Monday, September 30, 2013

It Must Be the Socks!

Photo by Mark Granieri 

In the course of a seven month season, the Neshanock visit a lot of different venues, the majority of which are repeat visits from prior years.  Such was the case on Saturday when Flemington traveled to the historic Dey farm in Monroe Township located off of exit 8A on the New Jersey Turnpike for the fourth annual match with the Athletic Club of Philadelphia.  While there are a  range of opinions on the club about favorite and least favorite venues, everyone seems to like this event.  It's probably no more than an hour travel for anyone, the hosts do a great job and there is usually a good sized audience which always appreciates the match.

Photo by Mark Granieri contrasting long pants and knickers uniforms

Today was no exception, the weather was perfect and there were 50-75 in attendance for at least part of one of the two games.  The opener was played under 1864 rules and the Athletics got off to a quick 3-0 lead in the top of the first, pretty much without getting the ball out of the infield.  The Neshanock responded quickly in their half of the inning with two tallies and the game was a repeat of last week's low scoring affair with the Neshanock head by only one run at 4-3 after four full innings.  Gradually, however, Flemington pulled ahead with  three in the fifth, one in the sixth, two in the seventh and four in the eighth and won going away by a 14-3 count.

New York Clipper - July 9, 1870 showing actual Philadelphia Athletic uniform 

If you are scoring at home, you'll note that the Athletics didn't tally a run after the top of the first as fine pitching by Bob "Melky" Ritter and solid Neshanock defense blanked the Philadelphia club for the remainder of the match.  So dominant were the Neshanock, that the Athletics only managed two hits over the last eight frames and only five for the entire match.  Flemington's offense was keyed by Dan "Sledge" Hammer who had a triple and a home run while eight other Neshanocks scored at least once.  Of special interest was a clear score by new member, James "Ducky" Stives which consisted of one hit and three Athletic muffs.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Flemington's late game offensive flurry carried over into the second match, played by 1873 rules as the Neshanock had by far their highest offensive output of the season.  Once again "Sledge" was in the middle of the action achieving a clear score in eight at bats in a seven inning game which included his second home run of the day as part of hitting for the cycle.  "Sledge" was not the only Neshanock to hit for the cycle as Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner matched his teammate's feat  including a grand slam home run in the fifth inning.  Every Flemington player got a hit en route to a 31-3 victory to bring the overall team record to 22-19.  With at most six matches left in the 2013 season, the Neshanock will be shooting for an above .500 season beginning in two weeks at Washington Park in south Brooklyn against the Gotham Club of New York City.

Dan "Sledge" Hammer scoring on one of his two home runs - photo by Mark Granieri

What caused this offensive explosion?  It may have been better hitting fundamentals, but base ball is a game full of superstitions so we can't discount the new socks the Neshanock began wearing last weekend.  As noted previously, the new socks have three grey stripes instead of the old solid red ones.  While colored socks are certainly historic, they were not part of the first formal base ball uniforms.  As noted in Peter Morris' A Game of Inches, the early clubs favored "white duck trousers, full length" and reportedly players had to deal with the risk of tripping on the ends of their long pants to the extent that some players rolled up their cuffs for game action.  Whether it was to find a permanent solution to that problem or some kind of fashion statement by the mid to late 1860's base ball clubs were stealing a page from cricket uniforms by wearing shorter pants called "knickers."  Based on the name we might expect the path finding Knickerbockers to have set any new fashion trends, but apparently the credit goes primarily to the great Cincinnati Red Stockings Club who were supposedly the first full team to wear knickers with colored (obviously red) socks.

1868 Cincinnati Redstockings wearing long red (what else) socks

 From that moment on colored socks have almost always been part of the game which sometimes had its challenges.  When I was playing the equivalent of Little League in Wayne, New Jersey in the mid 1950's, our uniforms were very much like major league uniforms, heavy wool with long colored stirrup socks.  Unfortunately unlike today's socks, there was no elastic at the top of the socks to keep them in place so it wasn't long before player's socks were around their ankles, probably creating problems not unlike those presented by the "full length" pants of the game's early days.  My father solved that problem with elastic garters which held my socks in place so that even if I wasn't a ball player, at least I looked like one!

Photo by Mark Granieri

Embarrassing as falling socks may have been for 10 year olds in the 1950's, colored socks almost had far more lethal consequences.  On at least two occasions (Nap Lajoie in 1906 and Fred Merkle in 1910), players who were spiked suffered blood poisoning at least partially attributable to the colored dye in their socks.  Supposedly this was the origin of what became known as sanitary hose, white socks worn under the colored base ball socks.  This was, however, only a partial solution as wearing two pairs of socks often created problems with shoe sizes, a problem that was resolved with the stirrup sock so that only the white sanitary hose went into the shoe itself.

Modern day stirrup socks

By adding stripes to their socks, the Neshanock have gone a step past the basic plain vanilla, or in this case, plain red approach, but they have a long way to go to compete with some of the more risque approaches of earlier days.  For example, the Elizabeth Resolutes, who wear solid dark blue or black socks today, in 1870 impressed a New York Times reporter by "donning pink stockings."  The Elizabeth boys were plainly comfortable with their masculinity which they demonstrated in an easy victory over the Neptune Club of Easton, Pennsylvania.

New York Clipper - July 9, 1870

Socks are, of course, only one piece of a uniform, but they can be an important part of cutting edge fashions as witnessed by the above uniform worn by the Union Club of Morrisania in 1870 which has to be a contender for the most hideous base ball uniform of all time.  It would take a real effort to get a vintage team to wear something like that today, historical accuracy be damned!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Surprises Along the Way

After a second weekend off in the last three, the Neshanock returned to action this past Sunday against a long time rival at a new venue.  The opponents were the Elizabeth Resolutes, New Jersey's oldest vintage club and the venue was Denville, New Jersey as part of the municipality's centennial.  The match also marked a homecoming of sorts for Ken "Tumbles" Mandel who grew up in Denville or so he claims.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Playing under 1864 rules, the match started with the Neshanock scoring three times in the top of the first and then setting down the Resolutes in order in the bottom of the inning.   A scoreless Neshanock second was followed by a four tally uprising by Elizabeth in the bottom of the inning, all of the action coming with two out.  Runs were at a premium thereafter with Flemington adding only two tallies over the next six innings while the Resolutes managed three more to take a 7-5 lead heading to the top of the ninth inning.  Reminiscent of a number of Flemington matches this year, the Neshanock rallied to score once and put the tying and go ahead runs on second and third with two out.  Once again, however, it was not to be as the last striker went down and the Resolutes emerged with a hard fought and well earned 7-6 triumph.

Photo by Mark Granieri

In a game without a lot of offense, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, Joe "Mick" Murray and Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw each managed two hits.  Of greater note in the contest was the tight defense played by both sides.  Other than walks (pitcher's errors in the Chadwick system), the Neshanock made only two muffs in the field.  Even more impressive was the Resolute's performance as, again other than walks, they didn't commit a single muff.  Of all the matches, I've scored this year, today's match was only the second time the opposition did not make a single muff.  With the loss, the Neshanock are 20-19 for the season with a doubleheader next Saturday in Monroe, New Jersey against the Athletic Club of Philadelphia.

Latest Neshanock uniform modification - photo by Mark Granieri

On the research side of things, I'm now pretty close to the end of going through the contemporary newspapers for Sussex and Warren counties, looking at how base ball developed in those rural areas of northwestern New Jersey from 1855 to 1870.  In each case there is no evidence of organized base ball clubs during the antebellum period and this seems to have continued through 1864, but towards the end of 1865 there was some organized base ball activity in both places.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Based on what I had seen in the Newark newspapers in the immediate post war years, I wasn't surprised to then see rapid growth of base ball in both counties in 1866 and 1867, probably a little more in Sussex County, but plenty in both localities.  It turned out that I ended one research visit to Alexander Library at Rutgers with the 1867 season for Sussex County and in planning my return visit thought it would probably take the entire 3-4 hours to finish that county through 1870.  To my surprise I found next to nothing about base ball in 1868 in both Sussex County papers and not much more in both 1869 and 1870.  The fact that it took so little time, allowed me on that visit to begin working on Warren County.  I still have more work to do there, but reviewing two of the three Warren County papers for 1865-1870 reveals almost exactly the same pattern, a lot of reports in 1866 and 1867 and very little the next three years.

Local "hero," Ken "Tumbles" Mandel (right) with Bob "Melky" Ritter" - photo by Mark Granieri

Part of this, I think, is due to the nature of newspapers during the Civil War era, especially weekly newspapers.  The primary mission of newspapers in those days was not to report the news, but to advance the cause of one particular party.  In Sussex County, for example, there were two newspapers, the Sussex Register (Republican) and the New Jersey Herald and Democrat (unsurprisingly Democratic) which basically hammered at each other every week.  1868, of course, was a presidential election year and it appears the papers in both counties were too wrapped up in the campaigns to spend to devote much, if any, space to local base ball.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Given the paper's role, the lack of coverage is understandable, but if that were the only factor, it would seem there would have been a return to more detailed coverage for the next two years, but there wasn't.  Is that a reflection of less base ball activity or something else?  Before I can reach an informed opinion, I'm going to have to see what I find for the other 19 counties, especially the rural ones, by looking at the local weekly papers, the national papers and the daily newspapers in Newark.

Photo by Mark Granieri

I've went through the Newark papers for the post war period when I was researching the Eureka and Irvington Clubs for Baseball Founders and while I didn't take any notes, I seem to remember a lot of accounts of games and clubs well outside of Newark.   My guess, and it's only a guess, is that the lack of reporting doesn't reflect a decline in activity.  Rather I think, by 1869 base ball had become part of life in these rural communities and was no longer newsworthy especially in weekly papers which have both limited space and have to take a different approach to reporting the news.  Once I finish Warren County, I'm going on to Hunterdon County which borders on Warren so we'll see if I find anything similar while also looking for information about the original Flemington Neshanock.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gold, Alexander Cartwright and Newark Base Ball

In December of 1848, John Shaff, a young Newark man, learned of an exciting opportunity for fame and fortune.  Gold had been discovered in far off California and easy riches awaited those bold enough to seize the once in a lifetime opportunity. There was no time to lose and companies of prospective prospectors sprung up throughout New Jersey while the Newark Daily Advertiser began running ads offering supplies and transportation for those on the way to gold and glory.

It was only natural, therefore, that Newark, as New Jersey's largest city, would sponsor an expedition and  the Newark Overland Company was formed  in early 1849.  The leader was General John Darcy, prominent Newark physician and political leader.  For Shaff, it was an opportunity too good to miss so he signed on as one of the 26 Newark men in the total party of 37.

Unlike other New Jersey expeditions which traveled by ship, the Newark contingent opted for the overland route.  Their quest for gold began on March 1, 1849 when the adventurers boarded the train for Philadelphia, the first leg of a railroad, stagecoach  and steamboat journey bound for Independence, Missouri, the jumping off point for wagon trains headed to California.  After about a month on the road and river, they reached Independence, but had to wait another month before the wagon train headed west.  While in Independence,  a dispute over whether mules or oxen should be used to pull their wagons, led 13 members to head out on their own.  Favoring oxen was General Darcy and John Shaff must have agreed as he too stayed with the main party now numbering about 25.

Newark Daily Advertiser - January 9, 1849

During the hiatus, the company was divided into "messes," smaller groups assigned to specific wagons, who would eat, sleep and travel together.  Although most of the remaining Overland Company members were from Newark, John Shaff found himself in a "mess" with one man from Jersey City and three New Yorkers, including a young man named Alexander Joy Cartwright.  With such a long wait, the men had a lot of time to kill and quickly got bored.  One day, to break the monotony, Cartwright took a ball out of his luggage, told the group about base ball, and organized an impromptu game.  Later around the campfire, Cartwright told the others that he had been a member of the prestigious Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York and had helped establish the "new" game.

Newark Daily Advertiser - April 27, 1849

No matter how much they enjoyed the game, everyone was relieved on May 1st, when the wagon train got underway.  The Newark Overland Company finally arrived in California in July where, as originally planned, the men split up, each to "work on his own hook."  Shaff stayed in California for a few years, but returned to Newark by 1854 to work as a bookkeeper.  Although he apparently didn't bring back great riches, Shaff had fond memories of base ball and Cartwright's stories of the Knickerbocker Club.  Now and then Shaff saw accounts of the club's Elysian Field matches and discussed them with friends, not omitting that he himself had actually played the game out west with one of the club's founding members.  Their interest piqued, the young men formed their own base ball club, proudly called it the Newark Club and elected John Shaff, Vice President in gratitude for his encouragement and advice.  And so, thanks to Alexander Cartwright (not to mention John Shaff), base ball came to Newark and shortly thereafter the rest of New Jersey.

Pierson's Newark Directory for 1851-52

If the above sounds like an attempt at a creation myth for base ball in New Jersey, it's because that's exactly what it is.  A myth, however, which is based on documented facts.  Alexander Cartwright was indeed a member of the Newark Overland Company as was John Shaff (Newark Daily Advertiser, April 27, 1849) and they were part of the same "mess" (Alexander Cartwright by Monica Nucciarone, p.185).  Shaff did return to Newark and was, in fact, both a founding member and the first Vice President of the Newark Club ( Newark Daily Advertiser, August 11, 1855  ).  Furthermore while no proof exists that the men on the Overland Company played base ball, one of Monica Nucciarone's sources believes it is plausible they did so, especially during the long layover in Independence.

Alexander Cartwright

Linking these facts together into a creation myth for base ball in New Jersey is, of course, another matter and not what I'm about here.  However, the fact that Cartwright and Shaff were in the same "mess" documents they knew one another and I think it's fair to say that at one time or another Cartwright talked about base ball and the Knickerbocker Club.  Whether Cartwright actually started a base ball game on the trip is conjectural, but if he did bring a ball with him, as he said he did, it's more than probable that at some point Cartwright and the others at least played a little catch.

Whether any of this was a determining factor  in the founding of the Newark Club is unlikely.  Had Shaff been the prime mover, he most likely would have been the President, not William Dodd.  But his status as a charter member and officer suggests he was more than just a mere follower.  Shaff's accidental relationship with a member of the Knickerbockers also illustrates the many different ways a young man from New Jersey could have been exposed to base ball.  In addition, it demonstrates that there was more mobility in that society than we tend to believe or at least, I tend to believe.  If nothing else I should have learned this from one of my English ancestors where a long gap in his life was ultimately explained by the fact he spent 15 years in the India in the British Army!

Newark Daily Advertiser - August 11, 1855

As New Jersey's first base ball club (or at least the first to play a match), the Newark Club is important and merits detailed investigation.  I've managed to identify a fairly high percentage of the charter members which is how I learned of Shaff's California expedition.  While finding the specific details of the club's founding is very unlikely, I'm hoping to find enough information about these young men that will shed at least some further light on the story of base ball's beginnings in New Jersey.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Base Ball in Belvidere - Then (1865) and Now

Photo by Mark Granieri

After a well earned weekend off, the Neshanock returned to action yesterday with their annual visit to Belvidere as part of the Warren County community's Victorian Days.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to be there, but in addition to catching and picture taking, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri ably gave me an account of the match.  From "Gaslight," I understand that while still on the injured list, Dave "Illinois" Harris filled in as scorekeeper.  Thanks to both of them for helping out, but in neither case does it mean I will return the favor by subbing for them on the field!

Photo by Mark Granieri 

The opposition was more than ably provided by the Brooklyn Eckford Club, a relatively new team founded by Eric Miklich, the Neshanock's old friend and sometimes teammate.  Flemington came out of the gates hitting and took an early 4-2 lead, but unfortunately, the Neshanock didn't score again while the Eckford got their offense going for an 11-4 win.  Notable on the offensive end was a prodigious clout by Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw, who, back from the injured list, also pitched for Flemington.  Both teams reportedly played good defense with an exceptional stop and throw from third base by Ken "Tumbles" Mandel, the defensive highlight for Flemington.  No doubt it was accompanied by an appropriate tumble.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Now at 20-18, Flemington is off again next week before playing two more September dates in New Jersey. Originally the Neshanock were supposed to play in what had been an annual vintage base ball festival at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, but that event was cancelled so Flemington will visit Denville, New Jersey as part of the Denville Centennial Family Picnic on Sunday, September 22nd.  The following Saturday will see Flemington's annual visit to the Dey Farm in Monroe, New Jersey.  As always more details are available at

Photo by Mark Granieri

Co-incidental to the Neshanock's visit to Belvidere, I've been looking at how base ball spread throughout Warren County before, during and after the Civil War.  As with neighboring Sussex County, there is no evidence found to date of organized base ball activity in Warren County through 1864.  Unlike Sussex County, however, Warren County had its first base ball club only a few months after the war's end with the formation of the Belvidere Club in September of 1865.  Belvidere is the county seat and according to James Snell's History of Sussex and Warren Counties is located on "either side of Pequest Creek, at its confluence with the Delaware River."

Once formed the Belvidere Club didn't take long to begin match play, taking on the Logan Club of Lambertville in a home and home series.  While the initial account claimed the Belvideres had little practice, they won the first match handily, 33-10 and then embarrassed the host team, scoring 56 runs to win by 20 in their visit to Lambertville.  The only other 1865 match found to date, took place over a month later on November 16th in Phillipsburg.  Although the venue was still in New Jersey, the opposition was the Lafayette Club of Easton, Pa, which apparently played its "home" games in Phillipsburg.  This time the Warren County club wasn't so fortunate, losing a close 34-30 contest.

Belvidere is located near the upside down "N" in Pennsylvania on the left hand side of the picture about 2/3's of the way down

Thus far I've been able to identify nine of the thirteen young men who took the field for the Belvidere Club in 1865 (thank God for first initials in box scores).  Five were 20 or older with the other four in their late to mid teens so this doesn't appear to be a junior or young boy's team.  None of the nine had occupations listed on the 1860 census, but by 1870, one was a physician, two were clerks plus a number of artisans.  All were in jobs that could allow sometime flexibility for playing ball.  In spite of the rural nature of the area, none were farmers.

Warren County Courthouse - Belvidere, New Jersey

Two of the the Belvidere Club's three 1865 matches were on the road, in Lambertville and Phillipsburg respectively, which led me to look at the contemporary railroad connections.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the Belvidere-Delaware Railroad ran directly between the three communities on the way to/from Trenton and Philadelphia.  As such the railroad facilitated the ability of these early postbellum clubs to play match games, but probably didn't play as significant a role in getting base ball started in these communities as it did in more urban Essex and Hudson counties.

Warren Journal - September 29, 1865

As noted in numerous prior posts, the only ways young men in New Jersey could learn about base ball were to watch it in person, hear about it from someone else and/or read about it.  In pre-Civil War New Jersey, especially in urban Hudson and Essex Counties, it appears a railroad connection was a key factor in giving New Jerseyans a chance to experience the "new" game as newspaper coverage was limited.  By 1865, however, newspaper coverage of base ball was more extensive especially in the national publications allowing more opportunities to read about the New York game in rural communities like Belvidere.  Also noteworthy is that the first Warren County club was formed in the county seat which is similar to what I found in Sussex County.  Although still distant from urban centers, these county seats were more likely to host outside visitors on various kinds of business.  Interestingly four players on the Belvidere Club (three were brothers) came from families who operated hotels in Belvidere.

Warren Journal - September 29, 1865

Thus far it appears that when base ball spread in antebellum New Jersey within Hudson and Essex Counties, it moved from one neighboring community to another.  It's far too early to draw conclusions about what happened after the war, but it seems that such a direct connection to a neighboring community where the game was played wasn't as important by 1865.  A lot more to do, including a more detailed look at Sussex County later this fall.

Photo by Mark Granieri