Sunday, July 7, 2013

Base Ball Founders - Personal and Otherwise

Photo by Mark Granieri

Vintage base ball is all about re-creating history, playing the game using the rules and equipment (or lack thereof) of the times.  The historical connections tend to be different at each match and some times we end up re-creating things that weren't planned or on the agenda.  Saturday, for example, the Neshanock completed it's New Jersey tour with two matches against the Hoboken "Nine" at historic New Bridge Landing in River Edge.  It was a good event, well run and well attended, but there was a problem with the field which was much smaller than the space needed for the typical vintage match.  As the discussion went on about how to set up ground rules to make this work, it occurred to me that we might be re-creating or re-living the experience of early base ball players in New York City who had a hard time finding adequate space.  Perhaps it was after frequently having to modify the rules in order to play on a cramped space in lower Manhattan that the idea of taking the ferry to Elysian Fields in Hoboken became a whole lot more attractive.

Photo by Mark Granieri

To work things out on Saturday, the distance between the bases was reduced to 70 feet and center field was so limited by a swampy area that any ball hit into it on fly was an out, not ideal, but the same for both teams.  In spite of the limitations imposed by the space, the two clubs played two competitive seven inning matches under 1864 rules.  In the first game, the Neshanock got off to an early lead which grew to 10-3 heading to the last inning, but Hoboken was not done, scoring four times before Flemington closed the match out for a 10-7 win.  Noteworthy for Flemington was Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw who recorded a clear score, not only reaching base all three times without making an out, but also scoring each time.  Dave "Illinois" Harris contributed three hits while Bob "Melky" Ritter pitched a strong game.

Photo by Mark Granieri

After a brief break (primarily for "Casey at the Bat"), the second match got underway.  This time round the Neshanock couldn't generate much offense, scoring only twice and, therefore, failed to take advantage of a strong defensive effort which allowed only four Hoboken runs. Flemington did put the tying runs on base with two out in the last inning, but it was not to be and Hoboken prevailed 4-2.  The split put Flemington at 13-9 for the season heading into next week's match on Governor's Island in New York Harbor.  After that it's off to Gettysburg for a 16 team vintage base ball festival.  That Saturday will also mark New Jersey day at the battlefield as the New Jersey Civil War 150th Anniversary Committee honors the memories of the over 150 men from New Jersey who there "gave the last full measure of devotion."

Photo by Mark Granieri 

River Edge, the home of New Bridge Landing, is just north of Hackensack which was the hometown of the Zinn family even before there were New Jersey clubs playing the New York game.  In fact, it was on July 3, 1849 that John Zinn (1827-1897) arrived at Castle Garden (a predecessor of Ellis Island) in lower Manhattan.  No later than a year later, he was living in Hackensack, ultimately becoming a relatively prosperous grocer.  I'm confident he was never a member of a base ball club, but I would love to find proof that his son, John (1850-1920) played the game at some point.  At the very least, the next generation got our family involved in base ball as my grandfather, John G. Zinn (1892-1955, for whom I'm named) played a lot of base ball especially on the Bordens Milk Company team in the 1920's.

My grandfather, Jack (John) Zinn is the second player from the left in the second row.  That thing on his right hand is a new-fangled invention called a glove - it will never catch on.

It's interesting to think about family base ball pioneers at the same time Baseball Founders was published by McFarland and Company.  This anthology of essays about early base clubs is the second volume of what is known as the Pioneer Project, an effort to tell the stories of the players and clubs who first popularized the New York game.  I don't remember how I first learned of this project and that the organizers were looking for someone to write about early New Jersey base ball clubs, but it was probably through SABR's 19th century e-mail list.  Regardless of the source, I found my way to the web site of noted baseball historian Peter Morris which listed some of the possible topics.  With my usual level of naivete, I assumed there would be competition so I quickly signed up for clubs which interested me the most.  Not long after, I realized I was on my own and would, therefore, have the privilege of writing the entire New Jersey section.

Looking now at the clubs I chose, it's interesting that while there was no design, grand or otherwise, the clubs fit into some specific categories.  First are what can rightfully be described as true pioneer clubs; the Pioneer and Excelsior Clubs of Jersey City, the Liberty Club of New Brunswick and the Nassau Club of Princeton.  Although they lasted only one season, the two Jersey City clubs were part of the first group of 1855 New Jersey clubs while the Liberty Club introduced the game to central Jersey and was the first New Jersey Club to join the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1857.  As I wrote in the last post, the Nassau Club was the state's first college club and one of the earliest in the nation.  Three other clubs covered in the book, the Eureka of Newark, the Irvington Club and the Champion Club of Jersey City all began, more or less, as junior clubs before going on to compete at the highest levels in the state or in the case of the Eureka and Irvington Clubs, in the nation.  Finally there is the Olympic Club of Paterson which foreshadowed the state's role as a developer of base ball talent by sending four players on to the major leagues.

Looking back at these essays, I realized how little I knew about 19th century base ball in general and New Jersey base ball in particular.  While I was certainly aware the game dated back to the 19th century, I was one of those who thought real base ball history began with the founding of the American League in 1901.  I will always be grateful to Peter Morris and everyone involved in the Pioneer Project for the opportunity to write the New Jersey section and opening these aging eyes to the fascinating world of 19th century base ball.  I've since realized there is a lot more to the story of New Jersey base ball in the 19th century, stories that deserve to be researched, studied and told.  How the game took hold and spread throughout the state, the elusive, but fascinating story of black base ball in New Jersey and the development of the college game in the state are just a few examples of the topics that need more in depth treatment.  Some of that has been accomplished through this blog, but I'm also thinking about the next step.  Stay tuned!

No comments:

Post a Comment