Monday, May 25, 2015

Comic, But Not Necessarily Funny

Photo by Mark Granieri

Decoration Day (this is the 19th century remember) saw the Flemington Neshanock make their annual visit to Pickering Field to take on the home standing Newtown Strakes, a talented group of players who gather once a year for this annual event.  The game was first played in 2009, a Neshanock victory with Newtown returning the favor a year later.  The split of the first two games was followed by three straight Flemington victories heading into today's match under sunny, but hot conditions.  Last week, I reflected on how many Neshanock losses fit into two patterns, there is, of course, another type of loss that every club is subject to sooner or later - the other team is just better.  Such was the case today as Newtown got off to an early 8-0 lead, held on when Flemington closed to 9-4 then coasted over the last few innings to a 19-6 win.  There wasn't much positive to say from the Flemington standpoint as the Neshanock only managed nine hits, with Dan "Sledge" Hammer, Dave "Illinois" Harris and Scott "Snuffy" Hengst contributing two apiece.  "Snuffy" scored twice and came up only one at-bat short of a clear score.   With the loss, the Neshanock fall to 9-6 on the season heading into next Sunday's visit to Maryland to take on the Elkton Eclipse.  

Photo by Mark Granieri

Memorial Day weekend also marked the midway point of my journey through Charles Ebbets' more than a quarter of a century tenure as president of the Brooklyn Baseball Club as described in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  The Eagle was, of course, a Brooklyn institution from 1841 through its untimely demise in 1955 just prior to the Dodgers winning their only World Series championship.  It may be a surprise to learn that there were actually three other daily newspapers in Brooklyn that also covered the Dodgers during Ebbets' presidency, the Standard Union, the Brooklyn Daily Times and the Brooklyn Citizen.  All of these will have to be consulted the old fashioned way - on microfilm, most likely at the New York Public Library. 

Photo by Mark Granieri

In addition to yielding a lot of information about Ebbets, working thorough more than 25 years of the Eagle also opens a window on how the newspaper and its baseball coverage changed throughout the period including the shift from drawings to photos, expanded editions and the introduction of an actual sports page or pages.  At one point late in the first decade of the 20th century, the newspaper made extensive use of cartoons by Frank Dunham both for description and commentary on the fortunes of Brooklyn's hometown team.  While this took place over multiple years, 1909 seems to have been a season when Dunham was particularly prolific, offering regular drawings about the Superbas.  A sense of this can be seen in the following four drawings (click to enlarge).

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - January 24, 1909

The 1908 season was one of the most storied in baseball history with the American League pennant decided on the last day and the National League going beyond season's end because of the mythical Merkle bonehead play.  While it was a great season for the game that wasn't the case for Brooklyn which finished 7th, 46 games behind the leaders.  Not surprisingly manager Patsy Donovan paid the price by losing his job as Ebbets hoped to hire Bill Dahlen, star shortstop for Brooklyn, Chicago and the Giants, but now near the end of his playing career. Unfortunately Dahlen was under contract to the Boston Braves and owner George Dovey refused to sell him to Ebbets insisting on players instead which Ebbets was unwilling to do.  Stuck without a manager at the beginning of 1909, Ebbets settled on one of his best players, Harry Lumley in what was Ebbets only managerial hiring decision that was a mistake at the time he made it.  The Evening World noted that if Lumley's predecessor, Donovan was too familiar with his players, Lumley was guilty of the same faults to an even greater degree.  The above cartoon not long after Lumley's hiring portrays the new manager's naivete, suggesting the financially pressed Ebbets offer another $1000 (over $100,000 in 2013 dollars) to some of his holdout players.  The reference to scouts in the lower right hand corner anticipates the next drawing in late July.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - July 25, 1909

By July 24th the Superbas were a pathetic 31-52, bad enough to put them 29 games out of first place, a not uncommon position during these lean years in Brooklyn baseball.  At some point during each season, the theme of Ebbets leadership switched from his optimism for the new season to his relentless search for new players for the already longed for "next year."  Perhaps a little tired of this refrain, Dunham and the Eagle seem to suggest that Ebbets, intentions don't entirely match his skills as a judge of talent.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - August 27, 1909

As the dog days of summer of 1909 drew to a close, Brooklyn's dismal performance had gotten even worse, placing the club 40.5 games behind league leading Pittsburgh.  Understandably frustrated with having to watch that kind of play on a regular basis, Dunham took full aim at Lumley predicting an even more dire future if the beleaguered manager returned  in 1910.  The reference to "outside" baseball is a play on the popular Deadball Era term of "inside" baseball where players used strategy and trick plays to outsmart the opposition.  Under Lumley, Brooklyn was so bad that, Allen Sangre of the World, claimed they had perfected "outside" baseball, that is, "scoring as few runs as possible with as many chances as possible."  Sangre is also the author of a wonderful 1907 essay entitled "Fans and Their Frenzies: The Wholesome Madness of Baseball," generously reprinted by John Thorn at  The characterization of Ebbets and Lumley as ventriloquist and dummy was a popular criticism of Ebbets as a meddling owner at a time when managers were supposed to have a free hand in running their clubs including decisions about roster changes.  This continued until Ebbets made his last managerial hire in 1914, choosing future Hall of Famer, Wilbert Robinson who held the position for almost 20 years, long after Ebbets death.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - October 7, 1909

As the final cartoon perhaps suggests, two of the three figures were doomed and the owner wasn't one of them.  Lumley was fired before the month was out, replaced by Bill Dahlen, now available from the Braves for a price Ebbets was probably more than willing to pay.  Dahlen also failed as Brooklyn manager, but not because of a lack of talent as the Superbas symbolically pictured here as an under performing race horse, saw major turnover during the 1910 season to the extent that only eight members of the original roster finished the season.  Despite the somewhat cynical view of Ebbets as a judge of talent in 1909, that same season the Brooklyn owner hired Larry Sutton who became one of the great scouts of the Deadball Era.  In 1909 alone Sutton "found" and signed Jake Daubert and future Hall-of-Famer Zach Wheat, who became the cornerstones of Brooklyn's 1916 National League championship club.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

For the Union Dead

On this Memorial Day 2015, with the Sesquicentennial drawing to a close, let us remember the over 6000 men from New Jersey who died during the Civil War through these pictures of just a small sample of those who "gave their lives that that nation might live."

"So many, I had not thought death had undone so many." - T.S. Eliot 

"Here was a royal fellowship of death" - William Shakespeare

Charles Angel - 35th New Jersey, killed in action near Ruff's Mill, Georgia, July 4, 1864

Andrew Ackerman - 11th New Jersey - killed in action, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1863

Henry Bartlett - 33rd New Jersey - killed in action, Dug Gap, Georgia, May 8, 1864

William Boggs - 33rd New Jersey - mortally wounded at Chattanooga, November 23, 1863

William Cochrane - 33rd New Jersey - killed in action at Pine Knob, Georgia, June 14, 1864

Charles Field - 33rd New Jersey - mortally wounded at Dallas, Georgia, May 28, 1864

Dorastus Logan - 11th New Jersey - killed in action at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1863

Luther Martin - 11th New Jersey - killed in action at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1863

Samuel Waldron - 33rd New Jersey - killed in action at Chattanooga, Tennessee, November 23, 1863

Monday, May 18, 2015

Ripening Peaches and Other Stories from Cooperstown

This past weekend the Flemington Neshanock were once again fortunate to participate in the third annual vintage base ball event at the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, New York near where the game's history is commemorated, even if it didn't start there.  The Neshanock had previously played at Ommegang in a 2011 East meets Midwest event sponsored by the Cleveland Blues Base Ball Club.  On that occasion Flemington not only defeated the powerful Cleveland team, but were victorious in all three of their contests, taking home a not inconsiderable amount of beer in the process.  Back in 2013, the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn began sponsoring two days of vintage base ball at Ommegang and Flemington has participated each time.  In addition to the host Atlantics and the Neshanock, there were three new clubs in attendance, the New York Mutuals, the Athletic Club of Philadelphia and the Diamond State Club of Delaware.

As luck (bad luck) would have it, the Neshanock drew the Atlantics in their first match on Saturday morning.  Aided by some uncharacteristic Neshanock defensive lapses - five errors over two innings, the Atlantics scored nine times in the top of the first and added three more in their second at- bat for an early 12-1 lead.   Flemington fought back allowing the Atlantics only one run over the rest of the contest, but could only come up with four of its own for a frustrating 13-5 loss.  Offensively Flemington was limited to only 11 hits with Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner (three) leading the way, aided by Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw and Rene "Mango" Marerro, each with two.  All told the Neshanock made nine errors or muffs, never a good thing and almost always fatal against a team like the Atlantics.  Three of the Neshanocks' five 2015 losses have come at the hands of the Atlantic, but barring an encounter in a late season tournament, Flemington now has the Atlantics right where we want them - off the schedule!

Once the Atlantic match ended, the Neshanock moved over to the adjoining field (in some cases with a quick stop at the brewery) to take on the Athletic Club of Philadelphia, Flemington's second opponent.  The Neshanock quickly got things going offensively while playing much better defense, making only two muffs over the course of the game.  After allowing the Athletics one run in the top of the first, the Neshanock scored four times in each of the first three innings for a 12-1 lead en route to a comfortable 19-7 win over the Philadelphia club.  The day's matches marked the return to the Neshanock lineup of Mark "Peaches" Rubini who suffered through a tough outing in the opener sparking no shortage of suggested headlines for this blog post from his teammates.  Ripening quickly in the second contest "Peaches"had a clear score reaching base six times, on five hits and an Athletic muff.  Not far behind was Dan "Sledge" Hammer who had five hits and came only a bound out to center field short of his own clear score.  "Peaches" and "Sledge" were not the only Neshanocks to have big days at the striker's line as "Thumbs" and "Mango" each had four hit games as did "Brooklyn."  Danny "Batman" Shaw went one better with his father, contributing five hits to the Flemington cause.

Sunday morning saw the Neshanock taking on the Diamond State Club of Delaware in an early morning match enabling everyone to get started on the long ride home.  Flemington got out of the gate early tallying eight times in their first two at-bats to take an 8-3 lead.  From that point, however, the Neshanock could only manage three more tallies while Diamond State gradually caught up so that the contest was tied 10-10 after six innings.  The Delaware club kept going in the last three innings adding five more runs to earn a 15-11 triumph.  Flemington's attack was led by "Mango" who had four hits and came within one at-bat of a clear score.  "Peaches" and Joe "Mick" Murray each added three hits, but even with 19 hits all told, the lack of run production over the last seven innings doomed the Neshanock's chances.

Thinking about it over the long ride home, Neshanock losses seem to fit into one of two patterns.  Saturday's game with the Atlantics exemplifies the first kind where one big inning is the crusher, usually, but not always, abetted by errors extending the opponent's time at-bat.   This shows once again, the importance of making the routine play something that the Atlantics excel at.  The other type was seen in the Sunday match with Diamond State - scoring a lot of runs early followed by too many unproductive innings.  Diamond State never scored more than three runs in one inning, but scored three runs twice and two runs four times suggesting that consistency is more important than one or two eruptions.  Part of this may be the nature of the bound game where any fair ball caught on a bounce is an out which greatly extends the ability of outfielders, especially those with speed, to record an out.  I'm reminded of a match in the Philadelphia Navy Yard Festival a few years ago where the first Neshanock batter singled, stole second and then scored on another single beginning a sequence that was repeated over and over again until seven runs were scored.  Although he said it many years later, Wee Willy Keeler's classic line - "Hit it where they ain't" is perhaps instructive.  Something to think about as Flemington gets ready for its annual Memorial Day visit to Pickering Field in Newtown, Pennsylvania to take on the hometown, Newton Strakes.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Meet Me at the Fair

Photo by Mark Granieri 

May is apparently State Park month for the Flemington Neshanock and Elizabeth Resolutes as after spending last weekend at Ringwood State Park in extreme northern New Jersey, the two clubs journeyed to Monmouth Battlefield State Park on Saturday where they were joined by the Hoboken Nine.  The occasion was the annual New Jersey State History Fair where historical societies and history groups of all kinds gather to display and talk about their work.  As part of the festivities, the three vintage clubs got together to give the visitors and participants a day of base ball 19th century style.  In the opener the Neshanock took on the Hoboken Nine in a game played by 1864 rules.  Although Flemington led 3-2 after one, Hoboken put together a seven run second inning that was basically the difference in the match, a 15-11 Hoboken win.  The Neshanock struggled to get anything going offensively although Jack "Doc" Kitson had three hits while Chris "Low Ball" Lowry and Mark "Gaslight" Granieri chipped in two apiece.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The Neshanock then yielded their bench to the Elizabeth Resolutes who took on Hoboken in a game played by 1870 rules.  It was a high scoring affair which Elizabeth led early only to see Hoboken come back, before a monstrous 17 run inning gave the Resolutes a convincing 39-20 triumph.  Unfortunately I had to leave just as what proved to be the most dramatic and closely contested match  of the day between the Resolutes and the Neshanock was getting underway.  My understanding is that Elizabeth got off to a large advantage early in the game, but Flemington kept coming back.  Down 14-13 going to the bottom of the eighth, the Neshanock scored twice for a one run advantage headed to the top of the ninth.  As usual the Resolutes didn't go quietly, putting two men on with no one out before Flemington managed to close out another hard fought, intensely played match with our friends and rivals from Elizabeth.  Off to their best start in years at 8-3, Flemington travels to Cooperstown this coming weekend for three matches at the Ommegang Brewery.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Looking at the list of participants at the History Fair, I was reminded of two things I have learned over the past 15 or so years about our state's history.  The first is that there is a tremendous amount of passion about New Jersey's rich and diverse 350 year history, but that passion isn't focused at the state level.  Rather the enthusiasm and commitment is lived out in the different segments or aspects of New Jersey history, be they base ball, the Civil War, canals, local history or even a specific site or building.  There's nothing wrong with that, in fact, it facilitates a level of specialization that might otherwise not be possible, but it does sometimes encourage a mistaken belief that there is apathy about New Jersey history.

New Jersey Historical Society - 52 Park Place, Newark, NJ 

The other thing that is clear to me is that almost without exception the participants in Saturday's History Fair can do their work well only if they have access to the contemporary artifacts and archival material that are the essential raw materials of all historical work.  Collecting, preserving and making accessible that material falls primarily to institutions with a broader mission like the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark.  Founded 170 years ago in 1845, NJHS has been collecting artifacts and archival material ever since, gathering the largest private collection of New Jersey history materials in the world.  Making these items available to groups like today's participants as well as to researchers and other individuals provides the foundation on which all good historical work is built.

Photo by Mark Granieri

My initial involvement in vintage base ball was back in 2008 when the Neshanock were trying to recreate the Eureka Club of Newark, New Jersey's premier base ball team of the 1860's.  Since historical accuracy is vintage base ball's highest priority, it was essential to have the 21st century version wear uniforms as close as possible to the originals.  Many times it's not possible to discover what those uniforms looked like, but fortunately in this case, NJHS had a team picture of the Eureka club, taking the guesswork out of uniform design.

Eureka Team Picture - Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society 

Another important New Jersey history community consists of the groups and individuals committed to telling and commemorating the story of our state's participation in the Civil War.  That watershed event in American history saw over 70000 New Jersey men serve in the Union Army with about 6000 giving their lives "that that nation might live."  Over the past six months, NJHS has acquired three sets of New Jersey Civil War archival material which have added eight diaries, almost 300 letters as well as drawings and maps to our Civil War collections.  Just one example is the Carolinas Campaign diary of Lt Franklin Murphy of the 13th New Jersey who would later go on to serve as Governor.  Original source material for the Carolinas Campaign is very rare and NJHS' successful acquisition of the diary at public auction guarantees the public availability of this important resource.

Franklin Murphy's Carolinas Campaign Diary - Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society

Obviously acquiring these materials cost money as does just operating the organization.  Like all not-for-profit organizations, NJHS seeks and receives government, corporation and foundation funding.  But individual gifts are also important, indeed, no gift is too small and we are now especially committed to building our membership base.  At $40, the fully tax deductible annual membership fee is a way to support this important work at a very modest cost.  There are, of course, benefits including an annual member's only program, but equally important is just being part of this important work.  Joining NJHS has never been simpler, going to our website (, clicking the donation button and making a $40 donation will complete the membership process in only a matter of minutes.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

In the over three years of this blog, I don't think I've ever asked for anything, but this is so important that I ask anyone and everyone who reads this to become a member of NJHS so we can continue to collect and preserve New Jersey history.  And, by the way, this year's members only event will feature a lecture on Hoboken, New Jersey as base ball's incubator, including games played at Elysian Fields before that historic day in June of 1846.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

At the Manor Played

After Saturday's match in intensely urban south Brooklyn, it would have been hard for the Neshanock to have found a more different venue for Sunday's games which were played at Ringwood State Park in northern New Jersey, not far from the state line.  Yet interestingly, both locations were important historic sites during the American Revolution.  The Old Stone House, of course, is located where during the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776, 400 Continental soldiers from Maryland made repeated charges at great cost, to stop the advancing British army and allow the rest of the Washington's army to withdraw.  Ringwood, on the other hand, was the site of an iron mine which supplied the Continental Army including the links to the great chain that blocked the Hudson River from British war ships.  So at this far more rural, but also historic site, Flemington joined the Atlantic Base Ball Club (Brooklyn Atlantics for short) and the Elizabeth Resolutes, two historic teams in their own right, for a day of vintage base ball.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Leading off the day was an 1864 match between the Neshanock and the visitors from Long Island.  The Atlantics are one of the finest vintage base ball clubs in the country both in terms of how they play the game and how they honor the history of the original club, one of the best of the pre-professional era (pre 1870).  While it's never easy to lose regularly to the same team, the more times I see the Atlantics, the more I appreciate their play.  At bat, they combine solid line drive hitting with smart and aggressive base running.  But what stands out for me even more is how they play defense.  Of special note are left fielder, Anthony "Dirty Pirate" Cannino and shortstop, Dean "Dreambucket" Emma.  If Bob Ferguson of the original Atlantics was known as "Death to Flying Things," these two are worthy heirs, not just for "flying things," but also for anything hit on the ground remotely in their vicinity.

Photo by Mark Granieri

But as good as "Dirty Pirate" and "Dreambucket" are, nothing should be taken away from their teammates who also play sound, fundamental defense.  While I can't mention all of them, one player who stood out for me on Sunday was first baseman, Anthony "Willy Mo" Stelmach who handled every throw to first flawlessly.  Sometimes there is a tendency to forget the importance in base ball of making the basic routine play.  One of the Neshanock's most historic victories was a win over the Cleveland Blues at the National Silverball Tournament in Rochester.  At the end of one inning when Cleveland had closed to within one run and had runners on base with two out, "Jersey" Jim Nunn caught a fly ball to end the inning.  It wasn't an especially difficult catch, nor did he have to run far to get to the ball, but by just making the play, the rally was over and Flemington went on to win the game.

Picture by Mark Granieri

As impressive as the Atlantics are on the field, their commitment to both historical accuracy and the history of their club is equally commendable.  In addition to how they use every game for teachable moments, they also host educational events throughout the year which can be found on their website (  Before Sunday's game, "Dreambucket" told Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw and me about how they had recently acquired an actual Atlantic belt from a descendant of an Atlantic player who generously donated it to them.  It is apparently the first original Atlantic item they've acquired and clearly meant a great deal to them.

Photo by Mark Granieri

On Sunday, through the bottom of the seventh inning, the Atlantic and Neshanocks played a very close contest with Brooklyn leading 7-6 as they came to bat in the seventh.  Unfortunately for Flemington, a combination of a number of well placed (Atlantic's view point) or lucky hits (the Neshanock's point of view) loaded the bases for "Dreambucket" who cleared them with a grand slam home run, barely beating the throw to the plate.  With that the Atlantics were in clear control and won the match 17-6.  Leading the offense for Flemington were Joe "Mick" Murray with three hits and Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and "Jersey" Jim Nunn with two apiece.  "Brooklyn" pitched a fine match for Flemington including taking a line drive off the wrist from "Dreambucket" which he calmly caught on the hop for the third out of an early inning.

Picture by Mark Granieri

After that the Neshanock took a break while the Atlantics took on the Resolutes in a game played by 1870 rules.  I didn't see a lot of the match, but I believe the Elizabeth club led until the last part of the game when the Atlantics came back for a 17-13 competitive win.  Competitive also describes the final match of the day, a game played by 1864 rules between Flemington and Elizabeth.  The Neshanock benefited from a six run third inning getting off to a 8-1 lead, but no one on the Flemington side thought the lead was secure and it wasn't.  The Resolutes got strong relief pitching from Danny Marcus and strong center field play from Jesse Tomlinson who as per usual was death to both "flying things" as well as any thing that bounced once.   Tomlinson also hit a home run as the Resolutes chipped away at the Neshanock lead which Flemington struggled to augment.  Elizabeth twice got within two, but never any closer as the Neshanock held on for a tough, hard-earned 13-10 win.  For Flemington, "Mick" and "Thumbs" again had strong offensive games, joined by "Brooklyn" and Ken "Tumbles" Mandel both with three hits apiece.  Defensively "Thumbs" and "Tumbles" filled in admirably behind the plate for the injured Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, recording nine of the Resolutes twenty-seven outs on foul tips.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

All in all, it was a long, hot, but very enjoyable day of vintage base ball which the Resolutes and Neshanock get to repeat next weekend at the New Jersey History Fair at Monmouth Battlefield State Park where they will be joined by the Hoboken Nine.  If you are in the area, stop by.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Free Admission, But it's Going to Cost You

Since the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, a.k.a Brooklyn Superbas, a.k.a Brooklyn Dodgers honored New Jersey by using Allaire, N.J. for the club's 1898 spring training, it seemed only fair for New Jersey vintage clubs to return the favor by playing in Brooklyn.  To that end the Flemington Neshanock and the Bog Iron Boys of Allaire State Park visited south Brooklyn on Saturday to play a game of 1864 base ball for the benefit of the Old Stone House.  While the Neshanock have played multiple times on the site of the second incarnation of Washington Park, it was a maiden voyage for New Jersey's newest vintage club.  Travel is challenging for vintage clubs, but under Russ McIver's leadership, the Bog Iron Club had a fine turn out for their first match of 2015.  With the Neshanock playing both Saturday and Sunday this weekend, Flemington came up a few players short for the Saturday match, but five of our friends from the Gotham Club of New York did an admirable job filling out the Neshanock lineup.

Photo by Dave Harris 

At almost any level of baseball, the first few seasons can be very challenging on-the-field and vintage base ball is no exception, especially when new clubs take on veteran lineups like the Bog Iron Boys faced today.  The combined Neshanock/Gotham team got off to an early lead and was in control throughout on the way to a 20-4 victory.  Still the Allaire club played hard, especially in the field where they made only three muffs over the course of the game.  Of special note on the winning side were "Monk" from the Gothams (sorry I don't know the full names) who earned a clear score and "Smoke" who made five hits.  Danny "Batman" Shaw continued his strong work at bat with three hits as did Rene "Mango" Marerro also with three.  Dave "Illinois" Harris not only contributed three hits, but was a more than adequate replacement for Mark "Wally Pipp" Granieri as blog photographer.  "Illinois" was even spotted taking pictures while on base and in the field.

Photo by Dave Harris

One defensive play of note took place in the second inning when "Mango" was on the front end of a triple play.  It came off of a trick play that the Neshanock have developed based on the 19th century rule that base runners cannot advance on a foul ball, even if the ball is thrown away after the foul.  The Neshanock have used the play multiple times over the years and I think this is the second time that it resulted in a triple play, the other being in the Gettysburg Vintage Festival in 2013.  On the bench after the play, "Mango" asked about the date of the first triple play.  When in doubt about any question of base ball history, the place to go when you want to know is always Peter Morris' invaluable A Game of Inches.   Interestingly a quick check revealed that the earliest documented triple play took place in Brooklyn on April 16, 1859.  As reported in the below article from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, it happened at the beginning of the first season when base runners did not get free passage back to their bases after a fly out.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - April 18, 1859

While we naturally associate the Brooklyn Dodgers or whatever we call them with Ebbets Field, the team spent 23 seasons in south Brooklyn at two different parks more or less on the same site.  Among the many games, the Dodgers played in south Brooklyn, a game played on April 17, 1904 with Boston seemed, at first glance, a typical early season game at Washington Park.  A large crowd gathered outside the grandstand admission gates on 4th Avenue and 3rd Streets anxiously waiting to get in before the first pitch.  A closer look, however, revealed something wasn't quite right.  In spite of the large throng and the upcoming game, not only were all of the ticket windows closed, but no one was selling tickets either club employees or ticket scalpers.  Yet the gates themselves were open and people were being admitted, but only one at a time through two "iron" wickets" directing them towards the 50 or 75 cent seats.   Almost as soon as a person squeezed through the entrance, he or she came to a man at a table selling score cards.  Nothing unusual about that either, as score cards at 5 cents were a minor source of income for Charles Ebbets and his partners.

Grandstand Entrance to Washington Park 

However, there was a difference between these score cards and the typical edition with space for scoring along with club rosters and a few small ads.  The cards on this particular day were different colors with prices ranging from 25 to 75 cents.  For April 17, 1904 was a Sunday and charging admission to games on the Sabbath was against the law in New York City.  There was, however, no legal obstacle to selling score cards.  At a time when every quarter counted, the prohibition on Sunday games was a big challenge to major league club owners as it was the only day most average working men had the time to attend a game.  Under Charles Byrne's leadership Brooklyn had experimented with Sunday games outside of the Brooklyn municipal limits, but eventually dropped the idea.  When he took over in January of 1898, Charles Ebbets said he was willing to play Sunday games if that was what the public wanted.  Nothing happened after that until new challenges in the New York market gave Ebbets the incentive he needed to challenge the law.

1901 Score Card, note that the team is called the Brooklyn Base Ball Club, not the Dodgers

The peace agreement that ended the base ball war with the upstart American League gave the new circuit the right to establish a team in New York which they did for the 1903 season.  Ebbets, who resisted the peace agreement, probably took some solace from the fact that a team playing at the upper reaches of Manhattan Island would not draw a lot of fans from Brooklyn.  But at the beginning of the 1904 season, the owners of the New York Highlanders announced plans to play Sunday games at Ridgewood Park within the area allocated to Brooklyn under the National Agreement.  Ebbets' reaction can be imagined and he began an ultimately successful fight against the A.L. team playing regular season games so close to his ball park.  Afterwards Ebbets claimed the fight over the issue gave him the incentive to begin his own Sunday experiment.

Photo by Doreen Harris 

By any standard the first venture was more than a little successful.  Gate receipts totaled $6500 ($175,000 in 2013 dollars) from a crowd estimated at 14000, far more than a typical day's receipts at Washington Park.  Ebbets claimed that no one was forced to buy a program with those unwilling to do so directed to seats in the outfield bleachers, but other sources indicate it was not only mandatory, but effectively enforced.   According to the New York Sun, the crowd included hundreds of average working men who seldom had the opportunity to attend a game.  The police captain on the scene told reporters that in his view the program ploy was not a violation of the law, but he was hardly objective as he also said he favored allowing major league games on the Sabbath.  The only negative was the experience of the 4000 or so still outside when the game began, supposedly because it took the program sellers too long to make change.  The program idea was apparently not new as the Eagle claimed a number of amateur clubs had been doing so for some time.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - April 18, 1904

The police captain's support not withstanding, the anti-Sunday base ball forces pressured public officials and the second Sunday game brought token arrests intended to bring a test court before the court.  That began a long legal process stretching over several years before it became clear that only a change in the law could legalize Sunday base ball in New York City.  Surprisingly at the end of the 1904 season, Ebbets seemed indifferent to playing future Sunday games, claiming that "other Sunday attractions" [especially Coney Island] "put baseball in the shade."  If so the Brooklyn owner changed his tune when a 1919 law finally permitted Sunday games in New York City which became a gold mine for the Brooklyn club even more so than for the Giants and Yankees.  Since the two New York clubs shared the Polo Grounds, there were less Sunday dates to go around while Brooklyn had no such limitation.  The extra dates were important because Sunday Blue Laws in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, prevented the Pirates, Braves and Phillies from playing Sunday games at home.  The result was one game road trips where teams from all three cities made special trips to Brooklyn for just one game.  The gate receipts were important enought to both clubs to make the long and inconvenient journey worthwhile.  The combination of a new ball park and Sunday games led to the most profitable years in Ebbets' long career as club president.  By the time of his death at the beginning of the 1925 season, the Brooklyn club was in a very strong financial position, one frittered away by the Ebbets and McKeever heirs.