Thursday, December 21, 2017

Do Base Ball Players Ever Go to Heaven?

 Readers of the August 28, 1873 edition of the Paterson Daily Guardian must have been a more than a little taken aback when they saw the headline "Is it possible for the member of a base ball nine to inherit the kingdom of heaven?"  The not entirely rhetorical question was raised in the wake of the Reverend S. Miller Hageman's appearance at the Auburn Street Congregational Church's weekly prayer meeting.  The 25 year old grandson of Samuel Miller, one of the founders of Princeton Theological Seminary, chose the occasion to respond to charges of conduct unbecoming a minister including "that he played base ball."  While Hageman said he would have stopped if told, "it was undignified or unbecoming to a minister of the Gospel" to play base ball, he made no apologies, claiming he done nothing on the ball field "of which he was ashamed."  The young pastor went on to defend himself against other charges including incurring debts he hadn't paid which turned out to be the real issue.  Hageman ended his response by announcing his resignation from the pulpit, but demanded a council of clergy investigate the charges so he could clear his name.

Parable of the 10 Virgins by William Blake 

Although the hearing before the clergy group focused on the debt issue, including bouncing checks at Paterson banks, base ball was still on the agenda.  Clearly not tired of the base ball theme, the Guardian headlined its account by proclaiming Hageman "put out at third base, and now in the field."  The paper claimed the discussion was so intense the body moved behind closed doors for "lively arguments" focused "on the ethics and morality of ball playing."  It's not clear how the Guardian knew what was going on in a closed session, but the paper reported the problem was not Hageman's ball playing, but the "odium brought upon the church by the report their pastor had swore a swear while playing ball."  The very idea!  Even if this vicious rumor was true, Hageman was not without his defenders, one of whom complained that those taking exception didn't explain "how a man was going to avoid swearing when his knuckle was knocked out of joint by a hot ball from the bat." It's a sentiment many vintage base ball players can identify with.  In the end, the council took no action which was probably fortunate for the young former pastor who skipped town, taking with him his library even though the books had been attached for payments of his debts.

Mike "King" Kelly

While it's doubtful most people in Paterson in 1873 found base ball morally objectionable, the game's popularity had clearly waned from where it stood in the years immediately after the Civil War.  In 1869, the Paterson Daily Press claimed all the focus on base ball was hurting business and whether for that or other reasons, the Olympic Club, the city's leading team stopped playing and organized play seems to have dropped off dramatically.  A year after the Hageman controversy, however, the Olympic Club was resurrected, sparking renewed interest in base ball that never abated.   From 1874 to 1876 four future major league players, Edward "The Only" Nolan, William "Blondie" Purcell, Jim McCormick and Hall of Famer, Mike "King" Kelly played for the Olympics, a first step on their way to fame and glory.  Not only were the four good ball players, they were more than a little rambunctious or in more genteel terms "colorful."  While Hageman was gone by then, had he been on the same nine with that group of ball players, church leaders would not have been pleased to see their pastor cavorting with them, especially if it extended to off the field activities.

Samuel Miller - Hageman's grandfather

There's no disputing Kelly was the best player of the four, but considering Nolan's nickname, there's room for debate about who was the most colorful.  But let's stick with Kelly, for those who need it, information about his career on and off the field can be found in Marty Appel's biography or more briefly at  Like the future Hall of Fame player, Rev. Hageman was no slacker when it came to being colorful. In fact, it could be argued he was the "King" Kelly of Brooklyn clergy where he spent the rest of his ministry after leaving Paterson.  Like Kelly, Hageman was very talented, so talented, he excelled not just at preaching where he could hold an audience's attention for inordinate amounts of time, but also as a poet and a musician.  While some of Hageman's literary work were more than a little out of the ordinary, his poem, "Liberty," written for the dedication of the Statue of Liberty was praised by John Greenleaf Whittier, no mean poet himself.

A sample of Hageman's poetry - Brooklyn Daily Eagle - June 19, 1905

Talented as he was, however, Hageman, like Kelly, also had a special gift for getting intp trouble.  Hageman left the Presbyterian church because he was unwilling to accept  the doctrine of pre-destination and then went on to successfully start a number of  non-denominational congregations in Brooklyn only to see them blow up in his face.  Just one example was the Miller Memorial Church which Hageman founded in 1883, literally helping to build the church building itself. Two years later, however, when the congregation sought denominational membership within the structure of the Congregational Church, the church body accepted the congregation, but not Hageman for reasons that weren't disclosed publicly but seemed to relate to one of his literary works, "Alone."  Based on the below summary the decision isn't very surprising.  At least in this case, Hageman, unlike future endeavors, wasn't at war with his congregation, the most dramatic being an 1894 incident where only a police presence prevented a riot.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - October 9, 1887

 Unfortunately I haven't found a picture of Rev. Hageman, but over the years, the Eagle painted a pretty vivid word picture. Only a year after leaving Paterson, the paper said Hageman "looks very much like an actor," probably not a compliment for a minister,  with "long flowing dark hair" and "a brilliantly flashing black eye."  Thirteen years later in 1887, he now had two "glittering black eyes," between "intensely black hair" and an equally "intense" mustache.  Perhaps explaining Hageman's penchant for controversy, the paper claimed Hageman "looks upon critics as a deadly enemy."  With regard to the minister's literary ambitions, the Eagle felt that "something has put it in his head he is the successor of Edward Allan Poe" and was trying to outdo "that weird genius in the presentation of literary grotesqueness."   Hageman made his final effort at ecclesiastical empire building in May of 1897 when he had female members of his congregation act out the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) to encourage the governing body to think of him as their Messiah or at least  worthy of "some salary."  No record of such payment survives and Hageman died in 1905 eulogized by the Eagle as a talented jack of all trades, who spread himself too thin to be effective at one  One thing is for sure, in the 19th century, base ball wasn't the only profession with its share of eccentric characters.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A National Game?

Can a sport be national when it's only played regionally?  The New York Clipper obviously thought so in 1856 when it claimed base ball was the national game, even though, as Bruce Allardice points out in Baseball: A Journal of the Early Game (2016), it was played in just four states.  In his study of the spread of the early game, Bruce demonstrates that base ball could only be considered national in the sense of  being "invented in America," not as a game "played throughout the nation."  Sadly, for those who care about such things, we now know that baseball wasn't invented in the United States, ruling out that possibility.  In a country, however, founded on the premise of equal opportunity, base ball might have been national, if it was a game consistent with American values, a game everyone could play. Research for the 2018 Morven exhibit on early New Jersey base ball led me to one New Jersey community where shortly after the Civil War it seemed everyone was on the ball field.  And to my surprise, the community was not in north Jersey where base ball first took hold, but Bordentown in south Jersey, where the organized game didn't get started until the mid 1860's.

Described by the local historical society as "a square mile enclave tucked on to the bluffs of the Delaware River," Bordentown was an early transportation hub due to its favorable location roughly halfway between Philadelphia and New York City.  The riverfront community was also home to prominent Americans like Clara Barton, Thomas Paine and Francis Hopkinson, a New Jersey signer of the Declaration of Independence.  For Bordentown, like anyplace else, the first step in becoming a base ball playing community was having a local team and the Columbia Club was organized about 1865.  A year later, the Columbians hosted the Athletic Club of Philadelphia, one of the country's top teams for two match games.  Although busy competing for the 1866 championship, the Athletics also found time to help local teams develop by visiting their home community for a game. Such contests were typically no contest, just one example is a 92-2 trouncing of the Alert Club of  Danville, Pennsylvania. As a vintage base ball score keeper, I'm profoundly grateful not to have been part of that game.  Although the Columbia club also lost badly to the Athletics in the first game, 65-6, the Bordentown boys weren't easily intimidated so they asked for, and were granted, a return match.  In the second contest, the Columbia Club scored 26 runs, more than any of their peers managed against the Athletics, but far short of the powerful Philadelphia team's 63 tallies.

The Sketch - July 22, 1896

Having a base ball club in 1866 was hardly unique, but organized base ball in Bordentown took other forms as well  A year later, the Newark Daily Advertiser told of a "considerable rivalry" between two local women's teams, the Bellevue and Galaxy ("accent on the Gal,") clubs.  Although the paper hoped to provide further reports, in typically maddening fashion for the modern researcher, no further contemporary mention of the teams has been found.  For once, however, it doesn't end there because more than 30 years later, one of the participants told her own story.  In Autobiography of a Tomboy, published in 1901, Jeannette Gilder described in some detail her base ball playing days in Bordentown.  Not only did she play, Gilder was a team captain and claimed it was not unusual for her to hit a home run every time at bat, bragging that was not just unmanly, but simultaneously unladylike, no mean feat.  Gilder claimed her sole regret was she didn't have a crooked finger to prove that like the boys she caught the ball without a glove.  Like any account written so many years later, the details of the story have to be taken with some degree of skepticism.  But Gilder cleared up one point - why a Newark paper devoted space to women's games in south Jersey.  Jeanette Gilder's elder brother, Richard Watson Gilder, the founder of The Century magazine and a distinguished poet, was a reporter for the Newark Daily Advertiser in 1867.

Charles Biddle Hopkinson 

Regardless of whether or not the two women's clubs played as extensively as Gilder claimed, they were still unique for the time.  But base ball in Bordentown had an even broader reach, perhaps best illustrated by a game played on Thanksgiving Day of 1866 on the Columbia Club's grounds.  Unfortunately, the contemporary Bordentown newspapers don't survive, but the game was such a "big" deal, in more ways than one, it attracted detailed coverage by the Daily True American of Trenton and The Mirror of nearby Mount Holly.  Labeled as "about as big a thing as we have had in New Jersey for many a day," the match was between teams chosen from the fat and lean men of Bordentown.  According to the True American , the game drew a crowd of at least 1200 since "gate receipts" of $112 were collected at the rate of 10 cents a head which the paper stressed was the minimum attendance since the ground was not enclosed and "hundreds could see without paying."  The festive atmosphere was further enhanced by a band of roughly 30 "musicians" about  one-half of whom had violins "of which they had very little knowledge."  So varied were the other instruments The Mirror claimed they ranged from "a Jews harp to a bass drum with the head stove in," all of which produced music, or more accurately noise, that "belched forth in operatic grandeur" especially whenever a run was tallied.

The Mirror - December 13,1866

Needless to say the "laughter was immense" or at least as large as the eleven heavyweights, all over 200 pounds, led or topped off by Joseph Regan at 268 with William Darby at 265 not far behind.  Supposedly all the players weighed in before the game and the papers thoughtfully provided the tonnage along with first names or initials facilitating the identification of some participants.  A number on the rotund side had no problem affording food and drink such as 236 pound tinsmith George Thompson who had an 1870 net worth of $50,000 while Levi Davis, the proprietor of the Bordentown House, weighing in at 252 pounds had assets of $38,000.  Whatever accounted for the slimness of the 12 man lightweight team (ranging from 98 to 145 pounds), it wasn't because they couldn't afford to buy food.  Especially well off was 128 pound David Carslake, a merchant with an 1870 net worth of almost $100,000.  Nor did the participants lack social prominence, particularly 108 pound Charles B. Hopkinson, the great grandson of  the aforementioned Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Sadly, as we shall see there was a reason, the 28 year old Civil War veteran was so thin.

 The Mirror - December 13, 1866

The game itself was remarkably close with the heavyweight side coming from behind to score seven times in the ninth inning and then holding on for a 24-18 victory.  The portly ones may not have been that tired because the organizers thoughtfully provided not only "sponges, pails of water, brushes and blankets," but chairs at each base, not to mention wheelbarrows to help them "run" the bases.  Manfully, however, the stout side "scorned their use."  The festivities continued after the last out with the presentation of a series of prizes, all of the gag nature such as a coral necklace which was in actuality a "rusty dog chain."  A number of the awards were further ridiculed as being from New Brunswick, part of some inter-city rivalry that has been lost to history which is probably just as well.  All the gate proceeds went to the Columbia Club which must have kept them in bats and balls for some time to come.

Daily True American - December 1, 1866

While making fun of the overweight is insensitive, especially by modern standards, games like this proved men across the full range of physical condition could both play base ball and have fun doing so.  This may have been doubly important for this group because considering their ages, its unlikely they played organized base ball in their youth.   Charles Hopkinson's story is particularly noteworthy.  The young man reportedly had a frail constitution, but when his country needed him, he served as a captain in the 9th New Jersey regiment.  While in the swamps of North Carolina, Hopkinson contracted typhoid fever that forced him to leave the army.  Supposedly he never fully recovered and died just four years after the Thanksgiving game at the age of 32.  But not before enjoying at least one day of fun and even glory on the base ball field, earning a clear score, the only one on his team to do so.  Hopefully he treasured his experience of playing in a truly American game for the rest of his brief life.

Monday, November 6, 2017

"It Might Have Been"

One of the many New Jersey base ball stories to be found in the upcoming Morven exhibit is how, beginning in 1865, three teams from the state tried unsuccessfully, to earn a position among the leading clubs of the day.  Each of the teams, the Eureka Club of Newark, the Irvington Club and the Elizabeth Resolutes have different stories, but were unsuccessful for basically the same reason.  Founded in 1860, the Eureka Club was made up of well to do young men from some of Newark's first families.  Edward Pennington, for example, the club's first president and regular second base man, was the son of one New Jersey governor and the grandson of another.  However, the Newark players weren't just socially prominent, they could also play the game.  In 1865, the Eureka twice came within one heart breaking run of defeating the champion Atlantic Club and then a year later, thrashed the Brooklyn team 36-10, one of the worst defeats in that storied team's history.  But no matter how bright the Eureka's future might have appeared after that historic victory, by the end of the 1868 season, the Eureka were no more.  The club folded primarily because their best players could no longer give enough time to base ball and the club couldn't or wouldn't pay the new breed of professionals to take their place.

No one could have mistaken the working class Irvington Club for the Eureka, but the upstart team from the outskirts of Newark certainly didn't lack for talent.  As is well known in 19th century base ball circles, in June of 1866, the self-described "country club," upset the Atlantics and came very close to knocking the Brooklyn club out of the championship race at the very end of that chaotic season.  So talented was the Irvington team, two members, Andy Leonard and Charles Sweasy went on to successful professional careers including playing for the legendary 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.  The Irvington Club's problem was they couldn't afford to keep their top players and weren't able to sustain their early success.  Eventually the team's best remaining players moved to the Elizabeth Resolutes and were part of the Union County club's ill-advised attempt to compete in the National Association in 1873.  Since the Resolutes were a cooperative club, the players' salaries were dependent on gate receipts, if any, which meant the club couldn't compete with other Association teams for the best players.  Ultimately, all three clubs were unsuccessful largely because they lacked what today are euphemistically called financial resources, but in plain English means money or the lack thereof.

Were the three failures to put a club at the top, inevitable or could a different approach have produced a different result?  Could a New Jersey team have made it to the heights of the base ball world and stayed there?  In 1867, there was a chance to create a very talented club with plenty of money behind it,  and then, who knows?  Unfortunately, however, when the opportunity first presented itself, the Eureka and Irvington Clubs were too strong, or thought themselves too strong, to believe they needed each other.  Neither club could be blamed for being optimistic going into the 1867 season. Irvington had shocked the base ball world in 1866 and with a year of experience play at the highest level under their collective belts, they had every reason to believe their success would continue.   And the Eureka's 1866 performance also gave them plenty of reason to be optimistic about their future.

Before the season was very far along, however, the Newark Daily Journal caused "no little excitement" by reporting talk that Andy Leonard and Lipman Pike (a great 19th century player who played briefly with Irvington) were about to defect to the Eureka Club.  The rumors had been denied, but the paper went on to a far more important bit of speculation with possible historic implications.  According to the Journal, discussions were underway to combine the two clubs or, rather absorb the Irvington players on to the Eureka team. Perhaps a tad optimistically, the paper said the new club "would render it almost certain for New Jersey to carry off the championship of the United States."  Rose colored glasses indeed, but the combined roster would have included three future major leaguers (Sweasy, Leonard and Everett Mills) plus some other fine players.  In addition, the Eureka had far better and more accessible grounds and were highly regarded by the media and the base ball world.  Obviously, nothing came of it and it's impossible to know how serious the discussions were.  The sharp disparity in the social backgrounds of the two clubs alone might have made the possibility unworkable.

Charles Sweasy

Even if, however, the two clubs formed one "dream" team, there was still the risk those players would be lured away for higher salaries, but ironically that same season, a possible solution to that problem arose.  Earlier in 1867, the New Jersey State Legislature granted the Eureka permission to incorporate as a stock company, that is, they were authorized to sell stock to investors.  Interestingly, the authorization was for $50,000 worth of stock (about $1.5 million today), an incredibly high amount even by contemporary standards considering that in 1883, the team that would become the Brooklyn Dodgers had initial capitalization of only $2,000.  Little else was reported publicly about the stock sales until August, when the Eureka hosted the Charter Oak Club of Connecticut for a match, followed by a tour of the city and a gala dinner.  A day or so later, the Newark Evening Courier, in what was basically an editorial, said the Eureka would like to host other clubs in a similar manner, but didn't have enough money because they lacked an enclosed ground where they could charge admission.  The paper then emphasized how much free advertising the club provided for Newark businesses which alone should have been sufficient motivation for local business men to buy some of the stock.

Everett Mills 

Doubtless the Eureka needed money, but it wasn't for gala dinners, rather, it was to pay players which was against National Association of Base Ball Player rules and certainly wasn't going to be publicly mentioned by the paper.  To take irony to another level, the Eureka didn't even have to look far to find investors with big bank accounts.  Charles Thomas, the club's highly regarded shortstop had an 1870 net worth of $30,000 ($900,000 today) while Stephen Plum's father's total assets that same year were $160,000 ($4.8 million today).  They and others could have purchased a few shares and perhaps they did.  It either wasn't enough or the Eureka decided paying professionals wasn't their style, something they later admitted they had done in 1867 and were unwilling to continue.  But had both the players and the money been forthcoming, would it have made a difference?  The best answer is probably not.  New Jersey was then and remains today so oriented towards two major league cities, it's unlikely a top level club in Newark could have been sustained over the long term.  But it would have been fun to have tested the possibility.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Not Quite There

On Sunday, October 15, the Neshanock closed out the 2017 base ball campaign with a visit to Fort DuPont State Park in Delaware for matches with the host Diamond State Club of Delaware and the Mohican Base Ball Club of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.  First up was a match with the Diamond State Club which saw Flemington get off to a 3-1 lead in the first inning, but the Delaware team quickly matched that and led 6-3 after three innings.  Both teams added three runs so that after five innings Diamond State led 9-6 in what was still a close contest.  However, in the top of the sixth, Diamond State's strikers came through with some clutch two out hits driving in three runs for what proved to be an insurmountable 12-6 lead.  The final score was 15-9 with Flemington's offense led by Dan "Lefty" Gallagher with three hits and the Neshanock's father and son act, Chris "Sideshow" Nunn and his father, "Jersey" Jim Nunn chipping in two apiece.  Rene "Mango" Marrero also contributed two hits for Flemington including a double with the bases loaded.

After a brief respite, the second contest against the Kennett Square squad got underway.  Once again, the Neshanock had a productive first inning, tallying twice, but that was the extent of Flemington's offense for the seven inning match.  This was the first time, I've seen the Mohican Club and they combined well placed, strategic hitting with sound defense and pitching.  Not only were the Neshanock limited to two runs, but Flemington's bats only produced five hits, two coming from "Lefty."  With the two losses, the Neshanock record fell to 29-13 for the season, coming up just short of an unprecedented 30 wins.  Still the 2017 team set a new club record for wins, four more than the 2016 squad with a .690 winning percentage compared to .658 a year ago.  All told a very successful year highlighted by wins over the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn, the Talboy Fairplays and the Walker Tavern Wheels plus the retention once again of the New York - New Jersey cup.

Expressions of thanks have to begin with a tip of the hat to club founder and president, Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw for everything he does to put together a schedule approaching 50 games and making all the necessary arrangements.  A major reason for the improved records of the past two years has been an influx of new blood, especially younger talent.   The Neshanock roster now ranges from high school students to those around the scriptural three score ten.  Thanks to everyone who played regardless of whether it was one match or 42. Although he's not on the roster, thanks are also due to Sam Bernstein who umpires many of the Neshanock's matches, it's a pleasure to work with Sam.  As always, it's essential to thank the spouses, partners and significant others who support the team in so many ways.  In addition the off the field supporters has been expanded to include parents who drive their teenage sons all over the East Coast as well as some of the players' young children who bring a new and enjoyable presence to the season.  Thanks to all.

With the end of the 2017 season, A Manly Pastime reverts to its off season schedule with a goal of posting something every two weeks.  I say goal because as with last year, there may be a need for some type of sabbatical between now and next season.  When I took a sabbatical last year to finish my biography of Charles Ebbets, scheduled to be published in early 2018, I thought there would be no need for further breaks from blogging.  However, even before I finished the Ebbets biography, I fell into the opportunity to write a book about early New Jersey base ball which will be the companion to the exhibit scheduled to open in June of 2018 at the Morven Museum in Princeton.  I'm not sure if a sabbatical will be necessary this time especially since I'd like to use the blog to preview some parts of the book and the exhibit so we'll see.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Almost There, but a Long Way to Go

On Sunday, the first day of October, nine Neshanock players, one slightly disabled club president, a rapidly aging score keeper and the always supportive group of spouses, parents, significant others and children traveled to Garret Mountain Reservation in Woodland Park as the club continues its pursuit of an unprecedented 30 win season.  The opposition was provided by a Picked Nine, consisting primarily of Gothams with a Hoboken, a Resolute and assorted muffins mixed in for good measure.  Last week in Monroe Township, the second was the big inning for the Neshanock, but this time it was the third when Flemington tallied ten times for the most part with two out.  The Neshanock lead expanded to 16-3 at one point, but the Picked Nine scored five in the sixth and four in the seventh in a seven inning game as Flemington held on for a 17-12 win.  Three innings of the second game was played before the depleted ranks of the Picked Nine made it impossible to continue, the Nine were ahead at the time, but three innings did not qualify for an official game.

In the first game, the Flemington offense was led by Dan "Lefty" Gallagher, Dave "Illinois" Harris and Jeff "Duke" Schneider with four hits apiece.  "Illinois" and "Duke" would have earned clear scores but for being put out on the bases.  Danny "Lunch Time" Shaw and Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner added three hits each and everyone in the Neshanock line up had at least one hit.  The defensive play of the game came in the top of the first when a runner from the Picked Nine tried to score on what would have been a sacrifice fly only to be cut down by a remarkable throw from "Lefty" which even more remarkably, Ken "Tumbles" Mandel snagged on the fly.  The victory left Flemington's record at 29-11 for the season, but more importantly still one victory shy of the coveted 30 win mark.  The Neshanock's final chance at reaching the big 30, will take place on Sunday, October 15th at Fort Dupont Delaware when Flemington will play two of the following fine clubs - the Diamond State of Delaware, Lewes, Delaware and Kennett Square.  No matter the opposition, it will be a big challenge. Stay tuned or better still join the Neshanock as we bring down the curtain on the 2017 season.

As part of working on the book about early New Jersey base ball which will accompany the 2018 exhibit at the Morven Museum in Princeton, I've been going through multiple years of articles in the sporting papers of the day.  Recently I found the below article in the September 30, 1876 issue of the New York Clipper describing an unusual game where the New Haven nine played two other nines, the Star and Gerard Clubs simultaneously.  In other words, the combined team batted 18 players and also had the same number in the field.  A quick search didn't provide any further information about this game, but batting more than nine is similar to vintage base ball where in respect for those who give their time everyone gets to hit.  It doesn't usually reach 18, but I can remember at least one occasion when the Neshanock had a line up of that number which needless to say didn't work very well as the best hitters get less chances at the striker's line.  That may explain the Star and Gerard Club's limited offensive output of three tallies, but it's hard to understand how New Haven managed to get nine runs even with restricted roles for the multiple fielders.  Maybe the fielders got in each others way!

New York Clipper - September 30, 1876

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The New York game comes to south Jersey (with some help from Philadelphia)

Having suffered three straight losses, the Neshanock were more than ready to get back on the winning side of the ledger when they visited the Dey Farm in Monroe Township for the annual matches with the Athletic Club of Philadelphia.  While there didn't appear to be any gamblers present, anyone who took the Neshanock in the second inning would have well rewarded as Flemington tallied nine times in the second inning of the first contest and then topped that by scoring 11 times in their second at bat in the second game.  Both big innings got Flemington started on what turned out be easy victories.  Leading the Neshanock attack in the first game was Dan "Sledge" Hammer who had four hits and a clear score.  Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner also had four base hits with Dan "Lefty" Gallagher, Dave "Illinois" Harris and "Jersey" Jim Nunn adding three apiece.  In the second contest, "Sledge" added another clear score while Chris "Sideshow" Nunn, "Lefty," "Illinois," Jeff "Duke" Schneider and Meshack "Shack" Desane added four each followed by Ken "Tumbles" Mandel and Scott "Snuffy" Hengst with three apiece.  As usual Bobby "Melky" Ritter delivered a strong pitching performance aided by a solid defense behind him.  With the two wins, the Neshanock are now 28-11 for the season, heading into two games next Sunday against the Gotham Club of New York at Garret Mountain in Woodland Park.

"Illinois" at the striker's line

Back in August when Flemington played the Providence and Boston clubs at Old Bethpage, I described it as playing 19th century base ball royalty.  The same could be said of the Athletic Club of Philadelphia which was one of the power house teams in the years immediately after the Civil War and it turns out the Philadelphia team also contributed to the spread of the New York game into south Jersey.  Other than the Camden Club, which played Philadelphia town ball through 1863, I haven't found any New Jersey newspaper accounts of base ball clubs south of Trenton until after the Civil War.  There is, however, evidence that one south Jersey community had a club during the war years.  Early in the 1864 season, as part of the Great Central Fair in Philadelphia, a picked nine from New Jersey played, and defeated, a similar squad from the City of Brotherly Love.  Included in the New Jersey lineup was Baird, representing the Bridgeton Club, the county seat of Cumberland County in extreme southern New Jersey.  I need to look again, but I'm fairly sure that the Bridgeton papers from 1863 make no mention of such a team.  It wasn't until I was looking for something else in the Philadelphia City Item (courtesy of Richard Hershberger) that I found an account of the founding of the Bridgeton club.  Falling down a metaphorical rabbit hole is a fairly common occurrence for 19th century base ball researchers.

According to the September 23, 1863 issue of the Item, Franklin Westcott, and others were in the process of organizing a base ball club in Bridgeton.  Westcott, it turns out was a prominent local lawyer, very active in Republican politics and an outspoken supporter of the Lincoln administration.  He graduated from Princeton in 1858, a time when according to Frank Presbrey's 1901 history of athletics at what was then called the College of New Jersey, "base ball clubs of all descriptions were organized on the back campus" which may have been Westcott's introduction to the game.  Just about six weeks after the September article, the November 4, 1863 issue of the Item reported on a visit paid to Bridgeton by the Athletics Club.  Founded as a town ball club in 1859, the Athletics had converted to the New York game and 1863 marked the beginning of the club's climb to a prominent role in base ball circles.  The Athletics' visit to Bridgeton was their second trip that year to take on a less experienced club, in September they journeyed all the way to Altoona where they pounded the Mountain Club 73 to 22.   Trips of this nature would become the norm for the Philadelphians in the 1860's where they would visit and overwhelm local clubs who apparently enjoyed the experience.

Frank Westcott's grave, he died in 1875, only 36 years old

While I'm not completely familiar with the nature of these other visits, the trip to Bridgeton on Tuesday, November 2nd seems to have taken a somewhat unique format.  After arriving in the south Jersey village, the two clubs played two games, first a game between the two teams and then a second contest where the two clubs divided into teams with five players from the Athletics on one squad with the remaining four joining five members of the Bridgeton Club on the other team.  It's safe to say the Athletics won the first contest, although no score or box score is provided which was also the case for the second contest.  After enjoying the local hospitality for the night, the two teams played another game the next morning, again without any score being reported in the paper.  The Athletics then enjoyed one more meal with their hosts before returning to Philadelphia.  While little or no details were provided about the matches, far more information was provided about the off the field activities.

President of the Athletics and Publisher of the City Item

When the first two games were over both clubs adjourned to the Bridgeton Hotel for dinner featuring a speech by the honorable John T. Nixon, like Westcott a prominent local lawyer and a leader of the Republican Party.  Once that speech was complete, the players went to the Union meeting hall at the town hall where Thomas Fitzgerald, president of the Athletics and publisher of the Item "spoke upon the issues of the day" for 90 minutes to a crowd of 500-600 people.  Not surprisingly his paper reported that "Mr. Fitzgeral's justification of the leading measures of the administration was most heartily endorsed by the intelligent and loyal citizens of Bridgeton."  Fitzgerald, needless to say, was also a Republican noted for his progressive views on racial issues.  It feels at some level, like the visit was as much about politics as base ball.  Perhaps the idea was to help the local Republicans solidify their position as the country headed into a presidential election year where the outlook was not at all favorable to the Republicans.  It couldn't have hurt as the Lincoln carried Cumberland County 2669 - 2032, a result the Camden Democrat claimed was due to the "corrupting influence of Philadelphia." Be that as it may and regardless of whether the game was a side benefit to political machinations, base ball had arrived in south Jersey to stay.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Satisfaction to All

Unfortunately I was again unable to make this week's Neshanock game, a visit to South Orange, New Jersey to take on the local town team.  Multiple sources confirm that Flemington held the lead going to the top of the ninth, but the host club rallied for three runs and a two run lead headed to the bottom of the inning.  As they have all season, the Neshanock rallied, scoring once and putting the tying run on third, but this time it was not to be and the South Orange club held on for a 13-12 win.  A lone source informs me the Flemington attack was led by Bobby "Melky" Ritter, Dan "Lefty" Gallagher and David "Illinois" Harris with three hits apiece.  According to the same source, "Illinois" parleyed his three hits into a clear score and also stole six bases, three times when his wily base running skills forced the opposing pitcher into a balk or at least that's what I'm told.  But who could possibly question the veracity of a gentlemanly 19th century base ball player, even a 21st century re-creator. 

Photo courtesy of Karen Marlowe's Facebook Page

Just one example of base ball's gentlemanly is past is how detailed newspaper accounts of matches invariably ended with the phrase "the umpire's decisions gave satisfaction to all" or words to that effect.  It was apparently a standard formula to emphasize base ball's gentlemanly nature even in the heat of competition.  While that was probably to some extent wishful thinking even then, by the beginning of the post Civil War era, winning became the priority with little being done to disguise that reality.  The below exchange in a Jersey City newspaper in 1866, between what were most likely junior clubs, illustrates the changing nature of the game and the extent to which those disputes became public.

American Standard (Jersey City) - July 14, 1860

American Standard - July 16, 1866

This was clearly not unique to the Orion and Aetna clubs since a similar dispute between the Una and National clubs later in the season, led the paper to wisely opt out of another dispute.

American Standard - September 26, 1866

By the end of the 1860's, not only was the "satisfaction to all" attitude gone forever, it had been replaced by actual public criticism of the umpires, one of whom was unwilling to take such criticism without a response.

Daily Times (Jersey City) - July 30, 1869

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Faces in the Base Ball Crowd

Returning to the base ball wars after taking the Labor Day weekend off, the Neshanock saw their winning ways come to an end, losing both games to another fine vintage club, the Eckford, by scores of 17-10 and 11-9.   With the twin losses, the Neshanock's overall record falls to 26-10.  Unfortunately I wasn't at the games so  I have no more information beyond the scores.  With five scheduled games remaining Flemington still has a shot at 30 wins, but there's little margin for error.

In lieu of any additional game information, I've posted below some New York Clipper drawings of some important 19th century New Jersey base ball players. They and some of their peers will be part of the early New Jersey base ball exhibit opening at the Morven Museum in Princeton in June of 2018.

New York Clipper - July 26, 1879

Andy Jackson Leonard was part of the Irvington Club's historic upset of the Brooklyn Atlantics in June of 1866.  Heading west a few years later, he played on the famous Cincinnati Red Stocking Club in 1869 and enjoyed a distinguished major league career.  Coincidentally, the Grave Marker project of SABR's 19th century committee, led by Ralph Carhart dedicated a new monument to Leonard at his grave in Massachusetts on Saturday.

New York Clipper - May 29, 1880

Although the above article incorrectly lists Paterson as Mike "King" Kelly's birthplace, the future Hall of Famer did begin in his base ball career in what was some times known as the "Cataract City."  Called professional base ball's first matinee idol, Kelly had a life time .300 average over 16 major league seasons before dying young at the age of 37.  

New York Clipper - June 7, 1879

New to me is this south Jersey product who played in the major leagues for 13 seasons, hitting .299 with Buffalo, Detroit and Boston among others.

New York Clipper - September 27, 1879

Less prominent than the above threesome, John Farrow played for Brooklyn's first major league team in 1884 after being part of two National Association clubs, including the the ill-fated 1873 Elizabeth Resolutes.  

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Short Handed but Not Short Changed

About the only thing consistent in vintage base ball player attendance, is it's inconsistency, a problem that also sometimes plagued 19th century clubs.  Last Saturday for example, it looked like the Neshanock would have enough players for two teams, allowing perhaps for a two platoon system.  This Saturday, however, on a gorgeous day at an attractive venue (Rahway River Park), Flemington could muster only six players to take on the Elizabeth Resolutes, New Jersey's senior vintage club in years of service and the Neshanock's long time rival.  Fortunately, as was probably the case in the 19th century, other players were on hand, including Steve Dienes and Mike Ohlson, who gracefully stepped into the Flemington lineup and made major contributions in the field and at the striker's line.

Having unaccountably lost the bat toss, the Neshanock hit first and were retired without a tally which was followed by the Resolutes scoring twice for an early 2-0 lead.  Flemington then did to the Resolutes what other teams typically do to the Neshanock (or what the Neshanock usually does to itself) scoring four times after there were two outs and nobody on.  Elizabeth quickly returned the favor, however, tallying three times after there were again two out and none on.  Flemington tied the game in the top of the third and matters were even at 3-3 when the Neshanock batted in the fourth.  Keyed by Dan "Lefty" Gallagher's first vintage home run, a three run shot, Flemington scored seven times for a 12-5 lead.  Although the Neshanock added one more in the fifth, Elizabeth countered with two in their half to pull within seven at 13-6.  Neither team scored in the seventh, but Flemington added four in the top of the eighth for a commanding 17-7 lead with a final count of 17-10.

The Flemington offense was led by Joe "Mick" Murray with four hits, a total also matched by Steve who regularly plays for the Monmouth Furnace Club.  Mike, the Neshanock's other guest player contributed three hits, followed by Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw, Danny "Lunch Time" Shaw, Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Bobby "Melky" Ritter with two apiece.  "Brooklyn" and "Melky" shared the pitching duties, rotating to first base and based on their performance at that position, the regular Neshanock first base men would be well advised to remember Wally Pipp.  With the win, Flemington is now 26-8 on the season, setting a record for most wins in a season.  After taking Labor Day weekend off, the Neshanock have seven matches left on the schedule and the opportunity to reach the 30 win mark for the first time in the club's history.  Stay tuned.

Playing the Resolutes was appropriate since my work on my book on early New Jersey base ball is now focused on the post Civil War period, specifically 1865-1880.  Based on prior research, I thought there were two major themes for the period, the spread of the game throughout the rest of the state and the efforts of New Jersey clubs to play at the game's highest levels.  In the second half of the 1860's, two New Jersey teams, the Eureka Club of Newark and the Irvington Club competed against the country's best, but fell short, sometimes heartrendingly short.  The last club to take up the state's banner was the Elizabeth Resolutes, but they were also unsuccessful, marking the last time in the 19th century a New Jersey club tried for national prominence.  In reading through the New York Clipper and the New York Sunday Mercury, I've realized there was another trend that I missed.  As national prominence became less viable, success at the state level became more important, sparking the beginning of local rivalries within New Jersey.  I need to look at the state championship competition more closely, but the Resolutes were state champions in 1870 and, I believe, runners up to the Champion Club of Jersey City in 1871.  Again, stay tuned.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Playing Uphill

Photo by Mark Granieri

On October 21, 1805, moments before the British navy attacked the combined French and Spanish fleets off Cape Trafalgar in what would become one of the most decisive victories in naval history, British Commander, Horatio Lord Nelson tried to inspire his men with these deathless words  - "England expects every man to do his duty."  For the Flemington Neshanock, on their way Saturday to Harleysville, Pennsylvania for two games with the Brandywine Club, the modern equivalent was an email from vacationing club president, Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw advising the club to "BE SPLENDIFEROUS."  It's doubtful those words will live in history, but every bit of encouragement helped in what proved to be two close tense matches with the Pennsylvania club.  The games were played as part of the annual Heckerfest which wasn't, as some might think, the Neshanock's weekly verbal treatment of Ken "Tumbles" Mandel, but rather demonstrations of colonial crafts connected to the nearby Heckler Farmstead.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Striking second, Flemington recorded single tallies in the first and third inning plus two in the fifth for a 4-1 lead, but Brandywine matched that with three in the sixth and the game was tied 4-4 after seven.  After the Pennsylvanias took a 5-4 lead in the top of the 8th, the Neshanock knotted the game one final time in the bottom of the inning.  In the top of the 9th, however, Brandywine tallied twice so that Flemington trailed by two headed into their last at bat.  After "Jersey" Jim Nunn reached on an error, Joe "Mick" Murray contributed a clutch single getting the tying runs on base, but two Neshanock were retired without either run crossing the plate.  Flemington's last chance belonged to Terry Crumlish, a muffin in his first vintage match and the newcomer didn't disappoint with a ringing double to tie the game, bringing Joe "Irish" Colduvell to the striker's line with chance to win the game.  The Neshanock veteran also didn't disappoint delivering a clutch single to give Flemington an unlikely 8-7 win.  In addition to his clutch double, the "Muffin" had one other hit, joining Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Rene "Mango" Marrero with two hits apiece, "Mango" earning a clear score in the process.  Flemington's defense was helped by a trap ball play pulled by "Tumbles" himself plus the usual stout pitching of Bobby "Melky" Ritter and "Mango."

Photo by Mark Granieri

Unlike most Flemington games, the first match started almost on time, punctuality that continued with a closely monitored break between games before the Neshanock batted to start the second contest.  Although still not generating a lot of offense, Flemington did lead 5-0 going to the bottom of the fourth, but Brandywine quickly countered with three of their own and another close contest developed.  Flemington failed to score in the last three innings, usually a recipe for defeat, but tight Neshanock defense kept Brandywine at bay, leading to another hard fought victory, this time by a 7-5 count, a game that took just 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Flemington's limited offense was led by Dave "Illinois" Harris and Dan "Sledge" Hammer, both of whom had two hits while earning clear scores.  "Sledge" also had a strong day at catcher, throwing out four would be base stealers in the two games.  Also of note was fine throw by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn to nail a Brandywine runner trying to score on a sacrifice fly.  With the two wins, the Neshanock's record is 25-8, tying the team's previous mark for victories, set a year ago.

The Neshanock congratulate Irish (center with mustache) after his game winning hit.
Photo by Mark Granieri

Since vintage base ball games are frequently played as part of events and/or at historic locations, the playing field is frequently something less than a well manicured, level greensward.  Such was the case Saturday where the games were basically played uphill, something the two clubs adapted to remarkably well.  Such conditions do however, have a certain amount of historical accuracy.  As noted previously, I'm working on a book on early New Jersey base ball that will be the companion volume to Morven Museum's 2018 exhibit on the same subject.  Currently, I've been revisiting the Irvington Club, a team, I've written about before, particularly how it seemingly came out of nowhere to upset the Brooklyn Atlantics in early 1866.  Apparently the Irvington Club's home field was so bad New Jersey's other prominent club, the Eureka refused to play at Irvington that same year.  By the 1867 season, the Irvington had a new field, but it was still far from ideal or even level since, according to the New York Sunday Mercury, runners "are liable to overrun first and second bases," a situation somewhat offset by having "up hill work in reaching third."  Even getting to the field was a challenge, forcing fans, reporters and others to walk "four miles to see a match, with the option of being sweated to suffocation in an over crowed car."  A home field advantage is one thing, but that's ridiculous.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Commuting to Connecticut

Almost 150 years ago, the Olympic Club of Paterson began their four game Connecticut road trip by taking a train from Paterson to Jersey City, a ferry to Manhattan, followed by a steam boat to Bridgeport.  Having finally gotten to the Nutmeg state, the young Patersonians boarded a train, a member of the party with the pen name, Olympus, called "the rudest cars and ruggedest railroad to be found anywhere."  Although the Neshanock also came to Connecticut for four matches, 150 years of advances in transportation allowed the trip to be made over two days rather than four.  Indeed given the relative proximity to northern New Jersey, the Zinns were actually able to commute both days.  Unlike the Olympics who began play in Waterbury, the Neshanock went no further west than the quaint village of Wethersfield for two matches at Cove Park with the Red Onion Club so named because the village was once a major exporter of the red onions.

After having, as per usual, won the bat toss, Flemington elected to strike second and retired the Red Onion strikers without incident in the top of the first.  In the bottom of the inning Renee "Mango" Marrero put the Neshanock on the tally board with a two run home run, but the lead was short lived when the local team tied the match in the top of the second.  The Neshanock were able to chip away and score five more times to lead 7-2 after five, but the pitching of Jeff "Pine Tar" Kornhaas and the stout Red Onion defense kept the game close and some timely hitting by their strikers in their half of the sixth made it a one run game at 7-6.  Flemington failed to respond in the bottom of the inning and the Red Onion added a tally to tie the game which is where matters stood when the Neshanock approached the striker's line in the bottom of the eighth.  Fortunately some clutch Flemington hitting put four tallies on the board and the Neshanock closed the game out for a hard fought 11-7 win.  Leading the Neshanock attack with three hits apiece were Jeff "Duke" Schneider, Dan "Lefty" Gallagher and Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner with "Thumbs" recording a clear score.

The first match may have seemed hard fought, but it was nothing compared to the second encounter which began with the Neshanock crossing the plate twice for an early 2-0 lead.  However, that was the last time any one from Flemington approached the plate from third base for six long innings.  Not only did the Red Onion, again led by "Pine Tar's" pitching and solid defense, keep the Neshanock off the board, only three Flemington players reached base.  Fortunately, Flemington's defense held the Red Onion relatively in check, but the Connecticut team still led 4-2 heading to the eighth inning.  Flemington got one back and the Neshanock held off the Red Onion in the bottom of the eighth setting the stage for one last Flemington chance.  With one out, Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw executed a fair-foul play getting his runner, Ken "Tumbles" Mandel to first and while the next batter was put out, "Tumbles" advanced to third.  Down to the last chance, "Duke" a hit well placed ball between the pitcher and third base.  Unfortunately "Duke" fell down right after leaving the striker's line, but he recovered and aided by a rare Red Onion miscue reached first, allowing the tying run to score.  Flemington held the Red Onion at bay in the bottom of the ninth before recording three tallies high lighted by a clutch two out hit by "Jersey" Jim Nunn.  It was far from easy, but the Neshanock held on for an even harder fought 7-6 10 inning victory.

According to "Olympus'" account of the Olympic Club's 1867 visit to Connecticut, the local teams hosted the Paterson boys for entertainment and relaxation at their club rooms.  The modern equivalent took place on Saturday night at a local restaurant, reportedly enjoyed by all.  Other members of the Neshanock party attended a minor league game in Hartford where they were confused by large leather objects the players on the field wore on their hands.  Sunday morning saw the Neshanock at Fort Trumbell State Park in New London for two seven inning matches against the Thames Base Ball Club.  In the first match, Flemington got on the scoreboard early and often, leading 12-0 after three innings on the way to a 17-0 victory.  A high point of the game was the defensive play of the trip.  The Thames club had a runner on second and one out when the third striker hit a hard line drive in the left center field gap.  Rushing over, "Lefty" got a hand on it, hitting it in the general direction of "Duke" who retired the striker on the bounce and then threw the ball to "Thumbs" whose throw to "Mango" nailed the Connecticut runner at the plate.  "Thumbs" and "Lefty" each contributed four hits to the Neshanock attack while "Duke," "Mango," Dave "Illinois" Harris and "Tumbles" added three apiece.  Also noteworthy was the striking of Adam "The Vic" Schneider who reached base twice including a single.

Amidst all of the Neshanock's offensive fireworks, we can't lose sight, or so he told me, of the fact that "Tumbles" three hits plus reaching once on a muff was a clear score.  Not only was it a clear score, but since he didn't score a tally on any of the four occasions, he's one of the few players, vintage and otherwise to have a clear and blank score in the same game.  Not resting on his first game heroics with the bat, "Tumbles" took to the pitcher's box for the second game which was close until the Neshanock broke it open in the last few innings for a 14-4 win.  "Lefty" and "Thumbs" both had four hits with "Thumbs" earning another clear score.   Even while pitching "Tumbles" didn't neglect the offensive side, getting two hits and also struck out two of the opposition's batters.  The Olympic's also played their last game in New London, after which they waited until 10:00 p.m. to take the steamboat "City of Boston" to New York an eight hour journey before finally arriving back in Paterson at 8:00 the next morning.  Not sure about the rest of the Neshanock's trip home, but my own was uneventful and not terribly long after an enjoyable weekend of games against worthy opposition.  With the weekend's results, Flemington is now 23-8 on the season only two short of last year's win total.  Next up are two matches with the Brandywine Club of Pennsylvania as part of the Hecklerfest in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, the Neshanock's final 2017 matches outside of New Jersey.