Thursday, August 23, 2012

Erroneous Expectations

Sherlock Holmes once warned of the dangers of analysis with incomplete data, but instant theorizing is all too tempting as I frequently learn to my cost.  As mentioned previously, I am in the process of researching on a county-by-county basis how base ball developed and spread throughout New Jersey.  The process began with Essex and Hudson Counties, the two counties closest to Elysian Fields, New York City and Brooklyn.  The pattern in both locales is similar and understandable.  After a good start in 1855, there was a fall off in the number of clubs in 1856, followed by modest growth in 1857-58 and significant expansion in 1859 and 1860.

It seemed only reasonable (at least to me) to expect a similar pattern in the rest of the state, especially the norther portion.  Shifting the research into Passaic and Morris Counties, however, proved my expectations to be wrong, not once, but twice.  Passaic County is home to the city of Paterson which had an 1855 population of just over 16,000, more than double that of Hoboken (6727) and not terribly far behind Jersey City (21,715).  Located only about 16 miles from Newark and 20 miles from Jersey City, Paterson seemed a likely location for at least one antebellum base ball club.  Yet in spite of some hints of base ball activity, research to date has found no evidence of base ball finding any real foothold in Paterson through 1860.

The inaccuracy of this expectation, led to the thought that pre-Civl War base ball clubs were limited to the eastern part of the state.  This second expectation was buttressed by the fact that no evidence had been found of base ball clubs in western Essex County which borders on Morris County, the next location to be explored.  However, as in Paterson, the premise was quickly found to be erroneous.  In September of 1858, not one, but two base ball clubs were formed in Morristown, the Morristown and Niagara Clubs which played a match for Morristown bragging rights on October 19, 1858 (the Morristown Club won 42-21).  Morristown in 1855 had only 2600 inhabitants and was about 23 miles from Newark so clearly proximity and population were not the decisive factors in this case.  Why then did base ball start earlier in Morristown?  And what does this say (if any thing) about base ball's development in New Jersey.

At least part of the answer may be found in the most basic requirements for formation of a base ball club.  Before other important issues such as time, a place to play, uniforms and so on really matter, young men had to want to play the game and they had to understand how to play it.  Both interest and understanding required some kind of exposure to the game.  In the 1850's the only ways this could have happened were by watching the game, hearing about the game and/or reading about the game.  So perhaps base ball took root in New Jersey where conditions facilitated all three kinds off exposure.  Population and proximity were two such conditions, but not the only ones.

Comparing Morristown and Paterson may illustrate the idea.  While Paterson was much larger than Morristown and closer to Newark and Jersey City, it may have not been as closely connected to either municipality as Morristown.  Both the Morristown newspapers (The Jerseyman and The True Democratic Banner) regularly featured ads from Newark and New York merchants.  The Jerseyman even had separate sections for both cities. The August 7, 1858 edition promoted eye glasses, home furnishings, coal and furniture for sale at different Newark businesses.  Clearly Newark merchants only paid for such ads because people in Morristown and Morris County were regular customers.  Paterson, as seen in the pages of the Paterson Daily Guardian for the same period was a very different matter.  Even though this was a daily paper with more ads per issue, probably over 95% were for Paterson businesses with only a few New York and Newark ads, suggesting Patersonians did most of their business locally.

Railroad connections further illustrate the difference between the two communities.  Three to five trains a day traveled between Newark and Morristown, but there was no direct train service between Paterson and Newark.  Paterson did have rail connections to Jersey City, but the absence of any ads for Jersey City businesses indicates a lack of regular commerce between the two cities.  The importance of all this, is that people from Morristown traveled to Newark on some kind of a regular basis where, even by accident, they could have seen one of the Newark clubs playing or practicing, especially since at least one Newark base ball grounds was located near a railroad depot.  Perhaps the key to base ball's development in New Jersey was the presence of conditions which positioned young men to experience the "new" game in a way that motivated them to replicate it in their own community.

One regular, prominent ad in the Jersyman is especially interesting.  Almost every week the paper promoted a Newark piano retailer, William L. Clinton.  This appears to be the same William Clinton who was a member of the Newark Base Ball Club.  It's fascinating to imagine a young man accompanying his family to 14 Bank Street to purchase a piano, bored out of his mind, until somehow, in someway, the conversation turned to base ball!


  1. Richard HershbergerAugust 24, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    The New York Sunday Mercury of May 6, 1860 has a box score for a game between the Unknown Club of Patterson NJ and the Franklin Club of New York.

  2. Interesting, do you have a copy? If not I'm due for a trip to the NYPL sometime relatively soon.

  3. To elaborate on the evidence for base ball in Paterson, in 1855, the Newark Daily Advertiser at least twice mentions an unnamed base ball club in Paterson. However, no game accounts appear and there is nothing about this in the 1855 Paterson Intelligencer, a weekly paper. I believe there was another Paterson paper at the time, but I haven't found it and it may not have survived.

    There was then an account in Porter's Spirit of the Times and the Paterson Daily Guardian of an 1857 Thanksgiving Day match between the Friendship Club and the ExIndependent Volunteers - it appears to be the same account send into two different newspapers. Further research indicates that one organization was a social club and the other a militia unit that played a base ball game - they were not base ball clubs and there are no further reports of either organization related to base ball.

    Finally the Paterson Daily Guardian of September 13, 1860 says that some of the dry good clerks of the city have formed a base ball club. This is after the New York Sunday Mercury report so this is obviously something else. If I remember correctly from research on the Paterson Olympic Club of the 1860's, the Paterson papers didn't always provide much in the way of base ball coverage so it's certainly possible there was more activity - still it seems strange a city of over 16,000 wouldn't have had more clubs with related newspaper coverage.

  4. I have a scan from a bad microfilm printout. I could send you the relevant parts, but if you can get to see the Sunday Mercury on your own, it would be worth your time. It was the preeminent baseball paper after Porter died (and was tied with Porter's up to that point). The Clipper didn't surpass it until some point in the 1860s. It tends to get overlooked for reasons that have nothing to do with its coverage. The Sunday Mercury has lots of New Jersey coverage.

    Oh, and I think you are right about the importance of rail connections. Most of the early spread of the NY game was through face to face contact. It is interesting, for example, to look at games between country clubs and see who the umpire is. Often it will turn out to be an experienced member of a city club. But for this to work it has to be relatively convenient for him to get there.

  5. Let me pursue it on my own - I've seen the Mercury for 1859 (that's where the NYPL copy starts) so need to go on to 1860. Good point about the umpires.