Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Newark Junior Club - Part I

Regardless of how it happened, by the spring of 1855 young men in Newark knew enough about the New York game to emulate their peers in New York City by forming their own base ball clubs.  While the exact date is unknown, all the evidence indicates the Newark Club, formed in May of 1855, was the city's first base ball club.  Not far behind were three others so that by June 22, 1855, New Jersey's largest city had four clubs.  The order of their formation is also unknown, but the Oriental Club (soon to become the Olympic Club) took on the Newark Club in June in the first all New Jersey match.  Also mentioned as one of the charter clubs was the Friendship Club although there is no record of their ever playing a match, or at least under that name.  A team called the Empire Club did take the field in 1855 which could represent another name change like the Oriental/Olympic switch.

Newark Daily Advertiser - July 27, 1857 - suggesting a connection between the Friendship Club and the Empire Base Ball Club 

The fourth club was called the Newark Jr. Club and appears to represent another base ball first for Newark (the St. John's African-American Club being the other).  I had thought it interesting that Newark had three types of base ball clubs (senior, junior and African-American) as early as 1855, but I didn't realize the junior version might be unique until I saw it was the only club on Richard Hershberger's list of 1855 teams playing the New York game identified as a junior club.  Thinking about it, it seems that unlike the three other Newark white clubs, the Newark Junior Club didn't have an example or model to follow.  The Newark, Friendship and Olympic Clubs could, at least theoretically, have learned about organizing a team from the New York clubs.  I don't want to make too much of this as many of the details of forming a "senior" club also applied to junior clubs, but for anything unique to a younger population, the Newark Junior Club apparently had to be pathfinders.

Like their brethren across the river, the initial Newark clubs focused on practice (inter-squad games) rather than match play.  After the two Newark and Olympic Club matches in June and July, the next match didn't take place until September 5th when the Juniors made their first match appearance, losing to the Newark Club, 27-19.  From that box score and that of the club's other 1855 match (a 24-21 loss to the Empire Club), 12 members of the Newark Juniors have been identified.  Their ages range from two youngsters of 14 to an elder statesman of 21 with an average age of 16.

Newark Daily Advertiser - September 6, 1855 (It was not the first match of the season)
While half of the group lived in Newark's East Ward in 1850, the west (three), south (one) and north (one) wards were also represented.  So unless their families moved closer together during the intervening years, the Juniors were not from one part of Newark although some of the East Ward residents were neighbors.  Because the 1855 season was midway between two censuses, it can't be determined whether work responsibilities impacted their ability to find time to play ball.  None of the twelve have an 1850 occupation listed, but for the most part, they were probably too young.  Some were working in 1860, but the five year gap makes it impossible to get a sense of how likely it was they were working five years earlier.

I would have liked to have compared this group with the rest of the Newark base ball class of 1855, but unfortunately the Empire and Olympic box scores are full of common names, making it possible to identify only one or two on each club.  More of the 1855 Newark Club line up can be identified with ages ranging from 20 to 27 with an average age of 24.  I half expected to find some overlap between the two clubs, indicating younger brothers copying their older siblings, but if there were family relationships, they aren't obvious.  My best guess is a group of teenagers witnessed the Newark Club organizing to play base ball and decided to copy them, the same way they were copying the New York teams. Most likely they added "Junior" to distinguish themselves from the "other" Newark Club.

Porter's Spirit of the Times - July 4, 1857

After the 1855 spurt of base ball activity in Newark, things slowed down the next year.  After only one season, the Olympic Club went out of existence and no further record has been found of the St. John's Club.  Once again the Newark Junior Club didn't begin match play until September of 1856 with a contest against the Empire Club which wasn't finished "due to some dissatisfaction."  The young Newarkers then found some peer competition, playing three matches against the Columbia Junior Club of Brooklyn.  With two seasons under their belt, the Newark Juniors apparently decided it was time to grow up and step up.  On March 30, 1857, they re-organized as the Adriatic Club with 22 members.  A review of the ages of the new members indicates most being 21 so they were clearly no longer a junior club.  The move from junior to senior status suggests a renewed sense of purpose and foreshadows the path followed by some of New Jersey's premier teams of the 1860's.  In the next post we'll take a look at the next phase of the history of this group of New Jersey base ball pioneers.

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