Monday, October 28, 2013

Season's End

For the second consecutive year, the Neshanock's quest for a winning season came down to the final weekend of the season.  To make things even more challenging, a successful outcome meant winning both ends of a doubleheader from the Hoboken Nine at Waterloo Village in rural Sussex County.  Unfortunately, I wasn't there, but once again Mark "Gaslight" Granieri not only hit, caught and took photos, but also gave me a summary of the two matches.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The opening match got off to a less than stellar start when Hoboken tallied three times in the top of the first inning, but the Neshanock battled back, tallying five times in the bottom of the frame.  The match turned into a back and forth offensive affair, unlike the low scoring matches of the past two weeks.  Hoboken tied it at 8-8 in the top of the fourth, but Flemington answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning to go ahead 12-8.  The Neshanock added two more in the bottom of the fifth and although Hoboken kept nibbling away at the lead, Flemington held on for a 17-13 victory.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Now back at .500, everything came down to the second game, a seven inning affair, like the first, played under 1864 rules.  With a winning season in sight, the Neshanock were not to be denied and combined heavy hitting with outstanding defense to win going away by a 15-4 count.   According to "Gaslight's" account, Chris "Lowball" Lowry,  Ken "Tumbles" Mandel, Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner, Dan "Sledge" Hammer, Jack "Doc" Kitson and Joe "Mick" Murray all made defensive plays of note.  I'm sure "Gaslight" was his usual steady self behind the plate, he's just too modest to say so.

Photo by Mark Granieri

With the sweep, the Neshanock did indeed record an winning campaign in 2013 finishing at 24-23, reportedly the first winning season in about eight years.  As important as the final record is, it also needs to be said that it was, once again, an enjoyable season - this was my fourth year as Neshanock scorekeeper and I've enjoyed the experience a great deal.  Thanks to all of the Neshanock players, wives, girl friends and significant others who make each match so much fun. Special thanks also to Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw for his tireless efforts as club president, Chris "Low Ball" Lowry as captain and to Mark "Gaslight" Granieri for taking so many pictures over the course of the season.  Thanks also to Sam "It aint' nothing until I say it is" Bernstein for working so hard to re-create the role of a 19th century umpire.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The last game of the 2013 vintage season marks the 158th consecutive year of  New Jersey clubs playing base ball, or at least the New York game.  The end of the vintage season led me to think a little about 1855 when two teams in Jersey City, five in Newark plus a few others in Hudson and Essex Counties introduced the "new" game to our state.  My guess is these new clubs didn't think of it so much in terms of a season especially in Newark where each club played only a few games.  Most likely it was a case of forming a club, playing some games until it was too cold to play more and/or other activities especially work intervened.

Photo by Mark Granieri

At some point, of course, they had to decide what they were going to do when warmer weather came around again.  The most important decision was not so much whether they were going to play base ball, they could do that in a number of informal ways without making any major commitments.  Rather the important decision was more about whether they wanted to continue to be part of a base ball club which involved more work than just getting together for an afternoon of hitting and fielding.  Things like securing a ground, getting uniforms, arranging matches including transportation to away matches, not to mention the potentially controversial decisions about who made the first nine.

Photo by Mark Granieri

In the case of the Pioneer and Excelsior Clubs of Jersey City, it appears they had every intention of continuing as newspaper articles in the spring of 1856 reported that both clubs had began practicing.  However, difficulties in finding grounds plus each team losing presumably three of their best players to the Eagle Club of New York were too much of an obstacle to overcome and both clubs went out of existence.  In Newark, the Newark Club, the Newark Juniors and the Empire Club all made it back on to the field in 1856, less fortunate or less committed was the membership of the Olympic Club which went out of existence after one season.  Nothing is known of the St. John's African-American Club beyond the one brief mention in the Newark Daily Mercury.

Photo by Mark Granieri

In one of those uncanny connections between today and the 1855 charter clubs, the issue of having enough players has faced a number of vintage clubs this year including the Neshanock.  Saturday's opponent, the Hoboken Nine, only had six at the match, one of the fill-ins was from the New York Gothams which has had similar challenges.  There's also been more than one occasion when Flemington was hard pressed to field a full nine.  It's not a question of a lack of commitment, but rather issues of life changes, injuries, aging and other responsibilities that made fielding a full team more of a challenge this season.  As a non-playing score keeper, my presence or absence doesn't impact having enough players, but I missed more matches this year than in the past and already know of a number of potential conflicts for 2014.

Photo by Ann Colduevill

While finding playing fields and losing players to other clubs was clearly a challenge to those 1855 clubs, my guess is that the clubs which continued in 1856 simply wanted to do it badly enough that they found ways to do so.   We can't underestimate the importance of continual play by New Jersey clubs, especially the Newark and Newark Junior Clubs which stayed on until the Civil War years.  If every New Jersey club had gone out of existence after one "season," it wouldn't say much about the popularity of the new game  and couldn't have done anything to facilitate the game's growth.  Fortunately that first group of New Jersey players worked things out.  In a different way, it would be equally disappointing and sad, if any of today's vintage clubs went out of existence.  My hope is that the Neshanock and other clubs facing similar challenges will follow the example of those first clubs so 2014 can be another fun year of vintage base ball.

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

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Brooklyn State of Mind

When traveling it's not unusual to forget something, but it's not helpful when that "something" is essential to the success of the trip.  Such was the case on Saturday with the Neshanock's visit to south Brooklyn to take on the New York Gothams near the Old Stone House.  What Flemington left behind was the club's offense which makes it hard to win under the best of circumstances.

Old Stone House - Photo by Mark Granieri

In the first game, the Gothams got off to an early an early 6-1 lead which basically became insurmountable when the Neshanock failed to score over the next five innings.  Some late offense made the final score 14-5 in a match that wasn't that close.  While runs were hard to come by both Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Scott "Snuffy" Hengst recorded three hit games.  By far the most impressive performance in the opener came on defense when Danny "Batman" Shaw flawlessly handled seven chances in  left field.

Danny "Batman" Shaw 

The second game started out like the first with the Gothams scoring three tallies in their first at bat, but this time the Neshanock didn't score an early run.  In fact, not only didn't Flemington score an early run, the club didn't score any runs in an 8-0 shutout lost, reportedly only the second shut out in the club's history.  All told the Neshanock managed only three hits, two by "Jersey" Jim Nunn who missed a clear score when he was retired in his final at bat.  The two losses left Flemington at 22-21 for the season with scheduled doubleheaders left at Elkton, Maryland on October 20th and at Waterloo Village (against the Hoboken "Nine"), the following Saturday, October 26th.

1912 Opening Day at Washington Park, the Dodgers last pre-Ebbets Field home opener

Today's venue was both interesting and challenging as a site for a vintage game.  The matches were played on a small, emphasis on the small, park (appropriately named Washington Park) located adjacent to the Old Stone House.  There's no lack of base ball history in the area as the four incarnations of the Washington Park base ball grounds (home to the Dodgers - pre Ebbets Field and the Brooklyn Federal League Tip Tops) were in located in the area,  part of it on the field where we played today.  The problem is that the park is small with a rectangular shape effectively making it impossible to have a right field.  That was difficult enough, but it became more harder because of the number of people who wanted to use or sit on the field for some other purpose and were unwilling to leave.  I suppose there's a level of historical accuracy in that because crowd control probably became an issue at 19th century games, but there are some aspects of the old game that don't need to be re-created.

Searching for offense - photo by Mark Granieri

The Neshanock's visit to Brooklyn would most likely have made me think about the 19th century inter action between New Jersey clubs and those from the City of Churches, but the seed had already been planted from another direction.  Work is underway on a November 2014 symposium on 19th century base ball in the Greater New York area and I was pleased to be asked to serve on the planning committee.  As part of starting to think about that I sought some parameters for what areas in New Jersey were to be considered part of Greater New York.  In his response, Peter Mancuso, chair of SABR's 19th century committee reminded me of a Brooklyn - New Jersey connection I should have remembered on my own especially since I wrote the book or at least that part of the book.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

I'm referring to my essay in Baseball Founders about the Nassau Club of Princeton, effectively Princeton University's first base ball team.  As I've written before in this blog, the Nassau Club was started in large part by Lewis Mudge and two other young men from Brooklyn who brought their bats and balls as well as their love of the game with them when they enrolled at the College of New Jersey in the fall of 1858.  But Brooklyn and New Jersey's base ball connections go back even further than that.  In fact, the first New Jersey club matches with out of state clubs were three games between the Pioneer Club of Jersey City and the Columbia Club of Brooklyn.  Not playing any favorites between New Jersey's two largest cities, the Brooklyn club also played two 1855 matches with the Olympic Club of Newark.  As also noted previously the Pioneer - Columbia matches also marked the first time a New Jersey club traveled out of state.

Current research indicates that by 1860 there were base ball clubs in Essex, Hudson, Morris, Mercer, Somerset, Union and Middlesex Counties 

These inaugural season (for New Jersey base ball) matches were also no one time thing as Brooklyn and New Jersey clubs played at least once in every season through 1860.  What's especially interesting is the broad range of locations encompassed by this competition.  Research to date indicates that antebellum base ball clubs existed in seven of New Jersey's twenty-one counties.  Matches between Brooklyn and New Jersey clubs took place in six of the seven counties with Morris appearing to be the only exception.  Of special note is an 1858 visit of Brooklyn's Pastime Club to Trenton, New Jersey's state capital.  Although Trenton had a base ball club as early as 1856, the only match game with a club outside of Trenton, was the 1858 contest between the Pastimes and a picked nine of the Trenton and Mercer Clubs.   The Brooklyn team apparently made the round trip from the East River to the Delaware in one day even forgoing a "collation" at Dr. Joline's American Hotel and settling for lesser fare at Whitecar's in order to catch their return train.

Daily True American - September 23, 1858

Until 1860 New Jersey clubs played more matches each year against Brooklyn clubs than with New York foes, even though the leading New York clubs actually played their matches in New Jersey.  Part of this has to be attributable to the fact that New York teams like the Knickerbockers, Eagles and Gothams didn't play a lot of match games during the pre-war years.  Given the social nature of the Manhattan clubs, it's also probably fair to say they preferred to play against fellow New Yorkers they knew on a regular basis and had competed against since the beginning of the decade.  At the same time they also accepted the ability of New Jersey players as evidenced by the half-dozen or so Jersey City players who joined the Eagle Club for the 1856 season.

In 1860, however, the situation was reversed as the New Jersey - New York matches significantly out numbered the Brooklyn - New Jersey encounters.  While some of the old time clubs participated, more are less well known names.  I don't know much about the development of less "prominent" clubs in New York City, but possibly growth in the number of clubs as well as the desire to play additional matches led to more competition between city and state.  By this point, however, base ball or more specifically the New York game had taken firm root in the Garden State.  Thanks for that to some degree belongs to Brooklyn's base ball clubs who were not only willing to compete with their New Jersey counterparts, but also made road trips to do so.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

"What's in a name?" - the Dolly Varden Base Ball Club of Jersey City

In June of 1872 some young men in Jersey City decided to form a base ball club.  To do so they needed to establish by-laws, elect officers, buy uniforms, find a field and, of course, choose a club name.  The last task should have been the easiest and they had almost 20 years of prior examples to draw on.  The possibilities included patriotic names like National, Union or Pioneer, sporting names like Olympic or Athletic and a wide range of other popular names such as Excelsior or Eureka.  None of these, apparently appealed to them since they resolved to call themselves the Dolly Varden Base Ball Club.

Jersey Journal - August 3, 1872

When I first saw the name in the New York Clipper, my first reaction was that like the Elizabeth Resolutes and their pink stockings, these were young men comfortable with their masculinity.  But even so why pick a woman's name for a base ball club?.  The only similar situation I could remember was the Flora Temple club of Paterson, but that female was a famous race horse so the athletic connection was clear.  Yet the name also rang a vague bell and a quick Internet search revealed why.  Dolly Varden was a character in a Charles Dickens novel, Barnaby Rudge, which I read easily 10 years ago.

Scene from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens 

Barnaby Rudge was an early work by the great British novelists, one of his two historical novels, set during the 1780 anti-Catholic riots in England.  One of the book's main characters is a locksmith named Gabriel Varden, one of the few voices of reason and restraint in the story (the novel originally bore his name) and Dolly is his "mad cap" daughter.  Restraint is not a word associated with Dolly who flirts with many, but cares for few, if any.  Interesting, but no clear connection to the United States, much less base ball.  Furthermore, Barnaby Rudge was published in 1841, what possibly could be the base ball connection? But surprisingly there is one.  According to something else I found on the Internet, the first professional women's base ball team was an 1867 African-American team in Philadelphia called the Dolly Vardens.  But even so, why would a Jersey City club model itself on a women's team and African-American one at that?

Dolly Varden dances and dresses

Most likely they didn't, rather it appears the Philadelphia women's choice of the name anticipated a fashion craze that reached its height in 1872.  The starting point appears to have been the Dolly Varden dress which featured bright, colorful patterns, usually with some kind of floral design.  But it didn't stop at dresses as the style also extended to hats, parasols, paper dolls and even Dolly Varden dances.  The craze even brought on a revival of Dickens work, adapted as a stage play focused on the heroine and named, of course, "Dolly Varden."  A sense of the scope and rapid growth of the fad can be seen in the number of hits produced by searching for Dolly Varden on all of the newspapers on the Genealogy Bank web site -  just 15 in 1871 compared to almost 3000 only a year later.

British stage listing indicating popularity of the novel adaptation into a play called "Dolly Varden"

Jersey City was certainly not immune as evidenced by 93 hits in the 1872 Jersey Journal up from zero the year before.  Many of the listings were ads for different Dolly Varden products, enough saturation to provoke one Jersey City man to claim (tongue in cheek, one hopes) that he was the proud owner of a Dolly Varden whip!  Within this context, it's probably not as surprising someone got the bright idea to name a base ball club in Dolly's "honor."

Jersey Journal Ad, April 1, 1872 promoting Dolly Varden fashions

 But what was their real intent?  Possibilities range from suggesting they deserved an equal level of popularity to making fun of the whole "nine days wonder."  Certainly the name wasn't always used in a complimentary manner.  In September of 1872 a Republican speaker in Jersey City lambasted the Democrats as the Dolly Varden party.  Unfortunately I couldn't find out much about the Dolly Varden players.  (It would also be interesting to find out what their uniforms were like). While at least two box scores survive, the common nature of the names has prevented specific identifications.  There was a man named Carrick on the club and two of the three Carrick's in the 1872 Jersey City Directory were in the dry goods business which could be the connection.

The Dolly Vardens pack it in - Jersey Journal, May 5, 1872

Dolly Varden's stay at the top of the fashion world lasted about as long as the fictional character's attention to her latest beau.  A search of the following year revealed only seven hits in the Jersey Journal, almost half of which were houses of ill repute called Dolly Varden homes.  The base ball club didn't waste time in jumping off the band wagon either as less than a year after their formation, the Dolly Varden Club became the Independent Club, reverting to one of the old patriotic names.  How much on the field success they achieved under their new name (or the old one for that matter) remains to be discovered.  But no matter what, they certainly earned a place on the list of most creative team names!