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!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why do we do it? - Why did they do it?

Twice in the past month, the Flemington Neshanock have played the Rochester  (Michigan) Grangers.  As I've written before, it's fun to play clubs from other parts of the country, if nothing else it's an opportunity to get a different perspective on vintage base ball.  At the end of each match, the Grangers add a new wrinkle to the traditional post game speeches and cheers, they sing their club song in honor of the other team.  While I can't remember the words, part of the message is that they play for the love of the game, not for money or fame.

Flemington Neshanock

Hearing the song at the National Silver Ball Tournament in Rochester raised the question, why do we do it?  Why do we participate in vintage base ball?  Well it's clearly not for money - there's no financial return and there are expenses involved - the cost of a uniform, membership dues and trips to Gettysburg, Rochester, Massachusetts.  So we don't make money, rather it costs us money (sounds uncomfortably like my writing).  It's also not about the fame, something that was demonstrated very clearly in Rochester.  Two years ago the Silver Ball Tournament coincided with Genesee Country Village's Laura Ingalls Wilder weekend while this year the two events were on separate weekends. Someone suggested this was done intentionally to test which was the bigger draw.  Trust me, "Little House" won hands down, the 2012 tournament was witnessed almost exclusively by family and friends.

Brooklyn Excelsiors

So if it's not money or fame, it has to be love of the game, right?  Yes, but I think it's more complex than that.  There are certainly other ways to meet that base ball "need" without the commitments that are part of an over 40 game Neshanock schedule running from April to October. Being part of a vintage team (or any team really) requires something more than just love of the game.  There are probably multiple reasons why people get involved in re-creating 19th century base ball, but I'm thinking more about why do we choose to be part of a "team."  I believe it's because of the positives that can come from the experience - the competition, gentlemanly though it is, the camaraderie, the humor, the challenges of travel, every thing that makes up being part of something larger than oneself even if the results don't have any cosmic significance.

Thinking about this while researching the spread of base ball in antebellum New Jersey made me think about the young men who joined these first New Jersey base ball clubs.  Why did they do it?  Answering that question leads us into the multiple explanations of why base ball grew like it did from 1855 on.  Part of it has to do with what was happening to American youth in the 1850's.  Adam Goodheart in his book, "1861: The Civil War Awakening," writes that at the middle of the 19th century "youth was ascendant as it had never been before."  This involved trying new things so young men "joined militias, volunteer fire companies, 'young men's societies,' and gymnasiums," and he could very easily have added - base ball clubs.  According to Goodheart it was a way they sought brotherhood, a need that existed simultaneously with a belief in rugged individualism.

Eureka Base Ball Club of Newark

No matter why they decided to join one of the new base ball clubs, these first New Jersey base ball players got something out of the experience as we get something out of being part of the Flemington Neshanock.  There is, however,  a big difference, all of us today are either trying to recreate or continue a positive experience that we first enjoyed some place else, be it Little League, high school, college, American Legion and so on.  Even though New Jersey's first base ball players may not have traveled far beyond their home state, they were truly pioneers because they joined these first clubs without knowing about the benefits that awaited them.  They believed without having a reason to believe. It was their willingness to be part of something new which makes them unique and why all of us who come afterwards owe them a debt of gratitude or at least "three cheers and a tiger."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Weekend in Rochester

Having now attended my second National Silver Ball Tournament at Genesee Country Village, I have to say that it is a first class event.  The location is a manageable distance for teams from the east coast and the Midwest so a New Jersey club gets the chance to play teams from Ohio and Michigan which is very enjoyable.  The venue itself is great and the event is very well managed so it's a very enjoyable experience.  What follows are some pictures and comments about the 2012 tournament - thanks to Mark Granieri, Ken Mandel and Joe Gallo for the pictures

Above is the entrance to the Silver Ball Ball Park, a recreation of a 19th century base ball field.  It's one of three fields at the village and always the site of the championship match.

The Silver Ball Park also features its own platform for the public address announcer and the official score keeper.  It's reached by a fairly unstable set of stairs that this aging score keeper is going to have some trouble negotiating in the future.

Each of the three fields has a scoreboard - the below is at the Meadow, the second of the three different playing sites.  The score is from the Neshanock's opening match with the Rochester (Michigan) Grangers and illustrates something about 19th century base ball.  In the 19th century (and for part of the 20th), the home team didn't automatically bat second.  In the 19th century, there was a bat toss or coin flip with the winner getting to choose.  It also wasn't uncommon for the team batting second to hit in the bottom of the ninth even though they had already won the match.  Although it's not pictured here, in this case the Neshanock did hit in the bottom of the ninth, not to honor 19th century custom, but because runs scored was a tie breaker.

In addition to hosting four men's teams, Genesee Country Village also hosts two women's teams - the Brooks Grove Belles and the Priscilla Porters BBC.  They played a match on another part of the Meadow (which gives a sense of its size) while the Neshanock - Granger match was taking place.  Watching them I realized that in all the newspaper accounts I've read of New Jersey base ball between 1855 and 1870, I have never seen anything about women playing the game.  Not sure of the larger history, maybe it comes post Civil War.

Please note that in the below picture, the attention of the Neshanock is riveted on their own match and not looking at what promises to be a close play at first in the women's match.

In a very womanly (I guess that's the opposite of manly) gesture, the two teams invited members of the crowd to join the game.  The below picture captures three members of the Neshanock party (left to right - Eve, Jill and Filly) displaying their prowess.  All told there were close to nine wives, girl friends and significant others in attendance for the Neshanock.  Perhaps the next time the Neshanock takes part in the tournament, we can field a women's team as well - I have an idea for the score keeper.

Below is the scene in the Silver Park at the beginning of the Neshanock's match with the Live Oak Club of Rochester.  The outfield fence is about 300 feet from home plate and interestingly any ball hit over the fence is a ground rule double.  That's not a 19th century rule, but a reflection of the way the field slopes downward just past the fence.  Mark "Peaches" Rubini managed to clear the fence twice in his first appearance in Rochester - clearly he likes New York State a lot better than Massachusetts.

Score keepers always have to be paying attention to the field of play.

Below is another view of the Silver Park including the refreshment stand where two years ago Eric Miklich famously purchased a hamburger which he ate on the field between innings - resting it on third base when necessary.

Below is a view of the third field called the staging area.  The balloon in the background is a recreation of a Civil War observation balloon.  The three states whose troops played the most base ball at the front during the Civil War were Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey so it's very possible that this recreates a scene from Union army camps - most likely minus the uniforms.

The Neshanock after the Grangers match - I'm fining myself .25 cents for disorderly conduct for smiling in the picture.  My only excuse is that Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw was composing a Neshanock team song on the fly - rhyming Neshanock with words like "panic" and manic."

                              It was a great weekend!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Only One Word to Describe It

                                      Photo by Mark Granieri

There are going to be several posts about this past weekend's National Silver Ball Tournament in Mumford, New York and the purpose of this one is to summarize the results.  The tournament is sponsored by Genesee Country Village and typically includes the four local teams who play at the village and eight teams from around the country.  This year both New Jersey vintage clubs were represented as the Elizabeth Resolutes made their initial appearance at the event.  Also present were clubs from Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland and Canada.  Included in the Ohio representation were the Cleveland Blues, two time defending champions who had won 10 straight games in the tournament.

All teams play four matches typically going against two of the local clubs and two of the seven other teams.  After all teams have played four games, the two teams with the best records advance to the championship game.  The Neshanock last played in the tournament in 2010, reaching the championship game before being soundly defeated by the aforementioned Blues. 

The Neshanock's first match was a late Saturday morning encounter with the Rochester (Michigan) Grangers.  Two weeks ago in Gettysburg, the Grangers won a decisive victory over the Neshanock, but this time Flemington took an early lead and never trailed en route to a 6-4 win.  After a long break between games, the Neshanock took on one of the local clubs, the Live Oaks.  An eight run second inning broke open the game and the Neshanock went on to a 23-3 triumph.  At the end of Saturday's play, Flemington was 2-0 while the Talbot Fair Plays were 2-0-1 and the Blues had extended their Silver Ball tournament winning streak to 13 with three more wins.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Sunday morning brought an ominous weather forecast and another match with a local club, this time, the Rochester Base Ball Club.  Flemington held a 9-5 lead after four innings, but once again used the big inning to break the game open scoring 13 times in the 5th and went on to a 25-8 victory.  Now awaiting the Neshanock, however were the dreaded Blues, also 3-0 with the winner earning a place in the championship game with the loser at the mercy of things beyond their control. 

Photo by Mark Granieri

The match got off to a promising start for Flemington as the Neshanock loaded the bases with only one out.  But if any reminder of the Blues defensive prowess was needed, it was provided by their turning a hard ground ball into an inning ending double play.  The Blues then threatened in the bottom of the first putting two on with two out when Neshanock first baseman, Dave "Illinois" Harris, provided his own defensive gem to end the inning, grabbing a hot line drive for the final out.

No doubt inspired by this fine play, the Neshanock put across three tallys in the top of the second which the Blues countered with two of their own.  The Neshanock still had one big inning left in them, however, scoring 7 times in the top of the third for a 10-2 lead which the Blues then reduced scoring 5 times in the bottom of the inning.  That set the pattern for the next few innings as the Blues stayed close, pulling to within one run after six innings, but never quite catching up.  Flemington added three in the seventh and one in the eighth for some breathing room (although there wasn't much breathing taking place on the Neshanock bench).

Finally the game headed to the last inning (shortened to eight due to time limits) with the Neshanock leading 16-11.  The first Cleveland striker was retired on a foul bound and then after the next striker made his base, the second hand was recorded on a foul out.  The next striker hit a looping fly ball just beyond the reach of first and too short for the right fielder. It was eerily similar to a hit by Joe "Irish" Colduvell against these same Blues in Cooperstown in 2011 that triggered a winning Neshanock rally.  Was history going to repeat itself at Flemington's expense?  Suddenly Neshanock second baseman, Ken "Tumbles" Mandel left his feet caught the ball and held on for the obligatory tumble ending the game with a Neshanock victory - a manly play, if there ever was one!

Moments after the game ended word arrived that the Talbot Club had finished 3-0-1 and would meet the Neshanock for the championship.  Unfortunately, however, nature intervened and torrential rains and long trips home for both clubs wiped out the championship game.  As a result Flemington and Talbot were declared co-champions.  There then remained the long car road home, much of it in the rain, but Neshanock returned home tired, but happy after what can only be described as "two most splendiferous days of base ball." 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Update From Rochester

Today's Scores:  Flemington 6 - Rochester Grangers 4, Flemington 23 - Live Oaks 3.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


This weekend the Neshanock are heading north to Rochester for the National Silver Ball Tournament at Genesee Country Village (third largest historical village in the United States).  Two years ago the Neshanock reached the championship game before falling to the Cleveland Blues.  Over the course of two days, the Neshanock will play four games, one against the aforementioned Blues, another against the Rochester (Michigan) Grangers and two against local teams - the Live Oaks and Rochesters.

We'll be back late Sunday night and the plan is to write something about the event by the middle of the week.  I'm also planning on experimenting with a post or posts about one of the most exciting New Jersey base ball games of the 19th century - the August 18, 1865 championship match between the Eureka of Newark and the Brooklyn Atlantics.  It probably won't be next week, but definitely before the end of August.  Depending on how it works out, it could be the first in a series - so stay tuned!