Monday, August 26, 2013

Brief Break

A Manly Pastime will be taking a brief respite of about two weeks.  We'll be back with the results of the Neshanock's visit to Belvidere on September 7th.  I'm not sure of the exact timing, but I'm planning on writing about the development of base ball in Sussex County from 1855 to 1870, basically the full pioneer period.  Among other things it's an experiment on how to do a similar evaluation for the rest of the state.

Thanks for reading - have a good Labor Day weekend.

More Controversy at the Fair

August's final Neshanock match was a trip south to Wilmington, Delaware to pay a return visit to the Diamond State Base Ball Club.  The Delaware club came to Princeton in June where the second match was suspended because of rain in the fourth inning.  So the first order of business was to finish that match with the Neshanock leading 10-9 with one on and no one out in the Diamond State fourth.  Played in Rockford Park, the local team scored three more times in the bottom of the fourth to take a 12-10 lead going to the top of the fifth.  Unfortunately the Neshanock failed to score in their at bat and then suffered through a seven error inning (including walks) which saw Diamond State tally 11 runs and take an insurmountable 23-10 lead, going on to a 25-15 win.

Photo not by Mark Granieri 

After the first match, Diamond State very graciously provided lunch to the Neshanock and their party before the two clubs made the short trip to the Hagley Museum for an 1864 match.  With the bound rule in effect, it was understandably a much lower scoring game, but unfortunately for Flemington more defensive lapses and a lack of offense resulted in a 9-6 Diamond State win which wasn't a close as the score suggests.  Of note on the Neshanock side was a clear score by Dan "Sledge" Hammer who also pitched three scoreless innings aided by an improved defensive effort.  Although the Neshanock didn't play well, nothing should be taken away from the Diamond State Club which played very well in both matches.

Photo not by Mark Granieri

The two losses left Flemington at 20-17 for the season after five months of play.  September's schedule is a little lighter, but the Neshanock will make three New Jersey appearances; Saturday, September 7th in Belvidere, Sunday, September 22nd in Denville and Saturday, September 28th in Monroe.  After that the Neshanock have only one more scheduled New Jersey match so September is a good opportunity to take in the experience of a 19th century base ball match - more details are available at

Photo not by Mark Granieri

Both of yesterday's matches were intensely played, but with no controversy or ill feeling.  As I wrote last week there was plenty of controversy and ill feeling at the 1866 Sussex County base ball tournament  between the Irvington and Active Clubs.  However, that wasn't the only negativity associated with the event.  Another controversy erupted before the team in question even took the field.  Starting at the end of August, strong opinions were voiced in the local and even national newspapers about the Randolph Base Ball Club of Dover in Morris County, beginning with a long article in the New Jersey Herald and Democrat.

Photo not by Mark Granieri

In the weekly papers' August 30th edition, an unnamed writer devoted about 900 words of a four page paper to criticize the Raandolph Club which had just visited Sussex County as part of a three county tour.  Apparently writing against the wishes of the Star Club of Newton, the author lambasted the Dover team and its president for a roster which included four players who were members of other clubs, a violation of National Association resolutions.  Playing with a loaded lineup, the Randolphs had defeated the Star Club by a 61-16 count, a beating comparable to what it was handing other clubs.

New Jersey Herald and Democrat -August 30, 1866
A part of the paper's charges against the Randolph Club

Labeling this behavior, "moral fraud," the paper warned the Dover team that their "volunteers or hired substitutes" from other clubs would not be allowed to compete at the upcoming tournament.  While the Herald named only positions, not names, the Jerseyman of Morristown quickly filled the gap by repeating much of the Herald article accompanied by a  box score of the Randolph's 62-46 win over the National Club of Morristown.  Another observer of some of the Dover team's matches took time to write a letter of complaint to the editor of Wilke's Spirit of the Times which appeared the paper's September 15th issue.

Wilkes' Spirit of the Times - September 15, 1866

Not surprisingly the Randolphs weren't going to accept the allegations without a response and a letter from the club appeared in the Herald on September 13th.  Also using positions, not names, the club's spokesperson denied the claims that their pitcher, center fielder and left fielder were members of other clubs.  Nothing, however, was said in defense of their first baseman, Condit, who the Herald claimed was a member of the Nassau Club of Princeton.  In closing, the writer, also unnamed, promised the Randolphs would compete in the upcoming tournament with a lineup "governed strictly by the rules of the National Association of Base Ball Players."  In the end the Dover team, not only competed, but won the silver ball, again routing the Star Club, 56-27, after defeating the Passaic Club of Chatham by a more modest, 37-22 count.

Photo not by Mark Granieri 

However, two of the positions allegedly occupied by "illegal players" were taken by different players in at least one of the games in Newton.  While some other explanation is, of course, possible, the line up change suggests that at the very least, the Randolph Club was concerned about possible eligibility issues.  The possibility that something wasn't entirely on the up and up is also supported by the one player who can definitely be identified, the club's first base man, Condit, who is clearly Edward A. Condit, Princeton Class of 1866 and first base man on the school's Nassau Base Ball Club.

New Jersey Herald and Democrat - September 13, 1866

I wrote about Condit in my essay about the Nassau Club in Baseball Founders as the one member of the team who had a less than respectable post base ball career.  After college, Condit embarked on at least a 20 year career of white collar crime including sending a bogus telegram announcing the death of Cornelius Vanderbilt in hopes of creating a stock market crisis.  Further arrests for fraud were followed by an 1884 forgery charge.  Condit was apparently not without friends, however, as visitors smuggled into the jail a saw and other tools which the former ball player used in a failed jail break.  At this trial Condit was re-united with a Princeton classmate, the judge who presided at the proceedings.  Conflict of interest standards were apparently much looser in those days, but it did Condit little good as he was sentenced to four years of hard labor.

New York Herald  - December 20, 1876
Just one of Edward Condit's brushes with the law

Convicting the Randolph Club of nefarious behavior based on Condit's future exploits is, of course, guilt by association and proves nothing.  But the whole thing is fairly suspicious and raises the question of what the Randolph Club was up to.  Other than the allusion to their possibly being paid, the Herald prudently limited any analysis of their motivation to lopsided wins that "enure to the benefit, glory, or what they choose."  Both, however, the Herald writer and the anonymous letter writer refer to the club's president as a "sporting man," (read gambler), suggesting that betting on run differential or some thing similar was part of what was going on.  We'll never know, but one thing is clear, if Henry Chadwick learned about this while he was in Newton, he would have found it even more appalling than the Irvington Club's refusal to take part in the post game ceremonies.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

New Jersey Base Ball Tournaments - 19th Century Style

Photo by Mark Granieri

At some point when New Jersey base ball clubs began playing the New York game, there came a time when a club was coming off a long trip late in the season and had a match where, in modern terminology, they just had to "grind it out."  Yesterday the Flemington Neshanock, just back from the long trip to Genesee Country Village near Rochester, New York, recreated that experience this past Saturday when they took on the Hoboken Nine in Long Valley, New Jersey.  It was the Neshanock's only August appearance in New Jersey as the two clubs helped celebrate the 275th anniversary of the Morris County community.

Photo by Mark Granieri

After setting Hoboken down without a tally in the top of the first, the Neshanock scored four times in the bottom of the inning and led 6-2 after two, but Hoboken rallied for four tallies in the top of the third to tie the match.  Flemington went ahead 8-6 in the bottom of the inning and actually led 10-6 after five, but Hoboken kept coming back, scoring six times in the top of the sixth for their first lead at 12-10.  Fortunately the Neshanock kept grinding away, scoring four times in the bottom of the sixth and added three more tallies in the bottom of the seventh.  Meanwhile the pitching of Bob "Melky" Ritter and some strong Neshanock defense combined to shut Hoboken out over the last four innings for a 17-12 Flemington win.

Photo by Deborah Granieri

Although no Neshanock recorded a clear score, Mark "Peaches" Rubini and Danny Shaw couldn't have come any closer recording four hits apiece while only being retired one time.  Mark "Gaslight" Granieri was strong both at and behind the plate, with five hits in five times up in addition to "gunning" down a Hoboken player in an attempted steal for the second time this season.  Those three were at the top of the Flemington lineup, but there was also an important contribution from the bottom as Jack "Doc" Kitson and Scott "Snuffy" Hengst chipped in five hits between them.  The win puts the Neshanock five games over .500 at 20-15 heading into next Sunday's trip to Wilmington, Delaware to take on the Diamond State Club.   The two clubs will finish the game suspended by rain back in June and play a second full game.

Photo by George Granieri

Although the tournament part of the 2013 schedule is pretty much over, thinking about the different events led me to take a look at the history of  such tournaments in New Jersey.  Tournaments or festivals don't appear to have been a major part of early base ball in New Jersey.  Mention appeared in a number of newspapers of a state tournament as part of the 1860 New Jersey State Fair, but nothing came of it.  The war years then probably limited such possibilities so it wasn't until 1866 that the first base ball tournament took place in New Jersey.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Somewhat surprisingly the venue was not in the base ball hot beds of Newark and Jersey City, but at the small village of Newton in rural Sussex County in the northwest portion of the state as part of the County Agricultural Show.  No evidence has been found of antebellum base ball in Newton or anywhere else in Sussex County, but by 1866 the village was home to the Star Club with two other teams in the process of being organized.  Increased interest in base ball notwithstanding, both travel and accommodations had to be a challenge for clubs interested in participating.  By 1866 there was a direct rail link to Newton from Newark and New York City, but there were only three trains a day with multiple stops along the way.  We can get some sense of the limited hotel accommodations in Newton from the fact that when gubernatorial candidates Marcus Ward and Joel Parker visited Newton during the 1862 election, the hotel manager put them not only in the same room, but also in the same bed, giving new meaning to the phrase "politics makes strange bedfellows" (males sleeping in the same bed was commonplace in the mid 19th century).

New Jersey Herald and Democrat - August 16, 1866

In spite of these obstacles, the organizers offered four different levels of competition;  U. S. teams, New Jersey teams, clubs from Warren, Sussex and Morris County and, finally, Sussex County only.  Competitors in the first two categories had to be members of the National Association. Since the event would run simultaneously with the agricultural show, the sponsors took special care to promise that "There will be no interference from the horses that will be on exhibition."  Even with that assurance, there were a limited number of entrants including just two in the U. S. category, the Active Club of New York and the upstart Irvington Club which had shocked the base ball world by defeating the Brooklyn Atlantics earlier that year.  The match received detailed coverage in the New York Clipper of October 13, 1866 and based on a number of editorial comments in the article appears to have been covered by Henry Chadwick himself which will be the assumption for the rest of the post.

Letter from the Eureka Base Ball Club to the Newark Evening Courier of October 1, 1866, defending/justifying their decision not to participate in the tournament.  Contrary to the writer's claim, the Liberty Base Ball Club of New Brunswick was the first New Jersey club to join the NABBP

Since the match brought together two clubs which shared, perhaps unknowingly, the services of one player, Mahlon Stockman, the stage was set for a contentious match, which certainly proved to be the case.  Both teams apparently tried to stretch the rules as Chadwick complained that batters who "were in the habit of striking at balls waist high" were calling for "low balls about a foot over the base."  Umpires, Chadwick wrote should put a stop to this as "no batsman can insist upon a low ball unless he is in the regular habit of striking at low balls."

New Jersey Herald and Democrat - October 2, 1866
Contrary to the article, the Camden Club did not participate

Chadwick also tried to be understanding about the challenges facing the umpire in this match (a member of the Hudson River Club, the name is illegible in the article) as the arbiter had to settle many disputes between "two nines who did not manifest the best of feeling to each other."  It was a close match which the Active led 12-10 after eight before exploding for seven runs in the ninth and a 19-10 win.  Unfortunately the contention  carried over to the post game ceremonies.  After the winners gave three cheers for the Irvington Club, the losers in an unmanly display of sportsmanship, "walked off the field like a party of beaten schoolboys."  Pontificating at the highest level, Chadwick "trusted" this would not be repeated as the post game cheers were "calculated to rub off the asperities occasioned by a close match."  In this case, the "asperities" lingered as the Irvington Club filed a protest with the National Association over Stockman's participation which was turned down on a technicality because the Active Club was not given a copy of the protest.

New Jersey Herald and Democrat - October 11, 1866

While Chadwick may have been rightfully upset with the lack of manly behavior, the Sussex Register felt the event was a huge success.  Even though "thousands" had reportedly attended the games and other activities, the paper proudly noted that "Hardly an intoxicated man was to be seen."

Monday, August 12, 2013

Historical Accuracy and Modern Value Judgments

Sports fans (cranks in 19th century base ball parlance) had no shortage of choices this past weekend in Rochester.  Those who enjoy watching competition at what Winston Churchill once described as trying to hit into a small hole, an even smaller ball with tools totally inadequate for the purpose, had the opportunity to witness one of golf's four major tournaments, the PGA.  At the same time (and apparently at almost the same location), those devoted to a sport focused on agitating an inflated pig bladder could attend the Buffalo Bills' pre-season training camp.  Although the numbers were far smaller, those with "finer" tastes went about 20 miles south of Rochester to participate in the National Silver Ball Tournament at Genesee Country Village in Mumford, New York.

Photo by Mark Granieri

One of two national vintage base ball tournaments, the Genesee event features local clubs and visiting teams not just from the United States, but also from nearby Canada.  This year, apparently due to scheduling conflicts, there were only three outside clubs; the Talbot Fair Plays from Maryland, the Woodstock Actives of Ontario, Canada and, of course, the Flemington Neshanock.

Over the course of three days, all teams play four matches with the two clubs with the best records advancing to the championship match on Sunday afternoon.  In past years with larger fields, each team played two local clubs and two of the visiting teams.  With the smaller eight team field and five local clubs, the Neshanock played four local teams beginning with the Victory Base Ball Club of Rochester.  Whether it was the early 9:00 start or the effects of the prior day's long car ride, Flemington fell victim to an eight run second inning by the Victory club which proved too big a hole to dig out of.  Down 12-3 after only three innings, the Neshanock allowed only two runs over the last six innings while scoring six tallies of their own.  However the two extra runs were more than enough of a cushion for a strong Victory team which prevailed 14-9.  A positive note for the Neshanock was a clear score by Danny Shaw, just back from a triumphant tour of the continent.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Although the morning contest was followed by a four hour gap between games, the Neshanock were more than ready for a 3:00 contest with the much improved Rochester Club.  After the local team scored three tallies in the top of the first, Flemington scored eight times in their first three at bats while holding Rochester scoreless for the next four innings.  Rochester rallied in the sixth and seventh frames, but the Neshanock added enough insurance runs for a 13-11 victory.  The offensive effort was led by Mark "Peaches" Rubini who had six hits in six times up and a three hit contribution from Joe "Irish" Colduvell who showed remarkable "speed" on a third inning double.  The victory was not without cost, however, as Dave "Illinois" Harris was forced to withdraw after suffering a knee injury in a collision at first base.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Having found the offensive range, the Neshanock kept striking in the day's final match against the Live Oak Club of Rochester, tallying eight times in the second inning en route to a 26-3 victory.  "Peaches" continued his heavy hitting with another six hits which was actually topped by Dan "Sledge" Hammer who came up with a seven hit performance.  The local club sported very distinctive new uniforms recreating the original club's outfits from the late 1850's.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Saturday's play left the Neshanock at 2-1 tied with the Victory and Rochester Clubs behind the Talbot Fair Plays at 3-0.  By the time of Sunday's 11:00 match against the Flower City Club of Rochester, Talbot had won again to clinch a spot in the championship match.  With Rochester playing the Victory Club, Flemington had to take care of business against Flower City while hoping for a loss by the Victory Club.  Unfortunately the Neshanock saved the worst for last falling 17-7 to the local team.  While the Neshanock offense was limited, it was primarily a defensive collapse that doomed Flemington.  Incredibly the Neshanock led 7-6 heading to the top of the seventh in spite of making 12 errors over six innings (including walks which Henry Chadwick considered an error on the pitcher.), but Flower City took the lead in the seventh and put the match out of reach with a six run eighth.

Photo by Mark Granieri

In the end it didn't really matter as the Victory Club defeated the Rochesters to earn a spot in the championship and another defeat at the the hands of the Talbot Club.  While that contest was going on the Neshanock party began the long ride back to New Jersey with two wins and two defeats for an overall record of 19-15 heading into next Saturday's match with the Hoboken "Nine" in Long Valley, Flemington's only New Jersey appearance until September.

Live Oak's distinctive new uniforms

Photo by Mark Granieri

Unfortunately, in my view, the Victory and Flower City matches were marred with more controversy over Flemington's use of the trapped ball play.  Unlike the past incidents, this time I heard the comments which focused on the trap play somehow being "bush," a modern value judgement, referring to something done only at the lowest level of competition.  Like complaints about the legality of the play, the claim is simply not accurate as there is clear evidence the play was not only used in the 1860's and beyond, but was also praised by contemporary observers (see the last post - "Tournaments and Trick Plays.")

Photo by Mark Granieri  

In addition to being incorrect, the value judgement is also irrelevant since there were no "bush" leagues in 1866 (the year of play used in the tournament), that is, no higher standard of play somehow above the practices of lower level clubs.  The repeated use of a modern term to criticize a recreation of the past hints, I think, at part of the problem.  By playing vintage base ball, we are trying to recreate the game the way it was played, not how we, with our modern frame of reference, think it should have been played.  In choosing to do so, we implicitly agree to play by all of the old rules,  including those which led to unfair advantages and were ultimately changed.  If nothing else, this helps illustrate how and why base ball rules evolved.  There is little point in recreating 19th century base ball, if we aren't willing to present it "warts and all."

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Tournaments and Trick Plays

After spending five weeks on their New Jersey tour, the Neshanock are now in the midst of the tournament/festival portion of their schedule.  Two weeks ago was the Gettysburg Vintage Base Ball Festival, while yesterday was the Old Bethpage Base Ball Festival at Old BethpageVillage on Long Island, the birthplace of vintage base ball.  Ably hosted by the New York Mutuals, the event featured 12 teams playing over two days.  While I've never been involved in organizing a tournament or festival, I'm guessing festivals are the preferred format since pre-set schedules are more manageable than everything involved in some form of elimination tournament.

Photo by Mark Granieri

In the first of their two matches on Saturday, the Neshanock took on the Red Onion Club of Connecticut in a game played under 1873 rules.  After the Red Onion tallied twice in the top of the first, the Neshanock sent 13 men to the plate in the bottom of the inning,  tallying 10 times before the side was out.  Big leads are harder to hold in the 1873 game and the Connecticut club rallied several times, but Flemington kept adding runs and prevailed 25-19.  As might be expected given the score, a number of players on the Neshancok side had good days at bat.  Of special note was Jack "Doc" Kitson who had five hits in six times up, missing a clear score by one at bat on a well struck ball caught by the left fielder.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The second contest of the day was against intra-state rival the Hoboken "Nine," this time played under 1864 rules.  Back on July 5th, the Neshanock dropped the second game of a doubleheader to Hoboken in a low scoring contest where Flemington managed only two tallies.  When both sides went out without scoring in the first inning, it looked like it would be another low scoring match, but the Neshanock put up three tallies in the second and added five more in the third for an 8-0 lead.  Although Flemington only added three more runs over the course of the match, it was more than enough as the Neshanock completed a successful day with an 11-4 win, bringing the club's overall record to 17-13 heading into the National Silver Ball Tournament in Rochester next weekend.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Of special note in the second match was a play on the defensive side.   In the top of the fifth, the opposition had runners on first and second with one out when the striker hit a fly ball to Neshanock left fielder, Dan "Sledge" Hammer.  It was a routine fly ball and Sledge could easily have caught it on the fly or one bounce for the second out.  However, seeing the runners staying close to the bases, Sledge shrewdly let the ball bounce off his hands and hit the ground twice, thereby creating force plays at second and at third.  Using his speed, the Neshanock left fielder tagged out the runner heading towards third and then flipped the ball to second base for an inning ending double play.

Dan "Sledge" Hammer 

Although I didn't hear it myself, there was apparently some feeling the play was somehow inappropriate.  It was reminiscent of a similar play last year when in the same situation, Neshanock shortstop Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner let a pop fly drop to start a double play which also generated a negative reaction.  That play, of course, wouldn't have been permissible under today's rules as it was the classic infield fly rule, but there is no such prohibition even today to similar plays in the outfield.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Thinking about this led me back once again to Peter Morris's excellent A Game of Inches: The Story Behind the Innovations That Shaped Baseball.  Interestingly one of the first documented instances of the infield trapped ball play involved a New Jersey club, the Eureka Club of Newark which was well known for its defensive prowess.  Morris quotes an 1864 game account from the New York Clipper where Eureka pitcher, Henry Burroughs didn't catch a pop fly so he could record a double play.  The article not only describes the play in detail (suggesting it was an early instance), but praises the strategy that went into it.  While the reporter's name is not given, Peter speculates it was Henry Chadwick who was typically critical of "sneaky plays", but favored "heady play and a knowledge of the rules."  It was also interesting to learn the strategy would have had no value before the 1859 season as prior to that balls caught on the fly were "dead" so that base runners were not at risk of being doubled off.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The Clipper account confirms there was nothing inappropriate about the play which was used for another 30 years, most notably by Hall of Famer George Wright, before being outlawed when the National League adopted the infield fly rule prior to the 1894 season (according to Eric Miklich, the Players' League adopted it for its sole season in 1890).  While there may not be a direct connection, the outlawing of the infield trapped ball was followed by usage of the outfield trapped ball (Sledge's play of yesterday.)  Early in the 1894 season, Tom McCarthy of the Boston Beaneaters pulled off the exact same play in the exact same situation.  Some sportswriters treated the play as a new innovation, but others, probably correctly, believed it had a long history and had simply fallen out of favor.  The play was not without its risks, George Van Haltren of Baltimore tried it with the bases loaded, only to see the ball bounce not into his hands, but over his head for a grand slam home run. Perhaps not surprisingly Van Haltren was traded shortly thereafter.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Peter's research demonstrates that not only were both plays permitted, they were considered to be sound strategy.  It occurs to me that one of the things we do in re-creating base ball under its early rules is begin to understand why some plays were outlawed and others were not.  That happens best, I think, when after experiencing the play, it's the subject of further research and discussion.  It's just my opinion, but through that process, I think I understand why the infield trap ball play was outlawed, but the outfield version was not.

Photo by Mark Granieri

At the most basic level, the spirit of base ball rules is about each side having more or less an equal chance.One of the most elementary things we learn in base ball is going half way on a fly ball that is apparently going to be caught.  Doing that gives the offense (the base runners) a chance against the outfield trap play.  Had the opposition players gone half way yesterday, Sledge's chances of getting two out on the play were much lower so he would have been more likely take the sure out of the catch.  That equal chance, however, does not exist on the infield trap because of the proximity of the infielder to the bases which doesn't allow the runners any real chance to avoid the double play.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

This is the second week I have drawn heavily on Peter Morris' research and while I hope I have given proper credit and attribution, I want to go a step further and highly recommend his book, A Game of Inches.   If you are interested in how base ball developed, or know someone who is, this book will provide hours of enjoyable reading.