Saturday, July 9, 2016

In the Footsteps of the Knickerbockers

After a well deserved break last weekend, the Neshanock returned to action on Saturday with their fourth annual visit to historic New Bridge Landing  in River Edge, New Jersey for an event sponsored by the Bergen County Historical Society.  For the third consecutive year, Flemington hosted the Eckford Club of Brooklyn, another of the country's best vintage clubs led by the inimitable (thankfully) Eric "Express" Micklich.  Although the visitors got off to an early 2-0 lead in the first of two seven inning matches, the Neshanock rallied for three tallies in both the second and third innings for what proved to be a short lived 6-3 lead after three.  The two clubs went back and forth over the next two innings with Flemington leading 7-6 headed to the sixth when the Eckford erupted for six tallies and then added four in the seventh for a 16-9 victory.  The Neshanock were led on offense by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner who had three hits and Dave "Illinois" Harris, Danny "Batman" Shaw, Rene "Mango" Marrero and Dan "Sledge" Hammer with two apiece. 

Photo by Hal Shaw

 Having come from behind to win the first match, the Eckford showed no inclination to repeat the experience getting off to a 6-1 lead in the first two innings of the second contest and while the Neshanock fought back it was not enough with the visitors winning the second contest 10-6.  "Thumbs" added two hits in the second game which were matched by Scott "Snuffy" Hengst and Bobby "Melky" Ritter.  The Eckford hit well and ran the bases aggressively, but like any good vintage team, their defense is worthy of special note as they made only two muffs in the first contest and none in the second.  Flemington would like to thank Charles "Bugs" Klansman and Joe "Sleepy" Soria of the Gotham Club who joined the Neshanock side for the day.  With the two losses, Flemington is now 12-5 on the season, headed into next week's festival in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, one of the premier vintage base ball events in the county. 

The railroad and eventually base ball come to Englewood and Bergen County - Book of Englewood

In one of those obscure, but interesting quirks of history, Flemington's trip to Bergen County was only a few days shy of the 150th anniversary of a similar visit by one of base ball's most historically important clubs, the pioneering Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York City.  On July 14, 1866, the New York club visited nearby Englewood where it soundly defeated the Palisade Club of that village by a score of 39-17.  Nor was that the Knickerbocker's sole 1866 visit to Bergen County as the two clubs played a three game series, with the final and deciding game also played in Englewood, this time a 42-27 victory for the local team in an modern like, two hours and thirty-five minutes.  Having led the way in popularizing and formalizing the New York game, by 1866 the Knickerbockers were playing fewer match games, something that was never one of their highest priorities.  Why then did the Knickerbockers make, not one, but two trips to Englewood to play a local club that was hardly one of New Jersey's most prominent teams?  That question was posed a few months ago by Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw, founder of the Neshanock and new president of the Vintage Base Ball Association (don't forget it for a moment).

Record of the Knickerbocker - Palisade Matches from Peverelly's Book of American Pastimes

The Palisade Club of Englewood, sometimes confused with an earlier team of the same name in West Hoboken (Union City), was formed in August of 1860, according to an article in the September 8th issue of the New York Clipper.  While the article calls the team the Englewood Club, the player names are the same as the Palisade Club of the post war years and its seems pretty clear this is the same team.  Somewhat surprising was the amount of newspaper space devoted to the founding of just this one club, but the reason became clear when the writer, almost certainly Henry Chadwick, noted the team was only the second "especially formed to play the 'fly game.'"  While claiming it was not necessary to repeat the paper's position on the issue, Chadwick did just that, asserting that "we look upon 'the fly' as the only true standard of the game - and the one to which it will ultimately come."  As with many antebellum clubs, and the Palisade Club just makes it into that category, the new team didn't get on the field much during the war years, apparently playing its first full schedule in 1866, the year it took on the Knickerbockers.

Manning and Houmans (sic) play for the Knickerbockers - New York Clipper, October 25, 1865

All of this was interesting, but shed no light on why the young men from Bergen County rated three matches against one of the games most prominent, if not competitive clubs.  Much work has been done on the Knickerbockers, led by John Thorn, Official Historian of MLB, including a valuable essay in Baseball Founders which features the biographies of well over 100 club members.  A few years ago, trying to understand how the New York game moved into New Jersey,  I looked through these biographies, searching for members with New Jersey connections and found quite a few.  That seemed like a good place to look for overlap between the two clubs which might at least partially explain how the series of matches got started and that premise proved correct, but not in the most productive way possible.  In addition to the 100 plus Knickerbockers with biographies, was a list of about 20 names, club members who had not been identified.  One name on that list, Homans,matched the name of a founding director of the Palisade Club who also played for the team in 1866, including, presumably, the Knickerbocker games, to date, no box scores have been found for those matches.

The discovery led to a quick e-mail to Peter Morris, one of those who worked on the Knickerbocker biographies who told me that a player by that name was listed in Marshall Wright's always valuable, The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870 as having played three games for the Knickerbockers in 1865.  All too frequently finding just a last name leads nowhere, but happily this was not one of those cases as the Homans family played an important part in the settlement of Englewood in the years just before the Civil War.  Homan's father, Isaac and his eldest son, with the same name, were the publishers of Bankers Magazine and the family moved to Englewood not long after the opening of a railroad connection between Jersey City and the new Bergen County community in May of 1859.  Apparently the relatively convenient railroad - ferry connection between Englewood and lower Manhattan facilitated the move of people from Manhattan and Brooklyn to this new suburb, bringing among other things some young men interested in and knowledgeable about base ball.

Three trains per day between New York City and Englewood - Book of Englewood

The two elder Homans were apparently too busy with their magazine and real estate development in Englewood to get involved in base ball so that fell to Edward 17 in 1860, working as a clerk, most likely on Wall Street and, as noted, a founding director of Englewood's base ball team.  Homans' base ball career had a hiatus after 1860 when he spent the war years as a member of the 22nd New York regiment.  Interestingly a number of the young soldier and ball player's letters to his future wife survive in the collections of the New York Public Library.  While I haven't yet had a chance to look at them, according to the finding aid, had more modern rules been in effect, Homans could have been one of the first players banned for drugs as he apparently experimented with marijuana and hashish.  However much dabbling Homans did in drugs, it apparently didn't have any lasting effect since after the war and his base ball career, he became a stock broker and member of the New York Stock Exchange, living a respectable life until his death n 1894.

One paragraph of the Bergen County Democrats' 12 paragraph diatribe about the umpiring of William Manning - Bergen County Democrat - June 22, 1866

One connection between the fledgling Bergen County club and the historic Knickerbockers is impressive, but apparently Homans wasn't the only Palisade club member who sojourned with the Knickerbockers.  Bergen County, like most of New Jersey, had only weekly newspapers in the 1860's, but for some reason in June of 1866, the Bergen County Democrat devoted significant space to a game between the Palisade Club and the Sparkhill Club of New York.  Not content to write a detailed account of the match, the writer went on to a 12 paragraph diatribe against the umpire, one Manning of the Knickerbocker Club for his poor enforcement of the ball - strike rule.  Another look at Baseball Founders failed to turn up Mr. Manning either with or without a biography, but the October 25, 1865 box score of a Knickerbocker - Eclectic match lists a Manning playing right field for the KBBC, next to Homans who was in center.  And perhaps, not surprisingly at this point, the founding vice president of the Palisade Club in 1860 was one William S. Manning.  Like his Palisade and Knickerbocker teammate, Manning came from a prominent family and went on to a career in the life insurance industry where he made a name for himself with clams of corrupt practices in the industry.

William S. Manning 

None of this, of course, is of any ground breaking significance, but the story of Englewood's development after the coming of the railroad especially with people moving from Manhattan is further evidence of how northern New Jersey's relatively sophisticated railroad network helped spread the game throughout the northern part of the state.  In addition, the identification of these two admittedly very tangible members of the Knickerbockers brings us even closer to a full record of those base ball pioneers.  Finally, the back and forth of these two young men between their local club and the far more well known Knickerbockers is a reminder of the regional nature of the early game in the New York metropolitan area including New Jersey.   As Bruce Allardice noted in the most recent issue of Baseball: A Journal of the Early Game (once again a must read) back in 1855 organized amateur base ball was played in only three states, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff! I think this was typical in the early days of baseball, as it is in modern Vintage Base Ball. You play with an established club for a while and then start your own club. Because of the friendly connection, you typically play your original club regularly. This is exactly what was happening with the Knicks and Palisades.