Thursday, January 23, 2014

Saloon Keepers and Sportswriters

A first look at post Civil War newspapers indicates that similar to rural areas, base ball enjoyed dramatic growth in New Jersey's cities during the second half of the decade, especially in 1866 and 1867.  While growth in rural areas began with the formation of the first base ball clubs, Newark, Jersey City and Paterson all had organized teams before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter.  Post war urban expansion, therefore, meant an increase in the number of teams, primarily junior clubs, plus other forms of base ball that couldn't happen in rural areas because of population limits.  In Newark and Paterson, for example, factory workers formed teams to take on their peers from competing businesses.  Interestingly workers in both cities played their matches during regular business hours, primarily on Saturdays and Mondays.  Enlightened management's willingness to allow some summer afternoons off for physical exercise was an important factor in enabling these teams to play at all since Sunday, the workers one day off, was not an option..

Henry Chadwick

Among the Newark businesses represented in match play were manufacturers of trunks, saddlery hardware and hats.  In almost every case the opposition consisted of workers from a competing company in the same field.  Because of its unique river location, Jersey City hosted matches between teams representing the different ferries serving New York and New Jersey.  Businesses without sufficient employees to field a team also found ways to get on the field which took a somewhat comical turn in July of 1867 in a match between saloon keepers of Newark's 1st and 4th Wards.

Based on an Newark Daily Advertiser article, the challengers from the 4th Ward team should have had no problem in filling their lineup since there were "more licensed liquor houses than any other ward" within its boundaries.   Bounded on the west by Broad Street, the east by the Passaic River and the south by William Street, the ward was "swarming with manfacturies" and had few residents other than an enclave of Newark's richest citizens living near the northern boundary on Park Place.  Also covering a relatively small geographic area was the neighboring 1st Ward, bounded on the west by High Street (today's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) extending to the north just short of Clay Street and sharing the Passaic River as an eastern boundary.  While saloons may not have been as prevalent as in the 4th Ward, there was apparently no shortage of places for a Newarker to quench his thirst as evidenced by saloons located at 21, 75 and 94 Broad Street.  It's small wonder that contemporary newspapers carried frequent references to the local temperance movement.

Jacob Wambold not only played in the saloon keepers match, but was also a member of the Newark Club, the city's first base ball team founded in 1855

A few days prior to the match, the Advertiser predicted a weighty affair between players "but little above or below two hundred pounds," with two prospective participants "going near three hundred."  One of these two prodigious "athletes" played shortstop, presumably with little range, but well "built" to knock down any thing hit close to him.  However at game time all but one of the 4th Ward eight (each team was one player short) were "sleek, fat and paunchy," while their opponents were "thin as a rail."  The weight disparity was ascribed to "more liberal" spending by 4th Ward saloon patrons which apparently led to both prosperity and paunch.

19th Century Beer Barrel 

Although its uncertain when beer drinking became a fixture at New Jersey base ball games, given the participating teams, it's no surprise that part of inner man was well provided for on this occasion.  On the way to the grounds in East Newark, eyewitnesses noted the players carried "more bottles" than "bats" and upon arrival a stand was set up "from which the 'lager' flowed freely."  If the beer was provided in case the game itself was boring that did not prove to be the case.  Although the 1st Ward group may have looked more athletic, the challengers took an early lead and held on for a 38-34 victory.  Both sides then adjourned for clam chowder at "Reynolds magnificent hotel" at the expense of the losers.  The Advertiser summed up the game as "a somewhat novel, if not very scientific match."

While there were no doubt local bragging rights riding on the outcome of the saloon keepers match, the cost of defeat paled in comparison to what was at stake in the September 1867 Newark - New York/Brooklyn newspaper reporters match.  Although the game's stated purpose was to provide "a means for making the acquaintance of the New York reporters," the Newark players obviously didn't want to embarrass themselves in front of their counterparts from the home of the New York game.  A poor performance in front of these distinguished visitors would be bad enough, but at least they didn't see the New York writers on a regular basis.  Worse still would be to disgrace themselves in front of some of the players, whose performance they evaluated on a regular basis.  Perhaps thinking the best defense was a good offense, the Advertiser's reporter took advantage of his public platform and used the paper's September 12, 1867 edition to proclaim that:

Newark Daily Advertiser - September 12, 1867

Recognizing the seriousness of the occasion, the Newark writers arranged to use the Eureka Club's (Newark's premier club) grounds near Adams street in the Ironbound section and asked the Aetna and Social Friendship Clubs to postpone their previously scheduled contest.  The importance of the match was under scored by the Newark Evening Courier devoting a significant amount of space to its account of the game.  Since, however, its base ball reporter was playing, writing about the match fell to an unidentified scribe who not only had never have played the game, but also claimed he had seen only two matches before this one.  The writer didn't make his job any easier by arriving in the third inning to find the Newarkers ahead 9-3.  He then proceeded to identify first base as the "first bag of sand" (an error later corrected) and attributing a catch to "what's his name."  As the match progressed, however, the writer  got some sense of the proceedings and provided a coherent account of the game's dramatic conclusion.

G. Wisner Thorne of the Newark Evening Courier - pitcher for the Newark reporters team

Going to the bottom of the eighth, Newark led 21-13 but the New York/Brooklyn crew erupted for nine runs to take a 22-21 lead as the match went to the top of the ninth.  With their backs to the wall, in front of their fellow citizens, the Newark scribes rose to the occasion and tallied six times for a five run advantage.  With victory within reach, pitcher, G. Wisner Thorne of the Courier bore down and limited the visitors to one meaningless run.  Much of the Newark reporters success was credited to Thorne's pitching, he also hit a home run, the only one of the contest.  Credit was also due to catcher, R. Newton Crane of the Advertiser who retired 10 of the opposition on foul balls.  While this may have been Crane's biggest on the field  base ball moment, he went on to play a significant off the field role in base ball on a much bigger stage both nationally and even internationally, stay tuned.

Robert Newton Crane of the Newark Daily Advertiser and  Thorne's battery mate 

After the match, the participants adjourned to the City Dining Saloon on Broad Street for an hour of songs and speeches, lubricated, no doubt, by some of Newark's best brew.  In a very hospitable gesture, the Newark writers presented awards for the best opponent batting, fielding and "superior playing."  Of special interest is a "handsomely inscribed broad, baker's shovel bat" presented to Gill of the Sunday News.  A regulation bat had already been presented to another New York reporter and this "baker's shovel bat" is reminiscent of descriptions of bats used by the Antiquarian Knickerbockers in their "old fashioned base ball" matches

Also of note is a "handsome parlor ball" given to one Chadwick of the Ball Player's Chronicle, who is, clearly, the Father of Base Ball himself, Henry Chadwick.  Regardless of how Chadwick's fellow reporters felt about his writing, they clearly didn't think much of him as a player since he batted last.  Although the visitors "returned home highly delighted with the afternoon's sport," they couldn't have been as happy, and perhaps relieved, as the home team who had preserved their honor.  While some had predicted a muffin match "with the totals of the score ambitiously reaching among the hundreds," in fact there were "numerous exhibitions of individual play by both nines which would have done credit to experienced players."

Newark Daily Advertiser - September 14, 1867

An important aspect of these "non-club" matches was that they allowed more men to actually get on the field and play a match game in a formalized setting under rules enforced by an umpire.  Some had doubtless played base ball in less structured settings, but for the most part the only way to have shared this experience was as a member of a base ball club with all of the corresponding requirements and responsibilities.  It will be important to look in more detail at some of the participants especially in the "company" games, but some had to be too old to join a junior club and/or meet all of the requirements of a formal club.  Factory workers or tradesmen playing under a company name against an organized opponent were experiencing base ball without a required club membership they couldn't have or didn't want.  This additional exposure to base ball had to help increase its popularity as the country moved into the post war era.

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