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

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Scribes and Stewards of the Game

Photo by Mark Granieri

Only three words are needed to describe the Neshanock's participation in the 19th annual vintage base ball festival at Old Bethpage Village - missing in action.  Now called the Doc Adams Classic in honor of the venerable Knickerbocker's many contributions to the early game, the two day event drew teams from as far a way as Boston and Maryland.  Flemington, unfortunately, could muster only five players (four over 50) not the best way to take on strong clubs from Connecticut and Maryland.  Thanks to those members of the Mutuals, Atlantics and Sandy Hook clubs who became Neshanocks for the day.  The first match against a team made up of representatives of three Connecticut teams was a mismatch from the very beginning as Flemington fell behind 7-0 before coming to bat and it got worse from there, ultimately a 28-2 shellacking.  The second match against a strong Rising Sun Club was much closer with the Neshanock closing to 9-6 with the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the eighth, but it was not to be.  One offensive highlight (actually the only offensive highlight) were two hits apiece in the second game by Bobby "Melky" Ritter and Mark "Gaslight" Granieri.  With the losses, Flemington falls to 15-8 on the season heading into next weekend's National Silverball Tournament in Rochester.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

It's early August and two of the three base ball eras where I spend most of my waking hours are headed towards the home stretch.  Both vintage base ball which occupies at least one day a week and major league baseball where I spend most evenings exchanging text messages with Paul Zinn about the Mets have about two months left.  Most of my days, however, are spent in the Deadball Era (1901-1919) working on a biography of Charles Ebbets which is due at the publisher in six months, no where near as close to the end (unfortunately), but also in the home stretch.  Now with a second draft almost complete, it feels on schedule, but there's no shortage of work left especially trying to understand and then explain the Brooklyn magnate.  A recent step in that direction was looking at what contemporary sports writers said about Ebbets at the time of his death in April of 1925, not obituaries which don't always accurately capture facts, but descriptions of the Brooklyn owner written by people who actually knew him.  Just one example is something written by Tom Rice in the Brooklyn Eagle who knew Ebbets well and said, like all rich men who started with nothing, the Squire of Flatbush was a big man in big things and a little man in little things.

William McGeehan of the New York Herald Tribune

That remark requires further thought and analysis, but more relevant for this post is something written by William O. McGeehan in the New York Herald Tribune.  Apparently previously sarcastically critical of Ebbets supposed cheapness, upon his death, McGeehan wrote more positively ending one article by grouping Ebbets with Charles Dryden a long time sports writer, saying that if the "men who now have the game in their keeping can see it as the Squire of Flatbush and Charles Dryden saw it the game will be safe and worthy of their faith."  What's striking about this is the idea that sportswriters had an oversight responsibility to the game, similar to owners who have put their own money at risk.  Sportswriters have, of course, always been important to the game's development beginning with the work of William Cauldwell and Henry Chadwick, among others who promoted the game in the 1850's and 60's.  As professional ball grew during the late 19th century, sportswriters seem to have taken on an even more important role which probably reached its height in the Deadball Era especially after the 1903 peace agreement between the National League and the upstart American League.

New York and Boston sportswriters - Spalding Guide 1910

Once the structure of the two leagues was formalized (it didn't change for 50 years), major league baseball was played in just 10 cities dramatically limiting the number of people who saw big league game in person.  The existence of Sunday Blue Laws in the East along with the absence of night games further limited those who could actually see a game with their own eyes.  From that point until radio broadcasts became a norm, the men, and they were almost all men, who covered baseball for the daily newspapers were the eyes and ears of thousands of fans who had no other means of following the game they loved.  Unlike today with multiple and growing means of accessing game information, writers needed to give their readers far more detailed accounts of the play by play which today's writers rightly assume their readers already know.  This broad responsibility to their readers expanded to include a sort of watch dog role as well and I think it's on that basis that William McGeehan lumped one of his colleagues, and by implication himself and the other writers into a kind of governance role which while not equal to the owners, was important in its own right.

Sports writers at 1913 World's Series at the Polo Grounds - typically Deadball Era writers sat in the first few rows of the upper deck, not in a separate press box

What really brought all this to mind is finalizing (I hope) my contribution to a forthcoming SABR Deadball Committee publication on the World's Series (that's how it was written) of that era.  The book should be published sometime in 2017 and promises to be excellent because of both the extensive number of pictures available from that time and the quality of the content.  I can confidently say that about the content because even though I've contributed two chapters, no one will be reading my words.  In designing this project, the two editors, Tom Simon and Steve Steinberg had the inspired idea to follow in the footsteps of one of the most noteworthy baseball books ever published - G. H. Fleming's The Unforgettable Season, the first book length treatment of the mythical 1908 National League pennant race.  In putting the book together, Fleming chose to tell the story not in his own words, but those of the contemporary sportswriters who actually watched that controversial chase for the National League flag.  The World's Series book will follow the same format, drawing on the writings of the contemporary sports writers with just brief passages setting context and background.

Unidentified Group of Sportswriters 

When the project was first announced Paul Zinn and I volunteered for the 1916 World's Series, since, after all, we wrote the book - The Major League Pennant Races of 1916.  A year or so later when I heard other series were still available, I signed up for the most famous or infamous series not just of that time, but of all time, the 1919 Black Sox event.  I did so because I wanted to see to what extent the experts of the day who watched the events unfold in real time had any sense that something was amiss.  My selections from the contemporary accounts focus, therefore, on the controversial plays and the scribes' opinions and it's probably best to wait for the book to come out so everyone can draw their own conclusions about what the writers' thought or at least what they were willing to put in writing.  The point for this post, however, is to suggest that this is an aspect of the Deadball Era that needs more attention, questions like "Who were these guys?"  "What did they do and how did they do it?" and especially how effectively did they carry out their watchdog role on the major events of the era - the coming of the American League, the birth of the World's Series, the 1908 Pennant Race and, of course, the 1919 World's Series.  I know the 19th century SABR committee plans to address the sportswriters of that period - it feels to me at least that a similar effort is needed for the Deadball Era.