Sunday, April 23, 2017

"Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery"

Writing about opening day at Citi Field a few weeks ago, I commented that I really like the Mets ballpark once I get there, the problem is getting there.  My feelings about Old Bethpage Village, the birthplace of vintage base ball and home to the 2017 version of the New York - New Jersey Cup are very similar.  On the way there, the roughly 60 mile trip took a manageable hour and forty-five minutes, but the return took almost three hours due to broken down cars, construction and drivers who thought it appropriate to drive about 30 miles an hour in the center lane.  Within those travel challenges, however, base ball at Old Bethpage is almost always an enjoyable experience especially for the annual showdown between New Jersey and New York teams.  I'm not exactly sure when the competition began, but since 2013, the cup has become a resident of New Jersey, thanks to three Neshanock victories plus one timely rain out.  Both the format and the participants were changed for the 2017 event with the Monmouth Furnace Club a new entry on the New Jersey side and New York adding the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn, in my opinion, the country's top vintage club.

The Striker's Line

In past years, the two New Jersey clubs took on the New York teams with the cup going to the team with the best overall record.  This year, the opening games featured intra-state competition guaranteeing a New York - New Jersey final.  As a result, Flemington began the day playing the Monmouth Furnace Club, a relatively new vintage team playing out of Allaire State Park.  Monmouth went to the striker's line first, scoring one tally before the Neshanock responded with five to take a 5-1 lead.  After that, however, Flemington managed only one tally over the next five innings while Monmouth chipped away to close to 6-4 after six.  Finally mustering some offense, the Neshanock scored twice in the seventh, but the Furnace club was far from finished adding two runs to make it 8-6 with Flemington coming to bat.  Fortunately the Neshanock added two more insurance runs and shut out Monmouth in the ninth for a hard earned 10-6 win.  This was the first time I've seen Monmouth Furnace play in a few years and they've made real progress and should be a real test for any team they play the rest of the season.  Flemington's attack was led by Dan "Sledge" Hammer's three hits with Dave "Illinois" Harris and Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw contributing two apiece.  Joe "Mick" Murray earned his first clear score of the season albeit with some help from the defense.  Still a clear score, is a clear score and Henry Chadwick knew what he was doing in making reaching base a priority, no matter the means of arrival.

The Much Improved Monmouth Furnace Club 

No one on the Neshanock was surprised to learn the Atlantics had prevailed in the New York bracket so that to retain the cup, Flemington had to do something it had never done before, outscore the Brooklyn club.  The Atlantics were missing some of their top players, but the Neshanock were also not at full strength (thanks to Mike, Brick and A. J. for filling in).  Striking first, the Atlantics tallied once which the Neshanock matched and added one to lead 2-1 after one inning.  Pleas from the Neshanock bench to call the game because of rain, darkness or any reason fell on deaf ears.  Flemington's apprehension about what was going to happen proved well founded when the Atlantics started scoring while keeping Flemington off the scoreboard, making the score 7-2 after five innings.  At that point, however, things began to change, the pitching of Danny "King" Shaw and solid Neshanock defense shut out the Atlantics the rest of the way while Flemington added three runs to trail 7-5 going to the bottom of the ninth.  Jeff "Duke" Schneider led off with a single which was followed by some uncharacteristic Atlantic miscues and some well placed hits.  When the dust (or the mist) cleared, the score was tied, two were out and the winning run was on third, with  "Sledge" at the striker's line.  The situation called for a line drive which the Neshanock striker promptly delivered, setting off more than a little excitement on the Flemington bench.

Field before the championship game 

While everyone on the Neshanock is pleased to retain the cup for another year, we can be forgiven, I hope, for being at least as excited about our first victory ever over the Atlantics.  Thinking about it (especially during the traffic jams on the way home), there are many reasons the Atlantics are such a fine club.  Certainly they make a lot of outstanding plays both at bat and in the field, but what sets them apart in my mind is how seldom they make mistakes in the field and employ timely well placed hitting.  How do you beat a team like that you may ask?  By imitating them (the  highest form of flattery) through doing the same things they do so well - consistent play in the field and timely hitting.  That's exactly what the Neshanock did at Old Bethpage, making only two muffs over the course of the match and taking advantage of their offensive opportunities.  "King," "Sledge," "Illinois," "Snuffy," "Mick," and "Duke" each had two hits for Flemington.  All were important, but special notice should be paid to "Duke" who started two rallies including the winning ninth inning rally.  Equally noteworthy is holding the Atlantics to just two runs over the last six innings including shutting them out for the last four.   I want to make special mention of the Atlantics very gracious behavior in defeat - they set a high standard for all of us in vintage base ball both on and off the field.

Photo courtesy of the Atlantic Base Ball Club 

While the New York - New Jersey Cup is a relatively new event, head to head competition between New Jersey and New York clubs dates all the way back to 1855, the very first year young Jersey men formed their own base ball clubs.  In fact, not one, but two fledgling New Jersey clubs crossed both the Hudson and East Rivers that year to take on the Columbia Club of Brooklyn (then a separate city).  A very brief search turned up little information about the Brooklyn team, but both of the New Jersey clubs, the Olympic Club of Newark and the Pioneer Club of Jersey City are known to me and, to some extent, to the readers of this blog.  One of Newark's charter clubs, (first calling itself the Oriental Club) the Olympic Club had little real impact during its sole year of existence.  Although it was equally short lived, Jersey City's first club has an interesting story beginning with how they first played the game or more accurately the game they apparently played.

The Pioneer Club along with the Excelsior Club (Jersey City's second charter club) were founded within a few weeks of each other in the early summer of 1855 and fittingly played their first match games against each other.  Box scores and newspaper accounts of those games include 11 players on a side in high scoring matches that seem only to have lasted a few innings - clearly not reflecting complete compliance with the Knickerbocker rules.  There is at least some retrospective oral tradition of  a "base ball" club or clubs in Jersey City in the 1830's ( which may very well have played by different rules which the new 1855 vintage initially followed to some degree.  Whatever the differences, the Pioneer Club apparently realized the error of their ways and became true practitioners of the New York game by the time they began a best of three series with the Columbia Club in September.

The first match played in Brooklyn was a solid victory for the home team as the Columbia Club doubled up the Pioneer Club's run total in a 26-13 thumping.  Not long after that the Jersey City team played an inter-club match between the married and single men which was covered by a newspaper man who wasn't impressed the Pioneer's on the field prowess.  Claiming they "have much to learn," the writer pointed out the obvious but apparently not honored principle that "two or three of them should not try to catch the same ball."  Even more of a concern was the players' nicotine habit, not because of the long term health concerns, but because the Pioneers smoked not only while in the field, but also when at the striker's line.  Whether or not it was due to the public criticism in the media, the new Jersey City team quickly got their act together winning the return contest 27-12 and then dominating the conquering game on October 14th, winning 23-8 in a match played at the Putnam Club's grounds in east Brooklyn.

A. J. Bixby pitched for the Eagle Club in this September 8, 1857 match at Elysian Fields

The club's late 1855 success augured well for future seasons, but by 1856 the Pioneers had gone out of existence primarily because three of their best players had defected to the Eagle Club of New York which, of course, played its home games, not in Manhattan, but in neighboring Hoboken.  Similar defections also killed the Excelsior Club which went undefeated in 1855 beginning a tradition of New Jersey men playing for the Eagle Club which continued well into the 1860's.  It also marked the beginning of another tradition, New Jersey club's inability to retain their best players. One of the Pioneers who enjoyed significant success after leaving New Jersey was A. J. Bixby who not only played in two of the three Fashion Course games (1858 all star games between Brooklyn and New York clubs) but also served as Vice President of the National Association of Base Ball Players.  Even so victory in the first New Jersey - New York (loosely defined) series showed New Jersey teams were a force to be reckoned with as was proven once again yesterday at Old Bethpage some 162 years later.


  1. The Atlantics were the best club. The Neshanock beat them. Ergo...

  2. Never have I so eagerly awaited a John Zinn blog post!

  3. Not to change the subject, but what is the basis for extending the foul lines past home base? I don't recall seeing them in any depiction from the 1860s, and they aren't called for in the rules until 1878.

    Also, I have no doubt but that the secret for success is harmony and gentlemanly behavior.