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.

1 comment:

  1. Richard HershbergerMay 3, 2013 at 8:35 PM

    Sabbatarianism was a manifestation of WASP piety. Areas where Catholics or German immigrants dominated didn't have this fetish. Hence the Midwestern Sunday games. Even in the 1860s most New Orleans clubs (all but the most respectable, by New York lights) played on Sundays. (They also ran the season from Fall over the Winter, which seems entirely sensible to me for the locale.)

    If you are interested in the subject, "Sunday Baseball" by Charlie Bevis is the definitive book on the subject.