Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Shall We Gather by the River?

Yesterday, the Flemington Neshanock made their annual visit to Newtown, Pennsylvania as part of that community's Memorial Day observations.  The opposition was provided by the hometown Newton Strakes, a club which comes together just once a year for this match.  What they lack in 19th century experience, the Strakes more than make up for in youth and athleticism.  Every game in the series has been close and today was no exception with the Strakes tallying three times in the top of the first for a quick 3-0 lead.  Flemington got one back in their half, but Newtown matched that in the top of the fifth to lead 4-1 going to the bottom of the inning.  However, the Neshanock's offense got untracked in their turn at bat, tallying twice to make it a one run contest.  After blanking Newtown in the top of the sixth, Flemington added two more tallies in bottom of the inning to take a lead they would not relinquish.

Over the last three innings, the pitching of Dan "Sledge" Hammer and solid all around Neshanock defense not only shut out the home club, but allowed only one Strakes' base runner.  Flemington put the game out of reach in the bottom of the eighth, tallying four times for the final margin of 9-4.  Offensively Flemington was led by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner who had three hits ably supported by "Sledge," "Jersey" Jim Nunn, Glenn "Masher" Modica, Rene and Ken "Tumbles" Mandel all with two apiece.  Muffin Glenn "Masher" Modica continued his impressive hitting with a key double when the Neshanock took the lead in the sixth and Rene, another muffin, had an important hit in the game clinching rally in the eighth.  Hitting last in the order, Ken "Tumbles" Mandel earned a clear score which will surely make him very popular when his family moves to Newtown later this year.  With the win, the Neshanock's overall record improves to 5-8 going into an off weekend.  Flemington will return to action on Sunday, June 8th in Clinton, New Jersey against the Elkton Eclipse. 

Those members of the Neshanock who traveled to Newtown from New Jersey did so by one of the many Delaware River bridges.  There are so many options, it's sometimes hard to remember that New Jersey is something of an island, surrounded by water on almost three sides.  Back in the 19th century the feeling of isolation created by the water barriers must have seemed even greater especially in the southern part of the state which had no railroad service, lacked good roads and was more sparsely populated.  These limitations effected almost every aspect of life and the area's first base ball clubs were no exception.  Lower population levels meant fewer teams and transportation challenges made it more difficult to schedule and travel to matches.

Riverboat John Warner on the Delaware about 1898

A case in point is the experience of the Mosacsa Club of Salem, the county seat of New Jersey's extreme southwestern county.  The town or village of Salem is located on Salem Creek about three miles from where it flows into the Delaware River.  Due to its proximity to the river, Salem was an early commercial center before it and other Delaware River towns were eclipsed by Philadelphia about 1750.  From then on until the railroad reached Salem in the 1860's, travel options were limited to long stage coach rides over bad roads or boats on the Delaware.  Not surprisingly boats became the preferred option and steam boat service to and from Philadelphia began on a semi weekly basis about 1816.  This also made Salem the starting point for the arduous overland journey to Cape May as vacationers arrived there by boat from Philadelphia to catch stages headed to the resort.

Salem Sunbeam - July 27, 1866

So far the earliest documented record found about the Mosacsa Club describes the club's 1865 win over the National Club of Delaware City, but the club's primary early opponent was the nearby Bridgeton Club.  Bridgeton, the county seat of Cumberland County, had a club no later than 1864, most likely a year earlier, and it wouldn't be surprising if the Mosacasas themselves go back into the Civil War years, unnoticed or at least unreported by the local newspapers.  Bridgeton is about 16 miles from Salem, and had the closest New Jersey club so the two teams apparently alternated carriage rides to play each other.  One account of a Mosacsa visit to Bridgeton says the club left "early" by carriage and arrived in Bridgeton about 9:00 a.m, making one wonder what time the writer considered "early."  In addition to their county seat peers, there were at least seven other clubs in Cumberland, Salem and Gloucester Counties, all within 30 miles of Salem, but there is no record of the Mosacsa playing any of them.

1870 Newspaper ad for the steamers that brought Philadelphia clubs to Salem

Instead of taking on other New Jersey clubs, the Salem team found its opponents across the river in both Delaware and Pennsylvania.  Even these journeys weren't without hazards as Mosacsa's performance in an 1868 match at Milford, Delaware was reportedly sub-par due to "being tossed about upon the 'briny deep."  That didn't stop them, however as two years later, the Mosacsa played ten matches all of which, with the exception of Bridgeton, could be said to have been part of an informal Delaware River league with the river serving as an interstate highway.  Although easier than rough roads in a spring-less carriage, the river had other challenges beyond sea sickness.   For an 1870 match with the Mosacsa at Salem, the Mutual Club of Philadelphia sailed on a wind driven "pleasure yacht" and because the wind was against them, didn't arrive until late afternoon.  Another Philadelphia team, the Village Club avoided the fickleness of the wind by taking the steamer Perry to Salem, but the return trip wasn't as smooth as the game had to be stopped after eight innings so the Villagers could catch the 6:00 p.m. freight train back home.

1870 West Jersey Railroad schedule showing the 6:00 freight taken by the Village Club on the return trip from Salem to Philadelphia

All told the Mosacsa Club hosted six different Philadelphia clubs at Salem in 1870, all of which appear to have come at least one way by water.  While there is no record of Mosacsa visits to the City of Brotherly Love, the Salem team did take to the waves on the Major Reynolds to visit New Castle, Delaware where they won two matches in one day.  The Mosacsa only lost once in ten 1870 matches, in a game against the Union Club of Camden or so they called themselves.  In describing the match to the National Standard, "S" claimed to have seen members of at least five other clubs playing as Unions including members of the Athletic and Keystone Clubs of Philadelphia.  Some of the visitors were allegedly professionals, but even with this disadvantage and reportedly playing without three of their own regular lineup, the Mosacsa team lost by only three runs.  While the claims about the "loaded" lineup are almost impossible to verify, there was an Albertson on the Keystone Club and a Hayhurst on the Athletics.  Regardless "S" was clearly upset which was understandable as this was supposedly team's first loss in two years.

National Standard - August 17, 1870

Much more recently, in 2010, an effort took place to organize a vintage version of the Mosaca Club which, unfortunately, wasn't successful.  At the time other vintage clubs in Delaware and Maryland vouched for how a club in south Jersey would help their scheduling.  While the mode of transport would have been different, such scheduling would have been one more instance of historical accuracy in recreating 19th century base ball.  

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Meet Me at the Fair

As most readers of this blog probably know, we are still in the process of observing and commemorating the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.  2014 marks the 150th anniversary of the events of 1864, a far more important year in American history than is usually recognized.  It was a year filled with uncertainty, as heavy Union casualties with limited military success seemed to foreshadow the defeat of Abraham Lincoln in his bid for re-election.  As the Union spring offenses began in May, there was widespread disagreement throughout the north about many aspects of the war, but supporting the soldiers, especially the injured and wounded, was one issue where there was consensus.  In 1861, recognizing the importance of this work, the government established the United States Sanitary Commission as a private relief agency to care for the sick and wounded.

Artist rendering of the Great Central Fair held in Philadelphia in 1864

Caring for soldiers was expensive work and a primary means of raising funds, especially for medical expenses, was a series of fairs, one of the largest of which was held in Philadelphia for three weeks in June of 1864.  The Great Central Fair was an incredible volunteer effort that saw craftsmen and builders donate their time to build exhibit halls and related buildings covering 200,000 square feet at Philadelphia's Logan Square in just 40 days.  Other volunteers then filled the space with exhibits of art, horticulture, historical artifacts and exhibits from the northern states.  The event was a huge success attracting 250,000 visitors including President Lincoln and raised over $1 million for the Sanitary Commission.

Stationary of the Great Central Fair 

While preparations for the fair were underway, a new base ball season was beginning, one the media predicted would be closer to the pre-war norm even though the war was far from over.  Base ball clubs were not adverse to helping the war effort so plans were made for a series of matches in Philadelphia prior to the fair with the gate receipts to go to the Sanitary Commission.  The proceedings were scheduled to open on May 25th with a match between New Jersey and Pennsylvania "select" or "all star" teams, to be followed by some club matches, but rain wiped out all, but the opener.  Finding an appropriate venue wasn't a problem as the Olympic Club of Philadelphia was set to open what the New York Clipper described as the city's first "permanent field of operations" for base ball at Jefferson and 25th Streets.  Although these were "all star" teams, talent was supposedly not the sole criteria used in picking the squads.  While no information has been found as to who actually selected the players, the Clipper claimed that if it was based on skill alone, the New Jersey lineup would have been drawn exclusively from the Eureka and Newark Clubs.  Instead, whoever was making the decisions, wanted to have more clubs represented thereby (they hoped) attracting more paying customers.

Charles Thomas of the Eureka Club of Newark

As a result the New Jersey lineup came from five different clubs, beginning with Tyrell and Bill Lewis of the Newark Club plus Henry Northrup and Charles Thomas of the Eureka Club.  They were joined by Weston Fisler and Frank Knight of the nearby Camden Club, a team that had only just switched to the New York game.  Although both Fisler and Knight were good players, the organizers probably expected, or at least hoped, that the presence of some local players would boost attendance. Also on the team were Henry Millspaugh and Frederick Henry of the Nassau Club of Princeton who, while they weren't as experienced as the others, had demonstrated they didn't lack for ability.

Made up of Princeton University students, the Nassau Club had defeated the Athletics of Philadelphia the prior year and more than held their own on a visit to Brooklyn, winning three of four matches with the only loss a respectable 18-11 defeat at the hands of the Atlantics.  Finally and most fascinating from a research standpoint was Baird (first name unknown) of the Bridgeton Club.  To date no information as been discovered about either Baird or the Bridgeton Club prior to 1864, although his selection for a May "all star" match strongly argues for an organizational date no later than 1863.  If so, the Bridgeton Club has the distinction of being the first south Jersey club besides the Philadelphia town ball playing Camden Club.

Dick McBride of the Athletic Club of Philadelphia

Like the New Jersey team, the Pennsylvania lineup was drawn from five teams, two each from the Olympic and Athletic clubs, two apiece from the Keystone and Mercantile Clubs and one from Altoona.  Inclusiveness over pure ability was also used to choose the Pennsylvania nine, but the organizers understood the importance of good pitching as both clubs had highly regarded players at that position.   Pennsylvania's pitcher was John Dickson (Dick) McBride from the Athletics, a former cricket player, who quickly became one of the period's best pitchers.  Henry Chadwick, himself, claimed that "what Dick doesn't know about the tricks and dodges of strategic pitching isn't worth knowing" while years later legendary sportswriter, Tim Murnane, said McBride was the first to master the "raise ball."  Also not without deceptive pitching skills was Fred Henry of the Nassau Club, as his pitching had "bothered the Atlantics" because of a "slow ball with a heavy twist."  Former teammates and fellow students later claimed Henry was the first to intentionally throw a curve ball.

Weston Fisler as a member of the Athletics of Philadelphia

The rain that ultimately wiped out the remaining matches also toyed with the New Jersey - Pennsylvania affair as "rain threatened every hour" limiting the attendance to 1-2000.  Admission was 25 cents, reportedly the highest admission charge to date, albeit for a good cause.  Ironically once Philadelphia introduced 25 cent base ball, it was reluctant to give it up as early 20th century major league owners frequently lamented how the city's clubs resisted increasing the base admission fee.  Regardless of the weather, the scene was apparently an attractive spectacle as the Clipper noted "the bevy of fair ladies" sitting behind the players with "the handsome clubhouse for a background."  Although there was probably some editorial excess involved, the players' conduct was reportedly "praiseworthy in the extreme" as umpire Peter O'Brien of the Brooklyn Atlantic's decisions were "received with entire satisfaction" by the players.

In spite of the threatening weather the game got underway at 2:45 with the New Jersey side tallying twice.  Pennsylvania went out without a run in their first at bat, but tied the game at 2-2 after two innings.  After that it was a back and forth affair through five innings with New Jersey ahead 8-7.  In the top of the sixth, however, New Jersey's "good batting," "helped" by the Keystone State team's "miscatches" and "wild throwing" led to a nine run inning for the Garden Staters and an 17-7 lead.  From then on whether it was Henry's "heavy twist," strong New Jersey defense or a combination of the two, Pennsylvania failed to score in its next three at bats, before tallying three meaningless runs in the ninth in an 18-10 defeat.   Henry's pitching dominated the game as almost half (13) of Pennsylvania's 27 outs came on foul balls in addition to four strikes outs.  Given those numbers, no passed balls and only two muffs by the New Jersey team, it's surprising Pennsylvania actually scored ten times.

New York Clipper - June 4, 1864

While the game had no special significance in the 1864 season or in base ball history, it was perhaps symbolic in a number of ways.  Organizing and putting on the event showed that base ball people were ready to get back to business even if the war had almost a year to run (something they couldn't have known at the time).  Also important was the presence and performance of Frederick Henry.  Regardless of whether he, Candy Cummings or someone else, "invented" the curve ball, Henry's dominant pitching, in spite of new rules placing restrictions on pitchers, showed that pitching would always be a major part of base ball. In addition the inclusion of Henry and one of his college teammates in the lineup anticipated New Jersey success in college base ball, something that continues to the present day.  War or no war, base ball was not only back for a new season, but ready and able for further growth and expansion. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Weekend in Cooperstown - base ball at its best

 Lake Otsego, Cooperstown, New York

Over the course of a seven month vintage base ball season, the Neshanock customarily take two or three overnight trips, primarily to play matches with clubs from outside of our area.  This past weekend was the first of two such 2014 trips, a visit to base ball's mythical birthplace, Cooperstown, New York for two days of matches at the Ommegang Brewery.  Also making the trip were longtime friendly opponents, the Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn, a new rival - the Lewes Club of Lewes, Delaware and the Keystone Club of Harrisburg, an occasional opponent at regional events.  Since a visit to Cooperstown also offers opportunities for book buying and archival research, Carol and I went up on Thursday to take full advantage of the possibilities. 

Thursday afternoon was devoted to scouring the shelves of local bookstores which produced six additional volumes for my base ball library including an early edition of Zane Grey's 1909 novel, The Shortstop.  With the book needs met (if only temporarily), a rainy and overcast Friday was spent in the Giamatti Research Center in the Hall of Fame Library.  Most of the focus was on the later part of the 19th century, but I revisited the 1858-1861 Hamilton Club of Jersey City's minute book. While the Hamilton Club had very modest on-the-field success, its minute book is significant because, as far as I know, it's the only detailed record of an antebellum New Jersey club that still exists.  Not surprisingly, further review surfaced some interesting items including an entry which may help identify New Jersey's first sportswriter, more about that in a future blog post.

Minute Book of the Hamilton Club of Jersey City

With research and book buying time finished, if not complete, Saturday and Sunday were spent at Ommegang Brewery outside of Cooperstown beginning with an inaugural match against the Lewes Club of Delaware.  As the accompanying pictures illustrate, playing at Ommegang means taking on the terrain (up and down with plenty of rough spots) as well as the opposing team.  Flemington got off to an early 4-0 lead, but Lewes tied it in the second and gradually built a 12-7 lead after six innings.  However, the Neshanock rallied for four in the seventh and three in the eighth to lead 14-13 as Lewes came to bat in the bottom of the eighth.  Lewes had only tallied once since the fourth, but five straight hits produced three runs so Flemington trailed by two going to the ninth.  Although the Neshanock offense was much improved this weekend, the side was retired in order and Lewes prevailed in a closely contested match.  Flemington welcomed back Mark "Peaches" Rubini to the lineup and he more than responded to the opportunity with five hits.  Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Chris "Lowball" Lowry also contributed four hits apiece and Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw wasn't far behind with three.

After a brief recess to sample Ommegang's best brew, the action resumed with Flemington hosting the Keystone Club of Harrisburg.  From the start, the Neshanock's defense was in fine form, holding the Keystone Club to just one run over the first six innings.  Among the defensive gems was Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw picking a runner off of first base and Dan "Sledge" Hammer throwing a runner out attempting to steal second, continuing the tradition of rifle armed (albeit of varying calibers) Neshanock catchers.  Flemington scored once in each of the first three innings and added three more in the sixth for what appeared to be a comfortable 6 to 1 lead.  As so often happens in base ball, however, just when a lead seems safe, it disappeared when Harrisburg erupted for a six run inning and a 7-6 lead.  Fortunately Flemington was far from done, scoring five in the seventh and adding six in the eighth while blanking the Keystoners the rest of the way for a 17-7 win.  Mark "Peaches" Rubini, not only matched his five hit performance of the first game, but didn't make an out the entire match, earning a clear score in the process.  Everyone on the Neshanock had at least one hit and the bottom of the order made a major contribution with Joey "Midnight" Gallo and Joe "Irish" Colduvell getting two hits apiece, with Irish adding a stolen base.

 Sunday brought a quick and unexpected turn-around as word was received about 7:00 a.m. that the first game had been moved up an hour.  Although challenged by age and related factors, the Zinns rose (literally and figuratively) to the challenge and made the first pitch in ample time.  Of the weekend's four matches, the contest with the Atlantics seemed to have the least potential for any success as in three previous encounters, the Brooklyn team outscored Flemington by an embarrassing combined score of 49-2.  This match began on a more hopeful note, when Flemington tallied three times in their first striking attempt, but the Atlantics responded with a seven run first, painfully reminiscent of a nine run first inning only a week ago.  After that, however, the tide began to change as the Neshanock added seven runs over the next three innings while allowing only one Atlantic tally.  

Trailing (not a word usually associated with the Atlantics) 10-8 headed to the bottom of the fifth, Brooklyn tallied five times to retake the lead.  Flemington came back to score once in the sixth and three times in the seventh to tie the match at 14-14 as the Atlantics came to bat in the same inning.  By that point, as Ed "Pigtail" Elmore, Captain of the Atlantic said afterwards, the Neshanock had put a scare into what, in my opinion, is the best vintage base ball club in the country.  A scare is one thing, an upset victory is another and the Atlantics tallied five times in the seventh and blanked Flemington the rest of the way for a very hard earned 19-14 win.  Once again Mark "Peaches" Rubini led the attack with three hits (13 over three games) followed by Dan "Sledge" Hammer, Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner, Danny Shaw and Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw, all with two apiece.  Superlative defense also a major reason for the close contest with "Peaches," "Sledge," and "Thumbs" all making exceptional plays under the very difficult conditions.

With three matches in the books and long car rides ahead for all, Flemington and Lewes met for a re-match.  Continued solid defense behind "Brooklyn's" stout pitching limited the Delaware club to one tally through five frames while the Neshanock tallied seven times.  At that point, however, Flemington's offense dried up while Lewes chipped away to tie the game at 7-7 after eight innings.  Lewes went down 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth, giving the Neshanock an opportunity to score and head for their cars.  Charles "Bugs' Klasman (a much appreciated guest from the Gotham Club of New York) led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, but the Neshanock could not bring him home and the match went to extra innings.  It's almost automatic in base ball that if a team fails to win a game in the bottom of the ninth, the missed opportunity will come back to haunt them.  It looked like that would happen once again as Lewes tallied once for a one run advantage, but Joey "Midnight" Gallo led off with a single, stole second (or his runner did) and advanced to third on a ground out.  "Peaches" then singled the tying run home and was on third with two hands out and Dave "Illinois" Harris at the striker's line.  No one on the Neshanock bench was surprised when "Illinois" rose to the challenge and drove "Peaches home with the winning tally, sending the Neshanock party home happy with two wins in four closely contested matches. 

Partial list of the membership of the Hamilton Club of Jersey City

The four hour car ride home left plenty of time for reflection on a great weekend of base ball.  In the introduction to our book about the 1916 season, I wrote that while that season wasn't base ball greatest season, it was base ball at its best because it featured close pennant races, record setting performances and controversy.  As I think about it, the four matches at Ommegang were also base ball at its best, but for different reasons.  While it would have been great to have won all four matches (especially the once against the Atlantics), just being part of competitive matches had its own rewards.  A not insignificant part of those rewards was the spirit in which the matches were played - intense, competitive, but with respect for the opposition that made the post match handshake far more than a formality.  Vintage base ball tries to recreate, not just the hitting, pitching and fielding of the 19th century, but also the spirit in which the game was played.  At Ommegang, I think we did just that which made it base ball at its best.  Thanks to all who made it possible especially family and friends who endured two days of chilly and windy conditions.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Research Made Simpler

Every generation reaches a point where they start telling the next generation how much more difficult their lives and experiences were compared to the present day.  The classic example is the parent telling the child, that he (it was usually a he) walked ten miles to school each day, uphill both ways.  The same thing is true of doing research, but the dramatic changes in technology, especially Internet related have changed research so much that one doesn't have to be that old to remember the bad old days.  In doing genealogical research, for example, finding census information from England meant finding a library that had it on microfilm and then searching rolls and rolls, trying to find one's ancestors.  Today all the census data is a few clicks away, albeit for a price, on various genealogical web sites.

Similar advances have benefited base ball historians, but two thus far in 2014 have made the work infinitely easier.  The first took place when the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections made available the full run of the surviving issues of the New York Clipper  (http://veridian.library.illinois.edu/cgi-bin/illinois?a=cl&cl=CL1&sp=NYC&e=-------en-20--1--txt-txIN)in an incredibly user friendly format.  A lot of what has been posted on this blog since February has been drawn from that resource.  If that wasn't enough, the Brooklyn Public Library has not only completed the digitization of the full run of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (http://newsstand.bklynpubliclibrary.org/) which previously has been available only through 1902, but it too in an what seems like an unbelievably easy to use format.

Last night while browsing through the Eagle looking for something total unrelated (which is usually the way), I found the below picture from the July 3, 1949 issue of the paper, headlining a story by long time Eagle writer, Tommy Holmes, about sport in Brooklyn.  The original picture, however, was from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper from November 4, 1865 highlighting the end of the base ball season

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper - November 4, 1865

Looking more closely at the players portrayed in the picture, I noticed two with New Jersey connections.  Charles Thomas of the Eureka Club of Newark and A.J. Bixby of the Eagle Club of New York.  Thomas was a founding member of the Eureka and the highly regarded shortstop of what was the premier New Jersey club of the period.  The 1865 season was the Eureka's best year as they twice came within a single run of knocking off the champion Atlantics.  Bixby is, of course, more well known as a pitcher for the Eagle Club and being in the New York lineup for the first two of the Fashion Course games.  Before playing for the Eagle Club, however, Bixby played for the Pioneer Club of Jersey City in that club's first and only season in 1855.  There appears to have been a significant representation of Jersey City residents on the Eagle Club through the 1860's which may merit more attention.

 Detail of picture from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper November 4, 1865

 Both of these "new" resources, or perhaps new access to old resources, will make research significantly easier going forward.  There is still, however, a place for doing research the old fashion way which I look forward to resuming in Cooperstown this Friday.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper - November 4, 1865

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Selling the Lion Skin - Part I

Photo by Mark Granieri

"The man that once did sell the lion skin
While the beast lived, was killed with hunting him."  
Henry V, 4.3.93-94

Two of the best vintage base ball teams are the Eckford and Atlantic clubs, both recreating 19th century teams from Brooklyn.  Last week the Neshanock lost to the former in a match where good Flemington defense couldn't compensate for scoring only five runs.  This week's match consisted of two 1864 games against the Atlantics in Chester, New Jersey and playing this outstanding vintage club is not the best  cure for a struggling offense.  It wasn't, therefore, a total surprise that Flemington's offensive woes continued as the club managed only one tally on the day.  The Atlantics got off to a fast start in the first game scoring eight times in the first inning and coasting from there to a 14-0 victory.  After the first frame, the Neshanock again played good defense allowing only six runs over the rest of the match.  Any positives on offense for Flemington were few and far between, but Dave "Illinois" Harris did get two hits and muffin Glen "Masher" Modica continued to impress with one hit in each of the two games.

Atlantic Base Ball Club - vintage version - photo by Mark Granieri

The second match was equally frustrating for Flemington at bat while the Atlantics gradually moved ahead 9-0 before the Neshanock finally scored in their last at bat.  The run was scored by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner which was a fitting conclusion to his clear score, always an accomplishment against an excellent defensive team like the Atlantics.  Leading another strong Neshanock defensive effort was Scott "Snuffy" Hengst who recorded four put outs and two assists in just six innings in the field.  Next week Flemington will take its first over night trip of the year, traveling to Cooperstown, New York to play these same Atlantics as well as teams from Lewes, Maryland and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  As a result the accompanying blog post won't be published until Monday or Tuesday of the following week.

1865 Harpers Weekly woodcut of the Brooklyn Atlantics (front row) and the Philadelphia Athletics (second row)

While the vintage versions of the Atlantics and Neshanock meet frequently on the base ball field, the original incarnations never played each other and with good reason.   The 19th century Atlantics were one of the premier clubs of the era, earning championship honors on numerous occasions while the Neshanock was a local New Jersey club which existed only briefly and had little competitive success.  Distinct differences in playing prowess plus Flemington's relatively remote location gave little incentive for a match between the two clubs.  Yet by 1866, top teams were paying visits to far less talented clubs, giving local residents a rare glimpse of base ball's best.  Especially prolific in this regard was the Athletic Club of Philadelphia which visited places like Danville, Pennsylvania as well as Bordentown and Burlington in New Jersey to take on local nines.  Not surprisingly the contests weren't remotely competitive with the Athletics averaging 73 runs, almost reaching the century mark in a 96-2 rout (an understatement if there every was one) of the Alert Club of Danville, Pennsylvania.

Reinder Wolters of the Irvington Club

In spite of facing almost certain defeat, New Jersey clubs still sought these visits, initially to promote their own clubs and later on as a money maker.  Sometimes, however, the invitation for a visit and an easy victory wasn't quite what it seemed.  By far the best example of a prominent club getting far more than it bargained for, took place on June 14, 1866 and was described in detail in the New York Clipper most likely by Henry Chadwick.  A few weeks earlier, a committee from the Irvington Club traveled all the way to Brooklyn just to watch the defending champion Atlantic Club practice.   Irvington, formerly known as Camptown, was a small farming community bordering on Newark.  Most likely because of its close proximity to the state's largest city, Irvington had a number of antebellum base ball clubs.   By 1866, the leading team was the aptly named Irvington Club, a champion junior club which after the 1865 season decided to put away childish things and become a senior team.  The visit to Brooklyn was part of this process, ostensibly to seek help and advice from the Atlantics, undefeated since 1863 and the defending champions of all of base ball.

Joe Start of the Brooklyn Atlantics

 Once at the Atlantics grounds, the Jersey boys struck up a conversation with William Babcock, President of the Atlantics. Stressing they were "a mere country club," the visitors pleaded with Babcock to have the Atlantics "come out to our place and teach us a few points."  Good natured and looking for "practice" opportunities for his team, Babcock asked "the boys" who were agreeable.  And so it was that on Thursday, June 14th, the Atlantics traveling party took the 1:00 train (presumably from Jersey City) to Newark where their hosts took them to Irvington in "a horse car."  Arriving at the grounds, the champions were most likely not surprised by the "large assemblage," but were shocked by the make up of the local nine.  Instead of a group of unknown muffins in makeshift uniforms, the Brooklynites saw a number of players they recognized from other New Jersey clubs.  It didn't auger well for the visitors who  "didn't take the pains to have the full nine out" for what was supposed to be nothing more than practice.

Mike Campbell of the Irvington Club

Perhaps somewhat unnerved by the prospect of playing a more formidable than expected foe without their full team, Brooklyn got off to a slow start and trailed 8-4 after three innings. However the champions rallied for five in the fourth and six in the fifth to take a 15-9 lead and seemingly restore some degree of order to the proceedings.  Thus far the contest had been marred by wild pitching to the point it took two hours and forty-five minutes to play five innings, supposedly, "the longest time on record."  Reportedly, John Oliver of the Atlantics went to the striker's line at 5:00 and by 5:20 had only swung at two pitches.  It sounds as if umpire Fred Calloway of the Eureka Club was making very liberal use of the "ball not counted" option as the Sunday Mercury complained he called "not a third of the number [of balls] that should have been counted."  All of this changed, however, in the sixth, at least from the Irvington standpoint, when "renown slow pitcher," Alexander Bailey relieved Reinder Wolters and held the Atlantics to just two tallies the rest of the way.  Apparently aided by some "loose fielding" by the Atlantics, Irvington got their offense going, tallying fourteen times in the same period to secure an stunning 23-17 upset victory.

New York Clipper - June 23, 1866

While credit was given to the Irvingtons for their triumph, it was probably difficult for contemporary observers not to attribute the Atlantics defeat to the failure to bring their full nine.  Indeed Brooklyn had already started 1866 at a disadvantage due to the defection of star players Dickey Pearce and Freddy Crane to the Excelsior Club of Brooklyn.  The two would return to the Atlantics in August, but for the Irvington match, only the Atlantics second match game of the season, they were breaking in a new shortstop - second base combination.  The chart below lists the Atlantics first nine (as reported by the Clipper) as well as the actual lineup in the club's first two matches.

Position First Nine Harvard Irvington

Pitcher Zettlin Potts Potts
Catcher Mills Smith Smith
First Base Start Start Start
Second Base Charles Smith John Oliver John Oliver
Third Base Ferguson Ferguson Ferguson
Shortstop Galvin Galvin Kenney
Left Field Chapman Chapman Chapman
Center Field McDonald McDonald McDonald
Right Field Sid Smith Sid Smith Sid Smith

A comparison of the actual lineup versus the reported first nine indicates the Atlantic had their regular outfield against the Irvington Club plus the two infield corner positions, but had to have been hurt by the aforementioned absence of their regular shortstop and second baseman.  At the same time, with the exception of the shortstop's position the Atlantics played the upstart New Jersey team with the same players who defeated Harvard 37-15.

Charles Sweasy of the Irvington Club

Regardless though of how much missing players hurt the Atlantics, the ability of the Irvington Club was recognized by the Sunday Mercury which claimed there was "not a weak spot in their nine."  Far from being a "country club," most of the Irvington players had played for either the junior championship Irvington team, one of Newark senior clubs and in some cases both.  Unlike other local clubs taking on a highly talented, veteran opponent, the Irvingtons didn't lack for competitive match experience.   In addition the Irvington Club also had plenty of good players of their own as demonstrated by an 1869 New York Clipper analysis of the best players by position.  According to the writer, again probably Chadwick; Reinder Wolters, Michael Campbell, Charles Sweasy, William Lewis and Andy Leonard were each considered among the best at their respective positions.  If further evidence is needed, in 1869 Sweasy and Leonard played for the Cincinnati Redstockings on their 57-0 transcontinental tour.

Andy Leonard of the Irvington Club

How big an upset was the Irvington victory?  Since 1862, the Atlantics overall record was 47-3-1, a .920 winning percentage, so the Brooklynites had little experience with losing.  In addition to being their first loss since a September 1863 defeat at the hands of the Eckford Club, this loss was their first defeat by a team from outside of New York City or Brooklyn since 1861 also to a New Jersey club, the Liberty of New Brunswick.  Missing Atlantic players, not withstanding, it was no small accomplishment and the Irvington players and their fans must have justifiably swelled with pride when they read in the Sunday Mercury that the Atlantics "were outplayed at nearly all points in the field, and met their equals at bat."  But this was far from the end of the story, at the time championships could be won by defeating the incumbent by winning two out of three matches so the Atlantics now had to defeat Irvington twice or lose their crown.  However, with their regular line up, especially when Pearce and Crane returned, that wouldn't be too difficult.

Or would it?

Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

North and South - Part 2

 Photo by Mark Granieri

After spending most of April traveling outside of New Jersey, sometimes without even playing a match, the Neshanock returned to the Garden State on Saturday with a visit to Merrill Park in Iselin, New Jersey which is part of Woodbridge Township.  It was a great venue and the hosts did an excellent job of making everything work smoothly.  The game was taped for the township's local cable station which put me in the unfamiliar role as part of a three man broadcast crew, in my case providing historical background and context.  It was an enjoyable experience and gave me a sense of how television broadcasts really work, hopefully most of what I said was correct and, at least, somewhat entertaining.  The video will reportedly be put up on the township's web site and I'll give the link when that happens.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Today's opponent was the Brooklyn Eckford under the leadership of old-friend, Eric (Not always right, but never in doubt) Micklich, a relatively new club with some excellent players augmented today by some members of the Brooklyn Atlantics.  Played under 1864 rules, the Neshanock got off to a quick start scoring three in times in the top of the first, but the Eckford responded putting up five tallies in the bottom of the inning.  While it was a good Neshanock defensive effort after that, the offense wasn't there and Eckford scored enough runs for an 11-5 triumph.  Dave "Illinois" Harris, "Jersey" Jim Nunn and muffin Glenn Modica each had two hits for the Neshanock.  It was a second strong effort for Modica who had two doubles and would have had a clear score had he not been put out at home in the top of the seventh.  Scott "Snuffy" Hengst had a solid day in left field with five put outs (three in one inning) and two assists.  Next week the Neshanock will host the Brooklyn Atlantic for the annual match in Chester, New Jersey which usually draws a good crowd.

Steamboat landing at Cape May, primary means of access before the railroad

Although today's trip was short and smooth, as we all know, modern travel doesn't lack for frustrations, ranging from waiting at airports to being stuck in traffic jams.  However, the difficulties pale in comparison to the 1850's and 1860's, when the time consuming arduous nature of travel, led most people to spend their entire lives within a very limited geographic area.  But even then, the population was mobile enough to facilitate the spread of the New York game throughout the country, the young New Yorkers who joined the California gold rush being just one example.  Another way base ball came to new communities was via vacationers who played base ball as part of their sojourn in resort communities which is apparently how the New York game (albeit by way of Philadelphia) came to Cape May, the southernmost point in New Jersey.

 Photo by George Granieri

Cape May's attraction for residents of south Jersey and Philadelphia is demonstrated by the formidable obstacles 19th century travelers were willing to overcome just to get there.  During the antebellum period, the options were limited to "tedious hours" on a steamboat or, even worse, a two-day stage coach ride from Philadelphia in a carriage built for durability, not speed or comfort.  In addition to stops at almost every village along the way, riders had to tolerate "crude, overnight accommodations" at Bridgeton before getting to Cape May, then known as Cape Island because of a small stream that separated the resort from the mainland.  Still by the early 1840's, some 3000 visitors a summer vacationed there, an impressive number given the limited accessibility, but insufficient to attract investors to finance a railroad connection.

The Ocean Wave - June 24, 1868 - artist's rendering of Cape May in the late 1860's

By 1863, however, the situation had changed  and on August 23rd, the West Jersey railroad reached a point about ten miles from Cape May, supposedly substituting a three hour train ride from Camden for the two days in a stage coach.  Although a dramatic improvement, the trip by rail wasn't quite as convenient as it may have sounded.  Four years later, in 1867, a reporter for the Camden Democrat, made the trip, leaving Camden at 4:00 p.m. and arriving in Cape May at 1:30 the next morning, "exceedingly" fatigued.  Apparently the three hours on the rails didn't include changing trains twice en route, each time with lengthy delays to transfer passengers and baggage, not to mention covering the ten miles from the railroad terminus to Cape May.

The first documented base ball game in Cape May was played on the lawn of Congress Hall

Predictably though, the improved access led to more summer visitors especially from the Philadelphia area and it was only a question of time before some of them decided to make base ball part of their vacation activities.  As noted previously, Philadelphia's first organized clubs played a game called Philadelphia town ball instead of the New York game, but during the Civil War period, they saw the error of their ways and converted to base ball.  And so, in July of 1865, the first documented base ball match in Cape May took place on the lawn of Congress House, pitting a nine from that hotel, against a team from Columbia House, the other leading hotel at the resort.  Reportedly attended by "hundreds, if not thousands," who made the "welkin ring with loud huzzahs," Cape May at least had one reporter who knew the parlance of the game.  It appears most of the players were guests at the two hotels, as only a handful have been identified as Cape May residents.

New York Clipper - August 4, 1866

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given the above superlatives, Cape May's inaugural base ball match didn't immediately lead to the formation of a local base ball club.  Such a step in a still somewhat secluded resort community apparently required witnessing a higher level of play, an experience which wasn't long in coming.  In lauding the 1865 match, the Ocean Wave, noted that "the tour of the victorious Athletics of Philadelphia witnessed no better batting and fielding."  Hyperbole or not, local residents had a chance to make their own judgements when in July of 1866, the famous Athletics themselves came to Cape May to play two matches against a "picked nine" of players primarily from other Philadelphia clubs.  Upon arrival at the resort, the first priority was "bathing and dining" which took so long that the first game was limited to five innings by darkness, the Athletics prevailing, 18-14.  By 10:00 the next morning, the two clubs were back at it, this time going the full nine innings with the Athletics again coming out on top. 

The Athletics visit in conjunction with the other base ball activity generated sufficient enthusiasm to start Cape May's own base ball club.  Support for the idea also came from Ocean Wave editor Samuel Magonagle, who not only published two long articles explaining the game for those less conversant with the finer points, but also offered suggestions on the rules such as "it would be an improvement to have it [a home run], count two [runs]." While there were some hiccups along the way, the Cape Island Club finally got on the field at the end of October in 1866 for an inter-club match.  Later that same day, the club met to elect officers, headed by Dr. James Mecray, a prominent civic leader in Cape May.  After this flurry of activity, very few accounts of base ball matches appear in the local paper, a not uncommon occurrence in the late 1860's.  Some matches did, however, continue at the hotels and there were at least two active local clubs in 1869 with some of the1866 Cape Island Club members still active.  By 1866 base ball's reach within New Jersey extended from north to south plus most points in between.