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!

1 comment:

  1. Richard HershbergerOctober 1, 2013 at 9:03 AM

    I don't think there is any question but that knickerbocker pants and long socks were introduced by the Cincinnatis in 1868. I suppose it is possible that some club was doing it earlier, but it was the Cincinnatis that made people take notice. Here is some commentary from 1868, critical of Harry Wright and with him of the attire:

    "What, again, our correspondent complained of, was Harry Wright’s ridiculous action on the field, forbidding such players as Waterman, Hatfield and Brainerd to hit at only such balls as he approved. The Athletic felt ashamed to see Americans being bamboozled in their own game, and that by a Britisher. As Wright plays the game, it is English all over, or as far as he can make it so-even to the uniform. ... All such nonsense as Wright indulges in about placing the men in position in the field, tends to make them ridiculous in the eyes of other clubs, particularly eastern associations, who know some little about usages, &c." Philadelphia Sunday Mercury August 2, 1868

    The Cincinnatis in 1868 were a good but not great club. The Philadelphia Sunday Mercury was repeatedly scornful of Wright that year. This excerpt is but one example. The following year the club went on its rampage, The Phila Sunday Mercury maintained a discreet silence about its earlier commentary.

    On a different note, I am trying to figure out what is the practical difference between 1864 and 1873 rules? No bound game, of course, and overrunning first base. What else? There were important developments in the size and composition of the ball, but vintage base ball doesn't really try to follow that. There were changes in the rules about pitching, but again, vintage base ball is not good at reenacting period pitching. Similarly with umpiring. By 1873 umpires were routinely, though not invariably, calling balls and strikes in something resembling the modern manner. In 1864 they were not, but many vintage bb umpires act as if they were. So of the things that vintage bb is equipped to simulate, is there any difference other than no bound game and overrunning first?