Monday, May 14, 2012

History Repeats Itself

This year's annual Chester Day activities took place on a beautiful spring day under sunny, blue skies.  On the field it was an afternoon of frustration as the Neshanock lost twice to the Brooklyn Atlantics (pictured below) by scores of 11-1 and 11-3.  As much as I hate to admit it, neither game was close so that once again Flemington came up well short against the Brooklyn club.  There is nothing unique about the Neshanock's experience in this regard.  Over the last three years the Atlantics (who call Smithtown, Long Island home) have an overall record of 138-23-1.  I haven't seen every vintage team in the country, but I have seen a fair sampling of both east and mid west and the Atlantics are arguably the best club in the country. 

Photo by Mark Granieri

The Atlantics prowess on the field is also interesting from a historical perspective as the original Brooklyn Atlantics (pictured below) were one of the best, if not the best, base ball club of the 1860's.  As noted on the Atlantics web site the original club was national champions in both 1864 and 1865 going undefeated each season.  The Atlantics are also justly famous for being the team that finally defeated the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1870 ending that club's long winning streak.  There's no relationship between the success of the Atlantics of the 1860's and today's vintage team, but it's interesting to see history repeating itself.

Just as today's New Jersey vintage clubs play against Atlantics, a number of New Jersey teams took on the original incarnation of the Atlantics with some surprising results.  One of the first New Jersey clubs to play the Atlantics was the Liberty Base Ball Club of New Brunswick, founded in 1857 and the first New Jersey team to join the National Association of Base Ball Players.  The Liberty Club played the Atlantics twice in 1858 and twice in 1860, resulting in three losses and a tie.  In 1861, however, the Liberty played only one game - a 30-12 thrashing of the Atlantics, a win so convincing that even the Brooklyn Daily Eagle had to admit the Liberty were the dominant club that day.

After the 1861 season the Liberty shut down operations for the duration of the Civil War resuming match play in 1866.  The New Brunswick club never came close to matching their 1861 performance and the war may have cost them the chance of being the premier New Jersey team of the 1860's.  Instead that distinction went to the Eureka Base Ball Club of Newark, formed in the winter of 1860 primarily from members of the Washington Junior Club.  The Eureka were formed to compete at the highest levels and they took on the best clubs of the period including the Atlantics.  The Eureka's best season was in 1865 which included two heart breaking losses to the Atlantics.  First in Newark, before a crowd estimated at 5000 people (probably inflated), a last ditch ninth inning rally fell one run short at the Atlantic held on 21-20.  A few weeks later the teams played again in Brooklyn and this time the Eureka carried a three run lead into the ninth, but the Atlantics fought back to win 38-37.

Although 1865 was the Eureka's most successful season, the following year they lost their place as New Jersey's best team to the upstart Irvington Club.  Founded around 1860 as a junior club, by 1866 the Irvingtons were ready to take on the "big boys" and there was no one bigger than the Atlantics.  As recounted in the New York Clipper of June 23, 1866, the Irvingtons lured the Atlantics to Irvington under false pretenses of being "a mere country club" and then handed the champions their first defeat in three years, 23-17, probably the greatest upset of the 1860's.  The Irvington win wasn't entirely a fluke as two members of the New Jersey club, Charles Sweasy and Andy Leonard, would go on to be part of that famous Cincinnati Red Stocking Club.

As noted earlier, the dominant performance of the original Atlantics has nothing to do with the success of today's vintage club - it's an interesting historical co-incidence, but a co-incidence none the less.  There is a historical lesson here, however, upsets do happen so the only thing for the Neshanock to do is forget the most recent match and try again next time which will be some time in 2013.  For the rest of this year, however, the Neshanock have the Atlantics right where we want them - off the schedule!

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