Monday, October 21, 2013

In and Out of the News

Photo by Mark Granieri

On the season's next to last weekend, the Neshanock traveled to the Terrapin Station Winery in Elkton, Maryland on Sunday to take on one of the East Coast's better vintage clubs, the Elkton Eclipse.  Both games were well played and relatively low scoring, but unfortunately it wasn't Flemington's day.  The Neshanock trailed the opening match by only one run at 3-2 after five innings, but Elkton tallied four times each in both the sixth and seventh innings for an 11- 4 triumph.  Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Joe "Mick" Murray led the Flemington attack with three and two hits respectively, but a five inning scoreless drought doomed the Neshanock's chances.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The first match was well played defensively and the second was even better leading to a closer game and one of the lowest scoring matches of the year.  Elkton led 3-1 going to the bottom of the sixth, but the Neshanock rallied to tied it at 3-3 after six and then took a 4-3 lead heading to the eighth.  Unfortunately Elkton is a good offensive club and they scored twice in both the top of the eighth and the ninth for a 7-4 lead heading to the bottom of the inning.  Flemington managed to score once and, as has happened too many times this season, put the tying runs on base, but couldn't get them home, losing a close 7-5 decision.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Flemington actually hit relatively well in the second game, but couldn't capitalize, leaving eight runners on base in a two run loss.  Chris "Low Ball" Lowry led the offense in the second match with three hits while three other Neshanock had two apiece.  It was also solid defensive effort in defeat, keyed by the pitching of Dan "Sledge" Hammer who also fielded his position very efficiently.  Special mention also should be made of Chris Nunn who played center field in both games recording six put outs in the first match and seven along with an assist in the second contest without a single muff.  With the two losses, the Neshanock drop below .500 at 22-23 heading to next Saturday's season finale against the Hoboken Nine at Waterloo Village in Sussex County.

Photo by Mark Granieri

While the Neshanock's season is almost over, my quest to review all surviving New Jersey newspapers for base ball activity from 1855 to 1870 remains in its early innings.  As promised (threatened), having worked my way through Sussex and Warren County newspapers, I moved on to neighboring Hunterdon County, a place where I have multiple research interests.  First, as with the other 20 counties, is the basic search for any and all base ball clubs.  Hunterdon, however, was also home to the original Flemington Neshanock and therefore a place of special focus.  The two main newspapers in the county were the well known Hunterdon County Democrat, which still exists today, and its opposition counterpart, the Hunterdon Republican.

Account of what to date is the first match between Hunterdon County Base Ball clubs - a year later, the Raritan Club would become the Flemington Neshanock
Hunterdon Republican - November 24, 1865

I've gone through both papers (some almost illegible) for 1865-1870 and found what feels like less base ball activity than the other two counties or, at least, less coverage in the newspaper.  The number of articles I found in both papers is as follows:

                                        Democrat                               Republican

1865                                      0                                             1
1866                                      5                                             5
1867                                      0                                             3
1868                                      0                                             0
1869                                      0                                             1
1870                                      0                                             0

Total                                       5                                           10

While clearly, neither paper devoted a lot of space to base ball, what leaps out is the Democrat taking notice in only one of the six years, a period when the game's reach was expanding throughout New Jersey.  Part of the explanation for a lack of base ball reporting, or any news for that matter, is due to 19th century newspaper's role as party political organs.  However, the Democrat apparently took that role to a new level, reflective to some degree of the Democratic dominance of Hunterdon County.

Brief account of a visit by the Athletics of Philadelphia to Lambertville, why they would play 12 innings is hard to fathom
Hunterdon Republican - September 7, 1866

In her book, Affairs of Party: The Political Culture of Democrats in the Mid-Nineteenth Century, historian Jean Baker cites Hunterdon County of all U. S. communities as a prime example of a solid one- party Democratic community.  The party's control was so solid that from 1828 to 1900, Hunterdon County went for the Democratic Presidential candidate every time except in 1840.  This dominance extended to local elections where Democratic candidates typically won 60-80% of the vote and enjoyed victory margins of 20% compared to a more standard 4%.  In 1860, eight of the counties' fourteen townships had Democratic newspapers with the Democrat leading the way.  Both "tightly controlled and partially financed," by the Democratic County committee, the Democrat had three editors between 1860-1870 who closely hewed the party line.  Serving this master, it's understandable how an editor, even if so inclined, wouldn't have paid much attention to young men playing games with a bat and ball especially when notices of local Democratic meetings were used to fill the already sparse news columns.

Editorial Comment suggesting base ball wasn't universally approved of by the media
Hunterdon Republican - May 31, 1867

While the Republican also didn't have that many articles, the ones that were published had more detail, identifying the members of at least six different clubs.  All told, the two papers documented 10 clubs which existed from 1865-1870.  Still to be looked at are the "war" seasons of 1861-1864, but I'll be surprised, if I find much of any thing.  Also to be sought out are any other contemporary papers where copies still exist today.  The only other ones I'm aware of are a paper in Lambertville and the Clinton Democrat.  If there were eight Democratic papers alone in 1860, few of which survive, there may be other Hunterdon County base ball clubs whose existence is gone forever.

Letter to the editor giving more details of the Neshanock's 1867 win over the Que Quas of Milford
Hunterdon Republican  - September 13, 1867

That leads to one of the major potential limitations to researching clubs during this period - how many were there which for whatever reason were never noticed by the admittedly limited newspaper coverage.  If 10 clubs (half of which were in Flemington and Lambertville) were documented in Hunterdon County, how many others were there of which no record survives.  I've just started to think about this and there's a lot more work to be done before drawing any conclusions.  One thought is to see  what, if any, relationship exists between population and having a base ball club and then looking at how many other towns had at least the same population, but there is no record of a base ball club.  That along with other factors such as proximity to a town with a club, might lead to some method of estimating the potential number of unreported clubs.  Such communities might also be places to look for other contemporary sources besides newspapers which might provide evidence of a club.  Just a few random thoughts along the way on the research journey.

Photo by Mark Granieri

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