Thursday, June 28, 2012

Weekend in New England

                                  Photo by Mark Granieri

As was mentioned previously the Flemington Neshanock traveled to Massachusetts last weekend for matches with the Essex Base Ball Club and the Melrose Pondfeilders.  The two matches with the Essex Club were played at the Spencer-Pierce-Little Farm in Newbury on Saturday. 

The Essex Club has a reputation of being an excellent vintage club and based on the Neshanock's experience, the reputation was well earned.  The Massachusett's teams skill was no surprise, but the nature of the matches was not at all expected.  Strong Neshanock pitching and effective defense limited the local team to seven runs in one game and only four in the second, but it was more than enough as the Neshanock could muster only one run in the opener and were shut out in the second match.  Needless to say, no one on the Neshanock earned a clear score.

Figuratively it was a long day, but that was far from the case literally as the first game lasted only 1 hour and two minutes and the second exceeded that by only 60 seconds.  In fact it took three Neshanock hits with two out in the ninth to extend the second game beyond one hour. Perhaps the only highlight for the Neshanock was Mark "Gaslight" Granieri's quick footwork in retrieving a ball that went into a nearby pig stye.  

Photo by Mark Granieri
(after retrieving the ball)

Fortunately the Neshanock had another opportunity on Sunday, this time at Fort Warren on George's Island in Boston Harbor against the Melrose Pondfeilders.  After a 25 minute ferry ride both teams entered the fort and began play on the huge parade grounds.  Things continued to look bleak as the local team took a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the fourth inning, but the Neshanock staged a four run rally (double the number of runs scored in the preceding 21 innings) and went on to an 8-5 victory.  In the process, Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner earned his first clear score of the season. 

With their confidence restored, the Neshanock scored early and often in the second contest and went on to a comfortable 17-5 win making for a pleasant ferry ride back to Boston followed by the car trip back to New Jersey.  Two Neshanock recorded clear scores in the second game with Dan "Sledge" Hammer earning his first while Dave "Illinois" Harris recorded his second.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Fort Warren, as Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw noted is probably the ideal venue for playing 19th century base ball.  Taking part in two games on this historic Civil War related site (the fort served as a prison for Confederate officers during the war) made me think about an ongoing discussion about how the Civil War either aided or impeded the spread of base ball.

The sheer size of the parade ground reinforced how other parade grounds at Union Army camps in Virginia naturally facilitated base ball games.  Certainly New Jersey troops played a lot of base ball prior to the summer of 1863 - I've read somewhere that only regiments from New York and Massachusetts played more base ball than New Jersey units - pretty good company.  I can see how such games could have marginally helped the spread of base ball in the more rural sections of New Jersey like Sussex County.  Young men from those areas who had never seen a game or even read about one would have had the opportunity to play in one which had to be addictive for some.

                                                Photo by Mark Granieri

Fort Warren's use as a POW camp also led to further reflection on the popular idea that base ball games played by Union POW's in Confederate prisons helped spread the game to the south.  Barring contemporary evidence of such games, I find that idea almost impossible to believe.  POW camps (north and south) were horrible places where disease and malnutrition quickly sapped whatever energy prisoners would have had for physical activity - just staying alive was enough of a challenge.  In addition unlike the expansive parade ground at Fort Warren (which was built for another purpose), Confederate POW camps were built for security, not exercise and I doubt both existence of such space and the permission to use it, if it did exist.  

This is just another example of how vintage base ball helps me to think about base ball history.  On June 30th the Neshanock return to New Jersey to take on the Diamond State Base Ball Club from Delaware in a double header in Princeton (more information at

There was one other historic note to Sunday's game.  It marked Sophie Ann Zinn's first base ball game even though she slept or yawned her way through the two innings she attended.  Still at five weeks, you have to get them started right.

                                                         Photo by Paul Zinn

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Him Who Shall Have Borne the Battle"

There has been an ongoing practice in the United States (and probably other countries as well) of linking war with sports.  One example is a line of college football uniforms by Nike called "Pro Combat"  One web site promoting these uniforms warns the reader to "Prepare for battle."  The problem is that unless the young man is playing football for one of the service academies, his chances of serving in the military, much less seeing combat, are almost nil.

2nd New Jersey Regimental Flag

There is nothing new about this, many major league baseball players served in the military during World War II, but, with notable exceptions like Bob Feller and Ted Williams, few of them saw combat.  In its own way this practice seems to have also existed during the Civil War which, of course, paralleled base ball's pioneer period. 

One of the things we tend not to recognize about the Civil War is that most service was voluntary.  In New Jersey, for example, over 70,000 men from New Jersey served in the military, but less than 1000 of them were drafted.  As a result the members of New Jersey base ball clubs could choose to avoid military service and it certainly appears that many of them did. 

For example, less than half of the Eureka Club of Newark, (New Jersey's premier team of the war years) appear to have served in the military and a number of them were in regiments that served for only nine months.  The point is perhaps graphically illustrated by one week in September of 1863 that saw the 33rd New Jersey leave Newark by boat for the front, to be followed a few days later by the Eureka Club, (all of whom are of prime military age and health) on their way to Philadelphia for a series of matches with local clubs.

All of which is to illustrate the importance of recognizing those New Jersey players who did volunteer to save the Union, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.  To date I have been only to identify two men in the latter category both members of the Newark Club, one of the state's first base ball clubs.  James Conklin and Horace Smith both played for the Newark Club and in the spring of 1861 joined the 2nd New Jersey Regiment.  Both men apparently were important members of the base ball club, Smith was elected an officer and Conklin represented the Newark Club on the all-Newark nine which took on a similarly picked side from Bloomfield in 1858.  The Newark players won the game aided by Conklin's home run.

Conklin's enlistment in the 2nd New Jersey Regiment didn't mark the end of his base ball playing days.  New Jersey regiments played a fair amount of base ball during their off hours with men from the 2nd New Jersey even forming their own club in November of 1861, called the Excelsior Club with Conklin as its Vice President.  On at least one occasion during the spring of 1862, Conklin umpired a game between two New Jersey regiments.

Sadly it was one of his last times on a base ball field.  On June 27, 1862 (150 years ago today), the 2nd New Jersey was heavily engaged at Gaines Mill in Virginia, a battle in the Peninsula Campaign near Richmond.  On July 9, 1862, the following appeared in the Newark Daily Advertiser, reporting that Conklin and Smith(who had been promoted to Corporal) had indeed given "their lives that that nation might live."

As noted earlier these are the only two New Jersey players who I have identified by being killed in the war - I'm confident that there are more and plan to look at base ball play by New Jersey soldiers a lot more closely.  Interestingly some of Conklin's letters home survive and are in the Special Collections at Alexander Library at Rutgers.  I took a quick look at the file (very hard to read - dampened my enthusiasm for writing another regimental history) and didn't see any references to base ball, but it certainly deserves a another look.

In the meantime, however, on this the 150th anniversary of their deaths we  should take a moment to honor their commitment to our country.  It is in Abraham Lincoln's words "all together fitting and proper that we should do this."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Predecessor Games - First Thoughts

As promised, the four posts about other versions of base ball played in New Jersey laid out information without drawing any conclusions.  Having done that I want to offer the following very tentative thoughts on the subject:

1. References to a different version of base ball being played in Paterson, Newark and New Brunswick suggest that the play of some other kind or kinds of a game called base ball was at least somewhat wide spread.  While these references covers only three not terribly distant locations, the three cities/towns are not contiguous and represent both northern and central New Jersey.  Since the Jersey City post also indicates at least familiarity with other forms of base ball, evidence has been found in every location examined in detail with the exception of Trenton.  As more parts of the state are studied it will be interesting to see whether the above situations are unique or representative of the state as a whole.

On Saturday, June 23rd, the Flemington Neshanock will play the Essex Base Ball Club (and perhaps others) at
Spencer-Pierce-Little Farm in Newbury, Massachusets

2. There is no evidence to suggest that any of these earlier forms were played within a formal structure.  The article about New Brunswick reports informal play, the Paterson articles make no reference to formal clubs and the Jersey City articles state repeatedly that the Pioneer and Excelsior Clubs did not exist before 1855.  In addition the pre-Civil War references to the Antiquarian Knickerbockers don't describe any activity pre-1857 and nothing has been found thus far about them in Newark newspapers from 1854-1856.

3. The Newark, Jersey City and Paterson accounts all include at least some games played with 11 on a side so that this would appear to be at least one common rule.  Both the Newark and Paterson articles mention no foul territory and outs being recorded by hitting a runner with a thrown ball so these two rules may also have been a common feature.  Unfortunately only one Paterson article gives any sense of the layout of the field.

As stated earlier these comments are both tentative and preliminary, but I think there is at least enough information to support the first conclusion - at least until further research is done.

    Sunday, June 24th will see the Neshanock take the ferry to Georges Island in Boston Harbor
                                            for matches with the Melrose Pondfeilders
The Flemington Neshanock are off to Massachusetts this weekend for games on Saturday and Sunday.  The plan is to do a post on the trip, but I'm not sure exactly when as there is an important anniversary that I want to commemorate on or before June 27th.

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. 

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.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

"That Noisy College Town"

The activities of the Antiquarian Knickerbockers in Newark and the resurgence of old-fashioned base ball in Paterson are two versions of a game called base ball that was played in New Jersey prior to and probably simultaneous with the New York game.  While no details were provided (unfortunately), there is also evidence of similar activity in New Brunswick, the birthplace of college football.

Based on the research to date, it appears that the first New Brunswick club playing the New York game was the Liberty Club which was also the first New Jersey team to join the National Association of Base Ball Players, a loose confederation of early base ball clubs. There is some speculation that the name of club was taken from New Brunswick's Liberty fire company.  As noted in an earlier post, the Liberty quickly stepped up in class competing with and even beating the Brooklyn Atlantics before suspending play for the duration of the Civil War.

During their initial season in 1857, the Liberty defeated the Union Club, reportedly the other New Brunswick team playing the New York game.  According to a lengthy article in the New York Clipper (October 10, 1857) flushed with victory, the Liberty issued a challenge to any nine New Brunswick men to play them in a "modern" game of base ball.  Supposedly the challenge was "undoubtedly intended for a party of Old Fogies'" who played the "old fashioned" game, "which as nearly everyone knows is entirely different from the game as now played."  The article which appears to have been written by an "Old Fogie" or someone sympathetic to that group clearly states that the Old Fogies were not a club.

Nine members of the group, now called the "Foundlings" accepted the challenge and asked for the rules of the New York game.  Behaving in a very unmanly manner, the Liberty refused so the young men obtained the rules from the Clipper, selected a side and an umpire and practiced four times.  However when it came time to play the match, only five of the "Foundlings" were present forcing the addition of four men who apparently didn't know the rules of either game.  The article goes on further criticize the Liberty's lack of sportsmanship including stating that John Van Nest of the Liberty who served as umpire was not a "man of some honor." 

                                                           New Brunswick

It's a shame that the article doesn't provide any information about the old fashioned game reportedly played by the Old Fogies, but its one more piece of evidence that when the New York game came to New Jersey it didn't enter a vacuum.  There may be a possible clue in the book Athletics at Princeton which devotes significant detail to the introduction of base ball at that nearby college.  Reportedly in 1860, the Nassau Base Ball Club of Princeton (effectively the school's team) challenged Rutgers as well as Yale and Columbia to base ball matches.  All three schools declined saying they didn't have a base ball team, but were still playing "town ball or the old Connecticut game."  It's not clear (at least to me) whether the author meant that the "old Connecticut game" and town ball were the same thing or the three schools played one of those two games, not the New York game.  Given the small size of both Rutgers and New Brunswick at the time, it's certainly not impossible that the college students and other young men were playing the same form of "old fashioned" base ball.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Publication Approaches

                      The cover of our book about Ebbets Field to be published later this year