Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Jersey City Game?

Unlike Newark, Paterson and New Brunswick, no retrospective accounts of earlier versions of base ball have been found for Jersey City.  Yet accounts of 1855 Pioneer and Excelsior Club matches in that city suggest familiarity with something other than the New York game.  This  is in spite of the fact that multiple newspaper reports state that both the Pioneer and Excelsior clubs did not exist prior to 1855.  This is further documented by the fact that a copy of the Pioneer Club's 1855 constitution and by-laws survive and the cover shows a June 1855 organizational date.  Unfortunately this booklet is in private hands (it sold for over $6300 at auction) and efforts to just look at it have thus far been unsuccessful.

The first report of 1855 base ball play by Jersey City men appeared in the Daily Sentinel on July 12, 1855 and gave an account of five "games" played the prior day by what is clearly the Pioneer Club.  A box score of four of the five "games" were provided with the winning side scoring 21 runs so that the Knickerbocker rule of first team to 21 winning was being followed.  There were, however, 11 on a side in games two and three while games four and five had only seven on a side with the account stating that the sides were "not full" in those contests.  Nothing is stated about the number of innings played in each "game" although if five games were played, it seems hard to believe that many, if any, of them went nine innings. 

The above "games" were what we would call inter squad games, but at that time would have been called "practice."  Less than a week later the other new Jersey City club, the Excelsiors, took the field by themselves with one game between two sides of 13 which one side won 21-19 (Jersey City Daily Sentinel, July 20, 1855).  Once again the winning score of 21 looks like use of the Knickerbocker rules and it is hard to evaluate the 13 on a side which could simply mean that allowing all those present to play as typically happens today in vintage games where every player bats.

It's unlikely, however, that this was the case on August 15th when the two clubs met for the first time.  Two games were played with the Excelsior winning by scores of 21-16 and 46-19 (Jersey City Daily Telegraph, August 16, 1855) in games that lasted eight innings.  There were nine on a side in the first game, but the article states both teams were two short which was remedied when four latecomers gave each club the full 11 for the second game.  It's also clear that the second game was not subject to the first to 21 rule, but it's hard to evaluate whether the relatively high 46 runs by the Excelsior suggests anything about the rules such as something other than 3 outs per inning.

A return match on August 21 also featured 11 on a side, but this time playing 11 innings in a game won by the Excelsior 49-25 (Jersey City Daily Telegraph, August 22, 1855).  It may be that the Excelsior were just that good (they won all seven matches they played in their one year existence) as a few weeks later they humiliated the Pavonia Club 83-18 (Jersey City Telegraph, September 7, 1855) in an seven inning game again with 11 on a side.  This, however, marks the last time in 1855 match play that either team utilized an 11 man line up.  The Pioneer Club played three matches with the Columbia Club of Brooklyn where there were nine on a side in at least two of the contests.  The Excelsior took on two New Jersey clubs, the Fear Not's of Hudson City and the Newark Club, in each case winning matches where again there were nine players on a side.

It would seem as these two clubs moved beyond Jersey City, they had to comply with the developing norm of nine on a side.  But where did the early matches where a 11 on a side was clearly the norm come from?  Given the proximity to Elysian Fields, the club members had to be familiar with the nine man rule yet still started out with 11 and possibly other rule differences as well.  To date there's no answer and there may never be, but at the very least it's further evidence that other versions of base ball existed in New Jersey before 1855.

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