Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Memorial Day 2013 - Base Ball and the Union Dead

This past Monday, the Neshanock made one of their shortest out of state trips to visit Newtown, Pennsylvania for the annual Memorial Day match with the Newtown Strakes.  Memorial Day is, of course, set aside to honor and commemorate the sacrifices of those who lost their lives in our nation's military service.  The night before, Carol and I watched a Memorial Day concert, televised from the mall in Washington, D.C.  While appropriate tribute was paid to the dead from 20th and 21st century conflicts, I was disappointed no mention at all was made of the Civil War especially during the Sesquicentennial of that crucial period in American History.

Decoration Day Parade - 1896

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, began as a means of honoring the Union dead by decorating their graves with flowers.  Union fatalities alone topped 360,000 (recent analysis suggests the actual numbers were higher), not far off total U. S. combat deaths in World War II.  One of the many fascinating things about the Union army is the extent to which it was made up of volunteers compared to the armies of the two World Wars.  In New Jersey, for example, of the over 70,000 men who served in the military, less than 1000 were drafted.  I recognize that a number of those "volunteers" were actually substitutes, hired by drafted men as means of avoiding military service, but that doesn't change the reality that most Union soldiers chose to serve.

The extent to which early base ball players made that choice remains an open question.  I've written before about how, in spite of contemporary newspaper claims to the contrary, Brooklyn and New Jersey clubs had most of their rosters intact for the 1861 season.  One of my long term research projects is to develop a data base of at least 100 New Jersey antebellum base ball players (from senior clubs only) to analyze the extent of military service.  Today, though I want to add one more name to the small number of New Jersey ball players known to have made the ultimate sacrifice in the Civil War.

Newark Daily Advertiser - August 11, 1863

To date the list consisted of only four names, James Conklin and Horace Smith of the Newark Club and  Arthur Merry and William Evans of the Camden Club.  The Camden Club played Philadelphia town ball, not the New York game, but I still want to include them.  Recently while researching something else in the Newark Daily Advertiser  of August 11, 1863, I found an account of the July 28th death of  Sgt Theodore Mandeville of the 1st New York Engineer Regiment at Fort Wagner, South Carolina.  Fort Wagner was the locale of the final scenes of the move, "Glory," about the 54th Massachusetts, the first all African-American regiment.  Although Mandeville was serving in a New York regiment, the article said he was born in Newark and the name rang a vague bell from one of the early Newark clubs.

Theodore Mandeville

More precisely what rang a bell was the last name, Mandeville, which meant once again facing the challenge of identifying a ball player from box scores, which usually only give last names.  I found a Mandeville in the 1855 line up of the Empire Club, one of Newark's charter teams and mercifully, one box score even gave first initials, listing a T. Mandeville.  Better still was an April, 5, 1859 news account that one Theo. Mandeville had been elected Vice President of the Empire Club.  As such his primary role was to help disband the club as there is no record of the Empire Club playing any 1859 matches and later that year, Mandeville was playing for the Newark Club, apparently with some success.

Newark Daily Mercury - September 13, 1859

On October 4, 1861, Mandeville enlisted in Company E of the 1st New York Engineers.  I was a little surprised he chose a New York regiment, but the 1st New York's regimental history states that Company E was recruited in multiple communities including Newark.  The former ball player must have been a good soldier as he quickly gained promotion to Corporal and then Sergeant, after only six months of service.  Mandeville had just turned 29 at the time of his death and left grieving parents and other family members in Newark.   Thus Theodore Mandeville is the fifth antebellum New Jersey base ball player confirmed to have made the ultimate sacrifice for the Union cause.  I'm glad to have identified him particularly around a time of year when it is "altogether fitting and proper" to remember and honor the Union dead.

Theodore Mandeville's Grave Marker 

Each of the Neshanock's Memorial Day matches with the Newtown Strakes (assembled annually for this game) have been competitive and this year was no exception.  Newtown scored once in the top of the first, but Flemington quickly responded with three runs to take a lead it would never relinquish.  Although the margin grew to 10-3 after six innings, Newtown closed the gap to 10-6 heading to the ninth.  Fortunately Bobby "Melky" Ritter set down the Strakes in order in the ninth, completing a solid pitching performance.  Flemington's offense was led by Mark "Peaches" Rubini who not only had a clear score, but also scored all three times.  Defensively Chris "Wheels" Nunn had  fine day behind the plate, recording seven outs on foul flies and bounds.  The win puts the Neshanock at 8-7 moving into the New Jersey portion of the schedule with six straight weekends of matches within the bounds of the Garden State.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cooperstown and the New York game

This past weekend the Flemington Neshanock were in Cooperstown, New York for a series of matches with the Essex Base Ball Club of Massachusetts and the Brooklyn Atlantics at the Ommegang Brewery.  Flemington was without their scorekeeper as Carol and I were in Massachusetts watching Sophie Zinn eat her first cupcake (not to mention celebrate her first birthday).  Even though we couldn't be present, just knowing the Neshanock were there brought back memories of our many visits to that beautiful village on the lake.

Photo by Mark Granieri

In spite of the fact that any possible role for Cooperstown in base ball's creation myth has been thoroughly debunked, the place never loses its charm.  If base was invented in any one place, it should have been William Cooper's town.  Thinking about base ball and Cooperstown, I started wondering about the real history of the New York game in the village.  When, for example, did Cooperstown have its first base ball club?  I've done no research on the subject, but my best guess is that it was sometime after the Civil War.

Photo by Mark Granieri

I "speculate" that because Cooperstown falls far short of two major factors that facilitated the spread of the New York game - population and a convenient connection to a place where the "new" game was played.  New Jersey's antebellum experience will help illustrate the point.  Listed below are the ten New Jersey communities with the highest 1860 population.  Of the group, nine had organized clubs playing the New York game by 1860 while, Camden, probably because of its proximity to Philadelphia, had a club playing Philadelphia town ball.

Municipality Population
Newark 71,941
Jersey City 29,226
Paterson 19,586
Trenton 17,228
Camden 14,358
Elizabeth 11,567
New Brunswick 11,256
Hoboken 9,662
Orange 8,897
Bergen 7,429

Cooperstown's population in 1860 was just under 1600 at 1597, that same year New Jersey had 13 communities with a population between 1500-1600, none of which had a base ball club.  The three smallest 1860 New Jersey communities with antebellum base ball clubs were Lambertville (2699), Harrison (2556) and Raritan (2270).  There were actually two New Jersey municipalities named Raritan in 1860 and it's not certain whether the Lafayette Club was from the one in Hunterdon County or the one in Monmouth County, but I believe it was the one located in Hunterdon County, not far from Flemington.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Why did these three small towns have base ball clubs before the Civil War?  The answer in Harrison's case is fairly easy, it's located between Jersey City and Newark, the two largest cities in the state in 1860 and the hotbeds of pre Civil War base ball in New Jersey.  Indeed it would have been hard for Harrison residents to avoid being exposed to the "new" game.  Lambertville and Raritan are more complicated, but both had an antebellum railroad connection to Newark and New York, indirect connections, but connections, none the less.  I'm not sure, when, if ever, the railroad came to Cooperstown, but I'm going to guess (and it's only a guess), that the even more remote location and small population delayed the formation of Cooperstown's first base ball club until after the Civil War, perhaps well after the war.

Photo by Mark Granieri

While there's no way of knowing what caliber of base ball, Cooperstown residents witnessed in the 19th century, the weekend offered the local population the opportunity to see some of the best of vintage base ball.  The Atlantics, in my view, are the best team on the east coast and arguably the best in the country, witnessed by the fact they came into the weekend at 8-0.  The Essex Club is also a fine team as the Neshanock learned in person last year in Massachusetts.

Although I wasn't there to witness the games, pictures and game summaries were provided by Mark "Gaslight" Granieri in addition to his role as catcher and heavy hitter for the Neshanock.  The weekend began with a close extra inning match between the Essex and Atlantic clubs with the Massachusetts team handing the Atlantic their first lost of the season, 16-14 in 10 innings.  The Atlantics rebounded with a 16-5 defeat of the Neshanock, leaving a Neshanock - Essex contest for the last Saturday match.  Essex led 11-9 going to the top of the ninth, but Flemington rallied for five runs and held on for an 14-11 win.

Sophie with her first, but definitely not last cupcake

Sunday's matches saw the Neshanock defeat the Essex Club again, this time an 10-0 shutout and then fall to the Atlantics, 19-6.  Although I don't have the score, it appears the Atlantic got some revenge in the final game defeating Essex to move their overall record to 11-1.  Through almost the first two months of the season, the Neshanock are a respectable 7-7 going into the traditional Memorial Day match in Newtown, Pennsylvania against the Newtown Strakes.  After that Flemington will be playing matches in different parts of New Jersey for the next five weekends.  More details are available at  Please come out for a match, I guarantee you will enjoy it, at least as much as Sophie enjoyed her first cupcake!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Rainy Day in Chester

Yesterday the Neshanock were scheduled for their annual visit to Chester, New Jersey for a match with the Brooklyn Atlantics.  It's a nice venue which always draws a good crowd, but unfortunately the rain, real and forecast, wiped out the event.  We can't really complain too much about the weather since only one game was lost to weather last year and this was the first cancellation of 2013.

An early decision to cancel the match (an e-mail sent out just after 7:30) was necessary because the Atlantics had about a 2 1/2 hour car ride to Chester and it wouldn't have been fair for them to travel all that distance for no reason.  At the same time, modern technology, just that of the past 25 years alone, allowed the decision to wait until Saturday morning without risking seriously inconveniencing anyone.  In the days before cell phones, text messages and e-mail (not that long ago), it would have been far more cumbersome to keep everyone informed.

1860 Challenge from the Hamilton Club (Jersey City) to the Knickerbocker Club of NYC
It does not appear the challenge was accepted

All of this, of course, pales in comparison with the communication challenges of the game's early days.  Matches were scheduled through invitations issued by one club to another, typically based on a vote of the membership of the challenging club.  Although the telegraph did exist, my guess is that the process of making, accepting/rejecting an invitation was done primarily through the mail.  If there was threatening weather on the appointed day, the visiting club had to make an all or nothing decision at the time of departure.

Interestingly, the first time a New Jersey club played an away match outside of the state, the weather was a complicating factor.  In an earlier post, I wrote about how the Pioneer Club of Jersey City, traveled to east Brooklyn to take on the Columbia Club on September 3, 1855.  In spite of the potential delays in taking ferries and horse drawn conveyances, the Pioneer Club was on site "at the appointed hour," only to find "very unpleasant weather."  Both clubs and any hardy (or fool hardy) fans waited for "some time" before accepting that the rain wasn't going to stop.

Box Score of the first match played by a New Jersey club outside the state

Apparently the Pioneer Club members decided they weren't going to come all this way with nothing to show for it and their hosts agreed.  In any event seven soggy innings were reportedly "well played."  Although the Columbia Club prevailed, 25-13, the reporter felt it was hard to determine which was the better club as "several hands" were "put out by slipping down."  The match was followed by a supper at a local hotel, suggesting the Pioneer players were able to change into dry clothes, both for the dinner and, perhaps more importantly, for the trip home.  If so they had the advantage on today's vintage base ball players who sometimes have to make a long trip home in uniforms very much the worse for wear.

Next weekend the Neshanock travel to that hallowed base ball site, Cooperstown, New York to play the Essex Club of Massachusetts at the Ommegang Brewery.  Two years ago Flemington played in a tournament at the brewery winning all three games in weather reminiscent of that encountered by the Pioneer Club in 1855.  Let's hope part of that experience will be repeated this time, and I don't mean the weather!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Three Nunns and a Train Ride

In addition to being open, if not anxious, to play new events, the Neshanock are always willing to take different modes of transportation to get to said contests.  Saturday was a case in point as the Flemington traveling party boarded the railroad to reach the site of an initial mini-tournament at the Strasburg Railroad Museum in Strasburg, Pennsylvania.  Also participating were the Athletics of Philadelphia, the Elkton Eclipse and the Harrisburg Keystones, formerly the Mechanicsburg Club.

Photo from Strasburg Railroad Museum

Base ball and the railroad had a close relationship for over a century beginning in the game's early days and running through the 1950's and 60's when airplane travel became the norm.  I have a theory, not yet adequately tested, that there was a very close correlation between the spread of the New York game in antebellum New Jersey and a railroad connection to Newark.  With few exceptions the New Jersey communities which had base ball clubs prior to the Civil War also had a direct rail link to Newark.  In this early period, I believe the importance of the rail connection was not facilitating travel for match play, but more as a means of exposing people to this "new" game.  Such exposure could have happened in a number of ways, including simply seeing a game while riding the train because, as noted in a prior post, a number of early Newark base ball grounds were literally located along the railroad tracks.

As New Jersey base ball spread in the 1860's and 70's, the railroad became important as means of enabling competition to develop on a state wide  basis.  I've been doing some research on the second incarnation of the Olympic Club of Paterson which was founded in 1864, disbanded by the end of the decade and resurrected in 1874.  The club is interesting, if for no other reason, because four of its members, Ed "The Only" Nolan, Mike "King," Kelly, Jim McCormick and Blondie Purcell went on to the major leagues.  It appears Nolan was the first to toil for the Olympics, serving as the club's primary pitcher in 1874 and 1875.

Photo from Joe Gallo

An Olympic Club trip to Morristown illustrates the challenges of playing away matches at that time.   Apparently there was no direct railroad connection covering the 22 miles between Paterson and Morristown, requiring the Olympic's traveling party of 40 to go by railroad to Jersey City or Newark to get a train to Morristown.  Then as now, however, there were always those who find an alternate route which they think/hope is preferable to the round about way.  In this case, a larger group, described in the Paterson Daily Press as more "impecunious" (without money) in nature took a Delaware, Lackawanna and Western coal train from Paterson to Denville.

In addition to taking a more direct route, they were, according to the paper, "stealing a ride," suggesting they had jumped on the train without paying.  Although this alternate, and perhaps illegal, approach, may have saved time, if not money, it also left the group some six miles from the field.  Whether anticipated or not, the trek didn't deter them as the paper cited the "amusing" sight of "scores of ragged, blackened and begrimed urchins and youth" arriving at the field.  At least their efforts didn't go unrewarded as the Olympic scored eight times in the fifth and 12 in the sixth for a convincing 26-12 win.

Photo from Joe Gallo 

On Saturday, of course, the Neshanock's railroad experience was no where near as arduous as either of the Paterson groups.  In fact those of us who went early, in a private car, were on the train no more than 15 minutes while the others on the regular route had a 40 minute trip.  Once the base ball got started, things on the field of play were historic in more ways than one as both Neshanock matches were similar to past experiences with the rival clubs. In the opener, Flemington and the Athletics played a close contest, reminiscent of our annual matches in Monroe, New Jersey.  Leading 10-7 after 6 1/2 innings, the Neshanock added four more while shutting out the Athletics for a 14-7 win.  With the victory, Flemington moved on to the championship match with the Elkton Eclipse in a game which unfortunately brought back memories of last year at the Philadelphia Naval Yard.  The Neshanock were leading 16-15 going to the bottom of the eighth when Elkton scored three times and held on for an 18-16 win.

Although the ending wasn't what we wanted it was a good day at an especially picturesque venue, hopefully one which will be repeated.  But what about the "three Nunns?"  It's not a misspelling of three sisters in a religious order, but a reference to the presence in the Neshanock lineup of a father and two sons, "Jersey" Jim Nunn and sons, Chris and Matt, ably cheered on by wife and mother, Mary.