Friday, December 20, 2013

Year End Reflections

Year end  is typically a time for reflection, an opportunity to simultaneously look both backward and forward.  In that spirit, this post will reflect on A Manlys Pastime's forty-nine 2013 posts and consider where the blog might be going in the new year.  For the record, A Manly Pastime began in February of 2012 so we are closing in on the second anniversary.

Photo by Ann Colduvell

As in 2012, close to seven months of this year's posts combined a report on a Flemington Neshanock vintage base ball match and a historical connection or reflection.  I've discussed before why I'm involved in vintage base ball (six years all told), but in addition to the personal benefits, it also facilitates my thinking and writing about the 19th century game.  For example, while making the trip to Easton, Maryland for Sunday matches with the Talbot Fair Plays last April, I realized there was no similar 19th century experience as anyone foolish enough to play base ball on the Sabbath, risked jail time, fines and sometimes both.  The result was a post that reported on the day's matches and took a brief look at the history of Sunday base ball.

It's important, however, to be careful in using vintage base ball to understand, write and talk about 19th century base ball.  Just as Civil War re-enactors can't use real bullets, compromises on historical accuracy are part of vintage base ball such as using modern spikes for safety concerns.  Even with those compromises, however, I think vintage base ball contributes to historical research, perhaps in a similar way that reminiscences and memory can enrich and bring color to contemporary documents and data.

Richard Hershberger (in civilian clothes) and the Neshanock at Gettysburg - photo by Mark Granieri

One thing I am sure of is that there's value in vintage players and historians working together.  Last year Richard Hershberger was kind enough to attend a Neshanock match at the Gettysburg vintage base ball festival.  There was so much conversation and inter-action on the side lines about base ball history that it sometimes diverted attention from the match itself.  In fact, at one point the umpire came over not to discuss a call, but to be sure he had heard an historical point correctly.  Richard has also provided Brad Shaw with contemporary evidence on how umpires called games, part of the continual effort to achieve the highest possible level of historical accuracy in the vintage game.

The Gettysburg festival was the subject of a post entitled "Weekend at Gettysburg" which discussed the vintage base ball festival, New Jersey's Civil War Sesquicentennial ceremonies at Gettysburg and the story of the 11th New Jersey's sacrifices in that historic battle.  To my surprise the post got over 100 views within 24 hours, matched only by a recent post commemorating the 150th anniversary of the 33rd New Jersey's service during the battles for Chattanooga.  There are no plans to turn A Manly Pastime into a Civil War blog, but there will be similar digressions in 2014 around other Sesquicentennial events, probably beginning in May.  It's also likely that my research into the 1919 World Series will pop up at some point.

11th New Jersey monument at Gettysburg

Looking back at other 2013 blog topics, I realize that unintentionally, I wrote a fair amount about 19th century base ball in Newark.  Among the subjects were Newark's first base ball grounds, early black base ball and the ever fascinating Antiquarian Knickerbockers.  Currently I'm going through Newark newspapers from 1861 to 1870 (trust me, it's a lot of microfilm) as part of analyzing base ball's growth in New Jersey throughout the pioneer period (1855-1870).  While any conclusions are premature, what I've seen reinforces Newark's importance in base ball's growth in New Jersey and beyond.  Apparently close enough to Manhattan and Elysian Fields to attract Newark's young men to the "new" game, the city's role as a railroad hub seems to have been a major factor in the game's expansion in antebellum New Jersey.  Indeed almost without exception, every community that had a base ball club before the Civil War also had a direct railroad connection to Newark.

1855 Newark Daily Advertiser account of Newark's first base ball clubs

All of this will get a lot of my research attention in 2014, some of which will undoubtedly find its way into the blog.  One of the blog's major benefits for me is as vehicle to "think out loud" before anything gets cast in any more concrete form.  As important as Newark base ball is, however, the rest of the state won't be neglected as the plan is to cover all of New Jersey.  It will be especially interesting to look at the experience in southern new Jersey where there is no evidence of any base ball clubs through 1860 with the exception of Camden.  And the Camden Club actually played Philadelphia town ball and didn't convert to the New York game until about 1864.  Most suburban/rural communities in northern New Jersey seem to have gotten their first clubs in 1865 and 1866, will it be the same in south Jersey?  Stay tuned.

The current plan is to begin the new year with a look at the original Flemington Neshanock which was short lived and had limited on-the-field success, but it's probably not a bad way to begin 2014 in a blog that moves back and forth between the past and the present.  Barring something unforeseen that will begin the week of January 6th.  Until then best wishes for the holidays and all of 2014.  Thanks for taking the time to visit A Manly Pastime.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Update to Remembering with Advantages

Thanks to Peter Morris for letting me know that Anna Clark was the mother of a major league base ball player, although he played in only one major league game.  The Cincinnati Post article referenced in "Remembering with advantages," mentions that her son played for the "old Muldoons and later in the Southern League."  Peter wrote about his efforts to research Ed Clark in his book Cracking Baseball's Cold Cases.   According to the entry about Clark, he pitched in one major league game on July 4, 1886 for Philadelphia of the American Association.  Post base ball, he served two tours in the army including one during the Spanish American War.  Clark died in 1927 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Remembering with Advantages

In an end note to his book, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, Allen Guelzo describes the debate among Lincoln scholars about the appropriate use of reminiscences about the 16th President, reminiscences many years after the actual events.  The concern, of course, is that there are often significant differences between memories of long ago events and contemporary source material about those same events.  Not surprisingly the differences tend to improve the role or position of the one doing the remembering.

Denver Post - 10-2-1919

As with so many things, Shakespeare best described the human tendency to exaggerate one's own role when he had Henry V tell his badly outnumbered army moments before the battle of Agincourt:

"Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot
But he'll remember, with advantages, 
What feats he did that day."

It's not hard to understand how remembering with self-serving advantages hurts efforts to write history accurately.  There are, however, advantages to remembering - advantages such as remembering that contributes to a more inclusive historical record, remembering which adds color and detail to the story and remembering that highlights a specific act.  This all came to mind while going through contemporary newspapers to research the infamous 1919 World Series for SABR's Deadball Committee's World Series project.  While reading about that controversial 20th century event, I found memories of not just one, but two great 19th century baseball clubs, remembering with "advantages" for the historical record.

Cal McVey of the 1869 Red Stockings celebrating the 1919 Reds victory in game four of the World Series

Cincinnati Post 10-7-1919

One of the connections to a great 19th century club isn't a surprise as 1919 was the 50th anniversary of the legendary Cincinnati Red Stockings' 1869 transcontinental tour and 57-0 record.  While there is no direct relationship between the two Cincinnati clubs, the modern (1919 modern) team took time in their World Series preparations, to remember their city's first great professional team.  While the organizers first thought Cal McVey and Hall of Famer George Wright were the only surviving Red Stockings, they were contacted by Oakely "Oak" or "Oke" Taylor, a reserve player who was then included in the event (thanks to John Thorn for the information about Taylor).  As a result, this effort to remember the 1869 Red Stockings some 50 years later had the "advantage" of including someone who otherwise might have been forgotten.  Of course, none of this would have happened had Taylor not had the good fortune to be alive in 1919.

Cincinnati Post - 10-4-1919

Although not as significant as the surviving Red Stockings, the Cincinnati Post wrote about one of their surviving fans, 79 year old Anna Clark, who had transferred her affections to the "modern" Reds.  In honor of the National League champions, she had knitted "small red stockings" similar to those "the girls of 69 wore in corsages as tributes" to the undefeated 1869 club.  Mrs. Clark would have been 29 in 1869 so she easily could have seen base ball in Cincinnati throughout the 1860s' including the first Cincinnati baseball clubs. Assuming the newspaper account is accurate, the "advantage" of this reminiscence is a picture (albeit years afterwards) of an early female baseball fan and at least one way the distaff side supported their team.

Like the Cincinnati newspaper, legendary sportswriter Damon Runyan paid attention to the historical connections of the 1919 Series and wrote about Reds business manager, Frank C. Bancroft, who "away, way back in the long ago piloted the Providence club to a championship."  The reference is to the 1884 Providence Grays, led on the field by Hall of Fame pitcher, Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn who won 59 games that year while pitching 678 plus innings, a story well documented in Ed Achorn's fine book Fifty-Nine in '84.

This was certainly noteworthy, but what was especially interesting was a further comment by Runyan that Bancroft  was "a good old scout," even though "he did invent the doubleheader."  That claim seemed too fantastic to believe, but I went to Peter Morris's invaluable A Game of Inches and found it is accurate, at least in a manner of speaking.  According to the entry, much of which is based on Charlie Bevis' research, in the 1880s' major league clubs began playing two games on holidays as morning and afternoon games with separate admissions.  As business manager of the Reds, Bancroft reportedly introduced the idea of playing two games for one admission on weekdays and coined the name "doubleheader," or at least popularized the name if he didn't invent it.  Unlike Anna Clark, Frank Bancroft was in no danger of dropping off of the historical radar, but Runyan's remembering him, in a nationally syndicated column, no less, highlights his story for a larger audience.

Frank Bancroft (in civilian clothes) with the Reds on a trip to Cuba

Reminiscences can never take the place of contemporary, eyewitness accounts of historic events.  And, as Shakespeare pointed out, they can also exaggerate or distort what actually happened.  But as these three examples show, remembering has a place in the historical process - it can contribute to a more inclusive story and be the seasoning that adds invaluable color and richness.