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."

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