Saturday, December 29, 2012

Holiday Hiatus

A Manly Pastime is taking a holiday break until the week of January 7th.  There is one more post to come on the Camden Club.  Then we'll take a look at some 1861 matches between New Jersey and Brooklyn clubs, where the New Jersey teams more than held their own.  After that there will most likely be some posts about two of Newark's first clubs - the Newark and Adriatic Clubs.  Thanks to everyone who has read the blog in 2012 and best wishes for 2013.

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.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Camden Club - a New Jersey Town Ball Team

Sometime during the summer of 1857 a group of New Jersey ball players went through the process of formally organizing a club.  This was nothing new, easily 100 New Jersey ball clubs had been been formed by this point.  However, two things were different about this group of young men.  Based on research thus far, the Camden Club was the only antebellum club formed in south Jersey (south of a line drawn from Elizabeth on the east running through New Brunswick to Trenton on the west) and they came together to play a game they called, not base ball, but town ball.

Olympic Club of Philadelphia Constitution 

Base ball today is the direct descendant of what is known as the New York game because it was formalized and popularized in New York City.  At the same time there were other bat and ball games which gradually fell out of fashion.  Unfortunately the name town ball has been broadly assigned to many of these sister games some times without firm basis.  For this and subsequent posts about the Camden Club, town ball means the version of the game as played in Philadelphia across the river from Camden.  Much of what follows about Philadelphia town ball comes from an excellent article by Richard Hershberger called "A Reconstruction of Philadelphia Town Ball" which was published in the fall 2007 edition of  "Baseball: A Journal of the Early Game."

Town ball in Philadelphia can be documented at a much earlier date than the New York game.  As early as 1831 the Olympic Club was crossing the Delaware River to play town ball in Camden much like New York City clubs would eventually cross the Hudson to play in Hoboken.  And as with the New York-Hoboken experience, young men from Camden, most likely saw their peers organizing to play ball and decided they could so the same and so they did.

West Jerseyman - June 23, 1858

Although the Olympic Club had been playing town ball since the 1830's they were primarily engaged in what we would call inter-squad matches with match play itself not really getting started until the late 1850's.  Matches were still infrequent then, but the Camden Club did play at least three 1858 matches against the Olympics (first and second eleven matches) as well as four second team matches in 1860.

What was Philadelphia town ball?

Richard Hershberger's 2007 reconstruction draws on several sources, the most contemporary of which are two 1860 box scores of second team matches between the Camdens and the Excelsior Club of Philadelphia.

New York Clipper - August 11, 1860

Some of the major differences between town ball and the New York version of base ball include:

1. Eleven on a side, although this could be reduced by mutual agreement - an October 1858 match of second "elevens" was contested by two teams of nine.

2. For the team in the field only the ball giver (pitcher) and behind (catcher) had designated positions.

3. The bases consisted of five stakes in a circle about 30 feet in diameter with only about 19 feet between the bases.

4. For the side to be retired all eleven batters had to be put out.

5. Runners could be put out by being hit with a thrown ball, called "soaking or plugging."

6. After hitting the ball safely, runners could not stop at a base so that each at bat produced either an out or a run.

Obviously these are some major differences especially the smaller field and the all or nothing at bat.  Interestingly three of these rules - 11 on a side, 11 outs per inning and the provision for "soaking" were also part of the throw-back games played by the Antiquarian Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of Newark in the 1870's.  This suggests that the game the Camden Club played or a version of it was also played in north Jersey before the New York game took over.  Initial accounts of 1855 games played by the Pioneer and Excelsior Clubs of Jersey City and the Newark Club also had 11 on a side and appear to be played by rules other than those of the New York game.  In all of these cases, the clubs switched to the New York game in that initial season, a much quicker transition than what we will see with the Camden Club.

Although the above rules favoring the offense (11 outs per inning, small field) were somewhat offset by "soaking" and all or nothing at bats, these were high scoring games.  For example, in June of 1858, the Camden first eleven twice defeated the second eleven of the Olympic club by scores of 85-76 and 81-71 with similar high scoring affairs in the Camden Club's four 1860 matches.

It might be interesting for the Flemington Neshanock to experiment with an inning of Philadelphia town ball some time in the 2013 season.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Next up - So to Speak

Now that our Ebbets Field book has been published, the next of my projects to see the light of day should be two books where I have contributed essays about 19th century base ball topics.  Pictured above is the cover of Base Ball Founders, a collection of essays about early clubs in the Northeast which will include eight of my articles about prominent New Jersey clubs.  It will be published by McFarland & Company and should be out during the spring or summer of next year.

Also coming out some time in 2013 is a Society of American Baseball Research publication - Inventing Base Ball.  This is an anthology of articles about the 100 most important games of the 19th century.  I have four essays in the book ranging from the Knickerbocker Club of New York's second match game in June of 1851 to the first National League game in 1876.

It's not clear which will be published first, but I'm looking forward to seeing both in print before this time next year.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Meaning of Ebbets Field - Part III

When I asked Pulitzer Prize winning historian Robert Caro why Ebbets Field was so special, he said it was a home and everyone who went to the ballpark were part of a family who lived there.  Another way of describing that special place in Brooklyn would be to say it was a community and once people are part of a community, they don't forget the experience.

Charles Ebbets vision of Ebbets Field - Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 6, 1912

Based on the fan memories in our book, there are a number of aspects of community that stand out.  One is that a community welcomes young people and is preferably accessible to young people on their own without accompanying adults.  From Robert Caro taking the long subway ride from the upper West Side of Manhattan with his buddies from the Horace Mann school to the many people who remembered "sneaking" into a day game after school, there is no question young people flocked to Ebbets Field on a regular basis.  Alan Hiss told the story about how his older brother saved him from being forced to accompany his father to soccer games by telling their dad he was taking the "little guy" to the Dodgers game tonight.  Sometimes this was just a ploy on nights when the Dodgers weren't even home!

Ebbets Field site - 1912

When he chose the site for his new ballpark, Charles Ebbets counted on people like Robert Caro who would get to the park by one of the many subway and trolley lines.  If the Dodger owner was also counting on local residents walking there, it was based on faith not reality.  One of the reasons that everyone was surprised at the location was that Ebbets was probably the only person who could visualize a ballpark there.  Brooklyn Daily Eagle writer, Tom Rice, told prospective visitors to take hip boots to deal with the "mud and more mud" at a site that required an eight foot excavation on one side and an eight foot elevation on the other.

Standard Union, February 1, 1912

Those who went to Ebbets Field were also a community because the experience wasn't limited to watching the Dodgers play, as important as that was.  Recognizing that a vacant ballpark still costs money when the home team was not playing, Ebbets immediately began using the park for other revenue generating events such as boxing, football games (high school, college and pro), soccer as well as many other baseball games including Negro League clubs.  However the Dodger owner also made his park available for free for public school field days and other events.  Especially important were the literally hundreds of high school football games played at Ebbets Field in its 45 year history which gave many Brooklyn young people the opportunity to actually play sports on the same field where they watched their beloved Dodgers play.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 3, 1912 showing convenient subway access to Ebbets Field 

Finally any community worth its name has "characters" and Ebbets Field was never lacking in that regard both on and off the field.  Whether it was Babe Herman helping the Dodgers to put three men on third base at the same time, Hilda Chester giving orders to Leo Durocher while ringing her bell or the Brooklyn Sym-Phony band "entertaining" the crowd, there was always something going on which according to sports writer,  Dave Anderson make for an atmosphere like a country fair.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 13, 1915

This is, of course, hardly a new idea.  Nor is it new to suggest that Dodger fans were proud of being part of the historic breaking of the color line or that the Dodgers departure was tragic.  What's important, however, is to look at these things collectively, not individually.  It's doubtful if anyone who went to Ebbets Field disliked the experience, certainly no one Paul or I spoke to regretted having been there.  It's also doubtful anyone ever forgot their visit or visits to this historic park, which contributed to a feeling of being part of the community, the history and finally the tragedy which is why the memory of Ebbets Field remains so powerful so many years later.  It's a place which is gone forever, but will never die.