Sunday, June 29, 2014

Build It or Not, They Will Come

Photo by Mark Granieri

Having spent last Saturday in one of the easternmost points in New Jersey, yesterday the Neshanock headed south and west to historic Princeton to play their annual match on behalf of the Historical Society of Princeton.  Although I was unable to be there, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri once again filled multiple roles, providing a game summary along with photos in addition to his usual stalwart play in the Neshanock lineup.  Saturday's opponent was the Diamond State Club of Delaware, a relatively new club which has become a formidable foe in a relatively short time.  That was more than evident in the first match, played under 1864 rules, as Diamond State got off to a 11-3 lead after 2 innings aided by a number of Neshanock defensive lapses.  Although the Neshanock's play improved after that, the Delaware club coasted to an easy 13-4 triumph.  The second contest was played under 1873 rules and Flemington combined good hitting and fielding to record an easy 16-2 victory behind the pitching of Dan "Sledge" Hammer.  Reportedly the Neshanock defense was especially, strong making multiple double plays including two started by "Mango," a very promising Neshanock muffin.  Next Saturday, Flemington returns to the northern part of the state for matches sponsored by the Bergen County Historical Society at historic New Bridge Landing in River Edge, New Jersey.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Just seeing the pictures of the wide open spaces in Princeton compared to the cramped quarters last week in Hoboken was a further reminder of the importance of convenient playing space in the early development of the New York game.  But even though Elysian Fields' primary contribution to base ball was providing ample and accessible space for the pioneering New York clubs of the 1840's and 1850's, the game continued to be played there throughout most of the 19th century.  In fact, a review of New York city newspapers suggests the base ball fields were the last part of the Stevens' pastoral playground to succumb to the 19th century equivalent of urban sprawl.  As late as November of 1888, 45 years after the Magnolia Club gathered at Elysian Fields for base ball and chowder, the Cuban Giants, a black club, were scheduled to play a match on the historic grounds on the Hudson.  With such a long history as a base ball venue, Elysian Fields witnessed many of the game's transitions including one embodied by a Brooklyn Atlantics - New York Mutuals match played on August 3, 1865

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper - October 11, 1856

Although drawn almost a decade earlier, the picture gives a sense of the throngs taking the ferry from Manhattan to Elysian Fields

For the most part the New York clubs which called Elysian Fields home were of the gentlemanly variety, playing more for exercise than for competitive success.  The primary exception was the New York Mutual Club which became one of the best teams of the 1860s as well as one of the most controversial because of their connections to the Tammany Hall political machine.  Throughout the Civil War years the Mutuals were very successful, but never quite good enough to unseat the Eckford or the Atlantics and win the championship.  In 1864, for example, the Mutuals won 20 out of 23 matches, but two of the losses came at the hands of the Atlantics who went undefeated and re-claimed the championship from the Eckford.  While the Mutuals were, no doubt, frustrated by coming so close in 1864, they still most likely looked forward to another championship run in 1865 in a post war world.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Although base ball was somewhat slowed down by the war, there had been some innovations including the first regular use of enclosed grounds facilitating both crowd control and charging admission (not necessarily in that order).  By 1864, Brooklyn had both the Union and Capitoline Grounds while the Athletics of Philadelphia opened their new field at Jefferson and 25th Street that very season.  The trend continued in 1865 with the Eureka Club of Newark's new grounds at Ferry and Adams Street which weren't enclosed, but still earned praise from the New York Clipper (probably Henry Chadwick) for the handling of  large crowds.  Even though the Mutuals continued to play at Elysian Fields, they recognized the need for upgraded facilities and worked out a plan with the Stevens family for improvements on the north field in anticipation of the 1865 season.  While cost figures were not released, the Clipper reported the total expense was three times more than anticipated.  In addition to cutting down trees, removing rocks and leveling the ground, the Mutuals erected "an amphitheatre of seats," which the Clipper claimed would make it the "most popular resort for ball players in the country."

Photo by Mark Granieri

Given the cost overruns,  it's not surprising that the upgrades at Elysian Fields also took longer than expected, but by August all was in readiness for the first championship match at the "new" north field or so the Mutuals thought.  The first sign of unusually high interest in the game was the amount of pre-match conversation as the New York Herald reported the impending contest between two undefeated clubs was the "talk of the town."  Match day itself quickly showed what lay ahead as the crowd began gathering at 11:00, hours before the first pitch.  By 1:00 the ferries were so packed that some passengers wondered if the load would swamp and sink the boat.  Nor was the river the only heavily traveled access route as the "north road was hidden with the clouds of dust" from the many horse drawn conveyances bringing people to the match.  Whether it was the euphoria of the end  of the war or the opportunity to see two of the best clubs for free (other than the ferry ride), a record breaking crowd was gathering.  Estimating the crowd at 18-20000 (a similar figure was given by the Clipper), the Sunday Mercury proclaimed it the "most numerous assemblage of spectators" ever to attend a match.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper - August 26, 1865

Apparently the trees removed as part of the improvements to the north field did not include the one located only a few feet from the striker's line

As game time approached and the "human tide still flowed" towards the north field, both on foot and "via the cars," two things must have dawned on the leaders of the Mutual Club.  At least one person, most likely the treasurer, mourned the loss of prospective gate receipts, but more pressing and more immediate was how to handle the huge crowd.  Complicating the problem was the New Jersey location where New York City and Brooklyn police lacked jurisdiction and Hoboken's force was far too small for the task at hand.  Whatever order was imposed had to come from the Mutuals and they at least ensured any ladies in the crowd got seats, even if that meant demanding that seated males do the manly thing.  By 3:00 all the seats were long gone, with the rest of the huge throng packed five deep around the field while others perched in trees or on the outbuildings of Perry's Hotel.

Peter O'Brien of the Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn

Not surprisingly, the standees had encroached on to the playing field itself so it took the Mutuals 45 minutes to clear an adequate playing area, but even then spectators remained in portions of the outfield.  Metaphorically holding his nose to some degree, the Clipper reporter (again most likely Chadwick) commented that the crowd was made up of "all classes" including Brooklyn and New York "roughs" and, even worse, the "black leg fraternity," pickpockets who in their wildest dreams couldn't have imagined such a vast sea of potential victims with so little police protection.  Also present were those with a "pecuniary interest" in the outcome who didn't hesitate to interfere with play when it was to their advantage.  According to the Sunday Mercury, fan interference cost Start and Chapman of the Atlantics home runs while Zeller of the Mutuals was cut down running on a foul ball because he couldn't hear the umpire's call.  In spite of the outside interruptions the two clubs played, and the fans saw, a very competitive match.  The Mutuals led 7-6 after three innings, but in the top of the fourth, the Atlantics who "thought it time to be up and doing in the batting line," scored three times and had two on with veteran Peter O'Brien at the plate.  O'Brien solved the crowd interference problem by hitting the ball so far no one could deny his right to a home run as the crowd applauded "vociferously."

New York Clipper - August 12, 1865

Discouraged, but not disheartened, the Mutuals rallied in the fifth and reduced the margin to just one tally, trailing 13-12 while dark storm clouds gathered on the horizon.  With five innings in the books, the game was official with the Atlantics ahead so the Mutuals only hope was to play another full inning and be ahead when the inning was complete.  Before the 6th inning could begin, however, the game ball split at the seams with the only replacement ball locked in the Mutuals dressing room.  Incredibly the Mutual who went to get the ball, forgot to take the key, forcing a return visit that cost 10 minutes the Mutuals couldn't afford to waste.  To their credit the Atlantics didn't stall in their at bat, going out quickly in order, but it didn't help the Mutuals.  Still down only one tally in their half of the sixth, the New York club got their first two men on when the rains came, ending the game and the Mutuals chances for victory.

New York Clipper - August 12, 1865

With base ball done for the day, the rush was on for the limited cover at Perry's Hotel where supposedly only one of twenty got out of the downpour.  For the light-fingered, it was like shooting fish in a barrel as the pickpockets did a "flourishing business."  Mr. Perry himself kindly came to Chadwick's assistance, using an "oilskin covering" to protect his score book and notes.  Once the principals had gathered, the understandably disappointed Mutuals presented the game ball to the Atlantics, while doubtless already looking forward to the August 14th rematch at Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn.  Meanwhile the "well washed multitude" trekked through the mud and water to the ferry, reportedly indifferent to the "torrent of water," probably because they couldn't get any wetter.  His equilibrium restored, if not dried out, Chadwick called for  "one hundred Metropolitan police with persuasive hickory sticks" to attend the rematch to "see that a perfectly clear field is provided."  Accounts of that match make no mention of security issues and the Atlantics won, en route to another undefeated season, successfully defending their championship in the process.

New York Herald- August 4, 1865

Third up from the bottom is a personal ad offering a reward for a "gold-hunting case watch" supposedly "lost" at the August 3rd match, but more likely one of the victims of "black leg fraternity."

 The security issues at Elysian Fields continued to be a serious matter and similar problems arose when the clubs returned to Hoboken in September of 1866.  Already a believer himself, Chadwick thought everyone in attendance that day "were thoroughly convinced that enclosed grounds are the only suitable localities for important contests."  A year later, Edwin Stevens agreed as he forbade any future championship matches at Elysian Fields forcing the Mutuals to relocate to the Union Grounds in Brooklyn so that New York City's best team now played its most important matches in the city of churches.   Elysian Fields provided badly needed space for the early New York clubs, but the most competitive level of the game had outgrown its capacity barring a significant financial investment to enclose the field which no one, including the Stevens family, was apparently willing to do.  The August 3, 1865 match demonstrated that as the quality of play improved, facilities had to keep step, a process that has continued ever since.

1 comment:

  1. A minor nit to pick: The Mutuals only partially moved out from the Elysian Fields in 1867. Following Stevens' decision to ban match games there, the Mutuals initially planned to move to the "Lake Lincoln" grounds near Jersey City. Then they realized that the cost would be prohibitive, requiring some $5,000 in improvements with only a one year lease and no guarantee of its being renewed. So they stayed at the Elysian Fields for practice games and played their match games on the Union Grounds.

    As for that seating on the Elysian Fields, they resold it to Cammayer, who installed it on the Union Grouinds.