Monday, June 26, 2017

Four Games, Three Teams, Two Venues

When the first pitch of the Neshanock's long base ball weekend was thrown at 11:25 in Princeton on Saturday, Flemington was four games over .500 at 8-4.  By the time the winning tally in the last game crossed the plate in Weatherly, Pennsylvania at 3:18 on Sunday, the Neshanock were still four games over .500 at 10-6, having apparently traveled extensively and labored mightily to finish in the same place they started.  Little could be further from the truth, of course, as the weekend saw two close, dramatic endings and produced no shortage of memorable moments. On Saturday, Flemington took on the Talbot Fair Plays of Maryland, one of the country's top vintage base ball clubs.  Although the game was publicized as an Historical Society of Princeton event, the Neshanock consider our annual visit to Princeton, the Tumbles' anniversary game, this year marking the sixth anniversary of the day Ken "Tumbles" Mandel's first joined the team.  It's safe to say the Neshanock have never been the same.

After winning the coin toss, Flemington elected to bat second, sending Talbot to the striker's line where they quickly scored two tallies.  However, the Neshanock bounced right back scoring four runs of their own to lead 4-2 after one, but Flemington wouldn't score again until the eighth inning.  By that time, Talbot had 14 tallies, due to a combination of some sloppy Neshanock defense which opened the door to timely hitting by Talbot.  Flemington did rally for four tallies in the eighth, but Talbot got two back in the top of the ninth for a convincing 16-8 victory. Talbot's play was marked by solid hitting, especially with two out, and sensational defense particularly on the left side of the infield.  Jeff "Duke" Schneider led the Flemington attack with three hits and would have registered a clear score, but for being thrown out attempting to steal something that proved difficult throughout the day.  Right behind "Duke" in the hit column were Gregg "Burner" Wiseburn, Brian "Spoons" LoPinto, Chris "Low Ball" Lowry and Meshack "Shaq" Desane with two hits each.  "Shaq" was a muffin playing in his first two vintage games and in addition to his two hits, made some impressive plays in the field, hopefully he will become a regular member of the Neshanock.

After a brief break between games, with the once again obligatory "Casey at the Bat," the second contest began, this time with the Neshanock going first to the striker's line and putting two tallies across the plate.  Talbot once again played fine defense, but the Neshanock raised their defensive game several levels and a close contest developed with the score tied 5-5 going to the top of the sixth.  Interestingly, both teams had the top of their orders up in the sixth and Flemington took advantage putting one tally across the plate to lead 6-5.  Talbot's lead off batter hit a blistering bullet towards third which "Burner" grabbed in a sensational stop, followed by an equally impressive throw to retire the striker, leading the way to setting Talbot down in order.  Flemington added two more runs and led 8-6 going to the bottom of the eighth, but Talbot tied the game with the tying tally scoring on a close play at the plate.   Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner got Flemington stared with a single in the ninth and then scored the go ahead run on "Burner's" double.

No one on the Neshanock bench thought Talbot would go quietly and they put the tying run on third and the winning run on second with two out.  The next Talbot striker beat out a ground ball to third, but when the runner on third tried to score, "Tumbles" appropriately celebrated his anniversary game by throwing the Talbot runner out the plate, assisted by the block and tag by Scott "Snuffy" Hengst.   "Duke" once again got three hits and this time managed to avoid being put out for a clear score, no mean feat against the Talbot defense.  "Thumbs" and "Burner" also had three hits apiece, followed by Dave "Specs" Chamalion with two, all important offensive contributions. However "Tumbles" game saving throw was the day's most memorable moment, at least in the Mandel household.  After an exciting day at Princeton, the Neshanock headed home to prepare for the second half of this long base ball weekend, two games at the Eckley Miners Museum in Weatherly, Pennsylvania.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Located in eastern Pennsylvania, about 2 1/2 hours west of New York City, the Eckley Miners' Village provided housing and other services for coal miners beginning in 1854 through some point before World War II.  Of special note, in 1969 the village was used to film The Molly Maguires.  There wasn't time for a detailed look around, but just the general appearance of the buildings and the location confirmed how difficult life must have been for the miners and their families and that's without even seeing the coal mines themselves.  Sunday's games were the second half of a two day vintage base ball event at the museum with the Keystone Club of Harrisburg playing both days, Saturday against the Brandywine Club and Sunday against Flemington.  After setting Harrisburg down without a tally in the first inning, the Neshanock offense exploded scoring 18 tallies in the first three innings for an insurmountable 18-2 lead.  However, Flemington managed only three more tallies the rest of the game which wasn't a good omen for the second match.  Dave "Illinois" Harris led the Neshanock attack with four hits, followed by Chris "Low Ball" Lowry with three and the well rested duo of Danny "Lunch Time" Shaw and Mark "Gaslight" Granieri with two apiece.

Photo by Mark Granieri

As per usual, the intent was to take a brief break between games, allowing for some rest, food and water, and, of course, "Casey at the Bat," but on Sunday, the break lasted almost an hour because of rain that wasn't predicted or anticipated.  Rain, however, has been a good omen for the Neshanock in 2017 perhaps offsetting the dramatic drop in offensive production in the latter stages of the first game.  Such proved not to be the case, however, and two statistics dramatically illustrate the significant difference in the two games.  While in the first contest, the Keystone club made nine muffs, they played almost flawless defense in the second game with only one miscue.  On the Neshanock end, Flemington left ten men on base in the second contest compared to only five in the first game, interestingly every Neshanock was left on base at least once. Both statistics were bad news for Flemington in a game where every tally mattered.  Even with lower offensive production, however, the Neshanock still led until the sixth when the Keystones tied the match at 7-7 and then took a 9-8 lead as Flemington came to bat in the top of the ninth.

Photo by Mark Granieri

With the Neshanock down to their final out, Jeff "Duke" Schneider drove in "Tumbles" with the tying run and stole second to put himself in place to score on a Neshanock hit which was promptly delivered by "Lunch Meat."  However when "Duke" tried to score the go ahead run (unwisely urged on by the Neshanock bench, especially me), he was out by several miles.  Although Harrisburg got the winning run to third in the bottom of the inning, Flemington survived and the game headed to extra innings, something neither club, having played four games in two days, really needed.  After Flemington went down in order in the top of the tenth, the Keystone Club again got the winning run to third, this time with no one out.  The Neshanock managed to retire the next two strikers, but had no such luck with the final hitter of a long weekend who drove in the winning run, sending the teams home having divided the day's festivities.  "Lunch Time" led the Flemington attack with four hits, followed by "Duke" and "Tumbles" with three each, but it wasn't quite enough to beat the Keystones a second time.  The Harrisburg Club has a fine team who plays the game the way it should be played and it's always a pleasure to meet them on the ball field.  Now 10-6 on the season, the Neshanock will visit Delanco, New Jersey next Saturday for two games with the Elizabeth Resolutes.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"A Correct Score of a Base Ball Match"

As the Neshanock headed south by various routes on their way to the City of Brotherly Love and a Saturday match up with the Athletic Club of Philadelphia, the rain came, a good omen for Flemington so far this season.  The presence of "Neshanock weather," notwithstanding, however, the Athletics got off to a quick start in the first match, leading 4-1 after three innings and 4-2 after five.  In their half of the sixth, however, Flemington got things going offensively, scoring four times for a 6-4 lead.  The Athletics got one back, to trail only 6-5 heading to the bottom of the eighth at which point a five run Flemington rally, put the game out of reach for a hard fought 11-5 win which was far closer than the score indicated.  The Neshanock attack was led by Dan "Sledge" Hammer, who not only had a clear score in four trips to the striker's line, but also hit a home run and a triple, falling only a double short of the cycle.  Backing up "Sledge" were Rene "Mango" Marrero and Joe "Mick" Murray with two hits each.

Photo by Jeff Schneider

After a brief break, this time without the usually obligatory "Casey at the Bat," the Neshanock got started early scoring five times in the first, adding three more in both the second and third to lead 11-2, coasting thereafter to an 15-4 win.  Flemington had a second clear score in the second game, this time from Chris "Low Ball" Lowry with four hits, followed by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner, Danny "Lunch Time" Shaw, Scott "Snuffy" Hengst and "Mango" with three each.  Also of note was Adam "the Vic" Schneider who got his first two vintage base ball hits while also handling two chances in the field.  With the two wins, the Neshanock improve to 8-4 for the season heading into a busy weekend with two matches at Princeton on Saturday against the Talbot Fair Plays and then on Sunday at the Eckley Mine Museum Festival against the Harrisburg Club.

Photo by Jeff Schneider

If a clear score was the ultimate offensive goal of a 19th century ball player, the equivalent for a score keeper would be what the New York Clipper, (read Henry Chadwick) in its January 14, 1860 issue, somewhat immodestly claimed was "A Correct Score."  Lamenting the absence of sufficient data to analyze the prior season and anticipating expanded base ball coverage during the 1860 season, Chadwick not only proclaimed the "correct" format, but illustrated it with the details of an 1859 match.  Going even further, he expressed the hope/expectation that the National Association of Base Ball Players would would also endorse a standard system, something which doesn't appear to have happened.  Trying to cover all the bases, Chadwick also called on each club to have a "regular scorer or scorers," because it is "an onerous position" which "requires a gentleman to fill it creditably," important credentials to this very day.  Looking at this "correct" score, I thought it might be interesting to enter into Chadwick's format, the Neshanock's statistics from the June 10th nine inning match with the Picked Nine to see what it might tell us.

                                     Hands Lost      Runs
Duke 1 1
Adam 2 0
Spoons 1 2
Thumbs 2 0
Gaslight 3 1
Illinois 3 1
Mick 1 2
Melky 2 0
Tumbles 4 0
Irish 6 0
Low Ball 2 2
Total 27 9

First, came the above section, almost identical to the first 1845 box scores, listing the batting order, hands lost (outs) and runs scored.  Based on this information, it appears the major offensive contributions came from "Spoons," "Mick" and "Low Ball" each of whom tallied twice, no reference or credit is given to those who made the hits (or outs) that allowed them to score.  According to Peter Morris' go to work, A Game of Inches, runs received more emphasis than hits because early base ball box scores were derived from cricket where almost every hit produces a run.  Since runs were the name of the game there was little reason to be concerned with hits.  According to other entries in Peter's book, batting averages as we know them today weren't a part of base ball until 1874 while RBI's became part of the game even later in 1879-80. To the early box score format was appended the below line score, a clear improvement which shows how the game developed.  Without this someone hearing the 17-9 score might think the Picked Nine dominated contest when, in fact, the Neshanock led most of the way.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Flemington 0 1 0 2 3 0 1 1 1   9
Picked Nine 1 0 0 0 0 2 5 9   x  17

Next up is the below table of defensive statistics showing how while in the field, Flemington recorded the 24 outs for the eight innings that the picked nine was at the striker's line.  The two highest totals, eight for "Gaslight" and four for "Illinois," reflect their respective positions at catcher and first base.  In "Gaslight's" case, however the put outs have nothing to do with strike outs which apparently weren't counted as put outs at the time.  Rather, they reflect the bound rule which retires a batter on any foul ball caught on a bounce and catchers will likely have higher put out totals under those rules. I recall other matches where "Gaslight" had nine to ten put outs, meaning that a third of the opposing batters were retired with out putting the ball in play.  Missing from the format or at least, Chadwick's example is any record of muffs or errors, so we know the number of plays made correctly, but have no sense of the errors.  Without going into the gory details, errors opened or at least help open the door to the Picked Nine's offensive outbursts in their last two times at the striker's line.

How Put Out            Fly      Bound        Base        Total
Duke 1 1
Spoons 0
Thumbs 1 1 1 3
Gaslight 2 6 8
Illinois 4 4
Mick 3 3
Melky 1 1
Tumbles 1 1
Low Ball 3 3
Total 3 13 8 24
Finally comes the below chart showing how the Neshanock striker's were retired.  Note that strike outs and run outs (tagging a runner in a run down) are not treated as put outs, but merit a separate category.  Since only four Flemington batters were retired on fouls, compared to eight for their opponents, the Neshanock did a better job of putting the ball in play.  Otherwise there doesn't seem to be a huge amount that can be gleaned from this chart.  What's missing from all of this, of course, is any information about pitching reflecting perhaps Chadwick's belief that pitching was of secondary importance to hitting and fielding.  The other thing to note is that this format reflects his views before the 1860 season which doubtless evolved even more by the end of 1864 (the rules by which this match was played).  In a future post, I'll plug these results into an 1864 box score format to look at how box scores continued to evolve along with the rest of the game.  

How Put Out  Fly Bound 1st 2nd 3rd        Foul
Duke 1
Adam 1
Spoons 1
Thumbs 2
Gaslight 2 1
Illinois 1 2
Mick 1
Melky 1 1
Tumbles 1 2 1
Irish 2 3 1
Low Ball 1 1
Run Out
Struck Out - Adam - 1

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Hot Day at the Farm

Saturday marked Flemington's annual visit to the picturesque (and mown hay ridden) Howell Living History Farm near Lambertville, New Jersey in very un-Neshanock like weather (it wasn't cold and rainy).  All too often, Flemington has difficulty defeating its opponent, today's problem began with just finding one.  Originally the match was to feature a new New Jersey vintage base ball club, but the prospective club failed to materialize leaving the Neshanock scrambling for an opponent.  Fortunately the vintage base ball community is wonderfully supportive so a picked nine representing primarily the Diamond State Club of Delaware, one member of the Athletic Club of Philadelphia, a couple of "muffins" and vintage base ball revolver extraordinaire,  Charles "Bugs" Klasman, filled in admirably, a little too admirably in the first contest.  Thanks to all those gentlemen for helping out and the good folks at Howell for providing a beautiful venue, albeit with a tree taking up most of right center field.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Striking first, Flemington got off to an early lead and even though the Neshanock didn't maximize their opportunities, still led 6-1 after five frames.  The picked nine started to scramble back in the sixth, however, closing to 6-3 and then took the lead at 8-7 after seven innings.  Flemington managed to tie the game in the top of the eighth, but the visitors were not to be denied in their half, scoring nine runs for a 17-9 victory.  After the door was opened by some untimely Neshanock muffs, the picked nine did some excellent work at the striker's line and deserved their come from behind win. Flemington's attack was led by Brian "Spoons" LoPinto and Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner with three hits apiece followed by a half-dozen Neshanock with two hits each.  Another item of note in the first game was a successful pick off play by Flemington pitcher Bobby "Melky" Ritter.

Photo by Mark Granieri

After a break for free food (thanks Howell Living History Farm), the obligatory performance of "Casey at the Bat," a seven inning second game got underway with the Neshanock in the field.  After keeping the picked nine off the score board in their first time at the striker's line, the Neshanock erupted for four runs in their first at bat which they matched and then some with five runs in both the second and third innings.  Ahead 9-3 after three, Flemington coasted home to a 16-6 victory behind the pitching of "Melky" followed by a solid relief effort from Dave "Illinois" Harris who also had four hits in as many times at bat.  Unfortunately "Illinois" missed out on a clear score because Ken "Tumbles" Mandel, once again in the wrong place at the wrong time, forced "Illinois" out at third after one of his base hits.  Right behind "Illinois" in offensive production was "Thumbs" with three hits, followed by "Spoons" and Joe "Mick" Murray with two apiece.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Base ball rules, including the 19th century variety, seem to have a way of producing statistical oddities.  In today's first game, for example, how did the Joe "Irish" Colduvell have more times at bat than the nine players ahead of him in the batting order in a game with no walks?  This statistical fluke was produced by a 19th century rule mixed with the aforementioned "Tumbles" unusual (to say the least sense) sense of timing.  Three different times in the first game, "Tumbles," batting before "Irish" managed to make the last out on the bases, not all  his fault, but he was there.  Under the 19th century rules that existed until 1879, when the last out was made on the bases, the batter who led off the next inning, was the player following the base runner in the batting order, not the player after the one at the plate when the last out was made (got that?).  "Tumbles," with his flair for the unusual enabled "Irish," not just to be the last batter in one inning, but the first batter in the next inning on three different occasions - not something you see every day even in the 19th century.  In any event, with the split on the day's proceedings, the Neshanock are 6-4 on the season heading into a double header next Saturday, June 17th against the Athletic Club of Philadelphia in the City of Brotherly Love.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Present (or at least near) the Creation

Recently I've been revisiting the early days of organized base ball as described by John Thorn in his definitive work, Baseball in the Garden of Eden.  I'm always fascinated by rules or features of the game which date back to the 1840's when the game first really got organized in New York City.  For example, among the Knickerbocker rules, adopted in 1845, is the stipulation that if a batter swings and misses for a third time, the catcher has to hold on to the ball, a rule enshrined forever in the annals of Brooklyn Dodger baseball misery.  Why did those young men so many years ago feel compelled to spell that out?  Since the Knickerbocker rules by themselves weren't sufficient to play a game, it's been suggested a number of their rules were intended to clarify issues not generally accepted among the relatively small number of ball players in Manhattan.  But if the catcher wasn't required to catch the first two strikes why was it so important to literally handle the third strike differently?  We'll probably never know for sure, but Richard Hershberger (as per usual) has done some extensive research and thinking on the subject, to be found at .

 Another feature of today's game, something so common place as to be taken for granted, also dates back to that same period - the box score.  Any modern fan worth his or her salt spends time perusing the daily sports pages or the Internet seeking statistical information about players and teams.  Regrettably, newspapers are cutting back publication of out of town box scores, but fortunately comprehensive coverage is available on the Internet.  In fact, the wonders of technology even enable us to watch a box score in real time as the game progresses.  Yet even those consciously aware of the important role of the box score, may not realize it was part of the game before some of the most basic rules.  Box scores, for example, preceded called balls or strikes, nine inning games and nine players on a side, just to name a few.  It's risky to use creation and base ball in the same sentence, but based on the earliest documented match games, it's almost possible to think the box score was actually present at the creation or at least in the general vicinity.

Two of the earliest documented match base ball games were played in late October of 1845 between the New York Club and members of the Union Star Cricket Club of Brooklyn.  Both results were reported to the public and preserved for posterity through a brief verbal summary and, more importantly for our purposes, a crude box score.  The above box score which appeared in the New York Morning News, informs the reader the two teams met and played a match at Elysian Fields with eight to a side and the New Yorkers won handily by a 24-4 count.  A second account in the same paper a few days later includes a similar box score, which told the paper's readers the New York Club won the rematch.  Published at a time when it's safe to say most people  knew little about base ball, and perhaps cared less, the box scores confirmed which team won and gave a sense of which players had done well or poorly offensively.  Beyond that, there's not much a contemporary reader could have learned from the box score.  Even the inclusion of a simple inning by inning listing of runs scored, would have allowed an interested observer to know, for example, whether both games were one sided from the beginning or close until the New York Club pulled away.

From an historical perspective, however, these ancient (relatively speaking) box scores raise some interesting questions about the rules of games played just as the Knickerbockers were getting started and before their rules, or at least their clarifications, may have been generally accepted.  An obvious difference from the modern game is only eight players on a side confirming the matches were played before Doc Adams invented the shortstop's position.  It's also unlikely the teams played under the Knickerbocker's rule which said the  first team to tally 21 aces or runs won the match.  Unlikely instead of certain because under the Knickerbocker rules each team had to have the same number of at bats or innings so it's not impossible, the New York Club reached 21 and it took the Brooklyn players longer (far longer in the second match) to retire the side.  Still it's more probable the New York team was the winner because they scored more runs over the course of the same number of innings which raises the more interesting point - how many innings did the two teams play?

1853 box score showing little change from 1845

Perhaps a more appropriate question is, how many outs were there per inning?  Both box scores reflect 12 outs for each team although there is an error of some kind in the Brooklyn totals for the second match.  While the box score shows 12 outs, the individual figures total up to 13 which may be accurate, but more likely reflects an error by the score keeper (they are human after all) or an mistake in the transfer of the information from the score book (probably that of the New York club) to the newspaper.  Assuming for the moment, it was a mistake, then we have two games where each team made 12 outs which under modern rules would have meant four inning games.  However there is no way of knowing for sure if the New York Club had either adopted or was already using the Knickerbocker rule of three outs per inning.  The relationship between the New York Club and the Knickerbockers in October of 1845 is unclear.  We know there were overlapping memberships, but the extent there was common ground in their beliefs about rules such as the number of outs per inning  is unknown and probably unknowable.

By 1854 more detail is being provided, although inning by inning runs scored is still missing

In his ground breaking work, Baseball Before We Knew It, David Block wrote that before the Knickerbocker rules came into vogue, most games were played under two possible scenarios, one out - side out or all out - side out.  While these box scores don't spell out the number of outs allowed, the fact that in both games at least one player on each team didn't make an out (what would become known as a clear score) confirms the game was not played under the all out -side out arrangement.  It's certainly possible they played under the one out - all out version, but that would have meant playing 12 innings which is possible, but seems unlikely.  Among other things it's hard to believe so many runs would have scored in matches where only one out was sufficient to end a team's turn at bat.  While it's impossible to know for sure, my guess is that for at least these two games, the clubs not only played under the Knickerbocker rule of three outs per inning, but also anticipated the post Knickerbocker rule of the victory going to the team with the most runs after an even number of innings were played.  Speculation?  Without a doubt. Obscure?  Perhaps, but since base ball lacks a specific creation moment, artifacts like these, limited as they are, help us to study the beginnings of the organized game.