Sunday, March 11, 2012

1855 - A First Look at the First New Jersey Clubs

The primary reason a blog seemed the best vehicle for writing about early New Jersey base ball is the fluid nature of the research.  While some historians, notably George Kirsch, have studied the game’s early days in our state, this part of New Jersey’s past remains largely "terra incognita."  I have to regularly modify my talk on New Jersey base ball during the Civil War era to take into account new material and insights.  All posts, therefore, are “subject to change” especially posts like this one that try to name the clubs playing in a specific season.

To date a total of 15 clubs have been identified from the inaugural 1855 season.  Not surprisingly almost half were in Newark followed by three from Jersey City.  As noted previously the Newark Club was New Jersey’s first base ball club followed shortly thereafter by the Orientals who quickly changed their name to the Olympic Club.  By season’s end Newarkers had also formed the Friendship, Newark Junior and Empire clubs.  Two other Newark clubs played at least once in 1855, but are so historically significant they will be discussed in the next post.

While the Newark teams may have gotten on the field first, they were not as competitive or proficient as their Hudson County neighbors.  Both of Jersey City’s first two teams, the Pioneer and Excelsior Clubs defeated out of town rivals and the Excelsior Club finished 1855 with a perfect 7-0 record.  The Newark teams, on the other hand, primarily played among themselves and had no success against outside competition. 

In spite of their superior performance, however, neither of the Jersey City teams survived the 1855 season at least partially because some of their best players moved on to the Eagle Club of New York City.  Both the Excelsior and Pioneer Clubs are the subject of essays in the forthcoming second volume of Base Ball Pioneers and will not receive much attention in this blog.

Hudson County had at least three other clubs in 1855 including the creatively named, “Fear Not” Club of Hudson City.  They were joined by a third Jersey City team, the Pavonia Club, and the Palisades Club of West Hoboken (today’s Union City).  A Newark Daily Advertiser article of August 6, 1855 also refers to unnamed clubs in Orange, Bloomfield and Paterson.  More specific identification of these teams and the search for others will be an ongoing process as I gradually work my way through contemporary newspapers.  It’s certainly not clear that all 15 clubs were playing the New York game, but whatever rules they used, the base ball club itself was here (New Jersey) to stay.


  1. Richard HershbergerMarch 13, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    Fifteen clubs in New Jersey in 1855 is astonishing, regardless of whether they were playing the New York game or some local version. This was right at the beginning of the baseball boom. I wouldn't have guessed that it spread to quickly.

    That is an interesting point about the Newark players switching to the Eagle club. The Eagles tend to fly (as it were) under the radar. They were one of the pre-boom clubs, but never as prominent as the Knickerbockers or the Gothams. During the protracted debate over the fly game, the Eagles consistently voted against the innovation. I have never been quite sure what to make of the club. The Newark angle doesn't clarify this in the least, but it certainly is interesting.

    A suggestion: identify by name and date the newspaper images you post. Part of the value of a blog such as this is putting these on the record, but this needs a proper citation.

    1. Just to be clear, the players who migrated to the Eagles were from Jersey City, not Newark. If you think about it, given the use of Elysian Fields by New York clubs, playing for a NYC club would be even more convenient for a Jersey City resident than for someone who lived in New York.

      Appreciate the suggestion and will do so.