Monday, September 28, 2015

A Good Harvest at the Farm

A conflict kept me from the Neshanock's matches this past weekend, but Mark "Gaslight" Granieri graciously provided not just pictures, but a guest post.  Already an accomplished catcher, striker and photographer, not to mention navigator, "Gaslight" clearly has a future in blogging.  Thanks to Mark for keeping the Neshanock's vast fan base up to date on the weekend's matches.

“It’s déjà vu all over again.” – Yogi Berra

Photo by Mark Granieri

The Neshanock experienced their own deja vu while playing the Athletic Club of Philadelphia at Dey Farm in Monroe Township this past Saturday.  First, their two victories brought the club over the .500 mark which had not been seen since June.  Second, these matches marked the return of Bob "Melky" Ritter (2nd match, 9th inning relief) and Gerard "Jacks" D'Angelo (2nd match, first base relief) who both had not seen the field of play due to injuries for far too long.  This event now held for several years at Dey Farm (circa 1820) is sponsored by the Monroe Township Historic Preservation Commission.

Photo by Mark Granieri

 The first match was a well played contest won by the score of 10-5 behind the hurling of Danny "Batman" Shaw.  The Neshanock led 4-1 after the first inning and stayed ahead of the troublesome Athletics who were always within striking distance.  Flemington was led by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner who had  a "clear score" with four hits and also tallied four runs.  A well-earned break between matches saw Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw recite the exploits of a long ago ballist named Casey to the delight of a sizeable crowd of cranks which included several local politicians.  The current ballists (at least this one) were kept happy by a basket of cookies.

Photo by Mark Granieri

 The second match was an offensive explosion, resulting in a 27-8 score in which Flemington batted around the order once and sent nine strikers to the line in three other innings.  The Neshanock were fueled by Dan "Sledge" Hammer who hurled the match and contributed seven hits in striking for the cycle including a two run homer, two triples and seven scored runs.  Other striking worth note was Chris "Lowball" Lowry (four hits, four runs), Joe "Mick" Murray (three hits, three runs), Chris "Sideshow" Nunn (three hits, four runs), Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner (three hits, one run) and Bo "No Nickname" Koltnow (three hits, one run).  The match also saw Ken "Tumbles" Mandel's attempted slide into first base result in a divot so large the Preservation Commission is worried that filling the area with fresh dirt may exhaust their remaining funds.  A meeting will be held next week to discuss the matter.  The Neshanock have two dates left on the calendar this season, including traveling to Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, next weekend to battle the New York Gothams.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Saturday, September 26, 2015

In Honor of the 2015 New York Mets

In Honor of the 2015 New York Mets 
"The relationship between a losing team and its admirers is more complex and compelling than the simple delight in conquest enjoyed by the winners' fans. Winning teams are grand and heroic, qualities that lack a human dimension. But losing teams are all too human. They are cursed by chance, by their own limitations, by failures of will and desire. But when they win, their victories speak to fans who, having witnessed so much misery, can draw lessons from those triumphs."
Michael Shapiro - "The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers and Their Final Pennant Race Together"


Sunday, September 20, 2015

All Muffins Are Not Created Equal

On Saturday, September 12th, the Neshanock traveled to Wilmington, Delaware and defeated the Diamond State Club by a score of 6-3 in a match that lasted 11 innings.  I understand it was an exciting game and I'm sorry that I missed it.  Much closer to home, at least for me, this past Saturday, Flemington made a rare north Jersey appearance in Nutley to play the Nutley Colonels, a team formed by the Kingsland Manor, a 1700's historic home.  Base ball doesn't appear to go back to the 1700's in Nutley, but in August of 1869, when Nutley was known as Franklin, the Long Star Club, the community's first base ball club took the field and defeated the Senecas of Bloomfield by a whopping 38-13 count.  Today's match was much lower scoring, not just by 19th century standards, but even within the context of the modern game, a tribute to both clubs, but especially to the Colonels in their first attempt to play by the rules of the 1860's.  The popular name for first time, inexperienced players was "muffins," because of their proclivity to miss or "muff" batted or thrown balls.  A team of first time players would by definition be a muffin club, but the Colonels quickly proved themselves to be no muffins.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Flemington scored one tally without a hit in their first opportunity at the striker's line, but the Colonels immediately responded with two runs of their own for a 2-1 lead they held until the 5th inning, primarily due to good defense which included throwing out two Neshanock runners at the plate.  The Neshanock broke through in their half of the fifth, however, tying the game on a hit by Joe "Mick" Murray and then taking a 4-2 lead on a two run single by Jack "Doc" Kitson.  The Neshanock added another run in the sixth when Rene "Mango" Marrero's second double of the game drove home Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner.  After that it was all about the Neshanock pitching and defense which allowed only one hit after the second inning with that runner put out on a double play.  From the second inning on the Neshanock retired 21 of the last 22 Colonel batters, with the only Flemington error, a second inning walk (Henry Chadwick counted walks as errors on the pitcher).  While Nutley struggled offensively, their defense was rock solid, making only one muff and that on the very first play of the game.  All told it was a well played game with the hope on both sides to do it again in 2016.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Writing Neshanock game accounts seldom involves discussing money, something that also hasn't entered into much of my writing about historic 19th century games. An exception was encountered while researching one of my current projects, four game accounts for a forthcoming SABR book about the Boston Red Stockings, the National Association's most dominant team.  Founded in 1871, the Association was the country's first large scale professional league, although, if I understand it correctly, its records are not recognized by Major League Baseball.  Flawed at many levels, the Association was probably doomed from the outset and passed out of existence after the 1875 season when it's five surviving clubs joined William Hulbert's fledgling National League.  After finishing second in 1871, the Boston club, under the management of Harry Wright, won the last four Association pennants including the 1875 season when the pennant race, such as it was, was over by June.  The Red Stockings on the field dominance isn't too hard to fathom since their lineup included Albert Spalding, George Wright (Harry's younger brother), "Deacon" White, Jim "Orator" O'Rourke, all of whom, in addition to Harry are members of the Hall of Fame.

Boston Red Stockings Stock Certificate 

While the team enjoyed great success on the field, the elder Wright's responsibilities didn't end with the final results on the scoreboard.  At the time, managers were also responsible for another score sheet, the club's financial ledgers and the bottom line difference between revenue and expenses.  In that arena, even though the club's won the 1872 pennant, the financial results were a disaster.  Bill Ryczek in his history of the National Association, Blackguards and Red Stockings, wrote that the Boston club finished the season with a $5000 loss, resulting in an equal amount of debt including unpaid player salaries.  No matter how well the club had played, these losses threatened the club's very existence and that winter it was not at all clear the Red Stockings would even attempt to defend their title in 1873.  Fortunately for everyone concerned, enough of the team's fans were willing to put up their money and invest in the club, money they might never see again.  In addition, while they might not have had much choice in the matter, the players chipped in by agreeing to have the balance of their 1872 salaries paid in installments.

With the sins of the past wiped away, not by divine intervention, but rather Boston bucks, Harry Wright was charged by the club's new investors, not just to bring home another pennant, but to do so without another flood of red ink.  Trying to manage both the team and the box office was probably more than a little challenging and most likely explains the detailed financial records, Wright entered in a notebook which is now part of the Albert Spalding collection in the New York Public Library.  Just one example, covers what was described as a "southern trip" during the first half of June in 1873.  Beginning on June 2nd and running through June 12th, Boston won eight games and lost two on a trip that took them to New York, Elizabeth, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore.  In addition to the game results, Wright also recorded Boston's share of the gate receipts which are as follows:

Brooklyn Atlantics   204.92
New York Mutuals   258.90
Elizabeth Resolutes      38.00
Philadelphia White Stockings   416.10
Baltimore Canaries   295.25
Washington Nationals                 55.65
Baltimore Canaries   228.16
New York Mutuals   231.17
Brooklyn Atlantics   129.83
Elizabeth Resolutes     86.67
Total 1944.65

Against the receipts, Wright also recorded expenses for the 12 man traveling party of $533.64, about half of which was for railroad fares with the balance for hotel expenses.  Some of the hotel items are for 3/4 of a day which probably reflects using local hotels for a locker or changing room before and after an overnight train ride.  Matching revenue and expenses reveals a "tidy" profit of $1411.01, before, of course, a base ball club's biggest expense, then and now, player salaries.  Recognizing this, and probably wanting to keep it in front of him, Wright entered a listing of the roster and salaries in his notebook which totaled $15700 for the season (six months).  Salaries ranged from $2000 at the top of the scale for Harry, brother George and star pitcher, Albert Spalding to rookie Jack Manning at the bottom of the ledger, earning a mere $400.  Adding 1/2 month's payroll of $1309 to the debit side of the ledger, put the trip's bottom line at $102 just over break even.

Jack Manning

One of the striking things about professional base ball through more than half of the 20th century, is the extent to which clubs depended on gate receipts as the only real source of revenue.  Good teams like the Red Stockings probably looked to their drawing power to at least break even on the road while generating even healthier returns at home.  Lower level teams probably struggled financially both at home and on the road with visits to and from front running clubs like Boston serving like manna in the wilderness if nothing else to meet payroll.  When all was said and done for the 1873 season, Boston again finished on top of the standings and at least avoided the 1872 financial disaster.  Understanding the club's finances is complicated by the fact that there were two separate organizations, the Boston Baseball Club and the Boston Association, but an article in the December 13, 1873 edition of the New York Clipper seems to indicate that gate receipts basically covered operating expenses with the proceeds of stock sales paying off old debts and improving the club's cash position.

1873 Boston Red Stockings 

Working with these numbers reinforces a concern I've had while researching Charles Ebbets' career with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  On the surface, the dollar amounts seem so small that it's hard to understand and appreciate their significance.  Take, for example, the Red Stockings $5000 loss/debt at the end of 1872.  While $5000 is still not an insignificant amount today, a business with that level of debt would hardly be driven to the wall as it seems was the case with the Boston club.  Thus far, the most valuable tool I've found in translating historic dollar amounts into modern equivalents is the web site, which compares the value of assets (or effectively liabilities) in three different ways.  The table below lists Boston's $5000 debt in each of those categories comparing 1872 to 2014.

Historic Standard of Living       $100,000
Economic Status    $1,380,000
Economic Power  $10,400,000
The first category looks at the purchasing power of an amount to buy a "bundle" of goods and services that the average household would buy.  While considering the $5000 1872 debt as equal to what $100,000 would buy today gives a better sense of the relative amount, it still doesn't seem to be at the crisis level that was experienced.  Economic status, on the other hand, measures the prestige value between two periods and  the 1873 debt expressed as $1,380,000 in 2014, gives a better sense of the crisis.  Perhaps even more persuasive is the economic power option which measures the relative influence of an amount in the economy so that $5000 owed in Boston in 1872 would be like owing $10.4 million today, an amount that would have major impact on any local or national economy.  I recognize that this is one of those subjects that can make people's eyes glaze over, but a sense of the real significance of these relatively low dollar amounts is essential to understand base ball finances in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and, ultimately, the important role of ownership in the history of the game.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Laboring on Labor Day

Doubleheaders have been part of professional base ball since at least July 4, 1873 when, in an attempt to boost holiday attendance against the visiting Elizabeth Resolutes, Harry Wright of the Boston Redstockings staged a morning-afternoon affair with, of course, separate admissions.  Over the centuries and decades, base ball has had a sort of love-hate relationship with doubleheaders.  From when I first became interested in base ball in the 1950's through at least my college graduation in 1968, doubleheaders (two games for the price of one) were both scheduled and promoted.  Today, of course, twin bills are seldom, if ever, scheduled and when caused by weather conditions or some other reason almost always end up as separate admissions.  Twin bills with one admission which were the norm in the 1950's and 1960's are avoided like the plague today.  It doesn't appear, however, that there was ever a time when a lot of consideration was given to going a step further and playing three games in one day.

1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys - one of base ball's worst teams

But even though the idea of three games in one day never got a lot of attention, that doesn't mean it's never happened.  At the major league level, there have actually been three different times when clubs played three games in one day.  The only 20th century instance took place in 1920 on the last day of the season when the Pittsburgh Pirates were trying to catch the Cincinnati Reds for third place and, more importantly, the last share of World's Series money.  That event, which was, in fact, the only time fans got three games for the price of one admission, has been covered by A. D. Suehsforf in the Baseball Research Journal, published by SABR found here  To my knowledge, the two 19th century examples of the three in one experience have received far less attention so the rest of this post will focus on the days when fans with enough quarters could see their heroes play thrice. Interestingly, both instances have a number of things in common, beginning with the somewhat ironic fact that the players had to work the base ball equivalent of overtime on Labor Day, then a relatively new holiday.  In addition both match ups pitted the league's best team against its worst with some interesting connections between the two days, some six years apart.

1890 Brooklyn Bridegrooms - Brooklyn's first National League team

Not surprisingly, the decision to play three was driven by rain outs, although the initial one, on September 1, 1890 in Brooklyn, seems like it could have been avoided.  On that date the Brooklyn Bridegrooms were already scheduled to play a morning-afternoon doubleheader with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys so a second afternoon game was added to make up a May 15th rain out.  What's surprising about the decision is that there seems to have been more than ample opportunities to make up the game.  Not only did Pittsburgh play in Brooklyn on July 17-19th, but, in keeping with the practice of the time, another three game series in early August was moved to Brooklyn because of anticipated poor attendance in Pittsburgh.  That anticipation was well founded since the Pittsburgh club had been decimated by Players League defections and would ultimately finish 23-113-2, a mere 66.5 games out of first place.  Pittsburgh's already depleted roster almost literally took another hit the previous Saturday when New York Giants star pitcher,  Amos Rusie hit George "Doggie" Miller in the neck with a pitch.  According to the (NY) Sun, Miller went down "as if he had been touched by an electric wire."  So scary was the moment that  it appeared "the blow was fatal," but Miller proved to be a "very plucky little fellow," and was back at third base the following inning.

George "Doggie" or "Calliope" Miller

After losing both games of the Saturday twin bill to the Giants, the Alleghenys enjoyed a legally mandated Sunday off before turning up for the first pitch at 10:30 on Monday morning at Washington Park.  Whether it was the early start or the intimidating Bridegrooms lineup, Pittsburgh quickly fell behind 4-0 and trailed 10-0 when they came to bat in the ninth, only three outs away from another dismal defeat in a dismal season.  Although Pittsburgh had been shut out thus far by Bob Caruthers, one of Brooklyn's ace pitchers, they managed to load the bases, but only after two were out.  Then, however, things got interesting as Guy Decker, Ed Sales and the .096 hitting Mike Jordan all contributed two run singles closing the difference to 10-6.  Given Brooklyn's natural affinity for the underdog, it's not surprising that some Brooklyns fans reportedly began rooting for the visitors with one "bleaching board occupant" supposedly yelling for the "plucky little" Miller to hit a game tying grand slam.  "Doggie" did his best to oblige, belting a long drive to the left field corner, scoring all three runners and heading for the plate himself in an heroic attempt to tie the score.  Brooklyn was not, however, about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and a Darby O'Brien to Germany Smith to Bob Clark relay, nailed Miller at the plate or at least that's what the umpire and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle thought.  A contrary view was offered by the New York Clipper which labeled the call "dubious."

New York Clipper - September 6, 1890

Apparently not demoralized by coming up just short in such heart breaking style, Pittsburgh mounted another ninth inning comeback in the first afternoon game, this time from a more modest 3-1 deficit.  After Fred Osborne walked to start the inning, Brooklyn's Hub Collins made a great catch which the Eagle said "probably saved the game."  Pittsburgh did not go quietly, however, as Ed Sales drove in the second run, only to be thrown out at the plate when he tried to score on a ball hit to shortstop.  As weak as the Pittsburgh lineup was, they understandably didn't have much of a bench so pitcher Dave Anderson batted for himself and was struck out by Brooklyn's Tom Lovett to end the game.  Having come perilously close to two embarrassing losses to the lowly Alleghenys was more than enough for the Bridegrooms who scored seven times in the first two innings of the third game en route to an 8-4 win the Eagle called "featureless."  That not withstanding, the win was no less important than the first two as the day's work put real distance between Brooklyn and second place Boston.  In addition to being major league base ball's first triple header, it was the only day in major league history when a team gained 2.5 games in the standings in a single day.  While Brooklyn was completing its sweep of Pittsburgh, Boston Beaneaters were in the process of losing both ends of a doubleheader to Chicago, increasing the Bridegrooms lead to 5.5 games, a lead they never surrendered.

Bill McGunnigle as he apparently dressed for games

At least two participants in the 1890 event, "Doggie" Miller and Brooklyn manager, Bill McGunnigle, could have been forgiven if another Labor Day triple header some six years later gave them a feeling of deja vu.  McGunnigle at least had some choice about the 1896 triple header, but this time the former Brooklyn manager had switched roles from leading a first place club, to managing the league's worst team, the Louisville Colonels.  Labor Day weekend in 1896 found McGunnigle and his team, including part time player, "Doggie" Miller in Baltimore to take on Ned Hanlon's first place Orioles.  There had been two rain outs on Louisville's last visit to Baltimore so the plan was to play doubleheaders on Saturday and Monday, but  rain once again interrupted, wiping out Saturday's twin bill.  Determined to make up the games, no matter what, the two managers agreed to play three on Labor Day followed by a doubleheader on Tuesday.  Baltimore's motivation was probably a combination of money and anticipated easy victories, while the last place Louisville club badly needed their share of the gate receipts.

Baltimore's Union Park

Although not as bad as the woeful, 1890 Pittsburgh club, Louisville would finish the season with a cellar dwelling record of 38-93-3, some 53 games out of first place.  Given that record, any competitive effort against Hanlon's powerful team was a surprise, but the lowly Colonels gave Baltimore all it could handle in the morning game which the Baltimore Sun called "one of the most beautiful games played at Union Park in some time."  On the mound for Pittsburgh was 18 year old Bill Hill, a "lithe long-armed, left handed product of the Tennessee mountains," who allowed the defending National League champions only six hits.  Louisville actually led 2-0 before Baltimore tied it in the fifth, only to see the upstart Colonels take a one run lead going to the bottom of the seventh.  Baltimore matched Louisville's run in the seventh and came to bat in the bottom of the eighth with the game still tied.  John McGraw was at bat when his reportedly, and not surprising "abusive" language led to his ejection.  McGraw's replacement Joe Quinn completed the strike out, but in the best inside base ball tradition Willie Keeler beat out an infield hit, stole second and scored what proved to the winning run on Hugh Jennings single.

1896 Baltimore Orioles

After the morning game ended about 12:30, the two clubs took a lunch break before the afternoon doubleheader started at 2:00.  Whether it was due to unwillingness to subject himself to more abuse from McGraw or, as he claimed, a leg injury, umpire John "Bud" Lally declined to work the afternoon contests.  Both clubs then contributed a player to umpire with Louisville represented by none other than "Doggie" Miller.  Reportedly the umpiring for the rest of the day was both "fair and impartial,"  but that may be more a reflection of the one sided 9-1 and 12-1 Baltimore victories as the Sun said the visitors lacked "their snap and excellence" of the first game.  As in the earlier triple header in Brooklyn, the lineups throughout the three games remained pretty much constant except, as one might expect for pitchers and catchers, which makes it even more impressive that Oriole captain and catcher, Wilbert Robinson caught all three games without making a single error.

That was not, however, the end of the portly Baltimore backstop's herculean labors as there was still a doubleheader to play the next day.  Although he did make one error, Robinson once again caught both games.  For some unexplained reason, the clubs were again without an umpire so "Doggie" Miller filled in once more, but just for the first game as he played the second contest.  After three straight losses, it would have been understandable if Louisville threw in the towel, but the last place Colonels were made of sterner stuff and actually led the first game 8-5 before falling 10-9.  Bill Hill, took the mound in the second contest and gave another impressive performance in the 3-1 defeat.  Hill lost 28 games in 1896, hopefully they weren't all as frustrating as these two games in Baltimore.  Unlike the three games in Brooklyn, the Baltimore sweep didn't significantly increase their lead, but the Orioles still coasted to a third consecutive first place finish.  No information survives as to how many Brooklyn or Baltimore fans actually saw all three games, but those who did would have agreed with the Sun that "nobody could complain about the scarcity of base ball."