Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Grand Match at Newark for the Championship - Part 1

Like greatness, unforgettable base ball games come in multiple forms.  Sometimes they are long anticipated match ups which live up to the advance billing in every respect.  It’s also not uncommon, however, for a game that beforehand didn’t seem exceptional to become memorable on the field.  Such was the case when the Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn, traveled to Newark on August 18, 1865 to take on the Eureka Club.  The Atlantics were United States champions and hadn’t lost a match in almost two years.  The Eureka, on the other hand, had been New Jersey’s premier team, but they were only 2-3 thus far in 1865 and had lost to the Atlantics 25-13 the prior year. 

Brooklyn Atlantics Base Ball Club

In spite of the apparent disparity between of the two teams, the game was billed as "The great game for the championship of the United States." At the time championships were decided by best of three series with any club able to issue a challenge to the champions as the Eureka had done in this case.  Although the match didn’t have the “name” appeal of prior Atlantics contests with the Mutuals or Eckfords, a large crowd gathered at the Eureka’s new grounds at Ferry and Adams Streets in Newark’s Ironbound section.  Base ball fans from New York and Brooklyn joined hopeful Eureka followers to make up a crowd estimated at 5000, reportedly the largest crowd to see a base ball game in New Jersey.

After taking the ferry from Brooklyn to lower Manhattan, the Atlantics took a 1:00 train which got them to Newark by 1:40 and they were ready to play at 2:00.  However whether due to a delaying tactic or for legitimate reasons, the Eureka were “detained” and the game didn’t get underway until 3:20.  By that time the Newark Daily Journal reported “every available space was taken” with the “crowd encircled by carriages and vehicles all filled with spectators.” 

                            Eureka Base Ball Club of Newark

Although the Atlantics were clear favorites, they were taking no chances and were at full strength.  Especially noteworthy were “household names” like “Dickey” Pearce and hard hitting first base man, Joe “Old Reliable” Start.  Not so fortunate were the Eureka who were missing John Collins and Henry Northrop both of them averaging over three runs a game.  Their replacements were Edward Pennington and George Rogers.  There was little drop off with Pennington who had been one of the Eureka’s best players, but was playing less frequently probably due to increased business and professional commitments.    Rogers was a member of the Eureka’s second nine, called up for the big match.  No explanations were offered for the absence of Collins and Northrop, but with games played on weekday afternoons, it was not uncommon for work commitments to keep even the best players out of action.

                                        Dickey Pearce

Finally the stage was set, the Eureka took the field and the first Atlantic striker to the line was Dickey Pearce, a star player and member of the club since its formation in 1855. Pearce lofted the first pitch behind third where third base man, Theodore Bomeisler caught it “handsomely” for the first hand and the match was underway.  Although Atlantic first base man, Joe Start began what would be a memorable day for him with a double, the Eureka held the Atlantic scoreless.  In the bottom of the inning the Eureka, aided by some sloppy Atlantic fielding scored three times and after one, led 3-0.  In the top of  the second,  Tommy Pratt of the Atlantics got one back by hitting a ball that got past Eureka center fielder Albert Littlewood for a home run, but it was the champions only tally in the inning. 
Eureka fans were, no doubt, pleased with the early going, but what happened next must have brought them to their feet, clapping and huzzahing for all they were worth.  Further shoddy Atlantic defense helped load the bases for Fred Calloway who responded with a bases clearing hit.  Surprisingly the Atlantics less than championship defensive play continued and the Eureka scored three more times before the inning was over.  Amidst their meltdown in the field, however, the Atlantic defense did pull off a double play and more importantly threw R. Heber Breintnall of the Eureka out at the plate. The latter play may not have seemed important at the time, but would loom larger by game’s end.

                                    R. Heber Breintnall

Still the Eureka led 9-1 and there had to be some of the Eureka and their fans who started dreaming big dreams of a championship coming to Newark.  The Atlantics couldn’t have been pleased with the results so far, but if they were intimidated, they didn’t show it, using some hard hitting to score four times and cut the Eureka lead in half.  The champions then tightened up their defense, retiring the Eureka in order in the bottom of the inning so the Newark club led 9-5 with three innings complete.

Neither team scored in the fourth, the Atlantics going out in order and the Eureka victimized by the Atlantics second double play.  When an underdog has a chance to widen its lead and fails to do so twice, it can be costly and such was the case for the Eureka in the top of the fifth.  Not only did the Atlantics start hitting, but the Eureka defense now deserted them leading to five Atlantic runs and a 10-9 Atlantic lead. 

                                            Joe Start

If the Eureka’s 9-1 lead now seemed short lived, the one run Atlantic lead disappeared even more quickly as a good hit by Pennington keyed a two run rally and the Eureka regained the lead 11-10 after five innings and 1 hour and 15 minutes of play.  However, no lead was safe in this game and the Atlantics quickly returned serve as Start followed Smith’s “fine hit” with his own “splendid hit,” a two run home run to center giving the lead back to the Atlantics at 12-11.  Even better for the Brooklyn club this time they made the lead stand up, stopping a budding Eureka rally in its tracks by “easily” putting out three straight strikers after the first two got on base.  Although it had taken a while with six innings complete the Atlantic had finally taken control of the match or so it seemed.

                                     To Be Continued

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