Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Manly Sabbatical

As some of the readers of this blog know (and may be tired of hearing about), I'm working on the first full length biography ever written of Charles Ebbets longtime Brooklyn Dodger club president.  The deadline is February 1, 2017 so I'm now in the last 90 days of the project and I need to focus on the manuscript even more intensely to deliver a high quality final product.  As a result I'm going to take  a sabbatical from the blog, but plan to return no later than the beginning of the 2017 vintage base ball season.  It's hard to believe that I began this in 2012 and still don't have a problem finding topics to write about.  Thanks to all those who have taken the time to read and best wishes for the holiday season and all of 2017.  Base ball and the blog will be back again next year.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fit to be Tied

Earlier this year, Sophie, our four year old granddaughter, was regaling us with the story of how her parents bought her three books at a local bookstore.  Demonstrating she heard the message which accompanied the purchase, she observed "That's a lot of books."  How many books constitutes "a lot" may be debatable, but there is no question there are "a lot" of baseball games in a major league season.  In 2016, 30 major league teams played some 2,430 regular season games assuming every game was played.  Even back in the days of 16 teams there still over 1,200 games played in the course of the 154 game schedule.  Given that number of games, there has to be something special about any one game to make it stand out, especially years later.  Usually that means games which were crucial in the pennant race or record setting performances like no-hitters and perfect games.  It was interesting, therefore, that in looking through the Spalding Guide for 1918 I found an entire page devoted to a game played eight years earlier in August of 1910.  Not only did the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Brooklyn Superbas (as they were called then) not matter in the pennant race or see a record setting performance, there was no winner or loser.  Rather the game, which was the second half of a doubleheader, ended as an 8-8 tie, called on account of darkness, an all too frequent occurrence in the days before lights.  

What made the game so special?  Below is the box score as it appeared the next day in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the box score reflects what made game unique, but because the Eagle box scores included more information than most, the answer is somewhat obscure, but it's there.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - 8-14-1910

The next box score from the Pittsburgh Press gives a clearer picture of the answer, but there is one difference from what appeared in the Spalding Guide which still hides to some degree the unique feature of this otherwise more than a little insignificant game.

Pittsburgh Press - August 14, 1910

Finally, there is the below box score from the Pittsburgh Post which hopefully shows why this was a game worth remembering even though there was no winner or loser.  According to this version not only did the two teams score the same number of runs, they also had the same number of at bats, hits, assists and errors. 

Pittsburgh Post - August 14, 1910

Interestingly the box score which appeared in the Spalding Guide is slightly different from the above, reporting each team with one less assist, but still an equal number.  In addition the account in the Guide also mentioned that each team used 10 players, including two pitchers, who had the same number of strike outs, walks, passed balls and hit batsman.  Somewhat surprisingly, at least to me, none of the three newspapers seems to have picked up on the statistical oddity both in the game account or in the next few days.   But someone was paying attention even if it was years later otherwise this quite unique game, in spite of there being no result, would have been lost to history.

Spalding Guide - 1918 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Saddest Words

Photo by Cindy Wiseburn

The 19th century American poet, John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote that "Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been."  It's a great line, if for no reason, because of its universal application, all of us have experienced or will experience missed opportunities at some point in our lives .  In base ball regardless of the type or the kind of involvement there are some equally sad words - "This is the last game of the season," words that no one escapes.  They became reality for the Flemington Neshanock this past Sunday at the Strasburg Railroad Museum in Strasburg, Pennsylvania in the scenic Lancaster countryside.  The Neshanock, of course, never do things in a small way so Sunday saw not just a last game, but three last games, in an event sponsored by the Elkton Eclipse.  Not only are the Eclipse a fine vintage club, they really know how to organize quality vintage events including this one and especially the annual festival in Gettysburg.

Photo by Cindy Wiseburn

On this windy, but sunny day, the Neshanock and Eclipse were joined by the Rising Sun Club of Maryland and the Keystone Club of Harrisburg with each club playing three seven inning matches by 1864 rules.  Flemington opened the day's play against the Rising Sun Club, a team the Neshanock defeated for the first time back in September at the Philadelphia Naval Yard Classic.  In a low scoring game, Rising Sun prevailed by a 4-1 count reportedly in large measure due to the Maryland club's excellent defense.  Next up was the rubber match (a bridge term applied to base ball as far back as the 1850's) with the Elkton Club since the teams had split two games back in June at the Howell Living History Farm.  Although Flemington got off to an early 2-0 lead, defeating the Eclipse twice in one year was too much to hope for and the Maryland club won a close 9-6 decision.   In it's truly "last game" of the season the Neshanock took on the event's only Pennsylvania club, the Keystone Club of Harrisburg led by some time Neshanock Doug "Pops" Pendergrist.  This time Flemington got its bats going, taking a 13-4 lead into the last inning which Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw preserved with some masterful relief pitching or so he told me.  In any event Flemington won it's final game of 2016 by a 13-9 count, finishing with a 25-13 record, the best record in the club's storied history.  Trust me, the Neshanock may not always be the best team, but we never lack for stories.

Photo by Cindy Wiseburn

 2016 marked my ninth year serving as a vintage base ball scorekeeper and while winning always makes things more enjoyable, each season has been a winning experience.  That's because of the people involved and especially those who do the heavy lifting to make it happen.  In that regard, special thanks to Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw who does so much work to get everything organized and then uses encouragement, threats and whatever is necessary to get us to different and sometimes distant venues every weekend from April through October.  Next, of course, are all those who play for the Neshanock, even if it's only a few time a season.  I owe a special debt of thanks to Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, official blog photographer, who this year, more than ever, kept the Neshanock's worldwide fan base informed of the team's results.  "Gaslight" also set a personal record in 2016, throwing out three runners stealing in one game, interestingly the same number he threw out all season.

Photo by Dennis Tuttle

Over the course of the 2016 season, Flemington literally played teams from Maine to Delaware, missing, I think, only Rhode Island.  Thanks to the gentlemen on all of those clubs for their commitment to vintage base ball, a form of living history that seems to expand more and more every year.  Three things are essential to any base ball match, two teams and an umpire, Flemington is fortunate to be able to call on the services of Sam "It ain't nothin' 'til I say" Bernstein.  Finally, but most important of all, thanks to all of the wives, partners, significant others, girl friends, parents and now children who attend games ranging from the stifling heat of Gettysburg in July to the cold of April almost anywhere.  It was to put it mildly another splendiferous season and the same will doubtless be true of 2017.  I wish everyone in the vintage base ball community a wonderful off season and hope to see you sometime, somewhere, next year.

Monday, October 3, 2016

A Pennant Comes to Brooklyn - Part III

Since Boston and Philadelphia were playing a second straight doubleheader on Tuesday, October 3rd, their first game began before the Giants-Dodgers contest got started in Brooklyn. The Phillies scored once in the fourth and when center fielder Dode Paskert, hit a home run in the fifth, things looked good for the home team.  Although the Braves cut the lead in half in the seventh, it seemed like Philadelphia would stay ahead when Boston's Ed Fitzpatrick hit an “ordinary” ground ball to Philadelphia's substitute shortstop, Milt Stock.  However, the ball got past Stock, hit the glove of Brave center fielder, Fred Snodgrass (opposing players typically left their gloves on the playing field while at bat), causing Paskert to also muff it. The tying run scored on the play, followed shortly thereafter by the go-ahead score.  Boston wasn't done, scoring two more times in the inning on their way to a 6-3 victory, pushing the Phillies to the brink of elimination.

Jeff Pfeffer

As the Phillies' pennant hopes began to crumble, Nasium of the Philadelphia Inquirer noticed the posting of a “one-sided and suspicious looking score” from Brooklyn.  “Suspicious” is a subjective term, but if the game was “one-sided,” at the outset, it was in favor of the Giants.  In their first at bat, New York got three hits which along with three Brooklyn errors, put the Dodgers behind 3-0 before they even came to bat.  While Brooklyn made up one run in the second, the Giants got it back in the top of the third, aided by another Dodger miscue.  Down 4-1 in the bottom of the inning, however, the Dodgers got their act together and scored four times, to take a 5-4 lead.  New York still wasn’t done, and they rallied against Jeff Pfeffer, who relieved Sherrod Smith in the fourth, tying the game at five.  Things didn’t stay that way for long when with two out in the fifth, Brooklyn's Ivy Olsen drove in Mike Mowrey for a 6-5 Brooklyn lead.  At some point during the bottom of that inning (accounts differ) John McGraw stormed off the field and wouldn’t return for the rest of the season.  He wasn’t the only unhappy Giant.  Art Fletcher and Rube Benton had words earlier in the contest, and Buck Herzog was reportedly so annoyed with New York’s pitching, “it looked as if he was going in and pitch himself.”

George "Possum" Whitted

With a 6-5 lead and Pfeffer now in command, the Brooklyn added single runs in the next three innings while holding the Giants to a meaningless tally in the 9th.   At the end of Brooklyn’s 9-6 win, the Phillies and Braves were tied in their second game.  Erskine Mayer had started for Philadelphia against Lefty Tyler, and the Phillies took a 1-0 lead on George Whitted’s home run.  Whitted had sprained his ankle in the first game and was basically playing on one leg, since this was literally the last ditch for Philadelphia.  In the sixth, Mayer struck out the first two Braves, but Joe Wilhoit hit one that Whitted could only limp after, ending up on third before scoring the tying run on Bert Niehoff’s “inexcusable boot.”  Even though the Dodgers game was over, many Brooklyn fans remained in the stands, while the players changed into their street clothes and sat in the locker room, “silent and watchful.”  Another gathering, this one at the Brooklyn Daily Times offices, which had followed the Brooklyn game on a message board, stuck around, hoping for word of a pennant won. The waiting must have seemed like an eternity, but finally there was good new when in the Boston seventh, a double by Dick Egan and a throwing error by Philliess’ third baseman Bobby Byrnes allowed the Braves to take 2-1 lead.  Any hopes of a Philadelphia come back ended in the eighth when Boston scored four times.

Wilbert Robinson

Finally at about 5:30, in the time it took for the score to reach Brooklyn by telegraph and for a reporter to run to the locker room, the Dodgers learned they had won the 1916 National League pennant race.  “Like a thunderstorm, the riot broke out,” as some players threw things, while the eyes of others welled up with tears.  In response to a demand from his players, Wilbert Robinson tried to say something but “just gurgled.” Outside in the gathering twilight, the fans didn’t wait for the final result to start celebrating.  When the Braves scored in the 7th, “pandemonium broke loose,” and most of the crowd left “laughing, grinning from ear to ear,” while some staid business men were reported to have “skipped along merrily.”  It was an “inspiring scene,” but supposedly nothing like the “demonstration” at the Brooklyn Daily Times offices.  The news that Boston had taken a 6-1 lead was greeted with a roar so loud “the air was shattered.” Those who swore, “swore hard,” and those who laughed “laughed hard.”  Finally, the growing darkness and thoughts of supper and “angry wives and mothers” sent “the devotees of the only game in the world away from the most pleasant sight of the ages.”  1916 may not have been baseball's greatest season, but it was definitely baseball at its best.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Pennant Comes to Brooklyn - Part II

Fortunately for anyone at risk of 1916 pennant race apoplexy, the prohibition on Sunday baseball in the East, meant October 1 was a day off for the four contenders.  While the players rested, the fans and writers had time for in depth speculation about the season's final and deciding week.  Due to September rain outs, Boston and Philadelphia were forced to play six games in four days, beginning with two doubleheaders while the Dodgers and Giants had four single contests.  The math was simple – Philadelphia had to win two more games than Brooklyn, so, if,for example, Brooklyn defeated the Giants once, the Phils only had to split with the Braves.  Boston's sole chance to win the pennant was to take five of six from the Phillies while the Giants swept Brooklyn, a long shot at best.  All that was left for New York was the spoiler's role.  Added to the Phillies' burden was the injury to Bancroft, since his absence required Philadelphia to play with an infield that hadn’t played previously together.  Another unknown was how well New York would play now that their record setting streak was over with some observers suggesting a letdown was inevitable. 

Otto Rettig

Before the Dodgers-Giants series began on Monday, both teams played Sunday exhibition games.  At Ebbets Field, a game was played between Brooklyn's reserves and some September roster additions.  The Giants, however, traveled to Paterson, New Jersey to take on the Paterson or Doherty Silk Sox, a local semipro team.  The Silk Sox had enjoyed an excellent season but lost their two prior major league exhibition games to the Yankees and Philadelphia A’s.  Not surprisingly, a large crowd of 10,000 gathered to see the record-setting Giants.  With one exception, New York played their regulars, against Paterson’s star hurler, Otto Rettig, who had pitched the day before.  In one more 1916 surprise, Rettig used his “slow ball” to shut the Giants out on three hits, while striking out 13.  Predictably, some questioned New York’s effort, but they had been promised additional money for runs and home runs, none of which they collected.   Rettig would eventually enjoy an extremely brief Major League career, winning only one game, a 1922 victory over the St. Louis Browns, but an important game nonetheless since the Browns finished only one game behind the first place Yankees.

Ferdinand Schupp

After the embarrassing loss to a semi-pro club on Sunday, McGraw’s team arrived at Ebbets Field on Monday with newly discovered star pitcher Ferdinand Schupp on the mound.  After spending most of the season on the bench Schupp had been a crucial cog in the Giants 26 game winning streak, winning six straight and giving up a microscopic three runs in the process. A relatively large October 2nd, “wash day” crowd, estimated at 15,000, was on hand, although it was reported nearly half of them were rooting for the Giants.   In the top of the first, New York loaded the bases with two out, bringing Benny Kauff to the plate against Jack Coombs.  The veteran Brooklyn hurler fell behind 3-0 but came back to strike Kauff out on a slow, waist high pitch that “suddenly dropped into Miller’s big glove.” Since Brooklyn didn't figure to score much, if at all, against Schupp, it was a key out. The contest remained scoreless until the bottom of the fourth when with one out, Jake Daubert reached first on a ground ball that was ruled a hit, but some writers felt was an error. Daubert then tried to steal second, and while Bill Rariden’s throw to second was perfect, second baseman, Buck Herzog dropped the ball, putting a runner in scoring position.  Zach Wheat wasted no time taking advantage, “crackling a whistling single to left,” giving Brooklyn a crucial run. 

Jack Coombs

Down one run in the eighth, McGraw went to a pinch hitter for Schupp, but the Giants failed to score and the Dodgers added an insurance run for a 2-0 win.   Schupp was once again brilliant, allowing only an unearned run on four hits.   However, this was Coombs’ day, as he shut out New York on six hits, for his sixth victory over McGraw’s team since 1915.  One writer claimed it was the greatest game of “Colby Jack’s” career, validating Wilbert Robinson’s decision to pitch him in this crucial match up.  No doubt aware of the veteran pitcher's record against New York, Robinson chose Coombs,even though Larry Cheney and Sherry Smith had equal rest.  Coombs’ success in changing speeds, coupled with the off-speed success of the semipro Rettig the previous day, suggests the exhibition game might have hurt the Giants’ timing.  Some “disgruntled” Giant fans claimed New York “did not play their best” due to their friendship with Robinson.  Other observers said the Giants played as if they had a collective hangover and might have been “pulling their punches," but most writers believed Coombs was simply too dominant

Zach Wheat

When Coombs took the mound earlier that afternoon, the Dodgers were actually in second place because the Phils won the opener of their doubleheader against the Braves.  Although some thought Alexander was suffering from overwork, he pitched his 16th shutout, even though it was Alex’s third start in five days.  The loss finally eliminated Boston from the race, but that didn’t mean they would quit.  While some fans thought Grover Cleveland would start the second game as well, instead Al Demaree faced off with Ed Reulbach.  The score was 1-1 until manager George Stallings' team scored once in the sixth and twice in the seventh, while Reulbach held off the Phils.  The Braves’ win, coupled with Brooklyn’s victory, severely damaged the Phillies’ pennant hopes.  Some of the Philadelphia writers were quick to put the blame on Bancroft’s absence, but the Phils’ lack of offense was equally important.  At day’s end, Brooklyn was on the brink - if the Dodgers beat the Giants on Tuesday and the Phils’ lost twice, Brooklyn would win the pennant.  However, there was little room for error since the opposite result would put Brooklyn in second place.  Philadelphia writer Jim Nasium (pen name for Edgar Forrest Wolfe) captured the atmosphere perfectly, writing that the “nerve shattering strife for the baseball supremacy of the National League continued unabated.”

                                Team                         Win      Losses   Games Behind

                                Brooklyn                     92        59                    -

                                Philadelphia                90        59                    1

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Pennant Comes to Brooklyn - Part I

Sixty years ago today, I enjoyed my first great moment as a baseball fan when the Brooklyn Dodgers won the 1956 National League pennant at Ebbets Field on the season's very last day.  Little did I realize that I would become equally familiar with an even earlier Dodger pennant clinching, also at Ebbets Field.  Some 40 years before the memorable fall of 1956, the Brooklyn Dodgers won their first 20th century pennant, in a dramatic pennant race that Paul Zinn and I chronicled in the The Major League Pennant Races of 1916: "The Most Maddening Baseball Melee in History." Since 2016 is the centennial of that season, I'm using the next three posts to tell the story of the final crucial days of that race, publishing each post on the 100th anniversary of the day in question.  1916 was a year of close pennant races in both leagues which saw four records set, three of which, it's safe to say, will never be broken.  Four times in 1916 pitchers started and won both games of a doubleheader, a feat so unusual it's unlikely it will ever be attempted again.  Equally impressive were Grover Cleveland Alexander's 16 shutouts and Ferdinand Schupp's 0.90 ERA, although there has been debate about whether Schupp pitched a sufficient number of innings.


1916 was the third year of newly found parity in the National League.  From 1901 through 1913 every pennant was won by the Giants, Pirates or Cubs.  Perhaps fittingly the streak was broken in 1914 by the appropriately named Miracle Braves who came from last place on July 4th to overtake the Giants before sweeping the heavily favored Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.  Boston was followed by the Phillies as league champions in 1915 so most of the prognosticators saw 1916 as a wide open race and they were correct.  Brooklyn took over first place in May and other than a few days held the lead throughout the summer and early fall even though the Phillies and Braves remained right on their heels.  The once mighty Giants were a distant fourth for most of the campaign and by mid August appeared to be playing out the string.  But John McGraw was rebuilding his team and they caught fire in September, winning 26 straight games, still a record which, unlike the three mentioned earlier, could conceivably be broken.

Grover Cleveland Alexander

The last week of the season featured head to head match ups between the four contenders beginning with Boston visiting the Polo Grounds and the first place Dodgers hosting Philadelphia.  On September 28th, Philadelphia beat Brooklyn 8-4 to trail by only 1/2 game while the Giants made the Braves victims 24 and 25 of their record winning streak, moving the Giants within five games of the lead and dropping Boston four games off the pace.  The next day's games were rained out, setting up crucial doubleheaders on Saturday, September 30th.  At the Polo Grounds, the Giants won number 26 in the first contest, but finally lost in the second, ending New York's chances for what would have been an even bigger miracle than 1951.  Over in Brooklyn, the two contenders squared off in a separate admission, morning-afternoon twin bill.  Whether it was the early hour, cold weather “with a brisk raw wind” or annoyance over the separate admissions, only an estimated 7,000 fans attended the morning affair.  Perhaps they had a premonition of bad things, which was confirmed when Philadelphia scored early and often on their way to a 7-2 win to move into first place.  A number of reporters commented on the Dodgers’ listless play and lack of aggressiveness, which led to boos from the home town crowd.  The one negative for the Phils, but a significant one, was a leg injury to their shortstop, Davy Bancroft.

Dave Bancroft 

When the first game ended around noon, the two teams adjourned to their locker rooms for rest and refreshment.  It would be hard to imagine two more contrasting atmospheres.  The Phillies, back in first place, for the first time since May, seemed to believe their long quest to win the pennant was nearly over. Even better, with their ace Alexander going in the afternoon game, Philadelphia had every reason to believe they would return home with a 1 ½ game lead. Reportedly, the Phillies players were “whooping it up,” with a quartet rehearsing “Tessie” in anticipation of a World Series rematch with the Red Sox.  Things even looked hopeful when Bancroft, after trainer Mike Dee worked on his leg, was inserted in the starting lineup for the second game.  The situation was much different in the Brooklyn locker room, but the mood was determination, not despair.  The players faces were “set” as they “talked in the tone of men resolved to retrieve themselves.”  At one point, manager Wilbert Robinson addressed his team, and mincing no words, he “read the riot act to them” and “demanded a victory.”  The players reportedly “answered in one voice” with a terse, “you’ll get it Robbie.”

Rube Marquard

Alexander started the second contest on one day’s rest, a decision that merits some second guessing, since the Phils had won the first two games of the series, it might have been better to save him for the upcoming six games in four days against the Braves.  Manager Pat Moran’s team had limited pitching depth and would need all of it against Boston.  In any event, it was Alexander for Philadelphia while the Dodgers countered with Rube Marquard.  The game began in “cold and blowy” football-like conditions in front of roughly 16,000 still less than a sell out.   The top of the first did little for Brooklyn’s morale, when the Phils took a 1-0 lead, but they again lost Davy Bancroft, who suffered another leg injury and was done for the game and probably longer.  Sometimes, one run was all Alexander needed, but Brooklyn tied the contest in the bottom of the first and suddenly things began to change, with Marquard shutting down the Phils and the Dodgers threatening to break through against Alexander.

Casey Stengel

Finally in the bottom of the fifth inning, as Brooklyn Eagle writer,Tom Rice joyfully reported, Casey Stengel, “fell upon the second pitch, and the second pitch fell upon the pavement outside of the right field wall” for a 2-1 Brooklyn lead.  The Dodgers added single runs in the sixth and seventh, and Moran finally removed Alexander for a pinch hitter in the eighth inning.  When Zach Wheat caught a fly ball for the last out, the fans poured out on to the field to mob Marquard, who allowed just one hit and two base runners after the first inning.  Surprisingly the usually unhittable Alexander had been touched up for four runs on 11 hits in the biggest game of the year.   It marked the third time the Superbas had quickly regained first after having been knocked into second. However, the margin was only a razor thin  ½ game, so the “apoplexy breeding National League race” would now come down to the final series – Brooklyn at home against New York and Boston  at Philadelphia.

Standings on September 30, 1916

            Brooklyn                     91        59            -

             Philadelphia                89        58           ½

             Boston                       85        61           4

              New York                  85        63           5

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Splendiferous Day at Dey Farm

Flemington catcher and official blog photographer, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri provides pictures and a summary of the Neshanocks' annual visit to Monroe, New Jersey.  

Base Ball at Dey Farm

On Saturday, the Neshanock played 2 contests at Dey Farm (pronounced “Die”) in Monroe Township, NJ in an event sponsored by the Monroe Township Historic Preservation Commission. Their opponent, as has been the case every year for this event, was the Athletic BBC of Philadelphia. The Commission was proud to display its newest structure, The Prospect Plains School (circa 1858), whose bell rang out many times during the base ball games. The contests were ably officiated by Sam “It ain’t nothin’ ‘til I say” Bernstein. 

 Jack “Doc” Kitson

The Neshanock schooled the Athletics in the first contest by a final tally of 23-8. Flemington hurlers, Danny “Batman” Shaw and Bob “Melky” Ritter, took turns during the game which kept the Philadelphia strikers at bay. Chris “Sideshow” Nunn led the way with 3 runs scored. The Athletics could not find a weak spot in the Neshanock squad as 10 other strikers each had 2 runs scored.  Afterwards during the break, the Commission made available water, watermelon slices and its famous basket of cookies to players and fans alike.

Neshanock provide plenty of Timber

Philadelphia looked for revenge in the second contest and kept pace as they only trailed 5-3 after 5 innings. However Flemington scored 4 in the bottom half of the 6th on its way to an 11-3 victory. Again hurling duties were split between “Batman” and “Melky” with the addition of Brad “Brooklyn” Shaw, as he did last weekend at the Navy Yard, taking the mound in the last inning to close out the day. Ken “Tumbles” Mandel provided a team high 3 runs scored with no other Neshanock tallying more than 1 run in the contest.

 Ken “Tumbles” Mandel

At the start of the second contest, the Athletic’s leadoff striker, much to his chagrin, fell victim to one of the Neshanock’s trick plays. As the Philly runner was on second base with intentions to steal third, Flemington’s hurler, “Melky”, flipped the sphere to his shortstop instead of coming home. The shortstop relayed the sphere to the third baseman who easily tagged out the surprised Athletic. Also in each of the contests, the Neshanock recruited an interested fan from the crowd to play in the game. These new players, called “muffins”, contributed to the Neshanock’s wins and someday may become regular 19th Century ballists. The Neshanock have 2 dates remaining on this year’s calendar.

 Prospect Plains School No.2

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Traveling Neshanock visit Legends and Shipyards

Neshanock catcher and official blog photographer Mark "Gaslight" Granieri reports on Flemington's visits to South Orange and the Philadelphia Navy Yard 

Flemington Neshanock

 The Neshanock were busy, but successful, winning three 1864 contests on Saturday and Sunday, this past weekend. Saturday. the team traveled to Cameron Field “Where the Legends Played” (est. 1914) in South Orange, NJ to take on the South Oranges Villagers in a game organized by the South Orange Historical and Preservation Society. Sunday saw them playing in the 19th Century Base Ball Exhibition hosted by the Athletic BBC of Philadelphia at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia, PA meeting the Rising Sun BBC (MD) and the Capital Stars Club of DC (MD/VA).

Cameron Field - South Orange

Cameron Field and the South Orange Villagers have a long and rich baseball history thus producing the “Legends” moniker. The Villagers had been joined by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig during their barnstorming days. The Villagers also met traveling Negro League teams anchored by such names as Josh Gibson, Larry Doby and Monte Irvin. Additionally the field has hosted Seton Hall games with such names as Rick Cerone and Craig Biggio. This edition of the Villagers first met the Neshanock in 2014. In their first meeting the Neshanock won by a comfortable margin however their second meeting was to be much different.

Chris “Sideshow” Nunn

 The Neshanock held a 5-2 lead through 7 innings until the Villagers scored 5 in the bottom of the 8th to take a 7-5 advantage. In the top of the 9th the Neshanock tallied 2 runs to tie the score and blanked the Villagers in the bottom of the 9th to send the game to extra innings. With their bats still warm, the Neshanock scored 3 in the top of the 10th and held the opposition to just 1 run in the bottom half for an exciting 10-8 victory. The pitching duties were shared by Bob “Melky” Ritter and Danny “Batman” Shaw.  Leading the Neshanock in runs scored were Tom “Thumbs” Hoepfner and Rene “Mango” Marrero with 3 apiece. These same two strikers also had notable swings in the game with “Thumbs” hitting an opposite field home run down the left field line in the 6th inning and “Mango” driving a shot into left center which reached the scoreboard, marked 350, on a few bounces in the 8th inning.

Cameron Field’s manual scoreboard

Flemington had to rise early on Sunday to make an 8:30 start time against the Rising Sun BBC where the weather was hot and humid and not always sunny in Philadelphia. Rising Sun handed the Nehanock losses in their previous two meetings, both times in Old Bethpage, NY. However the Neshanock finally got their revenge with a 12-5 victory in this meeting. The Neshanock held a 6-2 lead through six innings in a well played contest until they tallied 4 in the 7th innings to break it open. “Mango” handled the hurling duties while the first four strikers in the lineup (Chris “Sideshow” Nunn, Dan “Sledge” Hammer, “Thumbs” and “Mango”) each contributed 2 runs scored for a balanced attack.

 Neshanock vs. Rising Sun at The Navy Yard

Flemington next met the Capital Stars of DC which consisted of players from several clubs including Chesapeake, Arundel and Talbot. The Neshanock cruised to 19-0 victory in a match which saw them take a 9-0 lead after just 2 innings. Again “Mango” kept the opposing strikers off balance but this time he was assisted by Brad “Brooklyn” Shaw who took the mound for the final frame. Leading the way in runs scored was “Sledge” with 5, followed by “Sideshow” with 4 and Ken “Tumbles” Mandel with 3 who was sorely missed by all in the first contest. Next weekend the Neshanock meet this week’s host, the Athletic Club of Philadelphia at Dey Farm in Monroe Township, NJ.

Tom “Thumbs” Hoepfner strikes against Capital Stars of DC

Monday, September 12, 2016

Base Ball at the Hagley Museum

This past Saturday, the Neshanock traveled to the scenic Hagley Museum in Wilmington, Delaware to take on the Diamond State Club which recreates Delaware's first base ball team formed in the fall of 1865.  The vintage version played its first season in 2009 and has quickly become a very competitive team which has played a number of tight games with Flemington.  Once again the Neshanock had to go deep into its bench for an account of the game, but Chris "Lowball" Lowry was more than up for the challenge providing the below pictures and a brief summary of Flemington's 14-8 victory.

Danny "Batman" Shaw pitched for Flemington and did a find job of keeping the opposing strikers off balance

Balanced defense and offense were key features in Flemington's victory including some find outfield play by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn

With the win, the Neshanock improve to 19-11 on the season.  Next weekend Flemington will make a rare north Jersey appearance on Saturday to play a local team in South Orange and then travel to Philadelphia on Sunday for the Philadelphia Naval Yard Classic.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Saturday in the Park with the Athletics

Photo by Cindy Wiseburn

That depth is important to any base ball club is a given, but depth matters not just on the playing field itself.  Such was the case this past Saturday when the Neshanock traveled to the City of Brotherly Love to take on the Athletic Club of Philadelphia for two seven inning matches at Fairmount Park.  Unlike some recent contests, Flemington had more than enough players, but both the scorekeeper and blog photographer were missing in action so Chris "Lowball" Lowry admirably filled in as scorekeeper while Cindy Wiseburn did the same as photographer.  Their stepping up was crucial as the Neshanock boasts a world wide fan base, one that according to  blog statistics ranges from Europe including Germany, France and the Ukraine, to Asia with fans checking in from India, the Philippines and South Korea.  With that level of interest it's crucial to keep everyone up to date.

Photo by Cindy Wiseburn

Flemington had its offense in full force in the first match, tallying 17 times in the first three innings while coasting to a 29-5 win.  Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner led the way with a clear score while Dan "Sledge" Hammer, "Jersey" Jim Nunn and Gregg "Burner" Wiseburn just missed, each making only one out in five times at the striker's line.  The lower portion of the lineup also made a big contribution with "Lowball" tallying four times and Ken "Tumbles" Mandel adding three.  After a brief respite, the two clubs went at it a second time and the Neshanock ended any potential drama early, scoring eight times in the second inning on the way to another comfortable win, this time by a 13-3 count.  "Thumbs" again led the offense with three hits, matched by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn and Rene "Mango" Marrero followed closely by Jack "Doc" Kitson with two hits.  With the two wins Flemington improves to 18-11 on the season heading into a break for the Labor Day weekend.  The Neshanock have six dates remaining in the 2016 season beginning with a September 10th meeting with the Diamond State Club of Delaware at the Hagley Museum in Wilmington, Delaware.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Two Brothers - Two Historic Upsets

About five years ago Carol and I were at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia watching a production of Henry V.  At the heart of  this play about England's  great warrior-king is the story of how a heavily outnumbered (5 to 1) English army, sick and hungry, defeated the far stronger French at Agincourt on St. Crispin's Day (10/25) in 1415.  The play suggests the English soldiers upset the odds because of the inspiration they drew from their leader's "Band of Brothers" speech, best, in my opinion, delivered by Kenneth Branagh (seen at  In most modern productions, the intermission comes right after a scene in the French camp the night before the battle, where the "confident and over lusty French" brag about their certain victory.  That night in Virginia, as the intermission began, I headed with a number of the like minded men to the rest room where I happened to be standing in front of two of them, one wearing a T shirt from a prominent SEC football team.  To my surprise, his companion remarked about how the man's team would easily win it's game the next day, a sentiment, the first man quickly affirmed.

1873 Boston Red Stockings 

I didn't know that much about the two teams, but it was all I could do not to say to both of them, aren't you paying attention to the play we're watching?  Henry V has been performed, after all, for over 400 years and I couldn't believe either of them were ignorant of what was coming next, the improbable English victory, one of the biggest upsets in military history.  Fortunately however, I've learned a little discretion over the years and held my peace, reflecting later that part of why being part of an upset is so meaningful is triumphing over all those gloating prematurely about the results of battles or games they think are some how pre-ordained.  I believe being part of an upset, even as a spectator, is one of the best feelings in sports, something one seldom forgets.  If being part of one upset can be so meaningful, just think what it must have been like for  two young men from New Jersey, Hugh and Mike Campbell ,who were part of what were arguably not just one, but two of the biggest upsets of the first 25 years of competitive base ball.

Mike Campbell 

Born in Ireland, the two Campbells immigrated to New Jersey and during the 1860's joined the Irvington Base Ball Club, a top junior club of the period.  After the 1865 season, the club members decided to give up their junior status and take on higher levels of competition.  Having made that decision, the Irvingtons didn't gradually ease into more competitive opposition, enticing the defending champion Atlantic Club of Brooklyn to come to Irvington in June of 1866 to help their self-proclaimed "country club" get off to a good start even while they acknowledged they had no chance of winning.  It's unknown which members of  the Irvington Club made the "pitch" to the Brooklyn team, but they were good salesmen since the Atlantics made the trip to the outskirts of Newark without some of their best players, confident of an easy victory.  When they arrived in that small farming community, the Atlantics found, not a bunch of unknown country bumpkins, but players from a number of Newark teams who had joined the Campbell brothers on the Irvington Club.  Although doubtless surprised by the unexpected quality of the opposition, the Atlantics rallied from an early 8-4 deficit, scoring five times in the fourth and six in the fifth to lead 15-9 after five innings.  Things went rapidly downhill after that however as the "country club" added 14 more tallies while holding the champions to just two for a 23-17 victory.

New York Clipper - June 23, 1866

How big an upset was it?  It ended a 44 game Atlantic streak without a loss (one tie) dating back almost three years and it was their first loss to a team other than the Mutuals and the Eckford since 1861.  With or without some of their top players, the game still must be considered one of the biggest, if not, the biggest upset of the 1860's.  Neither of the Campbell brothers did a lot on offense that day with Mike scoring once and Hugh twice, but they played a solid first and center field with only one reported muff between them.  While the Irvington victory was clearly an upset, the previously unknown club didn't lack for talent beginning with second baseman, Charles Sweasy and catcher, Andy Jackson Leonard both of Newark.  A few years later the two would head west and become part of the legendary 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings and by 1873 the two had joined the Wright brothers in Boston (Harry and George, not Orville and Wilbur) to be part of the team which dominated base ball's the National Association, base ball's first attempt at a "national" professional league.  While the Campbell brothers were good ball players, they weren't at that level, but they too moved on to another club in 1870, the Elizabeth Resolutes then one of New Jersey's top amateur clubs.

Harry Wright

Although none of the four men could have visualized it when they upset the Atlantics in 1866, they met again in what was purported to be another historic mismatch.  One of the weaknesses of the National Association was that it would admit any club which paid the $10 annual admission fee (the story of the National Association is well told in Bill Ryczek's Blackguards and Red Stockings).  One club willing to do so in 1873 was the Resolutes which operated as a cooperative club. Cooperative clubs were dependent for financial support on the gate receipts which  in this case turned out to be sparse, meaning the Resolutes, unlike the Red Stockings could not afford any high priced talent.  Not surprisingly, therefore, the Elizabeth club got off to a 1-14 start headed into a scheduled three game series in Boston over the July 4th holiday.  At a time when days off other than Sunday were rare, Independence Day was a major holiday offering multiple competition for the nickels and dimes of prospective fans.  Recognizing the Resolutes wouldn't be a big draw, Harry Wright chose to play the first ever professional double header on the 4th, separate admissions of course, with the idea he could attract some fans for each game from the big crowds venturing into the city to observe the holiday.

Andy Jackson Leonard

Both Campbells were in the Resolute lineup with Mike still stationed at first base and Hugh now serving as the Elizabeth club's pitcher.  In the opposing lineup were no less than four future Hall of Famers, Albert Spalding, Deacon White, Jim "Orator" O'Rourke and Harry Wright with the also Cooperstown bound George Wright getting the game off perhaps because of the heat and/or Atlantic like over confidence.  Wright's absence gave Charles Sweasy his one chance to play for the Boston version of the Red Stockings, perhaps something of a sentimental gesture to let him play against his former Irvington teammates.  With Spalding on the mound, it was no surprise the Resolutes came up empty in their first two at bats, but Boston wasn't having much more luck against Campbell scoring only once in each inning.  Unfortunately, no play-by-play seems to have survived, but the Resolutes tallied five times in the third to take a 5-2 lead and added six more over the course of the game.  Even more impressive than tallying 11 times off Spalding was that Hugh Campbell and the Resolute defense behind him, shut out the powerful Boston lineup the rest of the way for a highly improbable 11-2 win.   As the game ended, one wonders if the four men remembered the 1866 game with Sweasy and Leonard thinking they now knew how the Atlantics felt while the Campbell brothers remembering the elation of that special day.

New York Clipper - July 12, 1873

How big an upset was it?  Through that fateful day, Boston had a cumulative National Association record of 73-24-2, compared to the Resolutes one win in 15 attempts.  Boston would win the remaining two games of the series including an embarrassing 32-3 rout in the second game of the doubleheader in route to what would be the second of four straight Association pennants.  But nothing could take away from the Resolutes, and especially the Campbell bothers, moment of glory.Not surprisingly, a Boston newspaper hoped the Red Stockings learned something from their ignominious defeat and wouldn't take other teams for granted.  While the Red Stockings and their fans may have learned a valuable lesson, anyone hoping for a long term lesson on the dangers of over confidence was wasting their time as evidenced by those two men in Staunton, Virginia some 140 years later.  And by the way, although the man's team did win, they had to come from behind in the fourth quarter to do it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

No Gold for Neshanock at Silver Ball Tournament

Genesee Country Village and Museum celebrates 40 years

Flemington took their third and final overnight trip of the season to the 14th Annual National Silver Ball Tournament at Genesee Country Village in Mumford, New York. While the Neshanock have had success in the past at this event, this time they could do no better than a 1-3 record against some fine competition. The team’s effort was hampered by a travel squad of only 8 ballists, adjusting to 1868 rules (no bound outs, no sliding, no stealing, no large leads) and waiting through several rain delays on Saturday in an area that had been under drought restrictions.

Saturday’s Rain

The first contest resulted in a 10-9 loss at the hands of the Woodstock Actives. It was held on the Great Meadow in the center of the village framed by wildlife statues and a tremendous gazebo. Flemington’s ragged defense did not aid their cause as their Canadian opponent held a slim advantage for most of the match. Leading the Neshanock were Danny “Batman” Shaw and Dan “Sledge” Hammer with 3 and 2 runs scored respectively. Flemington’s 9th man was Michael “Licks” Velapoldi formerly of the N.Y. Mutuals who is starting his own club in the Syracuse area. This game quickly demonstrated how it could take 4 singles to score a tally or how two consecutive singles often resulted in 1 hand with a man on first because of the minimal leading and no stealing rules.

Neshanock-Actives pregame rule review

The second contest against the Rochester BBC also resulted in a loss by the score of 10 to 3. The Rochester club is one of five clubs that call the Village home. The 3:00 start time was delayed until 5:00 as several thunder and lightning storms rumbled through the area prolonging the 1:00 contests. The game was held on the South Field made wet, but still manageable,  by the rain. This match ended in the top of the ninth as yet another storm fell onto the field of play. Flemington’s 9th man “SlackJaw” was recruited from the Victory BBC. Flemington’s runs were provided by “Batman”, “Sledge” and Tom “Thumbs” Hoepfner.

Neshanock-Rochester conference

The third contest had an early Sunday start time of 8:00am as Saturday’s rain pushed the later games into the next day. Although Flemington was bested by the Canal Fulton Mules (Ohio) 15 to 12, the back and forth slugfest was probably Flemington’s most exciting match of the tournament. Unfortunately this game ended after eight innings as the time limit had been reached. It was Flemington’s only game on scenic Silver Base Ball Park which consists of stands for the cranks, an outfield fence with manual scoreboard and an announcer’s stand that provides striker introductions and match updates. The field was affected by the previous day’s rain causing the ballists to be mired in mud especially around the base areas.  This time Flemington’s 9th man was “Handyman” of the Victory club, who contributed 2 runs. Leading run totals by original Neshanock were provided by “Batman” (3), “Sledge” (2), “Thumbs” (2) and Jim “Jersey” Nunn (2).

Neshanock-Canal Fulton match

The fourth and final contest produced Flemington’s only victory of the tournament which came, by coincidence, at the expense of the Victory BBC, another Village team, by a 10 to 3 final. This match was a return to the Great Meadow where field conditions were good despite the rainfall. Flemington’s final 9th man was “Dizzy” of the Live Oak club. The Neshanock’s run leader was Brad “Brooklyn” Shaw with 3 along with “Sledge” and “Jersey” adding 2 runs apiece. Hopefully ending the tournament on a high note helped with the long ride home for the Neshanock squad.

Neshanock-Victory match

Despite Flemington’s results and the rain delays, the club would like to thank Genesee Country Village and Museum for always running a well organized tournament in a beautiful setting. Congratulations to the Talbot Fair Plays BBC for winning the tournament.  Special thanks to the ballists who rounded out the Neshanock’s roster which demonstrates the camaraderie in 19th Century Base Ball. Maybe next time Flemington will bring home the gold albeit disguised as a sliver plate.

Silver Ball Trophy