Sunday, August 17, 2014

Keeping score before Henry

Eric Miklich in his old pants

Base ball games can have many turning points.  The turning point in Saturday's Neshanock-Eckford match was when the visitors from Long Island managed to overcome the traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway and actually get to Washington Township, New Jersey.  Once on the field, the Eckford retired Flemington without a run in the top of the first and then proceeded to record seven tallies, all  with two out, in the bottom of the inning en route to an 18-2 victory.  Although the Neshanock struggled offensively, both Dave "Illinois" Harris and Mark "Gaslight" Granieri (in spite of just hitting the big 50) contributed three hits apiece.  Unfortunately the rest of the lineup could only manage a combined total of five base hits.  Even though the Eckford scored 18 runs, "Illinois" pitched well in several innings as did Ken "Tumbles" Mandel who didn't walk anyone and even picked a runner off first.  Regardless of the outcome, playing the Eckford is always enjoyable because it's a chance to spend time with Eric "Express" Miklich, a legend in vintage base ball circles.  As promised Eric broke in a new pair of base ball pants which he claimed were responsible for the three outs he made at the plate and an error in the field.  On the other hand the pants apparently had nothing to do with the two hits Eric made in his last two at bats.  Flemington is now off until the Philadelphia Navy Yard Festival on the weekend of September 6-7th. 

Score sheet for the initial October 6, 1845 Knickerbocker game - note William Wheaton was the umpire

In historical research, it's not uncommon to find one thing while looking for another.  A lot more unusual, at least for me, is to find both questions and answers while looking for something else.  A week or so ago, I was at the New York Public Library looking at microfilmed copies of the Knickerbocker Club game books as part of researching the 1851 "Short Boy" or "Dutch" riot in Hoboken.   This wasn't my first experience with the game books since they were a source for my essay on the Knickerbockers' June 3, 1851 match with the Washington Club which appeared in the SABR publication, Inventing Baseball: The 100 Greatest Games of the Nineteenth Century.  This time, however, while examining Knickerbocker activity at Elysian Fields both before and after the 1851 riot, I noticed some things which prompted the following questions:

1. The Knickerbockers approved their rules on September 23, 1845 and played a game using those rules less than two weeks later on October 6th.  In spite of such a short time span, the club already had pre-printed score sheets with the club name.  Since the Knickerbockers were a pioneering club, it seemed to me that they would more likely have started out with something far less structured and gradually realized the need for a more formal score book.

2. It's been noted many places that the Knickerbockers' first priority was exercise not competition.  If so, why did they use game books to keep records of lineups and individual results instead of just tracking runs, outs and innings?

3. Why in addition to tracking runs and outs in their game book, did the Knickerbockers also include a column to record fines?

The New York club page from the famous June 19, 1846 game, note that even though it was a 23-1 rout, Davis of the New York Club managed to incur a fine for swearing

As interesting as this was, I was still focused on the 1851 riot so my next step in that research was re-reading portions of John Thorn's, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, where to my surprise I found the answers to all of the above questions.  Included in the book are excerpts from a November 27, 1887 San Francisco Examiner story entitled "How Baseball Began: A Member of the Gotham Club of Fifty Years Ago Tells About It."  The article was "discovered" or recovered by Randall Brown and has also been reprinted in full by John Thorn in his "Our Game" blog at  The article is basically an interview with William Wheaton, then an 73 year old resident of San Francisco, but who was originally from New York City and a member not just of the Knickerbockers, but also the even earlier Gotham/New York Club.  Among his memories of organized base ball's earliest days, Wheaton noted that:

"The scorer kept the game in a book we had made for that purpose, (emphasis mine), and it was he who decided all disputed points.  The modern umpire and his tribulations were unknown to us."

William Wheaton

That one sentence basically answers all of the above questions.  Since a number of the Knickerbockers were originally members of the Gotham/New York Club, they must have known about pre-printed score books and their importance for efficient game management so having one of their own made up would have been an essential part of getting organized for field practice.  Furthermore, if the score keeper was the ultimate authority, he needed a systematic way to maintain accurate records of runs and outs.  Keeping track of individual results provided sufficient backup detail to resolve any discrepancies and/or disagreements.  Lastly noting fines in the game book preserved all of the relevant information for submission to the club secretary or whoever was charged with collecting payment.

Full game book for the June 19, 1846 match

So it would seem game books or score books were first introduced not for the compilation of team and individual statistics, but for game management.  It's somewhat similar to the function of the official score book in a basketball game (as a former college basketball student manager, this should have occurred to me sooner) where the on-the-court officials give information to the official scorer who maintains a score book that is the final record both during and after a game.   My understanding from Richard Hershberger is that when base ball match play became more regular, each team had an "umpire" who kept score with the two men also responsible for working out any disagreements about plays in the field.  As Richard observed this, predictably, didn't work out well in practice so a referee was needed to provide a deciding vote to break deadlocks.  At some point, in some way, it was decided to give all of the authority to one umpire, leaving the score keepers to maintain records for their team's benefit and sometimes to help the umpire on issues such as outs, runs, batting orders.  

June 1850 score sheet showing adapted use of the fine column

The Knickerbockers and the Gothams before them may well have believed their pre-printed forms had all the necessary categories and recorded all the necessary information.  Yet it wasn't terribly long afterwards, and certainly before match play became the norm, that other information was recorded on these "original" score sheets.  As the above picture of an 1850 game sheet illustrates, an enterprising score keeper, began using the fine column to record fielding positions.  Just one more small piece of evidence that base ball is game of evolution, not invention.

Eric Miklich in his new pants

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff. The pre-season convention of Greater New York clubs adopted the single-umpire system for the 1858 season. Most likely, three-headed disagreements were taking too much time, as the competitiveness of matches increased.