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.

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