Sunday, June 28, 2015

Respecting History

As must be obvious to even the most casual reader of this blog, base ball and the Civil War are two of my major historical interests.  Ironically, I am frequently asked the origin of my Civil War interest, which I can't answer, but seldom asked about baseball which I can.  So it was a pleasant surprise last month, after a talk at the Caldwell Public Library, when someone actually asked how I became interested in baseball history.  The impetus, which I've written about before, came from books I read in the 1950's especially John Carmichael's anthology of oral histories - My Greatest Day in Baseball.  My answer was quite spontaneous as I described how accounts of Deadball Era era games made base ball of that time come alive.  Thinking about it later, I realized that's my challenge in writing a biography of Charles Ebbets.  To make Ebbets and the Brooklyn club of that period (1898-1925) come alive for the reader.  Since Ebbets was an owner, not a player, it's a different challenge than writing about games, pennant races and World's Series, but it has to be done if the book is going to be something more than a dry narrative focused on dollars and cents.

Evening World  - December 11, 1918

How does one make a base ball owner who died 90 years ago come alive?  From what I've seen, little of Ebbets' personal correspondence, the standard raw material of history, survives, limiting the historical record of his actual words to newspaper quotes with all the risks and uncertainties thereof.  Another source, of course, are the comments of his contemporaries, again primarily in newspapers which also have to be used with a certain amount of caution.  In some cases, however, the sheer weight of the evidence is such that it's impossible to avoid conclusions.  It would be hard to deny, for example, that Ebbets was not only talkative, but verbose.  Writing in the New York Tribune in January of 1915, Heywood Broun claimed "An Ebbets sentence never comes to end.  It merely cracks under the strain" of the number of words, proving the assertion by quoting in full an almost 200 word sentence which the Geneva Convention prohibits repeating here.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 6, 1916 - Just one example of Ebbets donation of his park for charitable purposes

An even better way of understanding someone, however, is to look beyond what they said or what others said about them and focus on what they actually did.  To me an important issue with Ebbets is whether he was really as cheap as he has been depicted by a number of modern historians.  It's too early to draw definitive conclusions, but it's interesting how frequently Ebbets donated his ball park for charitable purposes.  It's hard to put a dollar value on what is effectively an in-kind donation where the only cash outlays were the expense of game day staff and related items.  Recently the New York Yankees donated their stadium for a charitable soft ball game and one source put the direct cost at $1 million.  In 1917 in one of his many ploys to promote Sunday baseball, Ebbets paid all of the proceeds of a Sunday game to a war-related charity less $500 for the cash expenses.  If that's an indication of the cost of opening the ballpark for the day, the value in 2013 dollars is almost $32,000, not an inconsiderable amount even today.

Eckford Trophy Case in the Baseball Hall of fame - note to the left the ball from the Brooklyn club's 18-12 victory over the Newark Club - New Jersey's first base ball club 

Another issue of Ebbets' ownership of the Dodgers, is his attitude towards Brooklyn, did he care about the community or was he just another business man out to make a buck.  One measure of someone's attitude towards their community is how much or little they value its history and in this case (literally), there is a tangible example.  Back in the early days of competitive base ball, especially during the 1850's and 1860's, the winning club was awarded the game ball.  It appears to have been a fairly standard practice to write the opponent and score of the game on the ball and preserve the balls in a trophy case.  There is at least one surviving example, the Brooklyn Eckford's case which is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  Another prominent Brooklyn club, the Atlantics also had such a case, reportedly containing about 100 balls, including the one from the club's epic 1870 victory that ended the Cincinnati Red Stockings record winning streak.  After the club went out of existence, it's prize possession ended up in the cafe of Charley Johnston, an early backer of pugilist John L. Sullivan, on Lower Fulton Street in Brooklyn.

Atlantics' Trophy Case - now lost forever

While a number of contemporary sources claimed the club gave the case to Johnston, John Chapman, one of the last surviving members of the Atlantics wrote to Sporting Life in January of 1913 to set the record straight by noting that the case passed through several parties who had no right to it before it finally ended up with Johnston who also had no legitimate claim.  According to Chapman, Johnston refused to return the case to the surviving club members unless he received "a large amount" as compensation, an amount the aging players either couldn't or wouldn't pay.   Upon Johnston's death in 1905, considerable "agitation" took place about the fate of the historic collection, but even Henry Chadwick's suggestion of a public subscription to purchase the case for the Brooklyn Museum of Arts and Sciences proved unsuccessful.  Finally seven years later in October of 1912, riding to the rescue on a metaphorical white horse was Charles Ebbets (and the McKeevers) who purchased the case for display in the rotunda at Ebbets Field.  It's not clear if it was ever displayed there and I have my doubts.

New York Clipper - November 29, 1879

Although no cost was mentioned, the inability of anyone else to acquire the prize baseballs before or after Johnston's death, suggests the cost wasn't insignificant.  Regardless of the cost, however, the importance lies in Ebbets, who was so overwhelmed in finishing Ebbets Field that he had to take a cruise for his health, spending the time and money to cement the connection between his brand new state of the art ball park with the game's long and distinguished history in Brooklyn.  It's another example of how deeply Ebbets' life was embedded in Brooklyn.  Ebbets also made it a point to participate in Chapman's 1916 funeral, a fitting way for one member of the Brooklyn Elks to honor one of the lodge's charter members.  Any final doubts about the significance of Ebbets' action can be seen in the final fate of the case.  According to Peter Nash in Baseball Legends of Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery, the case was broken up by the one and only Walter O'Malley who supposedly gave the balls away to departing employees.  You can't make this stuff up!

Here and There - mostly There

If this post and my recent accounts of Neshanock matches seem a little disoriented, there is good reason for that.  Last weekend, I missed Flemington's annual visit to Hoboken because Carol and I were in Massachusetts awaiting the birth of our second grandchild.  Although supposedly scheduled for June 20th, mother nature had other ideas so we came home for a few days, traveling back on June 25th when Henry George Zinn came into the world.  The return visit kept us in Massachusetts through Saturday afternoon so I also missed yesterday's match with the Bog Iron Boys of Allaire State Park in Princeton.  The two clubs were then to travel to Lakewood for another match, this time as part of an Ocean County event, but I'm guessing that contest was rained out.  Fortunately Mark "Gaslight" Granieri stepped to provide some photos and a brief summary of the Princeton affair.

Photo by Mark Granieri

As noted before the Bog Iron Boys are a new vintage club and not unlike the experience of modern expansion teams, it takes time to become competitive.  The Allaire club was also apparently shorthanded, all of which helped the Neshanock to get off to a 12-0 start after four innings, coasting from there to a 19-4 victory.  The win ended a seven game Flemington losing streaking, bringing the Neshanock back to within one game of .500 at 10-11.  After taking the upcoming holiday weekend off, Flemington will head to River Edge, New Jersey on July 11th for the annual Bergen County Historical Society match, for the second straight year taking on the Brooklyn Eckord and old friend, Eric Miklich.  Please join us.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Proving what is so

At one point in Lincoln Center's wonderful revival of Rogers and Hammerstein's "The King and I," the king’s eldest son and the son of Anna, the teacher of the king's children, are talking about their parents.  The king's son asks Anna's son, "Why do your mother and my father fight?"  Wiser than his years, Anna's son replies, "They fight to prove that what they do not know is so."  While the following quotes from a brief announcement on New Jersey Advance Media's web site about the Neshanock-Hoboken match this past Saturday may not be consciously fighting to prove something, they represent historical claims that some think they “know,” but which are simply not correct.
“Hoboken will celebrate the 169th anniversary of the first baseball game on June 20 with a re-enactment of the game as it was played in 19th century.”

“For years Cooperstown, N.Y., home of the baseball Hall of Fame, held onto the tale that it was the site of the first game, but in recent years Hoboken has been acknowledged as the "birthplace of baseball."

One out of the two birth place claims is correct - photo by Mark Granieri

The reason for writing about this is not to criticize the reporter or the sources for the story, but because Hoboken and Elysian Fields important part in base ball history doesn't benefit from inaccurate information.  What follows, therefore, tries first to provide the documented facts and then offer some thoughts about the historical record.  I realize for some this will be old news, but ask them to bear with me because quotes like these demonstrate the level of misinformation that is still out there.  It should also be noted that I'm writing this at a disadvantage because we are in Massachusetts awaiting the arrival of our Grandson so I don't have all of my books and other resources.  Almost all of the documented information which follows comes from John Thorn's essays in Baseball Founders and Inventing Baseball, content he explains and expands more fully in his excellent book Baseball in the Garden of Eden.

It’s first important to distinguish between playing base ball and playing games or match games as they were known in the 19th century.  Playing base ball is something my generation did as kids, meeting at the nearest field to choose up sides and play a game with teams which existed for only the life of that game.  Playing base ball in that sense may not date back to the first syllable of recorded time, but goes back way too far in the mists of the past for anyone to know when it happened for the first time.  John Thorn's discovery of a Pittsfield, Massachusetts town ordinance restricting the playing of base ball proves the game was played in this country as early as 1791 when both Cooperstown and Elysian Fields were at best visions in the minds of William Cooper and John Stevens.  Match games, on the other hand, are of more recent vintage, an almost natural progression from the formation of clubs made up of young men who enjoyed playing bat and ball games. 

Box score from October 24, 1845 match game at the Union Cricket Grounds in Brooklyn 

One of the first such documented clubs is the Olympic Club of Philadelphia, founded in 1833, which apparently played a distinctive form of town ball, now labeled Philadelphia town ball.  The Knickerbockers got on to the field in the fall of 1845, meeting 14 times at Elysian Fields in Hoboken to play something not unlike the modern inter squad game. But the Knickerbockers were not the first club to play at the Stevens family’s pastoral playground across the North (Hudson) River.  Both the New York and Magnolia Clubs (the latter another John Thorn discovery) played base ball (but apparently not match games) in Hoboken as early as 1843.  Thus in September and October of 1845, the Knickerbockers were the relatively new kids on the greensward, continuing the practice of playing base ball on a somewhat organized basis.  Simultaneously, however, there was a major change in October of 1845 when the New York Club (also known as the Gotham or Washington Club) played three match games against a team from Brooklyn.  The first and third of these matches was played at the Union Cricket Grounds in Brooklyn while the middle game on October 21, 1845 took place at Elysian Fields.

Although there is no where as much detail as one would like, all of the matches are clearly documented in contemporary newspapers which proves that the June 19, 1846 game was not the first base ball game or even the first game played at Elysian Fields.  In fact, it's also not certain the 1846 game was really a match game at all.  A few weeks later in the fall of 1845, on November 10, 1845, the New York Club played a season ending game at Elysian Fields followed by a dinner at the Colonnade Hotel.  As John Thorn points out, playing in that game were some of the Knickerbockers suggesting that it was a variation of the inter squad game model and that the June 19th game may have been more of the same.  Supporting that possibility is the fact that after the 1846 game, the Knickerbockers didn't play a match game for almost five years.  Even if they were really bad losers, that's still an absurd amount of time to avoid the agony of defeat.

If all of this is accurate, and the facts themselves cannot be denied, did Elysian Fields have any role in the growth and expansion of base ball?  In my mind, and I'm speaking for myself here, the answer is yes, just not as some kind of  base ball birthplace.  The 1840's New York clubs came to Elysian Fields because of a shortage of playing space on Manhattan Island.  As the number of clubs grew in the 1850's, they took up almost of the available room at Elysian Fields, even expanding into other parts of Hoboken, like Fox Hill.  Without the easily accessible and relatively inexpensive New Jersey space, at the very least, the pace of the game's expansion could have slowed down.  Also important, however, was Elysian Fields proximity to relatively large cities like Newark and Jersey City and a relatively sophisticated railroad network throughout northern New Jersey.  This provided both a substantial pool of young men living outside of New York City, willing and able to play the game and a transportation system to spread knowledge of the game beyond greater New York.  After the first New Jersey clubs were formed in 1855, it took only about two years for clubs to be formed at almost every town or city on the railroad line through and including Trenton in the central part of the state.

That this was important can be seen by comparing the New York - northern New Jersey experience with that of Philadelphia and southern New Jersey.  Like the New York game's spread into New Jersey, Philadelphia town ball also crossed a river into New Jersey. However, it never moved beyond Camden into a sparsely populated southern New Jersey with almost no railroad network in the antebellum period.  This is not to suggest that the less favorable conditions in south Jersey were what doomed Philadelphia town ball.  Having seen a re-creation of the game, there appears to be a lack of strategy which probably would have limited its appeal.  Nor is this to argue that the positive factors in northern New Jersey were the final game changer in the New York game's ultimate success.  Evolution is, however, a gradual process and anything which facilitates successful development is important.  Even though, as we all should know, base ball didn't have a birthplace, be it at Cooperstown, Hoboken or anywhere else, my guess is that it had and needed incubators to help the process.  Elysian Fields and Hoboken was one such place and deserve an annual game like the Neshanock-Hoboken match to honor and commemorate that which we do know is, in fact, so.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Ever changing yet eternally the same

Saturday marked rare consecutive matches for the Neshanock against the same club.  Less than two weeks ago Flemington traveled to Elkton, Maryland to take on the Eclipse Club and yesterday, Elkton made the return trip to the Howell Living History Farm near Lambertville, New Jersey.  It's an annual event which, as always, attracted a small, but appreciative group of fans, four of whom became muffins for the day joining the match on the Neshanock side.  From my experience, Elkton is one of the country's best vintage clubs featuring good hitting, solid defense and entertaining pitching by Tom "Schoolboy" Duffy.  I'd love to watch a match with "Schoolboy" going up against Eric Miklich, in fact, I'd pay to see to that.  The combination of good pitching and sound defense pretty much shut the Neshanock's offense down for the entire first game, limiting Flemington to just six hits and one run.  Elkton led 3-1 after four, 6-1 after five and then broke the seven inning game up with a 7 run seventh for a 13-1 triumph.

Early in the second game, Flemington got going on offense, leading 5-2 after three, but leaving the bases loaded with none out in the top of the third doomed the Neshanock's chances against a good hitting club like Elkton.  Flemington still led 5-4 going to the bottom of the sixth (another seven inning match), but the visitors from Maryland scored five times for a 9-5 triumph.  Two offensive highlights for Flemington in the second game were a clear score by Danny "Batman" Shaw and two hits including a double by new Neshanock (but no Muffin) Bo Koltnow.  Flemington did play strong defense in both games, but winning low scoring games against clubs like Elkton is extremely difficult.  Special thanks to Charles "Bugs" Klasman of the Gotham Club of New York who joined the Neshanock for the day, carrying the bulk of the pitching load.  Next week Flemington returns to base ball's incubator in Hoboken for the annual match honoring the June 19, 1846 Knickerbocker - New York club match.

Playing Field at Howell Living History Farm, Elkton Eclipse web site

Both Howell Living History Farm and the Flemington Neshanock have at least one thing in common, a mission to recreate how activities which continue today, were done in the past.  As a result, the focus understandably becomes the differences between then and now. Understandable though it may be, however, in the case of base ball  there's a downside to giving too much weight to the differences between past and present.  Over emphasis on what has changed can lead to losing sight of that which endures, the things that make up the very essence of base ball's timeless and everlasting appeal.  One enduring aspect of base ball is the the fan's love of the game, passion sufficient to pay to watch it being played.  After all, if people didn't want to pay to watch major league base ball, be it at the average 50 cents price of 1915 or the roughly 40 times that amount ($20) a century later, the game would never have become what it is today.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - 1915

If fan interest is part of base ball's sustained popularity, it stands to reason that no matter how much things have changed over the past century, there is some degree of commonality between fans then and now.  In that spirit what follows is a brief look at three fans (one nameless) who on examination aren't so very different from their modern counterparts.


During the modern World Series, the TV camera invariably captures stars of stage and screen sitting in the crowd (in the best seats, of course), a number of whom just happen to appear on programs airing on the network televising the series.  No such promotional synergies were available during the the Deadball Era, but that shouldn't suggest the earlier generation of actors lacked enthusiasm for the relatively new fall classic.  Shortly before Ebbets Field hosted it's first World's Series (that's how it was written at the time) in October of 1916, the below blurb appeared in the columns of the New York Tribune:

New York Tribune - October 8, 1916

Mr. Collier is William Collier who began a 60 year acting career performing Gilbert and Sullivan as a child before moving to Broadway and then to Hollywood where he performed in silent movies produced by Mack Sennett.  A contemporary and fellow performer of George M. Cohan (another big time base ball fan) Collier was starring that fall with Margaret Brainard in a well received farce entitled "Nothing but the Truth."  If  I understand the article correctly, Collier avoided any disappointed financial backers and/or potential theater goers by buying all the tickets for a performance that never took place.  Talk about commitment.

William Collier 

Hard Core Fans

Passion to see a World's Series game was not, however, limited to celebrities for whom the major challenge was finding time in their schedules.  Others, even some unnamed, overcame far greater barriers of time and distance. Tickets for the 1916 World's Series in Brooklyn were sold in three game strips which became an administrative headache for Ebbets and the McKeevers when Brooklyn only hosted two games, requiring large scale refunds.  Describing the process to reporters allowed Charles Ebbets to share some interesting anecdotes like the following account which appeared in the New York Tribune

            "Ed McKeever," concluded Mr. Ebbets, "broke a series ticket to accommodate one
           enthusiast.  This was an engineer who hoboed all the way from South Dakota to
           see a game.  He had only the price of a three-dollar ticket, and he wanted to start
           the long, homeward journey immediately after the game.  He said he had not missed
           a world's series since 1906 and as money was tight out his way he decided on the
           freight route.  It took him eleven days to get to the series.

New York Tribune - October 29, 1916

Eleven days on the rails to see one game which lasted about two hours and then getting back on the train for an equally onerous return trip takes commitment to the game to a new level for a man who may not even have had a rooting interest.

The Kids

While celebrities and hard core enthusiasts have been, and will probably always be, part of base ball's fan base, at the core of the game's deathless appeal is the story of a child experiencing his/her first major league game.  The following story describes one such experience, not at a World's Series game, but at a routine, run of the mill, June, 1914 contest.  Routine for many, perhaps, but not if you were a ten year old boy named Tony Calabro.

             Tony Calabro, a 10-year old youngster, who lives at 79 Main Street is one of the
             brightest honor pupils in Public School No. 1, Adams and Concord Streets,
             and he is also a baseball fan of the thirty-third degree.  He is in Miss Deam's
             ungraded class, and he worked mighty hard at his lessons because he had never
             seen a big league baseball game, and he knew that if he could earn one of
             The Eagle's honor roll tickets he would have a chance to go and get some points
             on inside baseball.  He earned the ticket all right, but the other youngsters from
             the school started off without him, and he did not know how to get to Ebbets
             Field alone.  He did know where The Eagle Building was, though, so he went
             over to Aunt Jean's office and told her his troubles.  He was so earnest in his
             desire to see the game that something had to be done for him.  Consequently
             a reporter was assigned to take him to the game and see that he got home safely.

Game action at Tony Calabro's first game, Brooklyn Daily Eagle - June 4, 1914

               The minute Tony caught sight of the field he started on a run, and could hardly
                be persuaded to stop to give up the ticket which he had been clutching in his
                hand all the way up.  All during the game he sat up on the edge of his seat
                just back of the press box and rooted for the home team like a true
               dyed-in-the wool baseball bug.  He did not know the players but he knew the
               game and he was strongly in favor of long hits.  When Rucker made his
               three-bagger in the fifth inning Tony nearly jumped out of stand in his
               enthusiasm.  He scrambled with the best of them for the foul balls that came into
               the stand and finally had the proud privilege of throwing one back with such
               good aim that he nearly hit the Boston catcher on the head.  When the last man
               went out for Boston and Tony knew that Brooklyn had won, 6-3, his cup of
               happiness was filled, although he would have preferred staying around the ball
               grounds until the next game.  He even expressed a desire to take up his permanent
               residence there, so he could watch the games until he grew big enough to be a
               player, but was finally persuaded to wait for another Honor Roll Day.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle  - June 7, 1914

A 1907 Aunt Jean's Outing to Washington Park 

Aunt Jean who came to young Tony's rescue was a Brooklyn woman named Thyra Espenscheid, who was the lead person on a circulation drive aimed at building the children's audience to give their parents incentive to subscribe to the paper.  In addition to an annual honor roll outing, first to Washington Park and then to Ebbets Field, Aunt Jean directed juvenile clubs sponsoring programs in literature, art and entertainment.  An author in her own right, Espenscheid wrote for the Eagle under her own name and published "Christmas House," a 1943 children's book about the writing of "The Night Before Christmas," under the pen name of Thyra Turner.

The annual Eagle honor roll outing or rather outings was no small affair.  Tony Calabro's day at Ebbets Field was one of three June 1914 games set aside to accommodate 20000 honor roll students.  Attendance at the game Tony attended was limited to 5000 of the honor roll crowd because Charles Ebbets was also hosting 1000 orphans that day.  Ebbets may or may not have been cheap, but he was smart enough to recognize that out of 20000 young fans, there were more than enough who would eventually become paying customers for life.  Something they would pass on to their children, grandchildren and generations yet unborn.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Knickers or Pantaloons - New Jersey Base Ball Uniforms in the 1870's

As noted in the last post, for me, 2015 has been a base ball year spent in three different centuries.  On  a much larger scale, however, 2015 also marks a surprising number of major historical anniversaries.  Understandably foremost in my mind is the sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War, something the New Jersey Civil War 150 Committee has been working towards since late 2008.  Sesquicentennials, however, pale in comparison to centennials or multiples thereof, and at least three happen this year.  Most significant in the sheer number of years is the 600th (sex-centenary) anniversary of the battle of Agincourt on October 25th, immortalized in Shakespeare's Henry V, especially in the stirring "Band of Brothers" speech.  Not quite so long ago, but far more important as a decisive event is the upcoming, June 18th, bicentennial of the battle of Waterloo.  Finally and most recent, at least in relative terms, was the centennial of the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915.  The later event has an indirect connection to my family history through one of the victims, Arthur Foley, whose son married into the Proctor family, one of my maternal lines.  To honor his memory, I wrote a brief article about the tragedy for my Proctor relatives including two of Mr. Foley's great grandchildren.

Hewitt Club of Ringwood, courtesy of Craig Brown - all rights reserved

In the process of researching Arthur Foley's part in the disaster, I was both surprised and gratified by the vast amount of information collected and shared on the Internet by Lusitania enthusiasts, affectionately known as "Lucy's."  Given that experience, I was impressed, but not surprised by similar work done on the battle of Waterloo cited by Tim Clayton as helpful in the writing of his book, Waterloo: Four Days That Changed Europe's Destiny.  Not surprisingly web sites are also an important resource for base ball history research and I was recently fortunate to be introduced to Craig Brown's fascinating site, Threads of Our Game ( which provides artistic depictions of 19th century base ball uniforms based upon historical research.  The basic process is that a "digger" or researcher submits a contemporary description of a club's uniform which Craig uses to prepare a color rendering.

Olympic Club of Paterson, courtesy of Craig Brown, all rights reserved

Although my name is listed as one of the "diggers," till now my research has provided only a few submissions, but I recently stumbled on fairly detailed descriptions of the uniforms of three 1874 New Jersey clubs.  As frequently happens, the information turned up while I was working on something else, the New Jersey base ball career of Ed "The Only" Nolan.  John Thorn, MLB's Official Historian, recently wrote at "Our Game" about Nolan's major league career and unusual nickname ( which motivated me to look into his formative base ball years in Paterson.  During 1874 and 1875 "The Only" pitched for the city's Olympic Club, a team I wrote about in Baseball Founders.  In my research of New Jersey clubs, the Olympics are unique  as a club that enjoyed two successful periods with a six year hiatus in between.  It was during the second incarnation in the 1870's that the Olympics helped develop Nolan and three other future major leaguers, Jim McCormick, William "Blondie" Purcell and, most notably, future Hall of Famer, Mike "King" Kelly.

Edward "The Only" Nolan 

While the Olympic Club was basically inactive from 1868 through July of 1874, they did come together for an occasional match.  One such match took place on June 15, 1874 against the Hewitt Club, made up of the employees of the Cooper and Hewitt mines in Ringwood.  I'd noticed this club before, but paid more attention this time because of the Neshanock's early May visit to Ringwood Manor State Park.  Located in extreme northern New Jersey, Ringwood isn't that densely populated today and must have been both remote and sparsely populated in 1874.   That Ringwood even had a club in 1874 is testimony to how extensively the New York game had spread throughout New Jersey in less than 20 years.  Interestingly the Paterson Daily Press gave quite a bit of information about the Hewitts including line ups with first (very rare) and last names and a detailed description of their uniforms.  Based on the article, the visitors from Ringwood were resplendent in blue shirts and crimson knee breeches with a white old English "H" on the shirts.  Completing the ensemble was a red and white cap and white stockings.  Wearing knickers put the Hewitts very much in the modern style popularized by the aptly named Cincinnati Red Stockings in the late 1860's.

Star Club of Newark, courtesy of Craig Brown, all rights reserved 

Not long after this match, on July 12,1874, the Olympic Club was re-organized under the leadership of some of the veterans from the 1860's.  Unlike the Hewitt Club, however, the Paterson team apparently opted for what could be described as a throwback uniform, substituting pantaloons for knickers and long socks or stockings.  According to Craig Brown, by 1874, with the exception of some college teams, most base ball clubs wore knickers which facilitated running in the field and on the bases.  Also interesting is that the Olympics chose to wear round hats rather than caps (a point emphasized by the Paterson Daily Press) which offered less protection from the sun.  In preparing the rendering, Craig assumed that by the 1870's, players knew full well that pantaloons hampered running so he tucked the pants into the shoes even though this wasn't mentioned in the article.  While this was clearly the official uniform, players or at least Nolan (he was after all "The Only") may have added their own innovations.  At the end of his second and final season with the Olympics, the Daily Guardian reported that Nolan took the field "in a most resplendent suit of blue silk" and "inscribed at the belt with the word 'Olympic.'"  Reportedly it was a gift from "the popular pitcher's admiring lady friends."

Princeton Club with knickers (1873), courtesy of Craig Brown, all rights reserved

On one other occasion in 1874, the Paterson Daily Press described an opponent's uniform, this time the Star Club of Newark.  Like the Olympics, the Stars apparently favored pantaloons over  knickers and hats over caps, but added "tight fitting green leggings."  The leggings presented an interpretative challenge for Craig since they could have been either stockings like those worn with knickers or more like military leggings, tied below the knee and extending over the shoe.  Checking with John Thorn and Tom Shieber of the Baseball Hall of Fame shed no further light on the subject so Craig went with the military option in the above rendering.  With the Olympic and Star Clubs wearing pantaloons along with an 1874 shift to pantaloons by the Princeton Club, it appears at least some New Jersey clubs had, for whatever reason, switched back to the earlier style.

Princeton Club with pantaloons (1874) courtesy of Craig Brown, all rights reserved 

While all three of these descriptions are surprisingly detailed, numerous issues were still up for interpretation in the renderings.  It's a question, Craig faces on a regular basis - is it worthwhile to offer a fact based visual with interpretations where necessary, recognizing  that some parts of the rendering may not be accurate.  My vote is yes, because Threads of Our Game can be an important step in the research process that might lead to a more detailed and complete picture.  Through this project, Craig is offering a real gift to base ball research.  Please use it and above all contribute your own research - you never know when what seems insignificant may be the missing piece of the puzzle.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Baseball over Three Centuries

Since the beginning of April, my base ball life seems like it's being lived in three different centuries.  Week days usually mean researching Charles Ebbets and the Brooklyn Dodger teams of the first quarter of the 20th century while at least some of the evenings include following the up and down fortunes of the 2015 New York Mets.  If that isn't enough,  a portion of almost every weekend involves helping the Flemington Neshanock recreate 19th century base ball.  Sometimes I almost forget which century I'm in and this past week took things to a new level as I spent Memorial Day with the Neshanock, the rest of the week with Charles Ebbets and the weekend at Citi Field for two Mets games.  Under normal circumstances, I would have spent Sunday in Elkton, Maryland with the Neshanock, but granddaughters out rank almost anything so I was pleased to help escort Sophie Zinn to her second and third Mets games.  Unfortunately for the Neshanock, it was another lost trip to Maryland with Elkton winning both games by the scores of 19-13 and 11-8.  My sources tell me that Flemington played well, but once again were undone by the big inning aided and abetted by defensive lapses.

Sophie lives outside of Boston so most of her major league experiences have been at Fenway Park and, understandably, she told me that she was glad to finally see some games without the designated hitter.  After witnessing a Marlins victory in the Saturday contest, Sophie held on long enough on Sunday to see the Mets take the lead in what became a 4-3 win, bringing Sophie's lifetime (three years) record at Citi Field to 2-1.  In terms of helping her team win though, she has a long way to go before she catches up to her mom, Sarah Kaufman.  It's not as well known as it should be, but Sarah was instrumental in ending the Curse of the Bambino, as I wrote in the introduction to our book, The Major League Pennant Races of 1916

                 The Boston Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918 when Sarah and
                  Paul moved to Boston in 2002, and Sarah became a Red Sox fan.  Since then,
                  they have won three, and since baseball fans are nothing if not superstitious, we
                  can't believe this is a coincidence.

If that isn't proof enough, two weeks ago when I was just about to give a base ball history lecture, a Red Sox fan asked me to thank Sarah for her part in ending the Curse.  Only a cynic would want any more evidence than that.

As one would expect, the direct interaction between fans and players during both Marlins-Mets games was limited to pre-game autographs and balls thrown into the stands at the end of innings.  The latter practice was unheard of during the Deadball Era and would have appalled Charles Ebbets and his peers some of whom had fans arrested for not returning foul balls.  Baseball owners of the time, or magnates as they were typically called, sometimes also had to deal with different and very unpleasant dynamics between players and fans.  Fans didn't hesitate to heap verbal abuse on players and those in uniform were no less reluctant to take exception to remarks they considered inappropriate.  An interesting example, which put Ebbets in a rather unusual position, took place on June 11, 1912 at Washington Park, the Superbas last season at the wooden facility in south Brooklyn.

American League Park in New York 

The game in question took place less than a month after a far better known and far more infamous incident between Detroit Tiger great Ty Cobb and a fan at American League park in New York City on May 15th.  From the very beginning of that game, Cobb was mercilessly berated by one Claude Lucker (or Lueker), a Tammany Hall page.  Lucker had been calling Cobb everything in the book when he ventured into forbidden waters with allegations that pushed Cobb past the breaking point which probably wasn't too high a bar in the first place.  Egged on by teammate and fellow future Hall of Famer Sam Crawford, Cobb went into the stands and began pummeling the hapless and helpless fan who was virtually defenseless because he had lost all but two of his fingers in a printing press accident.  Not surprisingly Cobb was suspended indefinitely by American League President Ban Johnson which provoked Cobb's Detroit teammates to go on strike.  Rather than forfeit an upcoming game in Philadelphia, Detroit cobbled together a team that was on the short end of a 24-2 pounding, metaphorically similar to the one which Lucker received at the hands of Cobb.  Fortunately Cobb convinced his teammates to get back on the field and rejoined them only 11 days after the New York incident.

According to an article in Sporting Life (a sports weekly similar to The Sporting News), the Cobb incident led to a new rule or at least new guidelines allowing players to ask the umpire for "protection from abuse by a spectator" which came into play during the June 11th game at Washington Park.  According to accounts in Sporting Life and the Eagle, umpire Clarence "Brick" Owens told a man in the box seats to leave the ballpark because of his verbal abuse of Superbas third baseman, J. Carlisle Smith.  Brooklyn club secretary Charles Ebbets' Jr. came forward to enforce the umpire's order, but it wasn't necessary as the man got up and left of his own volition.  He was not, however, alone.  According to the Eagle, 29 men and one women also left the ball park in support of the ejected fan.  It turned out the departing fans, including the offending spectator, were members of the Brooklyn Elks who had attended the game as a group.

After the game, umpire Owens told reporters that Smith had earlier threatened to go into the stands after the heckler.  Understandably anxious to avoid a repeat of the Cobb incident, Owens told the Superbas third baseman that he would do no such thing and directed Smith to identify the offender.  At least in this case the language didn't resemble that of the Cobb incident.  Sporting Life's correspondent claimed the man yelled, "Smith, you're a big bum, go soak your red head," while Smith said he had been called a "rough necked stiff," neither of which seem likely candidates for the top ten insults thrown at baseball players.  More important than the specific language, however, was the reaction of the sportswriters sitting in the nearby press box, who according to the Eagle's Tom Rice were "astonished" at the umpire's action since they hadn't heard anything objectionable.  Owens was clearly a no-nonsense umpire.  Five years later on June 23, 1917, he ejected both Babe Ruth and his catcher when they excessively objected to a walk to the opponent's lead off batter.  The replacement battery didn't fare too badly as catcher Sam Agnew threw out the runner trying to steal second and new pitcher, Ernie Shore, then retired the next 26 batters in order.

Clarence "Brick" Owens

While Owens may have thought his ejection of the Washington Park spectator was an equally decisive action, the Elks had no intention of letting it end there.  Harry C. Harris, a 26 year old physician wrote to the Eagle saying that he had been sitting next to the man, now identified as Matthew Belford, a master plumber, and had heard nothing that merited ejection from the ballpark.  The groundswell of support for Belford from his fellow lodge members quickly led to speculation that the Elks were going to boycott Superba games.  Complicating matters for Charles Ebbets was the fact that he himself was an active member of the Elks so that he was now caught in a dispute between one of his players, the umpire and his fellow lodge members.

Wisely, and perhaps somewhat out of character, the Brooklyn owner refused to make any immediate comment saying that it was between the umpire and the fan and, therefore, not his affair.  Most likely, Ebbets instead reached out to both the fan and the player to work out the situation behind the scenes.  In any event, not only was there no boycott, the next day Belford was back at Washington Park where he admitted he "had been somewhat hasty and over-enthusiastic in his rooting."  When the game was over, Ebbets brought Belford on to the field to meet the Brooklyn third baseman who "bore no animus"and the two shook hands.  Belford, who the brother of a Roman Catholic priest, probably had no desire for bad publicity and was glad to put the matter behind him.

 In a way the story captures an important difference between Ebbets and his fellow owners.  While I still have a lot to learn about Ebbets contemporaries, it seems most of them like John T. Brush and Barney Dreyfuss came into baseball after working in some other business or like Charles Comiskety and Connie Mack after a successful on-the-field baseball career.  By 1912, Ebbets had been working for the Brooklyn club for almost 30 years during which time, he not only lived in Brookyn, but also had become heavily involved in many different social, sporting and political organizations of which the Elks were just one.  While we don't know what relationship, if any, Ebbets had with Belford, the Brooklyn's president's deep roots in the community led to strong relationships with many of the club's fans, relations that went beyond the ballpark.  It's not going too far to suggest that Ebbets wanted to resolve the player-fan quarrel not just because it was good for business, but also because it was in the best interests of a community of which he was very much a part.