Monday, October 13, 2014
One of the major reasons I became interested in the Deadball Era back in the 1950's was the baseball of that time seemed so dramatic, full of close, competitive games and seasons. Many years later, I was surprised to learn that during that period, the National League only had two close pennant races. First and foremost, of course, is the mythical 1908 season featuring a three team race, the famous (or infamous) Merkle game and a winner take all, final game won by the Clubs en route to their last World Series championship. The other close race was the far less well known 1916 season which became the subject of The Major League Pennant Races of 1916, written by Paul Zinn and myself.
While 1916 wasn't as dramatic as 1908 or more recent races decided on the last day or in playoffs, that National League season saw four clubs fighting for a pennant that wasn't won until the last week of the season. Three of the four clubs, Brooklyn (the ultimate winner), Boston and Philadelphia were in contention throughout, but not so the much more famous New York Giants of John McGraw. In fact, as September began the Giants were not only 15 games out of first, but were actually two games under .500. At that point, however, McGraw's club embarked on a hard to believe 26 game winning streak (still the major league record) closing to within five games of first before running out of gas finishing fourth, the same place they began the streak.
All of this came to mind as I reflected on the Flemington Neshanock's 2014 season which ended this past Saturday with a 22-8 triumph over the Hoboken Nine in Allentown. The start of the game was delayed by rain so I wasn't able to attend, but my sources tell me that Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner had clear score in what sounds like a convincing win. Back on August 9th, the Neshanock suffered an 18-2 thrashing at the hands of the Brooklyn Eckfords, our 5th straight loss which put the season's record at 9-22. However in the spirit of the 1916 Giants, Flemington came on to win nine straight games to finish the season at 18-22, not much off of the 2013 record. Numerous explanations for this turnaround are possible, but base ball fans and players are nothing if not superstitious so the fact that the streak began when the team reversed the shields on their uniforms to have the "F" up is probably the most illogical explanation.
Forty games over six and a half months is a lot of base ball, but there is still some sense of sadness about the end of the season, as I suspect there is at every season's end. Although vintage base ball allows the participants to stay involved in the game we love well beyond the possibilities in almost any other form of organized base ball, the reality is that it will end someday and the end of the season reminds us of that reality. As a result, it's especially important to remember those who make it possible. Thanks, first of all, to Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw who does so much heavy lifting to get things organized and to make it happen. Thanks to all the members of the Neshanock, no matter how many games you played, as it isn't easy to get nine players together over 20 times a year. It's also important to express gratitude to our opponents as sometimes we lose sight of the fact that without the other team there won't be a game. Also thanks to Sam Bernstein and all those who take on the thankless job of umpiring. Finally a word of thanks to all the spouses, girl friends, significant others and other family members who support the Neshanock in so many ways, especially watching countless matches in less than ideal conditions.
As the 1916 National League race neared its conclusion, Fred Lieb, one of the great sportswriters of the Deadball Era and beyond, wrote that while he still didn't know who would win the National League pennant, he had a pretty good idea about the 1917 champions. He meant, not surprisingly, the New York Giants and they proceeded to do just that. How the end of the 2014 season will effect the 2015 Neshanock is another question, but with the continued participation and support of all those mentioned above, no matter the record, it will be another successful season.