Saturday, April 25, 2015

Base Ball on Campus, Now and Then

After spending last weekend on Long Island, the Neshanock headed to the New Jersey shore on Saturday to take on the Baseball Club of Monmouth University at the college's campus in West Long Branch.  This was the baseball club, not the school's varsity team (thank goodness).  I'm not exactly sure how it works, but I gather it's baseball on a more informal basis with games against clubs from other schools.  One thing is for sure, these guys and girls were no muffins.  Besides obviously being younger, they were good players and picked up the 19th century rules quickly.  In addition they did credit to themselves by working hard at playing by the spirit of the early game.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Although the Neshanock took an early 1-0 lead, Monmouth went ahead 4-1 in the top of the second and continued to lead late in the contest.  The Neshanock's fielding was not up to the level of the past few weeks and there was a bad sequence when Flemington loaded the bases with one out, but failed to score.  But all of this not withstanding, the college club played well and led 10-6 going to the bottom of the ninth.  With one on and one out, four straight Neshanock hits scored three runs and put runners on second and third still with only one out.  Disaster almost struck Flemington when after the Monmouth first base man retired the striker at first, some base running confusion almost ended the game, but some how both runners got back safely.  Scott "Snuffy" Hengst then delivered what could best be described as a well placed hit that left the third base man with a long, difficult throw to first.  Both "Snuffy" and the ball arrived about the same time, but the throw got away from the first base man allowing both runs to score and the Neshanock to escape with a dramatic 11-10 win .  Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner led Flemington with four hits, but special mention should be made (he insisted) of Ken "Tumbles" Mandel who not only took a hard line drive off his body to record an out, but reached base all four times he was up.  Only being forced at third in one inning, kept "Tumbles" from a clear score.

Photo by Mark Granieri

This was my first visit to Monmouth University which was founded in 1933 when base ball was well established at colleges both in New Jersey and around the country.  It was, of course, a much different situation in the mid 19th century when the New York game played by organized clubs was gradually working its way across New Jersey and the rest of the east coast.  Research to date indicates that the first New Jersey college base ball club was organized at Princeton, also known then as the College of New Jersey, in the fall of 1857, very early in the game's first major growth spurt.  According to Frank Presbrey in  Athletics at Princeton, published in 1901, the honor goes to a group of freshman who apparently without knowing much about the game organized the Nassau Club that fall.  Probably trying to assert their worthiness, the new men on campus challenged the sophomores to a match which the sophomore's won, although from the brief account, it's not clear what rules were being used.

The Father of Baseball at Princeton 

As Presbrey notes "baseball proper" arrived at Princeton at the beginning of the 1858-59 school year with the arrival of the Class of 1862, in particular three young men from Brooklyn where the game was already established.  Whatever else they had packed in their trunks, Lewis Mudge, Henry Sampson and Henry Butler didn't forget their bats and balls and quickly recruited a group of about 20 who played on Saturdays through the fall.  It worked so well that on March 17, 1859, they organized the Base Ball Club of the Class of 1862, Nassau Hall continuing to play among themselves as well as with the students at Princeton Seminary.  It was clearly a low budget operation as total expenses for the year came in at $9.43.  The club was such a success that interest spread beyond the Class of 1862 which the organizers first resolved by admitting men from other classes as honorary members and then adopting the name of the old Nassau Club which was no longer active.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Interest in base ball also apparently spread to the school's alumni as in October of 1860, Dr. Edward Pierson, Class of 1854 invited the collegians to visit Orange, New Jersey and play a picked nine.  Supposedly only after "much persuasion" did the faculty bless the away match which ended in a 42-42 tie either because of darkness, exhaustion or a combination of the two.  That was the first and last away match for the Class of 1862, most likely not because of faculty concerns, but because of the outbreak of the Civil War in April of 1861 which had a devastating impact on the Class of 1862.  Made up of about 100 young men at the beginning of their sophomore year, less than 50 were present for graduation as the others had returned to their homes in the south.  Interestingly all 20 base ball players graduated including three from the south, who then went home to fight for the Confederacy.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

There is certainly nothing extraordinary about the Class of 1862/Nassau Club's on-the-field record, but they still played an important part in the game's spread to college campuses.  Those of us in the 19th Century base ball history community believe in evolution, not creation.  If I understand evolution correctly there are times in the process where what happens or doesn't happen causes changes in direction or delays in timing.  Outside of Manhattan, base ball clubs were a relatively new phenomena in 1860, certainly on college campuses.  The "much persuasion" required to obtain permission to play one game off campus shows how concern about the impact of sports on academics and behavior was an important issue for college administrators.  Fortunately that first group of base ball players at Princeton didn't neglect their studies as seven members of the Class of 1862 finished in the top ten academic places of their class.  Near the top in second place was Lewis Mudge, who supposedly could simultaneously solve math problems, plan base ball strategy and carry on a conversation.  Nor were there any questions of their moral compasses as a Mudge and Butler went on to long careers in the Presbyterian ministry as did some of their other teammates.

Photo by Mark Granieri

It's hard to believe this good first impression of base ball and academics didn't help spur the growth of base ball at Princeton.  Only a year later, not only was the Nassau Club permitted to travel to New Brunswick to take on the Star Club of that city, but members of the student body went as well.  A year later, the collegians took a major step up in class using a fall break to visit Brooklyn where they won three of four matches including a come from behind victory over the Excelsior Club and an honorable 18-13 loss to the Atlantics.  None of this might have happened so quickly had it not been for that first group of players, not due to their on-the-field record, but because they showed it was possible to be both students and athletes.

1 comment:

  1. Great to see vintage base ball at my Alma Mater!