Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Camden Club - Town Ball to Base Ball (New York style)

After the 1860 second eleven matches with the Excelsior Club of Philadelphia, there is no record of the Camden Club playing town ball matches against other clubs.  There is a report in the West Jersey Press of the equivalent of an inter squad game, but that's not until September of 1863.  What happened to the Camden Club between 1860 and 1863?  No documented record survives, but it appears to be a combination of the coming of the Civil War and a "conversion" experience for local ball players.

New York Historical Society

One of the many questions I'm researching is the extent to which New Jersey base ball players served in the Civil War.  They were, after all, of prime military age and should also have been in good physical condition, but the extent of their service is still an open question.  Thus far I've been able to identify 15 of the 21 men who played for the Camden Club in 1858 (highest percentage of identifications for any club I have studied).  Of the 15, eight or over 1/2 served in the Union Army, a higher percentage than I've found with other clubs to this point.  Furthermore two of the eight made the ultimate sacrifice at Gaines Mill in June of 1862.  The only other two New Jersey base ball players that I know of who died in the war, James Conklin and Horace Smith, also died at Gaines Mill.  The New Jersey brigade suffered very heavy casualties in this battle and I have a sense it was after Gaines Mill that the human cost of the war became real for the people of New Jersey.

Weston Fisler

Included in those serving in the Union army early in the war was club president, Frank Knight so the loss of club leadership as well as the number on military service probably had a lot to do with the club's inactivity.  Frank Knight was probably not focused on town ball for another reason.  In 1859 and 1860, Philadelphia area clubs were switching to the New York game.  In addition a number of new base ball clubs were being formed including the Equity Club which began play in 1860 and according to Philadelphia base ball historian, John Shiffert, was most likely the best team in Philadelphia that year.  Two members of their "hard-hitting" lineup were the aforementioned Knight and another member of the Camden Club, Weston Fisler.  Fisler would go on to a long and distinguished professional base ball career including playing in the first National League game in April of 1876.  It seems likely that military service and the lure of the New York game kept the Camdens off the town ball field through 1862.

West Jersey Press - September 16, 1863

By September of 1863, however, Knight was out of the army and he, as well as Fisler, rejoined the Camden Club for at least one inter-club game.  Also present were brothers of Arthur Merry and William Evans, the two club members killed at Gaines Mill.  This game is the last recorded town ball match of any kind played by the Camden Club.  By the following spring the Camden boys had also made the conversion to the New York game and appear to have competed through the 1868 season.

Philadelphia Inquirer - August 9, 1864

The Camdens apparently didn't believe in doing things half way as their first documented games were three matches against the Athletic Club of Philadelphia (8-1 in  1864) and the undefeated Brooklyn Atlantics, who handed the Athletics their only loss.  Not surprisingly the south Jersey club lost all three by a combined score of 127-32.  This presaged the Camden Club's experience over the next four years as they had an overall record of 6-16.  By the end of 1868, the Camdens weren't even the best team in their home town, losing twice to the Union Club by an average of 20 runs per game.

Next up (after Christmas) a look at some of the members of the Camden Club.

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