Monday, May 7, 2012

Grounds and Ground Rules

It's probably hard to imagine two places with less in common than Washington Park in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn and Ringwood State Park in Ringwood, New Jersey.  The former is surrounded by all of the sights and sounds of the city, accessible by subway, bus and car while the latter is very rural accessible by a road that makes unintentional visits to places like the town recycling center all too common.  Yet both sites present the same challenge for playing a base ball game, 19th century or otherwise - the difficulty in laying out anything resembling a standard field.

The picture below of Sunday's Neshanock - Resolutes game illustrates only part of the problem - a left field line intersecting almost directly with the rest rooms.  Even more challenging is right field which was dramatically shortened by first trees and then a stream - it led to multiple ground rules, probably more than were needed in the 1860's.

Photo by Mark Granieri

However if right field in Ringwood was challenging, its counterpart at Washington Park was almost bizarre.  Since the park's foot print is basically a rectangle there actually was no right field with a high fence cutting just beyond what would be the dirt of a major league field today.  Instead of a second baseman and right fielder, the Neshanock played two second basemen, one close and one deep.  Under the ground rules, fair balls hit over the fence between the right field line and almost to center field were outs!  Among other things this led to the question of how to enter such plays in the score book.  I have no idea how Henry Chadwick would have handled the situation, but I opted to credit the put out to the nearest player which led to Neshanock "deep" second base man, Ken "Tumbles" Mandel, getting credit for two put outs on balls he never even touched!

Neshashanock President and founder, Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw (pictured below educating the crowd on 19th century base ball) had no end of frustration in laying out the field in Ringwood.  I finally commented to him that it was probably similar problems that led Manhattan teams to opt to play at Elysian Fields in Hoboken and thus helping to facilitate the introduction of the New York game into New Jersey.

Photo by Mark Granieri

In my talk on early New Jersey base ball, I mention that watching, reading about and hearing about Manhattan clubs playing at Elysian Fields has to have been a major factor in young men in New Jersey deciding to start their own base ball clubs.  Not infrequently that leads to the question of why were the Manhattan clubs playing in New Jersey. 

In his book, "Baseball and Cricket: The Creation of American Team Sports, 1838-72," George Kirsch mentions that land in Manhattan was either being "lost" to commercial and residential development and/or becoming prohibitively expensive.  For example, faced with an obstinate landlord demanding $200 in annual rent, the Gotham Club of New York decided the 3 cent cost of a ferry ride to Hoboken made a lot more sense especially since there were four ferries per hour (Jersey City Daily Sentinel and Advertiser, May 16, 1855).  It also wasn't long before space became a problem in New Jersey as well.  At least part of the demise of Jersey City's first two clubs (the Pioneer and Excelsior Clubs) was due to the inability to find a regular site and the Hamilton Club was having similar problems before the onset of the Civil War apparently sealed the club's fate.

Today the Nesahanock avoid such problems by not having a regular home field although there is still the challenge of sites like the club has encountered the past two weeks.  All told the problems didn't effect the end result as the Resolutes rallied from an early 9-4 deficit and went on to a commanding 24-13 victory.  Unlike the past two weeks no one on the Neshanock had a clear score, the meaning of which has now, I think, been determined.  More about this in the next post.

1 comment:

  1. Richard HershbergerMay 8, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    Regarding the question of who to credit with ground rule outs, I think you are tacitly accepting the modern convention that all outs must be credited to exactly one fielder. I don't know when this convention arose, but I will hazard a guess that it was well after the 1860s.

    As for the difficulty in finding a playing field, this also explains why the Olympics were playing in Camden. It was easier to take a ferry than to travel by land to a suitable site outside the city. The move back across the river to sites roughly near present Temple University occurred after commuter rail lines were put in from center city Philly to Germantown. Camac's Woods was still a bit of a hike from the rail line, but it was doable.