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.

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