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.