan's wild pitch.  Detroit loaded the bases in the 12th, but failed to score and an A's attempt to win in the 13th was short lived when Topsy Hartsell doubled only to be picked off second.  That set up the most controversial play of the day in the bottom of the 14th when Harry Davis hit a fly ball to center that Crawford couldn't catch, putting the winning run on second.  However the Tigers argued long and loud (and probably profanely) that a policeman guarding the ropes had interfered with Crawford while the A's argued equally loudly (and probably equally profanely) that the cop was only getting out of Crawford's way.  At the time major league baseball only used two umpires and the call belonged to home plate umpire "Silk" O'Loughlin who was the furthest away from the action.  With both clubs baying at him, O'Loughlin hesitated for what seemed an eternity to some, before asking for help from first base umpire Tommy Connolly who quickly said there was interference and Davis was out.  That didn't end matters as Claude Rossman of Detroit and A's reserve Monte Cross got into a fistfight that threatened to degenerate into a brawl drawing in the crowd already on the field, restrained only by largely symbolic ropes.  Fortunately the police restored order and Rossman was ejected.  The importance of the call was demonstrated almost immediately when Philadelphia's Danny Murphy hit a single that could have driven in the winning run.

"Silk" O'Loughlin

 Perhaps by that point, both sides were too emotionally drained and physically exhausted for further drama and after three more scoreless innings, the game was called on account of darkness as a 17 inning, 9-9 tie.  Incredibly, even for the Deadball era, Bill Donovan had pitched all 17 innings for Detroit, giving up seven runs in the first five innings and only two over the next 12 while Plank allowed only one run in nine innings of relief.  Neither the tie nor the second game were ever played so when both teams went 5-2 over their last seven games, Detroit won the pennant with a .613 winning percentage compared to the A's .607.  Not surprisingly, a new rule was introduced for the 1908 season, requiring that all rain outs and ties be made up.  According to Cobb, Connie Mack seldom criticized umpires, but this was the exception and Macht confirms that Mack characterized O'Loughlin as a "robber" and the two men never reconciled.

Philadelphia Inquirer - October 1, 1907

While there was plenty of disagreement in the media over the controversial 14th inning, there was unanimity that regardless of one's rooting interest, the game was special.  The New York Times wrote that "From the seventh inning on the game was simply teeming with incident after incident" so that by game's end, "players and spectators alike were simply exhausted."  Equally excited was the New York Herald which called it "one of the most remarkable games in history," while the home standing Philadelphia Inquirer paused from its outrage at O'Loughlin to proclaim "The game and the crowd will make the day forever memorable in baseball history as the greatest ever." Bozeman Bulger of New York's Evening World joined in the chorus of superlatives citing a long list of what made the game so special:

"Brilliant fielding and the rankest of errors"

"Enough hits [35] to win two ordinary contests"

"Some of the prettiest pitching baseball ever saw"

"A home run . . . . . which tied up the score"

"A dispute between the two umpires"

"A fight between two players"

"The longest game of the season"

"The record crowd of the season and almost any other season"

"Game settled the American League pennant"

Bulger concluded with the rhetorical challenge,  "If you can think of anything that this game didn't produce kindly write."

Is it any wonder stories like this made a 10 year old boy a baseball history buff for life?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Riding the New Jersey Turnpike(s) - 19th Century Style

After passing a patriotic fourth of July with their families, the Flemington Neshanock visited historic New Bridge Landing in River Edge, New Jersey on Saturday for an event sponsored by the Bergen County Historical Society.  This was the second time the BCHS hosted vintage base ball and, as was the inaugural event last year, the match was well attended by an interested and enthusiastic crowd.  Today's opponents were the Eckford Club of Brooklyn, another relatively new vintage club led by Eric "Express" Miklich, one of the pioneers of vintage base ball.  Eric's presence by itself is worth the price of admission and today was no exception.  Both matches were played by 1864 rules and after some early back and forth in both games, the Eckford took charge and won comfortably by scores of 17-8 and 21-11.  Once again the Neshanock got strong offensive performances out of two muffins, Glen "Cat" Modica and Rene "Mango" Marrero.  "Mango" had three hits in the first match and would have earned a clear score except for being put out on a force play while "Cat' got three hits in the second contest.  The Neshanock's father and son act of "Jersey" Jim Nunn and Chris "Sideshow" Nunn also did well in the second match, each collecting three hits.  Next Saturday, Flemington visit Rahway River Park to take on their inter-state rivals, the Elizabeth Resolutes.  

While today's matches were well attended, there was, of course, no comparison to the thousands who attended the 1865 Atlantics-Mutuals match that was the subject of last week's post.  As I went through the newspaper accounts of the huge crowd at that match, it was no surprise to read descriptions of ferry boats so packed with people that some passengers worried the boat might sink.  What was, however, surprising was learning of large crowds coming in horse drawn vehicles by way of something called the "north road."  The surprise wasn't so much that New Jerseyans were interested in a "championship match," but rather that there was a New Jersey road well known enough to be called the "north road" in a New York sporting newspaper.  A road that might have been an important thoroughfare of the period which could offer clues as to how early New Jersey's base ball players got their first exposure to the New York game.  It's an important question in understanding how base ball expanded into New Jersey because the opportunities for such exposure in the antebellum world were limited.  Presumably the only ways young men from Newark and Jersey City experienced the early New York game were by watching it, listening to someone talk about it or reading about it.  The likelihood of a young man from New Jersey actually seeing base ball in person was highly dependent on the quality of local transportation networks.

Bergen County Journal

Research thus far has already identified the importance of a relatively sophisticated railroad network in the spread of base ball throughout the northern part of New Jersey in the late 1850's.  This does not explain, however, how prospective members of the first Newark and Jersey City clubs were exposed to base ball at Elysian Fields since at the time there was no railroad connection between the three municipalities.  There was, of course, considerable other interaction between the two New Jersey communities and New York City, creating opportunities for New Jerseyans to hear about the "new" game, perhaps leading to an invitation to watch or even participate.  However, that wouldn't create as much exposure as regular road traffic passing close to where the New York clubs played and practiced on a regular basis.  Research into road systems in antebellum New Jersey was obviously the next order of business and best source found so far is From Indian Trail to Iron Horse by Wheaton J. Lane even though it was published in 1939.

 Bergen County Journal - September 4, 1858

Although it's not a big surprise what seems clear from Lane's book is the development of road networks in north Jersey was driven by New York City's position as a major commercial center, seeking trade with the local communities of the more sparsely populated Garden State.  Buying and selling with New Jersey customers was so important to New York City's merchants that they traveled to Newark to do business with local farmers which is apparently how Market Street got its name.  This changed around 1812 when the introduction of the steam ferry boat shifted the market place for New York - New Jersey trade to the ferry depots in Jersey City and Hoboken accelerating the development of access roads to those points.  By co-incidence or not, this happened during "the turnpike era in America" which Lanes says covers the first third of the 19th century.  Turnpikes were (and are) simply roads where tolls were charged for usage, the name comes from a "pike" or bar placed across the road where tolls were collected.  Toll payments financed the cost of surfacing roads with crushed stone which allowed horse drawn vehicles to travel at higher speeds than the 4 miles per hour on the primitive roads of the Colonial period.

Reading about the early turnpikes is fascinating because some of the names continue in use to this day.  Examples include the Newark Pompton Turnpike, Hamburg Turnpike (originally the Paterson Hamburg Turnpike)  and Franklin Turnpike in Bergen County.  Some like the Newark Pompton Turnpike covered relatively long distances, but shorter routes were also developed, the first of which was the Bergen Turnpike, opened in 1802, to connect Hackensack with, of all places, the Hoboken ferry.  While the exact locations aren't clear, the turnpike either followed the same route or connected with a road that existed since 1768 when a stage coach line was established between Hackensack and the ferry at Powles or Paulis Hook, now part of Jersey City.  The real question, of course, is how close these roads came to the base ball incubator at Elysian Fields.  In a grace filled moment, evidence arrived in the form of a lithograph of an annotated 1906 map of Hoboken available from the Hoboken Historical Museum at  The annotations overlay historic sites, including the base ball grounds at Elysian Fields, on to the 1906 street grid which is  not terribly different from today.

Working with the information from the annotated map, the areas in red on either side of Hudson Street represent the location of the two base ball grounds at Elysian Fields.  According to the annotations, the area on the left was the Knickerbocker grounds and the one on the right is simply labeled base ball ground, presumably the north ground occupied by the Mutuals in 1865.  The black horizontal line on Washington Street represents the "north road" of the 1865 Clipper article which intersects with the turnpike, the blue line at about 8th Street.  If I'm interpreting this correctly, a major north-south road ran literally right next to one of the base ball fields and well within visual range of the other, exposing passersby to the New York clubs playing and practicing at Elysian Fields six days a week.  Prior to pursuing this I visualized Elysian Fields as cut off and isolated from the rest of New Jersey, existing primarily, if not exclusively, as green space for New York City.  Lane's book plus the map help develop a different picture of a site passed daily by a not insignificant amount of traffic.  Although this doesn't prove Newark and Jersey City's pioneering base ball players first experienced the game while bouncing along in an uncomfortable horse car, it's another strand in the web of interactions with base ball at Elysian Fields that got New Jersey's first base ball clubs on the field in 1855. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Build It or Not, They Will Come

Photo by Mark Granieri

Having spent last Saturday in one of the easternmost points in New Jersey, yesterday the Neshanock headed south and west to historic Princeton to play their annual match on behalf of the Historical Society of Princeton.  Although I was unable to be there, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri once again filled multiple roles, providing a game summary along with photos in addition to his usual stalwart play in the Neshanock lineup.  Saturday's opponent was the Diamond State Club of Delaware, a relatively new club which has become a formidable foe in a relatively short time.  That was more than evident in the first match, played under 1864 rules, as Diamond State got off to a 11-3 lead after 2 innings aided by a number of Neshanock defensive lapses.  Although the Neshanock's play improved after that, the Delaware club coasted to an easy 13-4 triumph.  The second contest was played under 1873 rules and Flemington combined good hitting and fielding to record an easy 16-2 victory behind the pitching of Dan "Sledge" Hammer.  Reportedly the Neshanock defense was especially, strong making multiple double plays including two started by "Mango," a very promising Neshanock muffin.  Next Saturday, Flemington returns to the northern part of the state for matches sponsored by the Bergen County Historical Society at historic New Bridge Landing in River Edge, New Jersey.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Just seeing the pictures of the wide open spaces in Princeton compared to the cramped quarters last week in Hoboken was a further reminder of the importance of convenient playing space in the early development of the New York game.  But even though Elysian Fields' primary contribution to base ball was providing ample and accessible space for the pioneering New York clubs of the 1840's and 1850's, the game continued to be played there throughout most of the 19th century.  In fact, a review of New York city newspapers suggests the base ball fields were the last part of the Stevens' pastoral playground to succumb to the 19th century equivalent of urban sprawl.  As late as November of 1888, 45 years after the Magnolia Club gathered at Elysian Fields for base ball and chowder, the Cuban Giants, a black club, were scheduled to play a match on the historic grounds on the Hudson.  With such a long history as a base ball venue, Elysian Fields witnessed many of the game's transitions including one embodied by a Brooklyn Atlantics - New York Mutuals match played on August 3, 1865

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper - October 11, 1856

Although drawn almost a decade earlier, the picture gives a sense of the throngs taking the ferry from Manhattan to Elysian Fields

For the most part the New York clubs which called Elysian Fields home were of the gentlemanly variety, playing more for exercise than for competitive success.  The primary exception was the New York Mutual Club which became one of the best teams of the 1860s as well as one of the most controversial because of their connections to the Tammany Hall political machine.  Throughout the Civil War years the Mutuals were very successful, but never quite good enough to unseat the Eckford or the Atlantics and win the championship.  In 1864, for example, the Mutuals won 20 out of 23 matches, but two of the losses came at the hands of the Atlantics who went undefeated and re-claimed the championship from the Eckford.  While the Mutuals were, no doubt, frustrated by coming so close in 1864, they still most likely looked forward to another championship run in 1865 in a post war world.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Although base ball was somewhat slowed down by the war, there had been some innovations including the first regular use of enclosed grounds facilitating both crowd control and charging admission (not necessarily in that order).  By 1864, Brooklyn had both the Union and Capitoline Grounds while the Athletics of Philadelphia opened their new field at Jefferson and 25th Street that very season.  The trend continued in 1865 with the Eureka Club of Newark's new grounds at Ferry and Adams Street which weren't enclosed, but still earned praise from the New York Clipper (probably Henry Chadwick) for the handling of  large crowds.  Even though the Mutuals continued to play at Elysian Fields, they recognized the need for upgraded facilities and worked out a plan with the Stevens family for improvements on the north field in anticipation of the 1865 season.  While cost figures were not released, the Clipper reported the total expense was three times more than anticipated.  In addition to cutting down trees, removing rocks and leveling the ground, the Mutuals erected "an amphitheatre of seats," which the Clipper claimed would make it the "most popular resort for ball players in the country."

Photo by Mark Granieri

Given the cost overruns,  it's not surprising that the upgrades at Elysian Fields also took longer than expected, but by August all was in readiness for the first championship match at the "new" north field or so the Mutuals thought.  The first sign of unusually high interest in the game was the amount of pre-match conversation as the New York Herald reported the impending contest between two undefeated clubs was the "talk of the town."  Match day itself quickly showed what lay ahead as the crowd began gathering at 11:00, hours before the first pitch.  By 1:00 the ferries were so packed that some passengers wondered if the load would swamp and sink the boat.  Nor was the river the only heavily traveled access route as the "north road was hidden with the clouds of dust" from the many horse drawn conveyances bringing people to the match.  Whether it was the euphoria of the end  of the war or the opportunity to see two of the best clubs for free (other than the ferry ride), a record breaking crowd was gathering.  Estimating the crowd at 18-20000 (a similar figure was given by the Clipper), the Sunday Mercury proclaimed it the "most numerous assemblage of spectators" ever to attend a match.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper - August 26, 1865

Apparently the trees removed as part of the improvements to the north field did not include the one located only a few feet from the striker's line

As game time approached and the "human tide still flowed" towards the north field, both on foot and "via the cars," two things must have dawned on the leaders of the Mutual Club.  At least one person, most likely the treasurer, mourned the loss of prospective gate receipts, but more pressing and more immediate was how to handle the huge crowd.  Complicating the problem was the New Jersey location where New York City and Brooklyn police lacked jurisdiction and Hoboken's force was far too small for the task at hand.  Whatever order was imposed had to come from the Mutuals and they at least ensured any ladies in the crowd got seats, even if that meant demanding that seated males do the manly thing.  By 3:00 all the seats were long gone, with the rest of the huge throng packed five deep around the field while others perched in trees or on the outbuildings of Perry's Hotel.

Peter O'Brien of the Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn

Not surprisingly, the standees had encroached on to the playing field itself so it took the Mutuals 45 minutes to clear an adequate playing area, but even then spectators remained in portions of the outfield.  Metaphorically holding his nose to some degree, the Clipper reporter (again most likely Chadwick) commented that the crowd was made up of "all classes" including Brooklyn and New York "roughs" and, even worse, the "black leg fraternity," pickpockets who in their wildest dreams couldn't have imagined such a vast sea of potential victims with so little police protection.  Also present were those with a "pecuniary interest" in the outcome who didn't hesitate to interfere with play when it was to their advantage.  According to the Sunday Mercury, fan interference cost Start and Chapman of the Atlantics home runs while Zeller of the Mutuals was cut down running on a foul ball because he couldn't hear the umpire's call.  In spite of the outside interruptions the two clubs played, and the fans saw, a very competitive match.  The Mutuals led 7-6 after three innings, but in the top of the fourth, the Atlantics who "thought it time to be up and doing in the batting line," scored three times and had two on with veteran Peter O'Brien at the plate.  O'Brien solved the crowd interference problem by hitting the ball so far no one could deny his right to a home run as the crowd applauded "vociferously."

New York Clipper - August 12, 1865

Discouraged, but not disheartened, the Mutuals rallied in the fifth and reduced the margin to just one tally, trailing 13-12 while dark storm clouds gathered on the horizon.  With five innings in the books, the game was official with the Atlantics ahead so the Mutuals only hope was to play another full inning and be ahead when the inning was complete.  Before the 6th inning could begin, however, the game ball split at the seams with the only replacement ball locked in the Mutuals dressing room.  Incredibly the Mutual who went to get the ball, forgot to take the key, forcing a return visit that cost 10 minutes the Mutuals couldn't afford to waste.  To their credit the Atlantics didn't stall in their at bat, going out quickly in order, but it didn't help the Mutuals.  Still down only one tally in their half of the sixth, the New York club got their first two men on when the rains came, ending the game and the Mutuals chances for victory.

New York Clipper - August 12, 1865

With base ball done for the day, the rush was on for the limited cover at Perry's Hotel where supposedly only one of twenty got out of the downpour.  For the light-fingered, it was like shooting fish in a barrel as the pickpockets did a "flourishing business."  Mr. Perry himself kindly came to Chadwick's assistance, using an "oilskin covering" to protect his score book and notes.  Once the principals had gathered, the understandably disappointed Mutuals presented the game ball to the Atlantics, while doubtless already looking forward to the August 14th rematch at Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn.  Meanwhile the "well washed multitude" trekked through the mud and water to the ferry, reportedly indifferent to the "torrent of water," probably because they couldn't get any wetter.  His equilibrium restored, if not dried out, Chadwick called for  "one hundred Metropolitan police with persuasive hickory sticks" to attend the rematch to "see that a perfectly clear field is provided."  Accounts of that match make no mention of security issues and the Atlantics won, en route to another undefeated season, successfully defending their championship in the process.

New York Herald- August 4, 1865

Third up from the bottom is a personal ad offering a reward for a "gold-hunting case watch" supposedly "lost" at the August 3rd match, but more likely one of the victims of "black leg fraternity."

 The security issues at Elysian Fields continued to be a serious matter and similar problems arose when the clubs returned to Hoboken in September of 1866.  Already a believer himself, Chadwick thought everyone in attendance that day "were thoroughly convinced that enclosed grounds are the only suitable localities for important contests."  A year later, Edwin Stevens agreed as he forbade any future championship matches at Elysian Fields forcing the Mutuals to relocate to the Union Grounds in Brooklyn so that New York City's best team now played its most important matches in the city of churches.   Elysian Fields provided badly needed space for the early New York clubs, but the most competitive level of the game had outgrown its capacity barring a significant financial investment to enclose the field which no one, including the Stevens family, was apparently willing to do.  The August 3, 1865 match demonstrated that as the quality of play improved, facilities had to keep step, a process that has continued ever since.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Return to Base Ball's Incubator

 Photo by Mark Granieri

Every year on the Saturday closest to June 19th, the Neshanock visit Hoboken to play a match in honor of the Knickerbocker Club of New York's first match game played on that date in 1846 against the New York Club.  For at least two years, the match was against a Hoboken club put together just for that one game, but about three years ago the Hoboken Nine were formed, a welcome addition to New Jersey's vintage base ball community.  In the past the match was played at Stevens Institute located on the site of the Stevens' estate and not far from historic Elysian Fields.  This year the field at Stevens was being replaced so the match was moved to John F. Kennedy Stadium, the home field of Hoboken High School.  Unfortunately, from an historic standpoint, both fields have artificial turf, but just being in Hoboken serves as a reminder of the early days of the New York game.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Today's match began with Hoboken tallying twice in their first striking opportunity, but Flemington quickly responded with three tallies in their first appearance at the striking line.  Hoboken continued to hit well in the match's early stages adding five more tallies, to lead 7-4 after four innings.  Things changed after that as Hoboken could only manage one tally over the next two innings while Flemington scored seven times to take an 11-8 lead as the match headed to the seventh inning.  In the bottom of the sixth, the first four Flemington strikers all reached base with three scoring, but Hoboken retired the next ten strikers in order.  No offense accompanied by weak defense is a deadly combination and when Hoboken scored three in the eighth, the local team had a 12-11 lead as the match went to its last inning.  Flemington took the field hoping to keep the margin at one run, but Hoboken was not to be denied, erupting for four more tallies to put the game out of reach, preserving a 16-12 win.  Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner led the Flemington attack with three hits, followed by five other Neshanock who had two apiece. 

Photo by Mark Granieri

While the primary purpose of the Neshanock's visit to Hoboken was the annual commemoration of the 1846 match, in a larger sense the event also honored Elysian Fields part in the early development of the New York game.  Just as many early 20th century ballparks were "green cathedrals," Elysian Fields was, in a similar way, a special gathering place for the early practitioners of the new form of an old game to conduct their "religious" exercises.  Although not in any sense base ball's birthplace, Elysian Fields played an incubator like role for the New York game, providing ample, accessible and available space from the first days of field practice to the beginnings of competitive play of the 1850's and beyond.  Perhaps the most important advantage of the greensward on the Hudson was its availability as ample and accessible space is frequently lost to commercial development.  Fortunately for base ball, the Stevens' family learned that operating Elysian Fields as "a pleasure ground for old New York" was more profitable (ferry fees) than developing the land for housing or other uses.

Map of Hoboken from Hopoghan Hackingh: Hoboken, A Pleasure Resort for Old New York by Charles H. Winfield

So obvious were  Elysian Fields's advantages to early New York ball players that, as John Thorn has shown, other New York base ball clubs like the Magnolia Club, played there before the Knickerbockers had even been organized.  The transition to competitive play in the 1850's plus the formation of more clubs gradually increased the number of New York base ball players paying their pennies to ride the Stevens family ferry.  By 1857 when the final stage of base ball's antebellum growth was getting underway, six different New York clubs had contracted to use what appear to be two different parts of Elysian Fields as their home base ball grounds.  To that point those who had never visited the pastoral playground in Hoboken lacked any real sense of what base ball at Elysian Fields actually looked like since newspapers provided only written descriptions. That changed in September of that year when both Porter's Spirit of the Times and the New York Clipper each commissioned artists to prepare engravings of a September 8, 1857 Eagle - Gotham Club match at Elysian Fields.

New York Clipper - September 19, 1857

According to the practice schedule Tuesday was a regular day for both clubs to play in Hoboken, but based on the Clipper account, the field depicted in the drawings was the Eagle Club's home grounds.  The engravings appear to be contradictory with regard to the location of the home plate, but the Clipper caption stresses their picture was "a correct representation" and it is certainly the more detailed of the two.  Among other things the drawing illustrates the lack of seating (reportedly not added until 1862) as well as the marque or tent to the right of the catcher, most likely the "suitable accommodations for the ladies" frequently mentioned in contemporary accounts.  Between the tent and the striker is a man seated on a chair, described as the referee (umpire) "solitary and alone."  According to the Clipper, he is "ready to mete out justice to all when appealed to."  Both the picture and the description illustrate the more passive role of the umpire when he had no responsibility to call strikes (1858) or balls (1864) and served primarily as the court of last resort on plays the players couldn't resolve for themselves.

Porter's Spirit of the Times - September 12, 1857

Of special interest to a vintage (in more ways than one) scorekeeper, is the scorers table located between the striker and the dark uniformed Eagle players.  Labeled "umpires" in the caption, the picture confirms that as early as 1857 scorekeepers were most likely reserve players.  At the time score keeping was rudimentary and the most important responsibility was most likely mutual agreement on the score, the number of outs and the striking order.  Having both scorers at a stand alone table anticipates the scorers table at basketball games and emphasizes the "official" nature of the role in a pre-scoreboard era.  The joint position of the two scorekeepers also suggests a desire, possibly drawing on past experience, to prevent potential disagreements about the score.  Also of interest is the positioning of the fielders with the three basemen positioned on top of their respective bases with the shortstop in a more or less modern position as are the center fielder and left fielder.  Not so with the right fielder, who appears to to be in a modern second baseman's position, whether the positioning is accurate, artistic license or a lack of knowledge on the artist's part is unclear.  Finally note the bats which appear to be lying in fair territory just to the right and front of the pitcher.  Once again this could be artistic license, but the caption itself states the bats are "on the field."

New York Clipper - September 19, 1857

Having devoted half of its front page to the picture, the Clipper's game account was limited in space, but not superlatives.   According to the writer, the match was attended by "immense crowds" who were rewarded with "spectacular [defensive play] on both sides," thereby preventing any "large scores from the bat."  Down 2-0 after one inning, the Eagle Club tallied four times in the second and twice in the third for a 6-3 lead in route to a 15-9 triumph.  After the match at least four Eagle Club members didn't have to join the throngs boarding the ferry for New York City.  Williams, Bixby, Gilman and Brinkerhoff were Jersey City residents who played with that city's charter clubs in 1855.  The combined New York - New Jersey makeup of the Eagle Club lineup, along with Elysian Fields' role as the "home" grounds for the early New York City clubs, illustrates how the New York game was actually a "Greater" New York affair.  Recently I read somewhere that base ball in 1855 was limited to New York and Brooklyn, yet according to the Protoball web site, that same year New Jersey had as many clubs as Brooklyn (10 each) and more than New York City (6).  While the actual numbers are debatable, there was a lot of base ball was played in New Jersey in the 1850's, some of it by New Jersey clubs.  This is not to argue about the relative importance of New Jersey's role, but to emphasize the regional aspect of the New York game's early days.  Commemorating Elysian Field's role as a base ball incubator helps do just that. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Is This Any Way to Run a Base Ball Club?

 Photo not by Mark Granieri

In order to have a base ball match there are some things that are required and other things which aren't mandatory, but make for an enjoyable experience.  Among the latter are nice weather, a good venue,  a reasonable trip and interested fans, all of which the Neshanock had today for their annual visit to the Howell Living History Farm near Lambertville, New Jersey.  Missing, however, was one of the essential things - the opponent, as the other team didn't muster anywhere near enough players.  Faced with this challenge and not wanting to disappoint the fans, Flemington did the manly thing by dividing up into two teams and inviting some of the spectators to join us.  Everything worked out very well as all of the participants got plenty of playing time and in someways it was a better way to introduce the 19th century game to a new audience.  The two squads must have been well matched as the game was tied after nine and looked like it was headed to the 11th when Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw struck a walk off single off of Ken "Tumbles" Mandel.  Having played today close to the banks of the Delaware, next week, the Neshanock head east for the annual Hoboken game commemorating the 1846 Knickerbocker - New York Club match

Photo not by Mark Granieri

 The highest and most widely shared value in the vintage base ball community is the importance of historical accuracy in recreating 19th century base ball.  Whether through social media, e-mail groups or by in-person encounters before, during and after matches, the discussion, debate and even argument goes on about how the game was played on-the-field.  To my knowledge, however, what clubs did and how they behaved off-the-field, receives little or no attention.  If the September 8, 1859 meeting of the Hamilton Club of Jersey City is anything to go by, failure to recreate that aspect of 19th century base ball is probably a good thing.  The club's minute book, housed in the Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, opens a window on a scene that makes one wonder how the Hamiltons ever managed to play a match.

Title Page of the Hamilton Club Minute Book

The meeting that September evening took place at Jersey City's American Hotel, located at 9-11 Montgomery Street, near the Hudson River ferry.  Recorded in the neat handwriting of club secretary, Nathan B. Shafer, the minutes don't report the length of the meeting which is unfortunate as it must have gone on long enough for more than a few pair of eyes to have glazed over.  First up after the routine business of approving the minutes (probably the only routine thing about the meeting) was a vote on the prospective membership of Amos Williamson and Daniel Vorhees.  Voting was anonymous with white balls for yes and black balls for no, with three or more black balls sufficient for rejection.  Fortunately for Williamson (2 negative votes) and Vorhees (1 negative vote), they avoided the fate of F.A. Smith , the only prospective member recorded as being rejected.  Interestingly only 13 and 15 members respectively cast votes which is similar to other recorded votes.  The one surviving members list reflects 32 names so it appears meetings weren't, as a rule, well attended.  Perhaps the discussions that followed indicate why members avoided meetings whenever possible.

First two pages of the minutes from the September 9, 1859 Hamilton Club Meeting

With membership issues disposed of, attention turned to the upcoming return match with the Adriatic Club of Newark, to be hosted by the Hamiltons at their grounds in Jersey City.  The debate included motions and votes on the following:

The date of the match
The time of the match
Choosing a committee to select the "nine" and six subs subject to the approval of the president
Selection of a field captain
Selection of a scorekeeper
Whether or not to host a post match reception

Choosing the committee to select the nine was prolonged because one nominee and his substitute declined to serve.  This was nothing, however, compared to the debate over providing their guests with a post match meal.  In a series of motions and votes, the 13-15 present, decided they didn't want a price quote from the hotel proprietor, did want to offer some kind of refreshments, but not a collation.  The deadlock was resolved with a decision to provide the "usual refreshments" whatever that meant.  To make matters more confusing the debates on the match details and the repast were "sandwiched" around a debate on the momentous question of the time of field practice.  After motions for 3:00 for all practices or 3:30 for Saturday and the "usual" hour for Wednesday both failed, a compromise of  3:30 for both days passed, apparently satisfying those members to whom 30 minutes once a week was a major issue.

Daily Courier and Advertiser - September 13, 1859

As tedious as these debates sound, the meeting didn't lack passion.  Four separate members were fined 25 cents (the maximum fine possible) for disorderly conduct.  Scorekeeper Caciouri F. Alger was actually fined twice in succession.  On three other occasions, a member or members were frustrated enough to unsuccessfully try to move adjournment.  Clearly the Hamilton Club was not a group where harmony reigned.  Before finally adjourning the Hamiltons took up one more issue, whether to challenge the Eagle Club of New York to a match, but proposals for both first and second matches failed to get enough votes.  Why this was contentious isn't clear, but some of the Eagle Club regulars were, or had been, Jersey City residents.  Jersey City men would continue to play for the Eagle Club in the 1860's with Hamilton secretary Nathan Shafer eventually becoming president of the New York City club.

1860 Hamilton Club challenge to the Knickerbockers of New York City 

How typical were these acrimonious meetings among early base ball clubs?  In the section about the Knickerbocker Club of New York in Baseball Founders (co-written by John Thorn, Peter Morris and William Ryczek) club meetings are described as "more contentious and divisive" than on-the-field activities with "an unseemly number of petty quarrels."  It sounds like group decision making was no easier then than it is today, but a further question is to what extent most clubs required that every decision had to be voted on by the members.  Somewhere other than Baseball Founders, I read that the Knickerbocker officers made most of the decisions about matches which is a much more practical approach.  If the Flemington Neshanock are any indication of vintage base ball practice, scheduling is handled by the club president, but members certainly have input at different times and in different ways.  It seems unlikely many vintage players would consider decisions about match scheduling and post match repasts within their purview.  Depending upon how typical the Hamilton Club practice may have been, today's approach acknowledges the need for groups to delegate some powers to leaders.  Meetings like the September 8, 1959 Hamilton Club gathering probably got that practice adopted fairly quickly.