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.

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