Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Visit to Hoboken

Hoboken looked a little different from the above bucolic scene on Saturday when the Flemington Neshanock paid their annual visit to this historic base ball site for our second annual match with the Hoboken Nine a local team put together just for this event.  There was considerable improvement by the locals, but the more experienced Neshanock triumphed easily 17-3.  Of special note for the Neshanock were Danny Shaw's home run (the club's first of the season) and a clear score by Joe "Mick" Murray. 

Originally I thought Neshanock pitcher Bobby "Melky" Ritter also had a clear score, but while he was on base all four times, he was charged with outs on the bases.  I say charged because it was other Neshanocks running for "Melky" who made the outs.  Not sure how Henry Chadwick would have handled that one, but Bobby had a good day at the plate as well as a second consecutive strong pitching performance.  Also noteworthy was the catching of Scott "Snuffy" Hengst who filled in admirably for Mark "Wally Pipp" Granieri.

There was something ironic about today's visit (I like irony except when it comes at my expense).  Hoboken was the site of so many early base ball games because of its convenience.  Yet today's trip was anything but convenient for the Neshanock Club almost all of whom experienced major traffic delays getting there.  That irony ties in with something I have just recently noticed about Elysian Fields in Hoboken as a hotbed of local base ball.  As part of my research on how base ball developed and spread across New Jersey I am putting together a master list of all games played by New Jersey clubs between 1855 and 1860.  Interestingly very very few of those games were played at Elysian Fields.  In fact, one of the games was actually an away game for the New Jersey club because it was with a New York club which had grounds at the Hoboken facility.

If the below schedule from Porter's Spirit of the Times (8/22/1857) is any indication there may not have been room for teams from Hoboken as well as nearby Jersey City.  The almost exclusive use of Elysian Fields by New York clubs is probably explained by some combination of the earlier beginnings of the New York teams and the willingness to pay higher rents given the convenience it offered to people coming from Manhattan.

Understandable as it may be, I think it also illustrates something about New Jersey's early base ball experience that was unique since New Jersey is the only state bordering on New York City and Brooklyn.  Like many things that proximity was a two edged sword.  On the one hand, young men from New Jersey had a much more extensive opportunity to read about, hear about and even watch the New York game than the residents of other states.  It may well also have given those interested in forming a base ball club a chance get the benefit of the experience of New York club members.

However, there was a major downside as well.  There was the very real danger that a New Jersey club could lose some of its best players to New York and even Brooklyn clubs.  The death of the Pioneer and Excelsior Clubs of Jersey City after only one successful season was in large measure due to each club losing three of its best players to the Eagle Club of New York.  These young men could do this without any inconvenience - they were actually closer to Elysian Fields than the club members who lived in Manhattan so other than club activities across the river, there was no added travel.  Another factor in the demise of the two New Jersey clubs was their inability to find a regular grounds for practice and matches.  The unavailability or prohibitive expense of Elysian Fields was factor there as well.

There is another issue, one that is perhaps even more important.  What responsibility did New Jersey clubs have to compete against the best teams in New York and Brooklyn?  I'm just starting Melvin Adelman's A Sporting Time: New York City and the Rise of Modern Athletics and one the things Adelman seems to be saying is that to be fully developed base ball can't just be leisure activity, it has to be competitive.  In a future post I am going to look at this in more detail, especially how New Jersey teams responded to this challenge. 

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