Sunday, June 23, 2013

Caught in the Nick of Time

Saturday, the Flemington Neshanock continued their New Jersey tour with a match at the Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville.  I was planning on writing about antebellum base ball in this Delaware River community as I had found an 1858 New York Clipper reference to the Olympic Club of Lambertville or at least I thought I had.  Checking my source before publishing (which can never be done too often) I realized I had made a mistake.  The aforementioned team was from Lawrenceville another community not too far from Trenton.

Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw tells the crowd how it was in the 19th century

The article actually says there were two clubs started in Lawrenceville that year which is interesting as there are no obvious reasons for base ball activity there prior to the Civil War other than its proximity to Trenton which had a club as early as 1856.  One possibility is a connection with the Lawrenceville School much like how preparatory schools in Bloomfield Township helped get the game started in that Newark suburb.  It's a subject (how many times have I written this) that I need to look into in more detail.

With that correction, there is no evidence of base ball clubs in Lambertville prior to the Civil War.  Interestingly there was significant amount of cricket activity there with a local club traveling up and down the Delaware to play both Pennsylvania and New Jersey clubs.  So with the historical side of this post coming up empty, I'll just share a number of Mark "Gaslight" Granieri's pictures and a brief description of the match and hopefully do better on the history side with the next post.

Joe "Irish" Colduvell about to get one part of his clear score

Saturday's match was with the Gotham Base Ball Club of New York who recreate one of the earliest clubs to play the New York game.  Unfortunately, just happened in the game's early days, other commitments left the Gothams short handed and only able to field a team of seven.  A number of "muffins" from the crowd along with Ken "Tumbles" Mandel of the Neshanock gracefully and manfully filled out the Gotham's line up, but a nine run first inning put the Neshanock on the way to a commanding victory.  Of special note was a clear score by Joe "Irish" Colduvell who batted five times without making an out.  The win improved the Neshanock's overall record to 12-7 going into next Sunday's matches with the Delaware Diamond State Base Ball Club in Princeton. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Hoboken - Base Ball's Incubator

On Saturday the Neshanock made their annual visit to Hoboken, New Jersey which always takes place on a Saturday close to June 19th, the anniversary of the match between the Knickerbocker Club and the New York Club played at Elysian Fields in Hoboken..  The 2013 anniversary match was played at Stevens Institutes's base ball field (unfortunately artificial turf) and this year was against the Hoboken "9," New Jersey's newest vintage base ball team.  Arriving quite early I walked about three blocks from Stevens to the intersection of 11th and Washington Street where the below plaque marks the location of the 1846 contest.

Monument to the June 19, 1846 Knickerbocker-New York Club Match 

While the marker doesn't claim that base ball was invented in Hoboken, it does say it was the site of the first match game which isn't historically accurate.  Three match games, that is matches between different teams, were played in October of 1845, one of which (10/21/1845) was played at Elysian Fields so that the June 1846 game was not even the first match played in New Jersey.  After looking at the marker, I walked about two blocks east to the Hudson River to get some sense of how far early New York base ball players had to walk from the ferry - clearly not very far.  While there wasn't anything base ball related to see, it was good to get a better sense of the location of the base ball grounds at Elysian Fields.  Walking back a different way, I saw the location of Sybil's Cave, another important feature of Steven's pastoral site.  Hoboken clearly wasn't  base ball's birthplace, but given how Elysian Field's location facilitated the play of New York's clubs and made the game accessible to young men from New Jersey, it might be fair to call Hoboken, base ball's incubator.

Photo by Mark Granieri

A base ball visit to Hoboken was timely as looking at a New York City Directory of antebellum ferry service between New York and Hoboken rekindled the question of how the New York game came to New Jersey.  It seems logical that young men in Newark and Jersey City decided to form base ball clubs in 1855 because they had somehow been exposed to the New York clubs playing at Elysian Fields in Hoboken.  Examination, thus far, of contemporary newspapers make it unlikely they learned about the "new" game by reading about it, leaving either eyewitness experience  and/or speaking with some who had actually seen base ball being played.

Since Jersey City borders on Hoboken, it's easy to see how there would have been enough interaction between the two communities for some eyewitness experiences to take place.  Newark, however, is somewhat more distant.  Yet, Newark had more base ball activity than Jersey City in 1855 and didn't suffer as severe a drop off as Jersey City did in 1856.  How frequently then did Newarkers regularly pass through or visit Hoboken?  The ferry listings mentioned earlier were interesting as there were three ferries between New York City and Hoboken, but only one between Manhattan and Jersey City.

Photo by Mark Granieri

A look at From Indian Trails to Iron Horse: Travel and Transportation in New Jersey, 1620-1860 by Wheaton J. Lane confirmed that the only antebellum railroad connection between Newark and Manhattan was the New Jersey Railroad line which terminated at the Jersey City ferry without visiting Hoboken.  While the Stevens family had been interested in a rail connection to their Hoboken ferries, it wasn't until about 1860 that "the business section of New York had extended uptown to Canal Street," a Hoboken ferry stop so that this became a major issue.  It took until 1862 for an extension of the Morris and Essex line to create a direct rail link between Newark and the Hoboken.

Gopsill's Guide toJersey City, Hudson City and Hoboken 1861-62 

Based on this information, however young men from Newark visited Hoboken and Elysian Fields, it wasn't while commuting to New York City.  The next "stop" was Gopsill's 1861-62 Guide to Jersey City, Hudson City and Hoboken (the earliest year, I could access quickly).  Interestingly I didn't find anything about ferry services, but a quite a bit about stage lines.  Of special interest was the Jersey City and Hoboken stage line which offered transportation between the Jersey City and Hoboken ferries every 20 minutes for 6 cents a ride.  Clearly service this frequent was offered only because there was a demand for it.  I'm not sure as to where Elysian Fields was in relationship to the Hoboken Ferry mentioned above, but at least one Hoboken stage line offered service to Elysian Fields for 5 cents.

Gopsill's Guide to Jersey City, Hudson City and Hoboken, 1861-62

Thinking about this made me realize that I may have been overestimating the amount of exposure needed to get base ball started in Newark.  There are accounts from other parts of the country of how a base ball player relocating from the East got the game started in his new community, not to mention how Lewis Mudge and two pals from Brooklyn helped popularize the game at Princeton University.  All it would have taken in this case was for a handful or less of Newarkers traveling to Hoboken for whatever reason including a non-base ball, pleasure outing to Elysian Fields.  It's probably reasonable to believe that the person or persons had some connection to the Newark Club or even the Oriental/Olympic Clubs, the two first two Newark teams to take the field.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

The past two years the opposition in the Hoboken match was provided by a local team formed to play just that one day.  After last year's match there was apparently enough interest to form the Hoboken "9" which promised to provide more formidable opposition.  This was indeed the case as Hoboken club rallied from an early 4-1 deficit to take a 6-4 lead going into the bottom of the sixth.  After being shut out for four straight innings, the Flemington's bats awoke big time, scoring eight times for a 12-6 advantage.

Although Hoboken twice closed the gap to three runs, the Neshanock added a few insurance runs for a 14-10 win.  There were no clear scores on the Neshanock side although "Jersey" Jim Nunn and Chris "Low Ball" Lowry came close with three hits and only one out apiece.  Missing both regular pitchers, Flemington took a "committee" approach with "Low Ball," Ken "Tumbles" Mandel and Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner each taking a turn.  Although he didn't get any hits Mark "Gaslight" Granieri "gunned" down a runner trying to steal third, marking the second time in two years, the Neshanock catcher has thrown out a Hoboken runner.  The win put the Neshanock at 11-7 with matches on Saturday, June 22nd at the Howell Living History farm near Lambertville, another place base ball was played before 1860.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Rain Outs and Omnibuses

While there may be many base ball firsts that are hard to date with a high degree of certainty, rained out matches isn't one of them - obviously rain outs began when base ball began.  Interestingly our knowledge of what appears to be the first match between African-American clubs on October 23, 1855 may be documented only because it was rained out after two innings and a friendly party at the quasi-abolitionist Newark Daily Mercury decided to let interested parties know when the match was going to be made up.  No record of the make up match taking place as been found.

Newark Daily Mercury - October 24, 1855

In the course of  a vintage base ball season running from the beginning of April to the end of October, it stands to reason there are going to be some rain outs.  Last year was unusual for the Neshanock as there was only one rain out all season.  Ironically it was the championship game of the National Silver Ball tournament in Rochester after Flemington had already played two games earlier in the day.  Now just a little over two months into the 2013 season, there have been two washouts, the second coming yesterday with the cancellation of a match with the Elkton Eclipse scheduled for Woodbridge, New Jersey.

Trow's New York City Directory for the Year Ending May 1, 1857

In an earlier post (, I wrote about the first New Jersey club to play a match outside of the state, when the aptly named Pioneer Club of Jersey City journeyed to the Williamsburgh section of Brooklyn to take on the Columbia Club.  At the time I speculated that the Jersey City men took the ferry to New York City and then took some type of horse drawn transportation to the Columbia Club's home grounds.  Friday, I was interested to find a very specific possibility for their means of crossing lower Manhattan island.

At the request of Larry McCray of SABR's 19th century base ball committee, George Thompson looked into the ferry service between Brooklyn and Jersey City and found some information in an 1854-55 New York City directory.  Reading the information led me to take a look at other NYC directories available at (I'm just starting to realize the extent of the resources available through this subscription service) and found an 1856-57 New York directory.  In addition to seeing the ferry schedules, I also noticed the listing of omnibus lines and found that a line operated by Charles Curtiss & Company operated 40 stages providing a direct link between the Jersey City and Williamsburgh ferries.  It seems only reasonable to believe that both clubs availed themselves of this service to play their home and home matches and that knowledge of its existence facilitated their willingness to play each other.

19th Century Omnibuses

I also noticed there were three ferry lines from New York City to Hoboken, but only one to Jersey City.  That's interesting to me because of what it might say about antebellum commuting routes between New Jersey (especially Newark) and Manhattan.  I'll speculate about that next week after the Neshanock pay their annual visit to Hoboken (wind and weather permitting) for a match with the Hoboken Nine in honor of the June 19, 1846, Knickerbocker-New York Club match.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Memorable Matches Then and Now

The Flemington Neshanock began their five week New Jersey tour on Saturday with a visit to the Katzenbach campus of the New Jersey School of the Deaf near Trenton for the school's alumni day.  Neshanock Joey "Midnight" Gallo is a proud graduate of the school and welcomed everyone to campus.  The New York Mutuals graciously made the long trip from Long Island to provide the opposition.

Joey "Midnight" Gallo winning the bat toss - photo by Mark Granieri

I'm now in my fourth season as scorekeeper for the Neshanock after filling a similar role for the Newark Eureka in that club's brief two year existence.  By now I've probably seen close to 200 vintage games, enough to be able to develop a list of memorable matches, both good and bad.  The plus category includes a walk-off win over the Elizabeth Resolutes in Chester, New Jersey and two victories over the Cleveland Blues, a 2011 triumph in Cooperstown and a solid win 2012 win in the National Silver Ball Tournament in Rochester, New York.

Categorizing matches was on my mind this week with the publication of Inventing Base Ball: The 100 Greatest Games of the Nineteenth Century.  Picking a list of memorable vintage matches was child's play compared to the task of selecting 100 games from over 50 years of base ball played all over the United States.  Editor Bill Felber and his "all-star" team from SABR's 19th Century Committee are to be commended for their work.  I was fortunate enough to write essays about the 1858 Fashion Course games, the National League's inaugural 1876 match, the first lost no-hitter (1890) and the Knickerbocker's second match game in 1851.

The Fashion Course games

Each topic had some interesting features.  The Fashion Course games were a best of three series between select nines from Brooklyn and New York.  The Fashion Course label comes from the site of the games, the Fashion Course racetrack, not far from today's Citi Field.  Playing the matches at the enclosed track facilitated the charging of an admission fee.   Understanding Boston's 6-5, April 22, 1876 win over Philadelphia in the National League's first game required drawing on my experiences in recreating 19th century score keeping.  The dubious distinction of being the first pitcher to hold the opposition without a hit and lose belongs to Charles "Silver" King of the Chicago Pirates in an June 21, 1890 Player's League game between Chicago and Brooklyn.  A key play in the unique combination was when Chicago right fielder, Hugh Duffy, threw out a batter at first on what would have ordinarily been a clean single, as the game's sole run scored.

Silver King

While my account of the June 3, 1851 Knickerbocker-Washington Club match appears early in the book, it was my final assignment as the project drew to a close.  The lack of volunteers for the game so late in the process should have told me there was something out of the ordinary about the game, as indeed there was.  No newspaper accounts of the match survive, in fact, the only documented information that does survive is the line-by-line score.  That at least enabled me to describe how the game played out, but still left me a long way from the 1000 word goal.  Fortunately John Thorn and Randall Brown came to the rescue with a number of helpful suggestions and I was able to place in context a game which marks the beginning of regular match play something that continues to this day, even including Saturday's Neshanock-Mutual match up.

Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner

After the dedication of the new field at the school, the first game got underway using 1864 rules.  Down 1-0 in the bottom of the second, Flemington scored twice and went on to an 8-5 win.  With Charlie Harris Hoepfner "cheering" his dad on, Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner had a clear score to spark the Neshanock's attack. Although Charlie then went home for a nap, he so inspired "Thumbs" that he added a second clear score in the second game played under 1873 rules.  Also helping to drive the Neshanock offense was Dan "Sledge" Hammer who followed a strong pitching performance in the first game with a clear score of his own in the second contest.  Leading 17-6 going into the last inning (a 7 inning game by prior agreement), the Mutuals last at bat was frighteningly similar to one of the Neshanock's worst memories, blowing a six run, ninth inning lead, a year ago.  Although the Long Island club did score six times and loaded the bases, mercifully the game ended with a 17-12 Neshanock win.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Alumnus Joey "Midnight" Gallo had a solid day with two hits in each match, proving that you can go home again even though he continues to be hampered by a sore heel.  Not as fortunate was Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw, who although he didn't play was fined 15 cents for over using the term "unmanly."  Responding in his own usual "manly" way, "Brooklyn" promptly paid the penalty ending a successful day for the 10-7 Neshanock and the School for the Deaf."

Photo by Mark Granieri