Thursday, March 7, 2013

1855 - the New York game comes to Newark

Before discussing Newark and the nation's first junior base ball club, I want to take a look at the New York game's beginnings in Newark.  In 1860, New Jersey's largest city had a population of just under 72,000, far more than any other community in the state, but also much smaller than neighboring New York City (813,669) and Brooklyn (279,122 - Brooklyn was an independent city until 1898).  It's interesting, therefore, that in Newark in 1855 at least four clubs (five, if we count the St. John's Club) had been organized to play the New York game compared to seven in Brooklyn and four in New York City.   In 1855 at least, relatively more young men in Newark were forming base ball clubs than in more populous Brooklyn and New York.

Newark Daily Advertiser - June 22, 1855

How can we account for this growth spurt in the early days of the game's first expansion phase?  Perhaps one place to start, is by looking at how young men in Newark might have acquired an interest in the game as well as learning how to play it.  I may be missing something, but I think there were only three ways for potential ball players to learn about the New York game, they could read about it in the newspaper, hear about it from someone else or see it for themselves or some combination of the above.

Newark Daily Advertiser - July 3, 1855

Of the three possibilities, there is one we have some chance of evaluating over 150 years later - the possibility of their reading about it.  Based on the available evidence, the chances seem pretty slim.  Newark and other New Jersey newspapers provided little or no base ball coverage through 1854 and the late Craig Waff's games tabulation lists only nine New York newspaper game accounts from 1851 to 1854.  I haven't looked at the sports weeklies for the period, but even if there was significant coverage, which I doubt, it reached a  limited audience.

Newark Daily Advertiser - August 4, 1853

That leaves seeing and/or hearing .  Learning about the game by word of mouth would reach more people, but was unlikely to capture the excitement of an eyewitness experience.  It's important to remember that while we are considering the spread of something called the New York game, a number of games were played not in New York or Brooklyn, but at Elysian Fields, which although convenient to both New York communities was actually in New Jersey.  It's, of course, possible that Newarkers saw the game in Brooklyn or heard about it from someone who did, but the Hoboken (visual) and/or New York City (oral) possibilities just seem more probable.

Newark Daily Advertiser - June 1, 1855

Certainly there was plenty of interaction between New York City and Newark.  In 1855 the railroad made 30 daily round trips between Newark and New York and the Newark Daily Advertiser typically carried a column or two of advertisements for New York companies.  One thing is for sure, New York businessmen wouldn't invest money on such ads unless they were generating business, which probably included some in-person business.  It doesn't seem unreasonable to believe that Newarkers going to and from New York heard others talking about a game that had been played or was going to be played in nearby Hoboken.

A lot has been written about how New Yorkers flocked to Elysian Fields by ferry boat, but I haven't found much about it's popularity with New Jerseyans, especially people in Newark.  A search of the Newark Daily Advertiser found one instance of a Newark church group scheduling an outing there.  Interestingly most of the "hits" in both the Advertiser and New York newspapers for Elysian Fields from 1851 to 1855 are stories of riots, crimes, violence and drinking.  Still it seems likely the attractions which lured New Yorkers to Elysian Fields would also have attracted some visitors from Newark as well.

Newark Daily Advertiser - June 1, 1855

Regardless of how young men from Newark learned about the "new" game, they didn't waste any time following suit.  It appears the Newark Club was formed in May of 1855, but the Oriental (soon to become the Olympic) must have joined them fairly quickly as the two clubs played each other in June of 1855.  That first match may not have been entirely by New York rules, but the teams appear to have gotten with the program the following month.  The two Newark pioneers were joined by another "senior club," called the Friendship Club which I believe changed its name to the Empire Club.

New York Times - July 18, 1855

My guess is that the Newark Juniors and the St. John's Club got a slightly later start only because it's less likely (although not impossible) that teenagers and African-Americans would have the opportunity or occasion to visit New York or Hoboken.  At the same time we know next to nothing about the St. John's Club and it's even possible they were New Jersey's first club.  Whatever the order however, by the end of 1855, Newark had a full complement of clubs - senior, junior and African-American.

1 comment:

  1. Richard HershbergerMarch 9, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    Another factor to keep in mind is the availability and convenience of suitable playing fields. New York proper was always at a disadvantage here. By 1859 there were many more Brooklyn clubs than there were New York, and many of those nominally New York clubs actually played in Hoboken or on Long Island. Philadelphia would surpass New York in number of clubs soon after the end of the Civil War. (For that matter, New England has a rich old history of adult play in team sports. I suspect the layout of the New England town around a spacious commons contributed to this.) I don't know the local geography, but would guess that the players could walk to their grounds, without having to take a ferry or a street car. This doesn't explain the initial introduction, but it would contribute to the rapid secondary spread.