Sunday, April 22, 2012

Battle at the Birthplace

                                                          Photo by Mark Granieri

"It is a truth universally acknowledged" that Cooperstown, New York is not the birthplace of base ball, nor was base ball originally a rural or country game.  Though it is of far less cosmic significance, it is also well known that Old Bethpage Village, a restored historic village on Long Island, is the birthplace of vintage base ball.  While the urban nature of base ball's beginnings are unarguable, visiting both Cooperstown and Old Bethpage within 24 hours (a lot of driving, trust me!) makes the attractiveness of the myth of base ball's rural origins somewhat understandable.

Carol and I made a day trip to Cooperstown on Friday so that I could attend the first session of the Society of Baseball Research's 19th century conference and Carol could visit the Farmer's Museum and the Fennimore Cooper Art Museum.  Most people don't believe it, but Carol enjoys visiting Cooperstown as much as I do and sometimes more.

Returning home about 9:30 on Friday night meant a short turnaround on Saturday for the Flemington Neshanock's trip to Old Bethpage for the New York/New Jersey Cup hosted by the New York Mutuals.  In the first game the Neshanock earned their first win of the season with an easy win over a game, but far less experienced Surprise Club of Manetto Hill.  Under the pre-determined matchups, Flemington then faced the Mutuals in the second game and since the Mutual won their first game, the winner of this game would win the cup.  Like last Saturday's game against the Resolutes it was a close one run contest, but sadly the Neshanock could not hold a seventh inning lead and fell to the Mutuals 8-7. 

                                                             Photo by Mark Granieri

In the first contest, Mark "Peaches" Rubini of the Neshanock earned the club's second clear score of the season.  As with Gaslight's performance the prior week, Peaches not only didn't make any outs, he scored every time up so that regardless of the ultimate definition of a clear score, Peaches met the test.  While at the Cooperstown conference I had the chance to speak with Bob Tholkes briefly about the clear score definition and the question remains open.  Sometime in the next two weeks I am planning on visiting the New York Public Library to look at the original Chadwick score books to see if that can resolve the issue.

A major reason for making the trip to Cooperstown was to hear Bob's informative presentation on early base ball statistics.  One thing that I found especially interesting was Bob's statement that Chadwick believed that once a batter got on base, it was his responsibility to continue to advance and ultimately score which explains why Chadwick's early statistics put so more emphasis on runs scored than batting.  At first glace it may seem unreasonable to place the major responsibility on the runner himself, but scoring the second game on Saturday gave me an appreciation of this point of view.

Twice the Neshanock got runners on base who ultimately scored in large measure because of how they ran the bases.  Part of this was stealing second, but after that it was more about how they advanced on outs and other plays.  Especially noteworthy was how Chris "Low Ball" Lowry had just the right sense of timing to score from third on a ground ball out.

                                                          Photo by Mark Granieri

This was another example of how scoring many vintage games over the course of the season helps me to learn about 19th century base ball.  This has to be done with care because while vintage base ball clubs pride themselves on historical accuracy, there are some accommodations that have to be made.  For example, almost every vintage team I have seen bats however many players they have rather than limiting it to nine so as to be fair to everyone who wants to play.  So it's important to be careful not to mistake what may be a modern accommodation for how the game was really played in the 19th century.  But in this case it gave me an appreciation of Chadwick's thinking.

This week I will post the last of three articles drawn from the Hamilton Club of Jersey City's minute books.  The following week the plan is to begin a series of posts on how the "New York" game developed and spread in Newark from 1855 to 1860.


  1. Richard HershbergerApril 23, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    I'm sorry I missed talking with you. I didn't realize on Friday that you weren't going to be there on Saturday, or I would have chased you down when I had the chance. I am tentatively planning on attending the Gettysburg vintage game, so hopefully we will meet up there.

    My take on Chadwick counting runs but not hits is that this is an artifact of cricket box scores. In cricket there is no such thing as a "hit". Every ball bowled can result in the batsman being put out or not being put out, and some number of runs from zero to six.

    The point of the baseball "hit" is that this is an accomplishment by the batter regardless of whether or not any runs result from it, and most of the time when runs do result they are the product of a group effort (i.e. the guy who got on base, and the guy who brought him home). Runs in cricket are largely an individual effort, and there is not intermediate goal short of a run other than mere survival.

    The early baseball box scores were adapted from a well established model of cricket box scores. When you see a "how put out" category that is a direct borrowing. It took a while for the baseball version to evolve to a form better suited to that game.

    Oh, and an argument can be made that baseball was indeed of rural origin. Just not from rural America. And a century or so before its mythical origin.

    1. Thanks for the comments - I'm also sorry we didn't connect, but it was a "flying" visit to attend both events - hopefully in Gettysburg.