Sunday, April 24, 2016

Another Saturday - Another River to Cross

Saturday saw the Neshanock on the road again (that's actually a little redundant since we're always on the road) one week after crossing the Hudson River, this time crossing the Delaware to visit the Brandywine Club of West Chester, Pennsylvania at their home grounds in East Goshen Park.  Last year the two clubs met in the final game of the Gettysburg Festival which was such a good experience that it was decided to play a regular season match.  If today was any indication, it was the first of many to come.   Danny "Batman" Shaw got the day off to a good start for Flemington by winning his third consecutive bat toss, putting the Neshanock in the field.  Although Brandywine scored once in the top of the inning, Flemington quickly answered with two tallies and gradually built a 6-2 lead after four innings as the Neshanock were once again very strong on defense.

William Cauldwell - Editor of the Sunday Mercury

In the bottom of the fifth, Flemington again used a big inning to break open a match, scoring six times for a 12-2 lead on the way to a 15-2 final score.  Before giving any other details, it's essential to report (at least according to him) that the highlight of the game was when Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw eschewed the use of a pinch runner and actually stole a base!  Also contributing to the Neshanock attack was Dan "Sledge" Hammer who earned Flemington's third clear score of the season with four hits, scoring four times in the process.  Playing in his first match of the season, Gregg "Burner" Wiseburn chipped in with three hits, followed by "Batman," Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner, Dave "Illinois" Harris and Chris "Low Ball" Lowry with two apiece.  As noted the defense was solid, marred by only one muff.  Catching the first game, "Sledge" matched Mark "Gaslight" Granieri's feat from last week, throwing out three runners trying to steal, but doing so without divine intervention.

After a brief respite, Brandywine took the field for the second game and it was clear from the outset that this was going to be a very different contest.  In fact, it was almost the mirror opposite through five innings with the local team taking a 6-1 lead into the top of the sixth.  The Neshanock came back with three runs and had the bases loaded with no one out, apparently setting the stage for another big inning.  Brandywine recovered, however, to put the next two strikers out and looked like they might escape still in the lead.  Fortunately for Flemington, a clutch two out hit by "Jersey" Jim Nunn not only kept the inning alive, but sent the Neshanock on the way to very big inning indeed, scoring nine times in total for a 10-6 lead.

Even with the lead, no one on the Flemington bench was feeling especially comfortable and the tension rose considerably when Brandywine rallied for two in the seventh and two in the eighth. Although the West Chester club did shut down Flemington in the seventh and ninth innings, the Neshanock had one moderately big inning left in them, putting four tallies across the plate in the top of the eighth, taking a 14-10 lead into Brandwine's last at bat.  No one expected Brandywine to go quietly and they quickly scored twice and put two runners on when Flemington took full advantage of a big break and were able to hold on for a 14-12 win.  "Sledge" again led the Neshanock attack with three hits, aided by "Burner" who had two big doubles.  All told it was a balanced effort with every member of the Neshanock scoring at least once.  Although Flemington won both games, there was general agreement that everyone enjoyed the experience which ended with renewed promises to make this a regular affair.  Now 4-0 on the young season, the Neshanock will make their initial New Jersey appearance next Sunday at Ringwood Manor State Park, the originally scheduled match in Lambertville on Saturday has been cancelled.

The beginning of any base ball season is full of adjustments, for me as a base ball historian, it means starting to again learn about the 19th century by watching it being played in addition to whatever archival research I might be doing.  Nothing, of course, substitutes for documented, contemporary evidence, but watching the game being recreated complements what's found in old books, documents and newspapers.  A case in point is something I've been working on this past winter, two essays for a book to be published by the 19th Century Base Ball committee of the Society for American Baseball Research.  The essays are for a book about the off season meetings of the National Association of Base Ball Players which began in the late 1850's.  My essays are about the meetings that took place in December of 1860 and December of 1864 when one of the major issues was the fly game vs. the bound game, that is allowing an out for any fair batted ball caught on a bounce.

Those arguing for the change in 1860 included the prestigious Knickerbockers and Henry Chadwick, the Father of Base Ball himself.  In spite of their efforts the proposed change was voted down in 1860 and again in 1863 before it was finally adopted in December of 1864.  On the opposite side of the question in 1860 was William Cauldwell, the editor of the Sunday Mercury who actually preceded the better known Chadwick in giving extensive newspaper coverage to the emerging competitive game.  Cauldwell was opposed to eliminating the bound out in 1860 because he felt the incentive of retiring a batter on one bounce led to extraordinary defensive efforts which would be lost if the rule was changed.  Four years later, the New York writer had changed his mind and was in the uncomfortable position of arguing against himself.  While Cauldwell gave a number of reasons for the change, the primary one was that outfielders were playing very deep in order to take the easy, and perhaps unmanly, approach of catching the ball on the bounce.  According to Cauldwell, this was happening with such frequency that the disadvantages of continuing the bound out exceeded the relatively limited number of outstanding bound catches.

Almost a decade of watching vintage base ball has shown me that there is a lot to both what Cauldwell believed in 1860 and his new position some four years later.  I've seen more than a few extremely athletic attempts to come up with a ball on one bounce that sometimes meant the difference between killing a rally or the other team going on to a big inning.  And I've also seen how playing deep and taking the easier catch on the bounce, can abuse the spirit of the rule and makes the game far less interesting to watch, and I would think, play.  Cauldwell's change in opinion in some ways simply reflected how the game was evolving, the bound out originally had a place, but as the game developed it started to hurt the game and needed to be eliminated.  It's a part of the process of evaluation and change that has been with base ball at least since the beginning of organized competition, a process that will most likely never change which is probably a very good thing.

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