Monday, May 8, 2017

Fred's Curve

Photo by Mark Granieri

If the old adage "when it rains, it pours," were applied to the first few weeks of the Neshanock's 2017 season, it would read "when it rains, Flemington wins."  Follow two wet wins at Old Bethpage village two weeks ago, the Neshanock again triumphed among the rain drops in their annual visit to Ringwood Manor State Park.  Taking part in the event for the first time was the Brandywine Club of West Chester, Pennsylvania, a fine group of ball players who first crossed the paths (base or otherwise) with the Neshanock at the 2017 Gettysburg Vintage base ball festival.  Not only did the visitors have to contend with Flemington's apparent fondness for wet weather, but Sunday also marked the first time the Neshanock were at full strength so much so we were able to lend veteran Mark "Gaslight" Granieri to the short handed Pennsylvania club. Taking full advantage of having its full complement of players, Flemington pounded out 26 hits in the first contest with only a slight drop off to 24 in the second affair.  In the first match the Neshanock led 10-5 after three innings, but allowed only one Brandywine tally thereafter while adding another 13 runs for a 23-6 victory.  A special highlight for me came before the game when Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw gave me a baseball autographed by one Charles H. Ebbets, along with a certificate of authenticity - a thoughtful and much appreciated gift.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Leading Flemington's offensive onslaught was Dan "Sledge" Hammer with four hits including three doubles, coming up only one at bat short of a clear score.  Right behind "Sledge" were Danny "King" Shaw, Bobby "Melky" Ritter and Ken "Tumbles" Mandel with three apiece while five other Neshanocks had two hits.  In addition to his three hits "Melky" notched a put out and an assist while in the pitcher's box demonstrating new found mobility from his still relatively new hips.  After the obligatory break for "Casey at the Bat," the second match began, this time with the Neshanock in the field.  While Flemington continued to hit effectively, much improved Brandywine defense combined with timely hitting kept this one much closer so that the Neshanock led only 12-7 after six innings.  The visitors added one tally in the top of the inning and had two on with two out when a fine "Tumbles" catch of a line drive (without the traditional tumble) kept Flemington in front.  The Neshanock then tallied five times over their next two visits to the striker's line while keeping Brandywine off the board for a 17-8 victory.  "Sledge," Rene "Mango" Marrero and Dave "Specs" Chamlian had three hits apiece for Flemington, but the noteworthy offensive achievements were clear scores for Gregg "Burner" Wiseburn and Chris "Sideshow" Nunn.  Not only did "Burner" avoid making an out, he also tallied in each of his four plate appearances.  "Sideshow's" clear score didn't quite match "Burner's" for style points, but as Henry Chadwick used to say (or should have said), "It's still a clear score in the box score."  Now 4-3 for the young season, Flemington will take part in the Spirit of the Jersies history fair next Saturday at Monmouth Battlefield State Park.

In the last post I mentioned that Fred Henry, Princeton student and pitcher for the Nassau Club, was given (and took) credit for throwing curve balls as early as the fall of 1863.  This was hardly news to me since I had seen references to Henry's deceptive pitch back when I was researching the Nassau Club for the second volume of Baseball Founders.  For whatever reason or reasons, I've never bothered to look at where this fit into the history of the pitch that has been a litmus test for whether a prospective player was of major league caliber.  Having decided it was finally time to pursue this, the first port of call was A Game of Inches where noted base ball historian Peter Morris began his entry on the curve ball by writing that "Few if any origins have as heatedly disputed as those of the curve ball." With that opening, it was no surprise, Peter's essay covers more than ten pages, one of the longest entries in his book.  Henry is, of course, mentioned, but given the complexity of the subject, I want to focus, not on entering the debate for or against any of the many candidates, but rather by looking at contemporary comments to see what was said about Henry at the time.  Where all this fits in the larger story is a subject for another day and perhaps another place.

Fred Henry 

The first media mention that Henry threw something out of the ordinary is found in newspaper articles describing the Nassau Club's September 26, 1863 victory over the Athletic Club of Philadelphia.  The Philadelphia Item reported that the collegiate pitcher threw "a slow ball with a heavy twist" which was "extremely irregular" and bothered the Athletics for the first 2 - 3 innings.  Indeed Henry shut out the Athletics for the first two innings before allowing two tallies in the third by which time the Nassau club had the game well in hand with a 15-2 lead.  The Athletics did manage eleven more runs over the course of the game, but it was far too little far too late in the Princeton team's 29-13 victory.  The 13 tallies were well below the Philadelphia club's average of 22 runs a game which is inflated somewhat by the Athletics 73 run outburst in another 1863 match. In addition to the Philadelphia paper, Henry's pitching was also mentioned by both the Clipper and the New York Sunday Mercury.  The latter paper attributed the Nassau victory to "the fine pitching of Henry" which the paper said was reflected in the number of strike outs and foul catches.  While a number of the newspaper accounts of the match include box scores, none that I've seen record the number of foul outs and strike outs - a standard frustration of 19th century base ball research.

After a victory over the Irvington team (then a junior club), the Nassau club spent their October academic break in Brooklyn taking on the Resolute, Excelsior, Star and Atlantic Clubs, four games in four days with Henry pitching all four contests.  While there were no comments about Henry's pitching in the newspaper accounts of the first three games, only the Excelsior Club reached double digits (11) while the Resolute and Star Clubs were limited to 9 and 7 runs respectively.  Although the statistical information on runs scored by these clubs is incomplete (taken from Marshall Wright's The National Association of Base Ball Players), all three Brooklyn clubs were held under their average offensive production.  The limited scoring was certainly a major factor in the young college players winning all three games.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - July 7, 1864

 Although Atlantic Club was a year away from being a championship team, they appear to have been Henry's biggest test on the trip.  If so, it was a test, he and his teammates failed, losing by an 18-13 count in game stopped for darkness after seven innings.  Even though the Brooklyn club won, one newspaper recognized Henry's proficiency claiming his pitching "bothered the Atlantics exceedingly," citing as evidence the fact that every Brooklyn player had a strike called on him with Crane and Smith striking out.  The significance of each Atlantic taking a called strike would seem to mean they were deceived by pitches they first thought out of the strike zone, but which came back in because of some kind of twist or slant.  Both the commentary and the statistical evidence, as limited as it may be, supports the idea that whatever Henry was doing it was both unusual and effective.  The Nassau Club hurler's early 1864 performance further supported such speculation, not only did he pitch well in the New Jersey - Philadelphia all star game, but he also led the Nassau Club to victories over the Mutual Club of New York and the Star Club in a return 1864 visit to Brooklyn.  An early July re-match with the Atlantics, however did not go quite so well since the Brooklyn team was apparently more than a little ready for Henry's deceptive delivery, hitting five home runs while embarrassing the collegians by a 42-7 count.  Then and now base ball is a game of adjustments.

No comments:

Post a Comment