Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Jersey vs. Brooklyn in 1861 - Round 1

Both the Newark Base Ball Club and the much better known Eckford Club of Brooklyn were pioneer clubs made up of young men with somewhat different backgrounds.  Each club was founded in 1855, the early days of the 1850's growth spurt of the New York game and were among the earliest clubs in their home communities.  While Eckford Club was one of Brooklyn's four charter clubs, the Newark Club was not only one of Newark's first five teams, but appears to have played in the first all New Jersey match game in June of 1855.

While both clubs were made up of young men who took an early interest in the New York game, they did not come from identical social backgrounds.  The Eckfords were a working class club made up primarily of shipwrights and skilled mechanics.  Although the Newark Club had skilled workers among its members, it had an almost equal number of white collar workers including clerks, bookkeepers and small businessmen.

Perhaps anticipation of a similar feast helped motivate the Newark Club for their 1861 matches with the Eckford Club - Newark Daily Advertiser, September 22, 1855

Another difference between the two clubs is the approach they took to the game.  The Newarkers played fewer matches, against lesser competition and enjoyed less success.  From 1855 to 1860, the Newark Club played only 16 matches with well below .500 results at 5-11.  Over roughly the same period, their Brooklyn counterparts played almost three times as many matches, finishing with a resounding 35-11 record against much better competition.  During that period, the Eckfords played four matches against New Jersey clubs winning all of them by a combined score of 173-54.  How the 1861 Newark-Eckford games came about is unknown, but certainly they could not have been viewed as big challenges for the Brooklyn club.

Al Reach played for the Eckford in 1861 before going on to become a sporting goods magnate

By the time the August 28th match at the Newark Club's grounds at the corner of High and Mercer Street came around, each club had only played four matches, testimony to how the war was limiting game action, even if the club rosters remained relatively intact.  The Eckfords were 3-1 with a win over the Mutuals and a loss to the Eagle Club, while the Newark team was 2-2, with wins over two New Jersey clubs and two losses to the 1860 champion Atlantics by a combined 57-29 score.

Perhaps taking advantage of being at home, the Newark Club struck first and actually led 4-3 after two innings.  The Eckford then took the lead at 5-4, but couldn't put away the pesky Newark team which only trailed 9-7 after six innings.  At that point, however, the Brooklynites took charge, scoring three times in each of the last three innings, winning by six runs, 18-12.  Perhaps surprised by the close margin, the Clipper praised both teams, calling it "a very creditable victory" for the Eckford since the Newark Club had "a good team on hand" that played well.

Portion of the Eckford game ball trophy case, ball on lower left is from 8/28/61 Eckford - Newark match
The trophy case is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame
Photo courtesy of David Dyte

When the rematch came almost three weeks later, the Eckfords had won two more matches for a 6-1 record while Newark had won an inter-city rivalry game with the Adriatic Club to get back to .500.  This time it was the New Jersey club's turn to travel and by the time they arrived at the Eckford's grounds in Williamsburg the match was an hour late in starting.  Waiting for them besides the Eckfords was a crowd, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle estimated at 2-3000.  By the end of the match, the paper said the crowd also became "demonstrative and enthusiastic," but they were apparently quiet for the first six innings because the game was "quite uninteresting."  However, the relative silence was not because, as many probably expected, the Eckford were far ahead.

R. Heber Breintnall of the Eureka Club was the umpire for the 9/16/61 Eckford - Newark match

Although the Eckfords were the home team, the visitors from across the river must have won the coin or bat toss as they batted second.  After shutting out the Eckford in the top of the first, the Newarkers tallied three times for a 3-0 lead which they still held going go the top of the third.  The Eckford scored twice in that inning, closing to within one and there probably many who thought it was just a matter of time before the Brooklyn team took charge.  No one, however, not even the most optimistic Newark fan, was prepared for what came next as the New Jersey club erupted for an 11 run inning and a 14-2 lead after only three.  It was still 14-3 going to the top of the fifth when the Brooklyn boys staged their own rally, scoring eight times to pull within 14-11.  Each team added two runs in their next at bat so Newark still held a three run (16-13) lead after 5 1/2 innings.  Newark's bats came alive again in the bottom of the fifth as they added five tallies and how had an apparently comfortable 21-13 lead as the match headed to the seventh inning.

Portion of Sunday Mercury September 22, 1861 game account and box score with total runs added incorrectly making it appear the Eckford won 24-5

It was at this point, however, that the home crowd had reason to become "demonstrative and enthusiastic."Apparently the Eckfords decided their opponents weren't the only ones who could pull off a big rally and the Brooklynites tied the score at 21 at which point, "the air was rent with cheers" and then "thick with the hats and caps" of some Brooklyn fans.   The Eckford weren't done, however, scoring three more times to take their first lead of the game at 24-21 as Newark came up to bat in the bottom of the seventh.

By this point with the late 3:00 start and all the scoring, it was beginning to get dark.  Ford led off for Newark and flew out to left, but Osborne singled and went to third on Stout's double to center.  Mills then followed with a "fine ball" to left good for both a double and scoring both runners, cutting the deficit to one.  It didn't stay that way for long as Conway followed with another double, tying the game and putting the go ahead run on second.   Garthwait, Newark's next striker, also came through, lacing a single to left giving Newark back the lead.  Terrell, the eighth batter of the inning, doubled Garthwait to third, but the next two batters went out ending the inning and, it turned out, the game since it was apparently too dark to continue.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (9/17/61) Box Score with correct line score

None of the surviving media accounts indicate any disagreement or controversy about ending the game after only seven innings, but the Sunday Mercury had plenty of good things to say about the Newark Club's triumph, calling it "a glorious victory," which it certainly was.  The paper went on to attribute their success to having "a more efficient nine than it ever had before." On the other side of the ledger, the paper criticized the Eckford's fielding calling it "crooked in a good many places."  One thing was for sure, the loss was not due to player absences because of military service or any other reason.  Seven of the nine players in the Eckford lineup took part in at least eight of the club's 12, 1861 games and, as was noted in the prior post, the Brooklyn club suffered few, if any, losses from its 1860 roster.

Relatively low key Newark Daily Advertiser account of the Newark Club's "glorious victory."
Newark Daily Advertiser - September 17, 1861

The two clubs were headed towards two very different futures.  After finishing 8-4 in 1861, the Eckford went on to win the 1862 and 1863 championships including revenge wins over the Newarkers in 1862.  The Newark Club, on the other hand, would never have better than a .500 record before dying out after the war.  But no matter what, they could always look back fondly on this day in 1861 and their "glorious victory."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New Jersey vs. Brooklyn in 1861 - Setting the Stage

A primary way we think about base ball is in terms of seasons, a finite period of time with a beginning and an end.  In addition to formal time boundaries, a base ball season also has to have some level of regular competition.  Under that definition, base ball or the New York version began having seasons in 1851 when the Knickerbocker and a few other New York clubs started playing regular matches, admittedly on a limited basis.  Since then there have been plenty of tumultuous seasons due to what happened on or off the field and sometimes both.  By any definition 1861, the first season of match play's second decade was tumultuous as Americans watched their country literally come apart.  It was a time when everyone including base ball players had to be wondering what lay ahead both for the Union and for themselves.

South Carolina Secession Convention 

Although the first wave of secession took place in late 1860 and early 1861, most clubs were still apparently preparing for the new season.  Even with the news of Fort Sumter reverberating throughout the north, the New York Clipper proclaimed in its April 20, 1861 issue that "the base ball season commences."  In fact, New Jersey clubs had already been in the field for six weeks, as the Amity and Excelsior Clubs of Rahway played a match on March 3rd.  The media quickly changed its tune however as a  week later, the Sunday Mercury stated that "for the time being base ball is almost entirely set aside."  This was followed by reports of how clubs couldn't play matches because so many of their players had volunteered to save the Union.  There was even talk in the Mercury of forming a "base ball battalion," but apparently the idea never developed.

Confederate Attack on Fort Sumter 

Yet in his book, Baseball's First Inning, William Ryczek notes that the Atlantic and Eckford Clubs of Brooklyn, two of the country's premier teams had, with one exception each, the same players in 1861 who played the prior year.  That matches my research on three of New Jersey's prominent clubs, the Newark and Eureka Clubs of Newark and the Liberty Club of New Brunswick.  In each case there was a little less carry over than the Brooklyn clubs, but only two or three players can definitely be identified as having "Gone for a Soldier."

New York Sunday Mercury - April 28, 1861

Immediately after the attack on Fort Sumter, Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion.  New Jersey's quota was four regiments of about 3100 men and those slots were quickly filled by volunteers.  In fact, there were more volunteers than positions which proved to be a good thing when three more regiments were called for at the beginning of May (about another 3000 men, all told).  The final 1861 call for troops came in the wake of the Union debacle at Bull Run in July, five more regiments and two artillery batteries, say roughly 6000 more men).  So the total 1861 troops required from New Jersey were about 12,000 out of roughly 99,000 men of military age.  The actual total was probably less as the first three militia regiments served for only 90 days and some of them re-enlisted after Bull Run.

New York Sunday Mercury - August 18, 1861

Since the overall demand was somewhat limited (about 12% of those eligible), there were still plenty of young men left to play base ball in 1861.  As a result for at least 1861, New Jersey clubs, like their Brooklyn counterparts, were at or close to full strength.  Availability of players did not, of course, mean match activity would be the same.  Both the Atlantics and the Eckford played fewer matches in 1861 compared to 1860, while the Liberty of New Brunswick, played only twice in 1861, compared to nine times the prior year.  Of the five clubs only the Newark and Eureka clubs played a similar number of matches compared to the last year of peace.  Among this reduced level of activity, however, there were some very interesting New Jersey - Brooklyn matches which will be the subject of the next few posts, beginning with a home and home series between the Newark and Eckford Clubs.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

No Modern Inductees - So Honor Baseball's History

It's unfortunate how frequently people, individually and in groups, get disconnected from their history.  We saw an example of this last week in how many in the media reported the decision of the baseball writers not to select any candidates for the Hall of Fame.  More than one media outlet headlined the news by saying there would be no inductions in Cooperstown this July, suggesting this would be the year they had an induction ceremony and no one came.  Yet as anyone paying attention to baseball history knows, there will indeed be some inductees because the veterans committee, aided by some baseball historians, elected umpire Hank O'Day, owner Ed Barrow and 19th century great Deacon White.  To me it's symptomatic of how many of those involved in today's game lose sight of its history.

Mike "King" Kelly

In addition, since the powers that be at the Hall of Fame, no doubt, saw this coming, the induction ceremony will also recognize 12 other members who were never formally inducted primarily due to World War II travel restrictions.  In reviewing the list, as always, I was looking for a New Jersey connection, especially a 19th century connection.  In this case, it wasn't hard to find one, as I quickly spotted Mike "King" Kelly, a great, flamboyant major league outfielder of the 19th century known among other things for the song, "Slide Kelly Slide."  Although he wasn't born in the Garden State, Kelly did a lot of his growing up, baseball wise, on the fields of Paterson, New Jersey.

Interestingly Kelly wasn't the only one of his Patersonian peers to break into the big time.  Reportedly one of the future major league star's best friends in the country's first planned industrial city was pitcher Jim McCormick who would go on to win 265 games over the course of his career.  Not quite as successful, but also making a name for themselves in base ball were William "Blondie" Purcell and Edward "The Only" Nolan (they don't make nicknames like they used to!).  Purcell has the somewhat unique, and probably not enviable distinction, of being one of the few major league players who's death date isn't known.  I haven't looked at my research in some time, but I believe the four were not only from Paterson, but also played on the same team, the second incarnation of the Olympic Club.  The original Olympics (one of my essays in the forthcoming Baseball Founders) played in the late 1860's, went out of existence and were re-formed in the 1870's.

Again, I haven't looked at this in some time, but I believe around 1880 there were only about 120 major league players.  If so, it would be impressive if four of them came, not just from the same state, or the same city, but also from the same team.  In a way this feels like an example of how New Jersey's base ball past foreshadows its present - producing major league talent ranging from Mike Kelly to 2012 American League    rookie of the year, Mike Trout.

Jim McCormick

Shortly after the announcement of the non-election, MLB historian John Thorn suggested this might be the year for us 19th century enthusiasts to attend the induction ceremony.  He even mentioned he might wear his replica 1883 New York Gothams jersey.  Not sure if the Flemington Neshanock schedule will permit me to attend, but I do have an 1889 Brooklyn Bridegrooms jersey, purchased from Ebbets Field Flannels, so we'll see.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Last Saturday, Carol and I had a chance to give a complimentary copy of our Ebbets Field book to 1960 National League MVP Dick Groat.  The venue was the Rutgers Athletic Center prior to the Rutgers-Pitt basketball game.  This was due to the fact that Mr. Groat is the color commentator for Pitt basketball, a position he told us he has held for 34 years.  In addition to being a standout baseball player, Mr. Groat was a star basketball player at Duke and is, in fact, the only the man in both the college baseball and college basketball Halls of Fame.

I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Groat for some time about his memories of Ebbets Field which are included in our book.  I always admired him as a player and he was a real gentleman both during our interview and in person.  He also has a connection to Rutgers basketball as his son-in-law Lou Goetz played basketball at Rutgers on the same teams that I served as a student manager.  It was a pleasure to meet him and give him the book in person.

The Camden Club - Who are these guys?

Identification of Civil War era base ball players has its challenges.  The primary sources are newspaper box scores which for the most part list only last names.  For common names that's pretty much useless and even if a name seems somewhat unique, all it takes is two young men with the same surname to irrevocably muddy the waters.  Fortunately for the Camden Club, some surviving box scores have first and middle initials.  Even with that additional help I was still somewhat surprised to be able to identify 15 of the 21 club members listed in 1858 newspaper accounts.

That degree of identification, facilitates a comparison between the Camden Club players and a larger group of northern New Jersey players analyzed by George Kirsch in the 1983 Spring/Summer issue of "New Jersey History."  Perhaps the biggest surprise was how young the Camden players were.  In 1858, their second year of existence, the average age of the south Jersey boys was just under 20 compared to almost 27 for the north Jersey group.  All told 12 of the 15 were 19 or younger with relative gray beards like Nathan Mulliner (31) and Treasurer, Charles Rudderow (30) the oldest members.  At the other end of the spectrum were David Vickers (only 13) and the Camdens most notable product, Weston Fisler at 15.

Age was not the only difference between the two groups.  With only two immigrants (brothers Arthur and Frederick Merry), just over 90% of the Camden Club was native born, slightly higher than the 84% of the north Jersey players.  Not surprisingly given their youth, the young men from Camden owned very little, if any, real property compared to an average of over $8600 for their neighbors to the north.  One similarity was occupation where even as young men in 1860, most of the Camden Club members worked in either white collar jobs or in skilled trades.

A number of the members of the Camden Club went on to bigger and better things.  Base ball wise, as noted in an earlier post, the most successful by far was Weston Fisler.  Equally noteworthy in their own fields were Frederick Merry and Martin Grey.  Merry, who along with brother, Arthur, were the only non-native born Camdens, became a well known architect, helping to design a portion of Philadelphia's Fairmount Park as well as numerous buildings in the New York metropolitan area where he died in 1900.  Already a lawyer in 1860, Martin Grey, son of the publisher of the West Jerseyman, a Camden newspaper, became vice chancellor of New Jersey, dying in 1906 while still in office.

Flag of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment 

Merry was the older brother of Arthur, one of the two Camdens and one of four New Jersey base ball players to make the ultimate sacrifice at Gaines Mill in June of 1862.  More fortunate at Gaines Mill were Frank Knight and Robert Dunham.  Knight,  president of the Camden Club, was a captain commanding Company G of the 3rd New Jersey.  "Caught in a tight spot," Knight tried to surrender, instead was struck in the back with a rifle butt by an unsympathetic Confederate.  Doubtless furious at this unmanly act, the ball player drew his pistol and "shot the ruffian dead."  Although he got out of that scrape, Knight was still taken prisoner because he wouldn't abandon mortally wounded teammate, William Evans.  Subsequently exchanged, Knight became Lieutenant Colonel of the nine-month, 24th New Jersey and left the army for good at the end of the regiment's service.

Frank L. Knight 

Dunham was the treasurer of the Camden Club and a staff officer at Gaines Mill where he barely avoided death or serious injury from a rebel shell.  Dunham stayed in the army for the rest of the war, but for some reason received a dishonorable discharge in August of 1865.  That story is perhaps symbolic of a number of potentially interesting aspects of the Camden Club that merit further research.  It's all part of the fascinating story of 19th Century New Jersey Base Ball, truly A Manly Pastime!