Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Keep Holy the Sabbath Day

When the Flemington Neshanock traveled to Easton, Maryland this past Sunday for two games with the Talbot Fairplays, they did something unthinkable for early 19th century base ball clubs.  A one day trip of that length wouldn't, of course, have been possible then, but I'm thinking of the fact the games were played on Sunday, something that was beyond the pale during the Civil War era.

Not only were formal club matches out of the question, but even informal, unorganized Sunday ball playing was dealt with severely.  There are a number of accounts in Newark and Jersey City newspapers of young offenders being held overnight in jail or their parents being fined a few dollars for the offense.  At at time when the average working man made about $300 a year that was no small penalty.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The Neshanock and Fair Plays didn't run any of those risks on Sunday, but it was a long day for the Flemington club on the field as well as off.  Talbot is a strong club and they coasted to an easy 24-3 win in the opener, followed by a closer, but still decisive 21-9 victory in the second game.  It was not one of the Neshanock's best defensive efforts including five errors in the eighth inning of the second contest.  Dave "Illinois" Harris pitched the ninth for Flemington and apparently figured out a solution for the defensive lapses as he induced all three strikers to hit foul tip outs to catcher, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri.  "Gaslight" also had an unusual statistical line in the first game, a clear score for not making any outs and a blank score for not scoring any runs - probably a good summary of the whole day for the Neshanock.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The prohibition of Sunday base ball may seem like ancient history, but the vestiges of what are sometimes called "blue laws" died hard.  I remember in the early 1960's a rain delay in the first game of a doubleheader in Philadelphia prevented the second game from being played because of a requirement that the second game couldn't start after a certain time.  During that same period New York had issues on the other end of the time frame where Sunday baseball and football games couldn't begin until 2:00 which meant drinking in bars could start early than ball playing!

Photo by Mark Granieri

I became much more familiar with the issue of Sunday play when Paul and I were researching our book on the 1916 baseball season.  At the time only the three "western" National League clubs, Chicago, Cincinnati and St.Louis could host Sunday baseball while teams in Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts could not.  It's surprising to me that Sunday baseball was permitted in the Midwest, but prohibited in the East as I would have thought the more liberal East would have been more lenient than the conservative Midwest, but I guess not.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The importance of the ability to play on Sunday became even more clear to me when I researched Charles Ebbets' tenure as Brooklyn owner.  Ebbets spent almost 20 years fighting for Sunday baseball, first by subterfuge (free admission, followed by mandatory scorecard purchase, directing the purchaser to a seat) and then legislative lobbying.  When the law finally changed in New York City in 1919, it was a financial gold mine for Ebbets and turned round his finances.  At the time there was an added benefit because Sunday baseball was still illegal in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, leading to one game "home stands" where clubs would play in Boston on Saturday and take the train to New York after the game for a Sunday game.

Early New Jersey base ball clubs had none of these concerns.  For them it was simply the frustration of being unable to play this "new" game that they loved on the one day of the week they had plenty of free time.  They would, no doubt, have identified with the woman in Victorian England who remembered that on Sunday afternoons, it felt like the clock was stuck at 3:00.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Cup comes to New Jersey

Yesterday while Carol and I were in Cooperstown for a 19th century base ball conference (not to mention our 38th wedding anniversary) the Neshanock traveled to Long Island for the second straight weekend.  This time the destination was Old Bethpage Village and the annual New York - New Jersey Cup.  All of the photos and the game summaries are courtesy of Mark "Gaslight" Granieri

This year the tournament was a true New Jersey - New York match up as New Jersey's newest vintage club, the Hoboken Nine participated along with the host New York Mutuals and the New York Gothams.  In addition to being on Long Island for the second straight weekend, the Neshanock also took on the Mutuals for the second consecutive time and just like last weekend in Smithtown it was a close match.  After seven innings the match was tied, but Flemington outscored the Mutuals over the last two frames for a 15-13 victory.

The New York Gothams were the opposition in the second contest and once again it was a close game.  However in the top of the ninth, the Neshanock broke the game open with a six run inning and prevailed 17-10.  Hoboken had defeated the Gothams in their first match so a tie between the two New Jersey clubs was possible, but the Mutuals defeated the New Jersey club and the Neshanock won the cup outright.

The Flemington victory marked the first time a New Jersey club had won the tournament so for at least one year the trophy from last year's Silver Ball tournament in Rochester will have company in the Neshanock trophy case.  After three weeks the Neshanock are off to a 4-1 start and travel to Maryland next Sunday to take on the Talbot Fairplays.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hitting the Road

Yesterday, the Flemington Neshanock (or at least seven of us) took the long car ride out to Smithtown, Long Island to take on the Brooklyn Atlantics and the New York Mutuals.  With only two other vintage teams in New Jersey (one in its first full season), it would be impossible to play anything resembling a full schedule without making trips out of state.  That's a difference between vintage base ball and the original clubs of the 1850's and 1860's who had more local options and could even choose not to leave the state at all.  In fact, although there's not much evidence that they did so, New Jersey clubs could even play New York clubs on the latter's home grounds (Elysian Fields) without leaving the state.

Newark Daily Advertiser - September 6, 1855
In addition to the reference to the Pioneer game, this article contains a rare Newark newspaper reference to a game played between two New York clubs

Thinking about this in anticipation of the trip to Smithtown, I started wondering which was the first New Jersey club to leave the state to play a match.  Perhaps not surprisingly, it appears the first team to do so was from Jersey City, the aptly named Pioneer Club.  Located on the banks of the Hudson, they had easier access to Brooklyn and Manhattan than Newark clubs which would have to first take the train to Jersey City or Hoboken.  So on Monday, September 3, 1855, the Pioneers took the ferry across the Hudson to Manhattan, got on some horse drawn cars to cross lower Manhattan where they took another ferry to Brooklyn.  From there it probably would have been more horse drawn transportation to the grounds of the Columbia Club at the intersection of Division Avenue and South 9th Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

Newark Daily Advertiser 1855 Ferry Boat Ad

All told the journey covered about six miles a far cry from Saturday's car ride out to Smithtown which took me close to two hours with no traffic.  In yesterday's first match, the Neshanock went up against the home standing Brooklyn Atlantics and scored twice in the top of the first to take a 2-0 lead.  However it was all Atlantics after that as they want on to an easy 26-5 victory.  Typically the leading vintage club in the east, if not the country, the Atlantics already look to be in mid season form.  

Mark "Peaches" Rubini

Speaking of mid season form, the Neshanock's second match of the day with the New York Mutuals was well played on both sides, eventually going into extra innings.  A key play was another laser like throw from Mark "Peaches" Rubini to cut down a Mutual's runner trying to score the go ahead run in the top of the ninth.  Although the Neshanock couldn't close it out in the bottom of the inning, they were more than prepared for a second opportunity in the bottom of the 10th.  Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw jumped on the first pitch he saw for a single and then turned the base running over to his legs in the person of Scot "Snuffy" Hengst.  "Snuffy" stole second and then advanced to third on a clutch single by Ken "Tumbles" Mandel.  "Jersey" Jim Nunn then ended the affair with a base hit well over the right fielder's head, sending the Neshanock party home happy.

Ken "Tumbles" Mandel

Although their 1855 trip was much shorter, the Pioneer Club had less success on the field losing to the Columbia Club by a 25-13 count.  In accordance with the custom of the times, the Brooklyn club then entertained their Jersey City visitors at a local hotel where "After the inner man had been taken care of, several toasts and congratulations were passed by the members of the clubs present."   The Pioneer Club then must have retraced their steps returning home to their Jersey City residences at a late hour.  Although their trip was much shorter than today's visit to Smithtown, it probably wasn't without challenges.  Just a few months before someone complained to the Evening Post about the New Jersey Railroad's "dirty, miserable, little depots on the New York side," not to mention searching in vain for "a retiring room or water-closet" at the depot or on the ferry itself.

While the Pioneers first venture outside New Jersey wasn't successful they weren't done yet.  After tying the series with a win over the Columbia Club in Jersey City, the deciding or conquering match was played in Brooklyn and this time the Jersey City boys emerged triumphant.  Winning away from home wasn't easy then and it isn't easy now, which is one reason why it is so satisfying.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Old Wine in New Wineskins

At some point in 1857, a group of Newark men decided to form a base ball club.  There was nothing unusual about this, after a pause the prior year, a number of new clubs were formed in New Jersey in 1857. There was, however, a major difference between the Antiquarian Knickerbocker Base Ball Club (AKBBC) of Newark and the rest.  The AKBBC was formed to play the "old style" of base ball, not the "new" New York game.  Of the over 100 New Jersey base ball clubs formed in the antebellum period, only the Knickerbockers and the Camden Club came together to play something other than the New York game.

Newark Daily Advertiser - November 6, 1857

I've written about the AKBBC before, primarily trying to understand the nature of the game they played.  Almost all of the information about this form of "old style" base ball, comes from newspaper articles of the late 1860's and early 1870's.  This time, however, I want to look at this club from the perspective of the late 1850's, using only what has been found in contemporary sources.

The first documented record is a November 6, 1857 article in the Newark Daily Advertiser which refers to them as the "Knickerbocker Antiquated Base Ball Club."  This brief account of a match where W. H. Whittemore's side defeated Joseph Trawin's side, 86-69, gives few other details, but Porters Spirit of the Times provided a box score listing the two teams of 11 apiece.  Apparently everyone enjoyed themselves so much they did it again two days later, with Trawin's side getting ample revenge, 61-22.  After that the only other documented AKBBC antebellum match is an August 27, 1858 single-married affair of two innings, nine on a side with Trawin's team winning again, 36-24.   I have yet to find any other newspaper references to the AKBBC until after the Civil War.

Newark Daily Advertiser - November 7, 1857 

A total of 28 different players took part in two of the three matches and I believe I have identified 17 of them.  Since they were playing an earlier form of base ball, it's no surprise they were an older group than their peers on the other Newark clubs.  Although two were two teenagers, there were also seven men over thirty and two in their forties, for an average age of just over thirty.  Given the more mature group, it's also not surprising that all of them were working, primarily at a trade or in a retail business, in some cases as the owner.

Newark Daily Mercury - August 28, 1858

An interesting fact is that over half of them worked at locations between 266-378 Broad Street.  Looking at an 1851-52 Newark directory, it appears street numbers on Broad Street were different then.  While today those addresses would be close to the North Ward, at the time they covered an area from Bank Street (next to Prudential's headquarters) to Green Street (next to City Hall).  Other Knickerbockers lived or worked in the same general area indicating they had plenty of opportunities to talk to one another.

This part of 1857 Newark was also not terribly far from the antebellum base ball grounds identified in the March 28th post.  In fact, at least one Knickerbocker lived on Orchard Street itself, not far from the "foot of Orchard Street," the location of one pre-Civil War base ball field.  It seems, highly likely the AKBBC members, either witnessed the New York game or heard of its growing popularity among young men in Newark.

John Brintzinghoffer of the AKBBC worked at this business at 374 Broad Street in Newark

In most other cases exposure to the "new" game led to emulation or imitation, but not this time.  As far as I can tell only four of the 17 identified Knickerbockers played for any of the antebellum Newark clubs so most of them played the "old style" game or not at all.  Prior to 1857 however, there is no evidence, they or anyone else in New Jersey did so as part of an organized club.  What then motivated these twenty-eight men, not all of them young, to put this "old wine" in "new wine skins?"

At the beginning of his book, Early Baseball and the Rise of the National League, Tom Melville speculates that the AKBBC "may have even been organized in protest of the Knickerbocker rules."  One thing seems certain, the club name was no accident - I'm not aware of any other New Jersey club from 1855 through at least 1870 with the same name.  It's equally speculative, but I don't think the AKBBC was formed in protest against the New York game.  It seems to me that if it was done in protest, the message would have been conveyed more directly.

New York Herald - January 23, 1857

It's interesting though that the AKBBC was formed (as far as we know) in 1857, the same year as the first attempt to bring clubs together to standardize the rules.  Opinions apparently vary as what extent the Knickerbocker Club of New York drove that process, but at the very least, their rules were the basis for the discussion.  Whatever the Newark group may have thought of the New York game perhaps they may have believed this kind of collective action was going to establish the "new" game as the norm to the point that games, liked the one they played would totally die out.  Perhaps talking about this along Broad Street as well as remembering fondly the game of their youth, motivated them to form a new club to play an old game.  Their goal may have simply been to enjoy themselves and all the evidence suggests they did just that.  In the process they may have also created the vintage base ball club.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Neshanock are back!

While historical accuracy is the Flemington Neshanock's highest priority, there have to be some compromises.  For example, match play in 19th century New Jersey typically didn't begin until about June and the grounds (fields) didn't look anything like today's closely groomed facilities.  But none of us want to wait that long to start playing and we want to bring the game to the people so the first 2013 Neshanock match took place this past Saturday at the home of the Somerset Patriots in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

Photo by Debbie Granieri

Unfortunately a family wedding, and more specifically grandfather duties, put me in Philadelphia instead of Bridgewater.  But Mark and Debbie Granieri kept me well supplied with photos and some of the details.As is usually the case at Bridgewater, the opposition was provided by the dreaded Elizabeth Resolutes, New Jersey's senior vintage base ball club.  It was reportedly a closely contended match that was knotted 10-10 after six innings.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Then in the top of the seventh in an outburst reminiscent of last year's Silver Ball Tournament in Rochester, the Neshanock had a big inning scoring seven times for a 17-10 margin as the game headed to the bottom of the inning.

Photo by Debbie Granieri

My understanding is that the Neshanock had some defensive lapses after that, but the margin was too much to overcome and Flemington prevailed 18-16, opening the season with a victory for the first time since I've been involved.  Of course, the day ended with very manly speeches and the exchange of handshakes as the two clubs parted, looking forward to a number of other encounters over the course of the season.  New Jersey vintage base ball will actually have three teams in the field as the Hoboken Nine which began in the middle of last season is embarking on their first full campaign.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Ebbets Field Centennial

If, when the weather cleared for the gala opening of his new ball park on April 5, 1913, Charles Ebbets thought his good fortune was well deserved, it would have been hard to argue with him.  Of the seven Dead Ball era owners who both acquired a new site and built a new ballpark, the Brooklyn owner had by far the most difficult time, for reasons within and beyond his control.  Just for starters, all of Ebbets' peers had successful ball clubs and/or money - Ebbets had neither.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle depicts the changes which will accompany the new ballpark

Site acquisition was fairly straightforward for most of the other six owners, involving no more than seven different parcels of land.  Ebbets, on the other hand, had to acquire 30 different parcels while keeping secret his ultimate purpose to prevent price gouging which would have crushed his already fragile finances.  Construction itself was equally challenging because Ebbets had a site which required eight feet of excavation on one side and eight feet of fill on the other.  Only Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss had comparable challenges with his site, but he got lucky with mild winter weather.  At Ebbets Field, construction was significantly slowed down by a cold snap so severe, tug boats were frozen in New York harbor.

Final preparations for the April 5, 1913 gala opening 

Unfortunately the things beyond Ebbets control were magnified by his own mistakes.  First was his decision to act as general contractor while still running a ball club - Ebbets himself later admitted this was a mistake.  Far worse was his failure to line up the project financing up front which ultimately led to the sale of a portion of the club to the McKeever brothers.  Although the shared ownership didn't cause any immediate problems, the dilution of ownership sowed the seeds for the brutal 1930's battles between the Ebbets and McKeever heirs.

Left to right, Ed McKeever, Jenny McKeever and Charles Ebbets

So, if some 15 months after the announcement of the new ballpark, Ebbets thought he deserved a break on the weather, no one could blame him.  Nor could anyone blame him for wondering if now that he had built it, anyone would come.  Any fears on that score were quickly dispelled as a large throng took every means possible to get to the Dodgers new home.  Subway and trolley lines were packed with people, while an observer watching the apparently never ending line of automobiles claimed "there aint that many machines made."

Genevieve Ebbets (Charles daughter) about to throw the ceremonial first pitch

And all of this was for a game that didn't count which wasn't without a certain amount of irony.  After some heavy lobbying by Tom Rice of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the National League decided to allow Brooklyn to open the season (and their new ballpark) a day early with a one game series against the Philadelphia Phillies. But perhaps because they had waited so long, the populace decided an April 5th exhibition game with the Yankees was the real opener and they backed that up with their money and their presence.  Reports on the number in the ballpark ranged from 24-30,000 while supposedly another 5-10,000 were left outside craving admission.  Some of the latter group went so far as to risk "breaking their necks to get a peek at the players from an distance to two city blocks."

Action shot from the April 5 exhibition game with the Yankees

Those fortunate enough to get in, were not disappointed.  Setting the example for future generations of Dodger fans, many let out "shouts of hearty approval" as they reached the top of the ramp and got their first view of the new park.  There was quick consensus that Ebbets Field was "a wonder and no mistake." While the game itself didn't matter, it didn't lack for drama.  After Brooklyn took a 2-0 lead on home runs (inside the park, of course) by Jake Daubert and Casey Stengel, the Yankees tied it up in the 9th largely due to a Dodger error.  However unlike many future Yankee - Dodger encounters at Ebbets Field, this time the good guys won when future Hall of Famer, Zach Wheat singled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

This pictures gives a sense of the spaciousness of Ebbets Field before the addition of seats in the outfield

Happiest of all, and deservedly so, was Charles Ebbets who as he thought of the estimated $20,000 in gate receipts, must have been reminded of the lean years at Washington Park.  But for Ebbets, it was never just about the money.  In a piece in the Brooklyn Daily Times, he proudly wrote that Ebbets Field was "built for Brooklynites, by Brooklynites: is essentially a Brooklyn institution."  Even with his vision for the ballpark which bore his name, Ebbets may not have realized how embedded Ebbets Field would become in the fabric of Brooklyn before being untimely ripped out 44 years later.  Today on the centennial of that opening, the focus should not be on that sad finale, but on the memorable moments enjoyed by so many, due in no small part to Charles Ebbets' vision and commitment.