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.

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