Thursday, January 9, 2014

In Chadwick's footsteps - New Jersey's First Sportswriters

If the newspaper accounts of the October 1845 New York - Brooklyn base ball contests were the first media coverage of match games, then they marked the beginning of an over 80 year period where most people got base ball news primarily from print media.  Until the rapid growth of radio in the 1920's, newspapers were the main means people learned about, became interested in and followed what quickly became known as the national game.  Especially important during the pioneer period were the sports weeklies such as the Sunday Mercury, The New York Clipper, and the different incarnations of the Spirit of the Times.

Masthead of the New York Clipper

For a national audience these publications provided access to baseball to those who, even if so inclined, had no easy means to watch a match.  On a more local level in New Jersey, the closest thing to a statewide publication was the Newark Daily Advertiser (founded in 1832), with a modest circulation of about 4000.  As with other 19th century newspapers, the Advertiser reached an audience beyond Newark through the mail and weekly newspapers that repeated stories first printed in the Newark paper.

Mastheads of the three Newark Civil War era newspapers

A politically moderate paper in a fiercely partisan field, the Advertiser competed with the much more partisan Newark Evening Journal (Democrat) and Newark Daily Mercury (Republican).  All three papers along with the state's other daily newspapers in Jersey City (2), Paterson (2), Trenton (2) and New Brunswick (1) began reporting base ball news almost as soon as the first New Jersey clubs took the field in 1855.  Many of the early accounts appear to be submissions by club secretaries such as the identical account about the formation of the short-lived Pavonia Club (Jersey City) which appeared in both New Jersey and New York newspapers probably because the team had a very diligent secretary.  Some submissions must have become somewhat ungentlemanly as in September of 1859 the American Standard (Jersey City) insisted that:

                Persons sending accounts of matches between the different ball clubs to this office
                for publication, must avoid personalities in their remarks on the game; we cannot
                side with any particular club, but must treat all alike, therefore to insure insertion
                of these matters, personalities must be avoided.

Perhaps partially to avoid having to censor inappropriate comments, one of the Standard's competitors, the Daily Courier and Advertiser appointed what appears to be the first New Jersey base ball beat writer.  Beginning in 1858, this unidentified individual covered the growing number of Jersey City clubs especially the more competitive Lone Star and Hamilton Clubs.  The reporter was clearly knowledgeable about the larger base ball scene as an 1859 account of a Hamilton Club match, praises shortstop N. B. Shaffer as "rapidly approaching Gelston and Grum," players for the more prominent Eagle and Eckford  clubs.  The writer was also a fair judge of talent as Shaffer went on to play for the Eagle Club, becoming president in 1866.  The media attention seems to have been appreciated by the city's first ball players as more than one account mentions cheers for the Courier as part of post match festivities.

Newspaper coverage of base ball, along with base ball activity itself, declined when the Civil War broke out in 1861.  A lack of space for base ball was understandable given that the typical daily newspaper only allotted about half of a four page edition to news of all kinds.  Reports of battles, letters and news about local troops and especially editorials crowded out whatever base ball activity there might have been as extremely partisan Republican and Democratic newspapers conducted a harsh war of words at the same time the armies struggled on the battlefield.

Just one example of the editorial fireworks were the reactions of the three Newark newspapers to the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862, which make one wonder if they were referring to the same document.  The middle of the road Advertiser praised the "moderation and conservatism of the President," while the Republican Mercury accused any potential critics of giving aid and comfort to the enemy.  Not the least bit cowed by this unveiled accusation was the fiercely Democratic Daily Journal which called the Proclamation unconstitutional and warned that it might promote slave rebellion.  These verbal fisticuffs continued until July of 1864 when Edward Fuller, the peace-Democrat and Copperhead editor of the Journal, was arrested for treason after he urged the state's residents to resist the draft.  Wisely choosing not to make a martyr of Fuller, the government released him on bail and then allowed Fuller to plead guilty to a lesser charge in February of 1865.

John Y. Foster

Although peace came a few months later, the war's aftermath and Lincoln's assassination occupied most of the media's attention for the rest of 1865.  By 1866, however, more available space, the dramatic expansion of base ball and the advent of a new newspaper contributed to unprecedented base ball coverage in the Newark newspapers.  After the death of the Mercury at the end of 1863, the Advertiser was the semi-official Republican newspaper in Newark while the Journal (now called the Daily Journal) remained staunchly Democratic.  June of 1866, however, marked the founding of the Newark Evening Courier, edited by Republican leader and future New Jersey Civil War historian, John Y. Foster.  In a step that would have been unthinkable prior to 1865, the Courier proclaimed itself a Radical Republican paper (emphasis mine), committed, therefore, to a liberal agenda especially with regard to the rights of former slaves.

Almost immediately, the new paper also showed it intended to compete with its rivals on other fronts besides politics.  An August 1866 article belittled errors in the Advertiser's base ball coverage and gave a special reminder

                To those who are particular in having authentic base ball news, we would again say
'read the Courier'

Less than a year later, the Courier ratcheted up the pressure, proudly announcing the engaging of "the services of one of the most experienced base ball reporters in the country" exclusively for its readers.

Newark Daily Journal - September 12, 1867

Unfortunately, as with the unidentified Jersey City reporter, the new writer went nameless.  Later that same year, however,  a match between Newark reporters and a similar group from Brooklyn and New York facilitated the possible identification of at least some early New Jersey sports writers.  A September 12, 1867 Journal article previewing the match listed not only each man's last name, but also his newspaper.  Even though the first names were not provided, it seemed that city directory listings of names and occupations would quickly identify the writers/players.  However, as with much 19th century base ball research, it wasn't that simple.

Richard W. Gilder 

Fortunately, however, further digging led to highly probable identifications of three of the Newark reporters and the team's scorer.  Then as now, the score keeper's position required a person of sound judgement and the Newark reporter's team was no exception.  R. W. Gilder is, in fact, Richard Watson Gilder, who became editor of the Century magazine, a leading 19th century publication, in addition to being a highly regarded poet and humanitarian.  Gilder worked for the Advertiser from 1864 until 1868 when he and Newton Crane left the paper to found the Newark Morning Register.  Crane was not just Gilder's partner on the Advertiser and the Morning Register, but also the pitcher on the Newark reporter's team.  Like, Gilder, Crane left Newark for bigger and better things including the editorial staff of the St. Louis Democrat, U.S. Consul to Manchester, England and a law career in Missouri.

The Century Magazine - during Richard W. Gilder's tenure as editor

Staying much closer to home was one of the Courier's  representatives on the team, G. Wisner Thorne.  Descended from some important members of the Revolutionary generation, Thorne began working for the Courier at 17 ultimately becoming the chief editor of the Sunday Call of Newark.  In addition he was active in the Episcopal Church, philanthropic activities and, predictably, the Sons of the American Revolution.  Also finding his calling in journalism was Frank W. Baldwin, who represented the Journal on the 1867 team.  Nineteen at the time of the match, Baldwin became editor of the Orange Chronicle in the neighboring community of the same name.

G. Wisner Throne

Since 19th century newspaper accounts didn't have by-lines, it's impossible to know how much base ball reporting these men or the remaining unidentified ones actually did.  The best guess is that given the extensive detailed base ball accounts in the Newark papers in 1866-67, each of them covered at least some base ball matches.  If nothing else, they at least symbolically represent those who recorded and reported the exploits of New Jersey's first base ball players.  Perhaps more importantly, they wrote not only the "first draft of history," but in many cases what is the only surviving record of the state's base ball pioneers.  

1 comment:

  1. Richard HershbergerJanuary 19, 2014 at 12:32 PM

    Most of the New York reporters in that list can be independently verified as being active baseball reporters. The bit New York dailies usually had a single identifiable baseball reporter. The sporting weeklies had more staff devoted to baseball, but usually had an identifiable baseball editor. It seems to me unlikely that the Newark dailies had multiple baseball reporters, so I suspect that these were chosen from the general reporting pool.

    On a different note, I don't think you post title is quite right, as it seems to suggest that Chadwick broke new ground by being a baseball reporter. He actually wasn't especially prominent until the war years. It was the post-war period where he stood out as the premier baseball reporter, with his influence fading in the early '70s. Before the war, William Cauldwell and William Porter were the ones who pioneered the profession. The various pre-war accomplishments ascribed to Chadwick are from much later, usually based on Chadwick's recollections, where his personal role was enhanced and backdated.