Friday, May 18, 2012

The Antiquarian Knickerbockers

            In spite of a lack of contemporary evidence, there is ample reason to believe that other versions of base ball were played in New Jersey before 1855.  An important case in point is the Antiquarian Knickerbocker Club of Newark.  Nothing is known of the formation of this club, although Tom Melville, in Early Baseball and the Rise of the National League, speculates the club "may have even been organized specifically in protest” against the rules formalized by the Knickerbocker Club of New York City.  In 1865, the Newark Evening Journal (10/14/1865) referred to the Antiquarians as the “oldest base ball organization in this city,” but no evidence has been found thus far that would put their formation before other Newark clubs founded in 1855.     

            The earliest known Knickerbocker match took place on November 4, 1857 (Porters Spirit of the Times, 11/14/1857, Newark Daily Advertiser, 11/6/1857).  Unfortunately accounts of this match and another on August 27, 1858 (Newark Daily Mercury, 8/28/1858) provide box scores, but few details other than they were played in “the old style.”  The 1857 match where Whittemore’s side defeated Trawin’s side, 86-69 featured 11 on a side, but the 1858 contest, won by Trawin’s side, 36-25, had only nine on a side in a game of two innings.  However a Newark Daily Mercury article of August 24, 1858 previewing the match said it would be a single-married match with 11 on a side so the lower number may simply reflect fewer participants than expected. 

            Of the almost 30 men who participated in 1857-58 Knickerbocker games, there does not appear to be much overlap with the lineups of Newark clubs playing the New York game from 1855 to 1860.  Interestingly though as I look at the box scores of the post Civil War games like the one from the 1872 game below names like Isaac Munn and Tichenor look familiar as names I saw in pre-war box scores for teams from other communities especially Orange.  I need to look into that in more detail.
         After 1858 there are frequent gaps in articles about the Knickerbockers until the late 1860’s.  At that point annual games began receiving lengthy coverage in the Newark newspapers at least partially because of the prominent Newarkers who played in the games.  Much space is devoted to chronicling the physical exertions of out of shape and over weight middle aged (and older) men.  There is, however, some information about “the old style,” which has to be treated with caution as it is not contemporary, but based on remembrances at least 10-15 years after the fact.  That said, the following are descriptions of “old-fashioned” base ball with the source.

1. The “old-time ‘stinging’ game” – runners could be put out between bases by being hit with a thrown ball. (Newark Evening Journal, 5/30/1873, Newark Evening Courier, 5/25/1869, Newark Morning Register, 5/26/1871).

2. Bats – described as “long and square,” “miniature bread shovels,” "exaggerated exercise clubs” and “pudding sticks.” Newark Evening Journal, 5/30/1873, Newark Evening Courier, 5/25/1869.

3. “Every striker had to be put out to end the inning” – apparently this is an “all out – all out” game that lasted two innings.  References to the number on a side include 11, 12 and as many as wanted to play.  One box score has 19 on a side, but that is most likely allowing every one to bat as typically happens in vintage base ball games today.  (Newark Evening Journal, 5/20/1873, Newark Evening Courier, 5/25/1869, Newark Morning Register, 5/25/1869, Newark Morning Register, 5/26/1871.

Newark Evening Journal, May 24, 1872

4. Bases – 15” inch high wooden stakes. (Newark Evening Courier, 5/25/1869).

5. No foul territory – Newark Morning Register, 5/25/1869).

Interestingly none of the articles describe the layout of the bases and the field.  The Knickerbockers and the game they played will be focal point for future research.  Any thoughts or suggestion about how to research the subject are welcome.  Next up is what could be called the first vintage base ball league – an 1867 flurry of "old fashioned" base ball activity in Paterson. 

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