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.

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