Saturday, June 14, 2014

Is This Any Way to Run a Base Ball Club?

 Photo not by Mark Granieri

In order to have a base ball match there are some things that are required and other things which aren't mandatory, but make for an enjoyable experience.  Among the latter are nice weather, a good venue,  a reasonable trip and interested fans, all of which the Neshanock had today for their annual visit to the Howell Living History Farm near Lambertville, New Jersey.  Missing, however, was one of the essential things - the opponent, as the other team didn't muster anywhere near enough players.  Faced with this challenge and not wanting to disappoint the fans, Flemington did the manly thing by dividing up into two teams and inviting some of the spectators to join us.  Everything worked out very well as all of the participants got plenty of playing time and in someways it was a better way to introduce the 19th century game to a new audience.  The two squads must have been well matched as the game was tied after nine and looked like it was headed to the 11th when Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw struck a walk off single off of Ken "Tumbles" Mandel.  Having played today close to the banks of the Delaware, next week, the Neshanock head east for the annual Hoboken game commemorating the 1846 Knickerbocker - New York Club match

Photo not by Mark Granieri

 The highest and most widely shared value in the vintage base ball community is the importance of historical accuracy in recreating 19th century base ball.  Whether through social media, e-mail groups or by in-person encounters before, during and after matches, the discussion, debate and even argument goes on about how the game was played on-the-field.  To my knowledge, however, what clubs did and how they behaved off-the-field, receives little or no attention.  If the September 8, 1859 meeting of the Hamilton Club of Jersey City is anything to go by, failure to recreate that aspect of 19th century base ball is probably a good thing.  The club's minute book, housed in the Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, opens a window on a scene that makes one wonder how the Hamiltons ever managed to play a match.

Title Page of the Hamilton Club Minute Book

The meeting that September evening took place at Jersey City's American Hotel, located at 9-11 Montgomery Street, near the Hudson River ferry.  Recorded in the neat handwriting of club secretary, Nathan B. Shafer, the minutes don't report the length of the meeting which is unfortunate as it must have gone on long enough for more than a few pair of eyes to have glazed over.  First up after the routine business of approving the minutes (probably the only routine thing about the meeting) was a vote on the prospective membership of Amos Williamson and Daniel Vorhees.  Voting was anonymous with white balls for yes and black balls for no, with three or more black balls sufficient for rejection.  Fortunately for Williamson (2 negative votes) and Vorhees (1 negative vote), they avoided the fate of F.A. Smith , the only prospective member recorded as being rejected.  Interestingly only 13 and 15 members respectively cast votes which is similar to other recorded votes.  The one surviving members list reflects 32 names so it appears meetings weren't, as a rule, well attended.  Perhaps the discussions that followed indicate why members avoided meetings whenever possible.

First two pages of the minutes from the September 9, 1859 Hamilton Club Meeting

With membership issues disposed of, attention turned to the upcoming return match with the Adriatic Club of Newark, to be hosted by the Hamiltons at their grounds in Jersey City.  The debate included motions and votes on the following:

The date of the match
The time of the match
Choosing a committee to select the "nine" and six subs subject to the approval of the president
Selection of a field captain
Selection of a scorekeeper
Whether or not to host a post match reception

Choosing the committee to select the nine was prolonged because one nominee and his substitute declined to serve.  This was nothing, however, compared to the debate over providing their guests with a post match meal.  In a series of motions and votes, the 13-15 present, decided they didn't want a price quote from the hotel proprietor, did want to offer some kind of refreshments, but not a collation.  The deadlock was resolved with a decision to provide the "usual refreshments" whatever that meant.  To make matters more confusing the debates on the match details and the repast were "sandwiched" around a debate on the momentous question of the time of field practice.  After motions for 3:00 for all practices or 3:30 for Saturday and the "usual" hour for Wednesday both failed, a compromise of  3:30 for both days passed, apparently satisfying those members to whom 30 minutes once a week was a major issue.

Daily Courier and Advertiser - September 13, 1859

As tedious as these debates sound, the meeting didn't lack passion.  Four separate members were fined 25 cents (the maximum fine possible) for disorderly conduct.  Scorekeeper Caciouri F. Alger was actually fined twice in succession.  On three other occasions, a member or members were frustrated enough to unsuccessfully try to move adjournment.  Clearly the Hamilton Club was not a group where harmony reigned.  Before finally adjourning the Hamiltons took up one more issue, whether to challenge the Eagle Club of New York to a match, but proposals for both first and second matches failed to get enough votes.  Why this was contentious isn't clear, but some of the Eagle Club regulars were, or had been, Jersey City residents.  Jersey City men would continue to play for the Eagle Club in the 1860's with Hamilton secretary Nathan Shafer eventually becoming president of the New York City club.

1860 Hamilton Club challenge to the Knickerbockers of New York City 

How typical were these acrimonious meetings among early base ball clubs?  In the section about the Knickerbocker Club of New York in Baseball Founders (co-written by John Thorn, Peter Morris and William Ryczek) club meetings are described as "more contentious and divisive" than on-the-field activities with "an unseemly number of petty quarrels."  It sounds like group decision making was no easier then than it is today, but a further question is to what extent most clubs required that every decision had to be voted on by the members.  Somewhere other than Baseball Founders, I read that the Knickerbocker officers made most of the decisions about matches which is a much more practical approach.  If the Flemington Neshanock are any indication of vintage base ball practice, scheduling is handled by the club president, but members certainly have input at different times and in different ways.  It seems unlikely many vintage players would consider decisions about match scheduling and post match repasts within their purview.  Depending upon how typical the Hamilton Club practice may have been, today's approach acknowledges the need for groups to delegate some powers to leaders.  Meetings like the September 8, 1959 Hamilton Club gathering probably got that practice adopted fairly quickly.  


  1. Richard HershbergerJune 15, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    "Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw struck a walk off single off of Ken "Tumbles" Mandel."

    At the risk of nit-picking, and in light of the subsequent encomium of authenticity, I note that there was no such thing as a "walk off" hit at this time. The inning was played out to completion even once the outcome of the game was settled.

  2. "Nit-picking" is in the true spirit of the Hamilton Club.

    Your point is, of course, correct.

    Happy Father's Day!