Sunday, July 23, 2017

Heat and Humidity in Hawthorne


After relatively mild temperatures and humidity last weekend in southern Pennsylvania, the Neshanock encountered Gettysburg like conditions much closer to home in Hawthorne, New Jersey, on the outskirts of Paterson.  Making their second New Jersey appearance in three weeks were the New York Mutuals who joined Flemington for what turned out to be a seven inning opening contest, followed by the full nine innings for the second.  The Neshanock got off quickly in the first match, scoring twice in their initial time at the striker's line, but didn't tally in the next two innings and had an uncomfortable 2-1 lead heading to the bottom of the fourth.  Fortunately the Neshanock tallied three times in the fourth and added three more over the course of the game while allowing the Mutuals only one more run for an 8-2 Neshanock win.  While Flemington didn't put up much offense, Rene "Mango" Marrero had three hits, followed by Tom"Thumbs" Hoepfner with two and Chris "Low Ball" Lowry had a clear score, albeit of the "Tumblesque" variety - on base more via errors than hits.



Limited to just eight tallies in the first match, Flemington topped that total in the very first inning of the second game, scoring nine times before the Mutual even got up to bat.  Another six tallies in the top of the fifth gave Flemington a commanding lead on the way to a 20-8 win.  Brian "Spoons" LoPinto contributed five hits from the lead off position, a figure matched by "Thumbs."  Contributing three hits apiece to the Neshanock attack were Dave "Illinois" Harris, Gregg "Burner" Wiseburn, Scott "Snuffy" Hengst and newcomer, Danny "Lefty" Gallagher (welcome "Lefty").  Thanks also to the hot dog vendor who filled in when Flemington was a man short for late stages of the second game, although it did unleash the worst possible combinations of puns and figures of speech.  Notice should also be taken, or so he tells me, of Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw's pitching performance going the distance in both games.  With the wins, Flemington is now 18-7 on the season headed into a match with the Elizabeth Resolutes next Saturday in Washington Valley, New Jersey.

I want to acknowledge a glaring omission in the account of the Neshanock's visit to Gettysburg when in describing the victory over the Monitor Club of Chelsea, Michigan, I failed to mention "Illinois'" clear score.  I understand that "Illinois" fans, who are legion, have appointed a monitor to insure a higher level of future accuracy in the score keeping department.



Exactly when Hawthorne had its first base ball club isn't clear, but unless it flew below the radar of the 19th century media, which is very possible, it wasn't until some time after 1870.  Neighboring Paterson, of course, had clubs far earlier, but the New York game didn't establish itself in Alexander Hamilton's model industrial city as early and firmly as it did in Jersey City and Newark.  Paterson, I believe, was New Jersey's third largest city in 1860, but it had few ball clubs in the antebellum period although one group of the city's first ball players gets credit for imagination for naming their team the Flora Temple Club in honor of a famous race horse of the day.  None of these clubs seemed to have survived the beginning of the Civil War so it was with some pride, if not relief, that the Paterson Daily Register welcomed the formation of not one, but two clubs in July of 1863.  One group quickly dubbed themselves the Paterson Club while the second chose to call themselves the Excelsior Club perhaps in tribute to the numerous Paterson men serving in the Excelsior Brigade founded by the famous, or infamous, Daniel Sickles.  Both clubs were start up operations, but the paper claimed the Excelsiors had "more rugged players" than the Paterson Club who had thus far shown their "greenness." Experienced or not, the paper wished both teams well so long as they didn't play on the Sabbath.



Paterson Daily Register - August 12, 1863

After almost a month of practice, the two clubs played each other in a contest the Daily Register felt was "well worthy of the gallant sons of the Cataract City" (think Great Falls), finding no end of things to praise especially that "Not an angry word was uttered on the grounds, and, what is more honorable, not a drunken man could be seen."  Perhaps the writer had little experience with base ball or was more interested in the deportment of the players and crowd since his claim of "really excellent" play on both sides is more than a little hard to reconcile with a game that lasted almost five hours before it was mercifully stopped by darkness.  At that time the game was in the bottom of the ninth with the Excelsior Club at bat, leading 23-17 lead so not much was lost, but it's hard to understand how a game with that score could have taken five hours to play.  As seen above, the limited box score gives no information about pitching and muffs, but the only explanation that comes to mind is strikers taking a lot of pitches before swinging, especially since this was before the introduction of called balls.


Paterson Daily Register - October 20, 1863

While the paper heaped praise on a number of the participants, one who apparently earned his accolades was one Jimmy Demarest since he moved up to play center field for the Eagle Club of New York about two months later.  Although not one of the most successful clubs on the field, the Eagle Club had a long history and in the early 1850's was, along with the Gothams and Knickerbockers, one of only three teams playing competitive matches. There are multiple New Jersey connections to the Eagle Club which at some point merits more detailed attention.  In addition to Demarest, at least three other Eagle players in the above box score got started in New Jersey, Bixby with the Pioneer Club of Jersey City, Salisbury with the Hoboken team and Shaffer from the Hamilton Club also of Jersey City.  The Hudson County pipeline to the Eagle Club makes sense, especially since the Eagles played and practiced in Hoboken, but the quick transition of a Paterson player is a little more unusual.  The movement of New Jersey players to a New York club, anticipates Paterson's most famous 19th century team, the Olympics which helped four major leaguers including Mike "King" Kelly and Edward "The Only" Nolan get started.  Another interesting thing about the Olympic Club is that 150 years ago, they visited Connecticut to take on four local teams, an experience the Neshanock will re-create in just a few weeks, although not by railroad and steamer.  A contemporary account of the Olympic trip will be posted right before the Neshanock head for the Nutmeg State.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Baseball America


Photo by Tom "Big Bat" Fesolowich

More years ago than I care to remember, the Zinn family was able to purchase tickets for the then annual major league exhibition game played at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown as part of Hall of Fame induction weekend.  The Montreal Expos were one of the two teams and the other might have been the Angels which shows the game itself didn't create any memorable moments, at least for me.  What was, however, so impressive I've never forgotten it, was the atmosphere in Cooperstown that day, the village streets overflowing with people from all walks of life and parts of the country, united by their love of baseball.  The shared passion was best exemplified by three Roman Catholic nuns in full habit, head to toe, each of them topping off their religious garb with a baseball hat and, yes, one of them was appropriately wearing an Angels cap.  The experience moved Carol Zinn, for whom baseball is an acquired taste, to comment that Cooperstown that day was "Baseball America."  It's exactly the same feeling I had this past weekend when the Flemington Neshanock were privileged to once again participate in the Gettysburg National 19th Century Base Ball Festival.  


Photo by Mark Granieri

As they have since the inaugural event back in 2010, the Elkton Eclipse Club of Maryland did their usual fine job of hosting an expanded and enhanced weekend.  This year some 22 clubs from ten different states arrived at the Schroeder's Farm, not far from Confederate Avenue in Gettyburg for two days of base ball and what has also become a vintage base ball reunion.  Just the scheduling alone, arranging for so many teams to play four games over two days on five fields while balancing team travel needs, was a challenge that have would have won a tip of the hat from Charles Ebbets, that master of major league schedule making.  The Eclipse's commitment to maximizing the number of participating teams plays an important part in making this a "Baseball America" experience.  While the Gettysburg event has a narrower focus than the Hall of Fame induction, like that day in New York state, the weekend in southern Pennsylvania also brings together people from a wide range of locations and backgrounds, united by a passion for base ball history and shared values.  Uppermost among those values, as I experienced them, were playing the game the way it should be played, playing to win while maintaining a respectful relationship with the opposition and heartfelt feelings of fellowship once the match was over.


Photo by Mark Granieri

First up for Flemington this year was the Monitor Club of Chelsea, Michigan, a team, if I remember correctly, which has been playing for about seven years and making its first visit to the festival.  After setting the Monitors down without a run in the top of the first, the Neshanock tallied three times in their half, but had a hard time getting anything going offensively in the early innings.  Flemington did add one run in the bottom of the third primarily because of the base running of Chris "Low Ball" Lowry, who after reaching base demonstrated how to advance on productive outs.  Watching "Low Ball" do this, and not for the first time, I can understand how Henry Chadwick, in the early days of competitive base ball, came to put emphasis on a base runner's responsibility to make his own away around the bases.  Fortunately, for the Neshanock, big innings in the fourth and seventh put the game out of reach and gave Flemington their first victory of the weekend.  Offensively, Dave "Illinois" Harris, Chris "Side Show" Nunn and "Low Ball," led the way with three hits apiece while Danny "Lunch Time" Shaw and the Neshanock defense held the Monitor Club at bay.



Photo by Mark Granieri

While the Monitor Club was new to the Festival, the day's second opponent, the Talbot Fair Plays of Maryland were all too well known to the Neshanock.  Just a few weeks earlier at Princeton, the teams split two games with Flemington earning their first victory over one of the country's top vintage clubs in many a year.  Saturday figured to be a tough game and that expectation was more than met.  Although Talbot scored once in the top of the first, outstanding Neshaock defense kept them off the score board for the next four innings led by sparkling plays by Rene "Mango" Marerro and "Illinois."  Flemington scored once in the second and then added two in the fourth led by some fine base running by Dan "Sledge" Hammer.  Although the Neshanock were ahead 3-1 going to the top of the sixth, Talbot finally broke through to tie the match at 3-3 before Flemington untied  it in the bottom of the seventh, taking a 4-3 lead into the eighth.  Talbot had its last four strikers heading to the line in their half of the eighth, but the Fair Plays quickly showed why they are such a good team.  After the first two strikers reached safely on what were clearly intentionally well placed hits, the next batter went to the line with one goal, move the runners up, which was exactly what he did.  With the table thus set, the last batter in the order delivered a clutch hit which put Talbot ahead to stay in what would ultimately be a 9-5 victory.  It was by no means a case of Flemington losing, but rather Talbot rising to the occasion and winning.  The Neshanock attack was led by "Sledge," "Mango," "Low Ball" and "Lunch Time" with two hits apiece.


Picture by Mark Granieri

Spared the early game on both days, the Neshanock arrived on Sunday morning for a match against the Providence Grays on another day of the nicest weather in the festival's history.  The Providence club is somewhat unique in vintage circles as they recreate a major league team of the 1880's that, of course, played the overhand game, but the gentlemen from Rhode Island adapted to the 1860's rules for the festival.  Unlike the rest of the Neshanock's games, this match turned into a hitting contest.  Flemington tallied seven times in the fourth for a 10-4 lead, but Providence quickly answered with four of their own to close within 10-8 and it was 12-9 as Flemington batted in the bottom of the sixth.  With two out, one on and none in, the chances of increasing the margin looked slim until five straight Neshanock strikers delivered two out hits, producing five runs and a 17-9 lead.  Although Providence scored three of their own in the seventh, another big Neshanock inning put the game out of reach in route to a 25-13 Flemington victory, a much closer game than the score indicated.  As might be expected a number of the Neshanock had big games with Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, "Tumbles " and "Illinois" delivering four hits apiece, with both "Gaslight" and "Tumbles" (yes, "Tumbles") earning clear scores.  


Photo by Mark Granieri

In its fourth and final game of the festival, the Neshanock took on the Walker Tavern Wheels of Brooklyn, Michigan, another first time encounter for Flemington.  The Michigan club's reputation had preceded them and the Neshanock went into the game anticipating a hard struggle which is exactly what they got in another relatively low scoring affair.  After five innings the two clubs were tied at 5-5 in a game that featured some outstanding defense including such impressive catches by "Illinois" of the Neshanock and the Walker third base man that onlookers wondered if the two had pine tar or some other adhesive on their hands.  Flemington managed to score four times in the sixth for a 9-6 lead, but Walker scored twice in the top of the seventh before the Neshanock closed the door.  When Flemington couldn't add any tallies in its half of the seventh, the one run lead looked precarious. but the Michigan team went out in order in the eighth and the Neshanock added three more runs for a 12-8 lead.  Then to, cap off the weekend, Flemington retired the Wheelman, quickly and without incident.  Impressively, after Walker Tavern closed within two with one out in the seventh, Flemington set down the next eight strikers in order.  It was a good win, over a worthy opponent. "Thumbs," "Mango," and "Illinois" each had three hits while "Sledge," Meshack "Shack" Desane and "Gaslight" had two apiece.


Photo by Mark Granieri

After dinner on Saturday night, Carol and I went to the "Songs and Stories of a Civil War Hospital" program at Christ Lutheran Church in the heart of Gettysburg.  This was the sixth time we've attended the program and beforehand I was wondering why we needed to do it again.  Listening, however to stories, some of them no less heart rendering for being heard year after year, I realized the program was an essential part of the weekend because it reminded us what is really important about Gettysburg.  The Elkton Club does a fine job of organizing the event, but one of their most important contributions is their choice of venue.  Like Cooperstown, Gettysburg has no real base ball significance, rather Gettysburg is important because of those "who here gave their lives, that that nation might live."  Elkton has done everything and more to get us to Gettysburg, while there, I believe we all have a responsibility in some way to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice on that hallowed ground.  Attending the Christ Lutheran program is one way to do that.  Another is to visit some part of the battlefield, but perhaps most fitting would be for each club or a representative to visit the national cemetery and to spend a few moments paying their respects in the section where the men from their home state are buried.  It would give even more meaning to what is already a memorable "Baseball America" experience.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Revolution and Evolution



Blake Zimmer helping me score the game "correctly" at Howell Living History Farm - photo by Ben Zimmer

On Saturday, the Neshanock made their annual visit to River Edge, New Jersey for two games at New Bridge Landing, an historic site operated by the Bergen County Historical Society.  The society always does a nice job with this event and as per usual there was a large and enthusiastic crowd in attendance.  The site has revolutionary significance because in November of 1776, the Continental Army crossed the Hackensack River at this point, beginning their "retreat to victory" which ended on Christmas night 1776 in Trenton.  The opposition for two seven inning games was provided by the New York Mutuals and the visitors got off to a quick start scoring seven times in the first two innings to take a 7-2 lead before Flemington started chipping away while tightening up on the defensive end.  In the top of the fifth, the Neshanock finally tied the game and then added another tally for a one run lead headed to the bottom of the inning.  After that, Flemington, for once, did the things the easy way scoring four times each in the sixth and seventh innings for a 16-7 win.  



A key hit in the sixth was delivered by "Jersey" Jim Nunn who drove in two runs with a clutch two out single.  Leading the Neshanock offense was Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner who earned a clear score the hard way, five hits in five times at the striker's line including three doubles and a home run.   Also contributing three hits apiece were Meshack "Shack" Deshane, Dan "Sledge" Hammer, Rene "Mango" Marrero and Bobby "Melky" Ritter with "Melky" also achieving a clear score.  As he did at Princeton in his Neshanock debut, "Shack" also contributed some fine defense plays in both games .  Also noteworthy was Joe "Irish" Colduvell's flawless defense at second base.  The break between matches featured the usual splendiferous rendering of "Casey at the Bat," followed by Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw leading the crowd in a rousing version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." 



 In the second game, the Neshanock emulated the Mutuals scoring, seven times in the first two innings, quickly taking charge of what would end up as a convincing 16-4 triumph.  Not resting on his laurels was "Thumbs" who earned a second clear score with four hits including another home run, going a perfect nine for nine for the day.  "Sledge" also had four hits while "Mango" and "Hound" added three apiece.  Five other Neshanocks had two hits including Steve "Cuz" Thompson who returned to the Flemington line up after far too long an absence.  After finishing the first contest at the pitcher's line, Dave "Illinois" Harris made an even earlier appearance in the second came, keeping the Mutuals off the bases and making a fine bound catch along the way.  With the two wins, Flemington is now 13-6 on the season, heading into next weekend's Gettysburg National Vintage Base Ball Festival, one of 22 participating teams in what has become one of the country's premier vintage base ball events.  


New York Clipper - January 4, 1860

A few weeks ago I wrote about an article in the January 4, 1860 issue of the New York Clipper where Henry Chadwick proclaimed the "correct" way to keep a box score.  Chadwick illustrated his format with the above example from an 1859 match between the Atlantic and Star Clubs of Brooklyn.  Chadwick continued to use this format for the next three seasons (including 1860), but was clearly willing to let the box score evolve as evidenced by the below format from an 1863 match between the Athletic Club of Philadelphia and the Eureka Club of Newark. Notice the offensive part of the box score remained unchanged and there continues to be no information about the pitcher's performance.  What does change significantly, however, is the defensive section, gone are the two multi-columned charts, replaced by a listing of defensive statistics providing much the same information in a far simpler format.   Furthermore the revised format now includes passed balls and errors, informing the reader not just what the defense did, but also what it didn't do.  While this is still very different from the modern format, this 1863 box score anticipates the structure or order used today - offensive statistics, line score and then defensive information, followed today by pitching statistics.  The difference between the 1859 and 1863 formats is another example of base ball's evolution, albeit off the field, during those early years of the organized game.


New York Clipper - June 27, 1863


Sunday, July 2, 2017

In the Footsteps of the Babe

One especially enjoyable feature of vintage base ball is the opportunity to visit and play games on fields where some of the game's greatest players have performed, fields far from the major leagues.  Back when I was score keeper for the short lived Eureka Club, we traveled all the way to Fleischmanns in the Catskills for a game on a field where the great Honus Wagner once played. And later this year the Neshanock will visit South Orange, New Jersey for the third time, to play where Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig and Monte Irvin among others have performed.   Another such opportunity occurred this past Saturday when in a late addition to the schedule, the Neshanock were invited to Delanco in south Jersey to be part of an event commemorating a July 1, 1924 game when Babe Ruth himself came to town to play in an exhibition game.  Not only did the local fans get a chance to see the Bambino in the flesh, he rewarded them with a home run - something the estimated 5,000 in attendance doubtless never forgot.


Photo by Mark Granieri

The original schedule called for two matches with the first to be played by 1864 rules and the second under 1870 regulations, the major difference being the elimination of fair bound outs.  Opposing the Neshanock was a Picked Nine, captained by Paul Salomone, captain and founder of the Elizabeth Resolutes.  Most of the Picked Nine were muffins, playing vintage base ball for the first time and they acquitted themselves admirably, especially in the field.  After retiring the Picked Nine in their first attempt at the striker's line, Flemington managed four tallies in its first at bats before suffering through another scoring drought, part of which was due to the opposition's defense.  The Neshanock managed two more tallies in the fifth, but was hardly comfortable with a 7-2 lead, heading into the bottom of the seventh.  Fortunately the Neshanock bats woke up as Flemington scored twice in the seventh and six times in the eighth in route to a 15-2 win which was no where near as dominating as the score might have indicated.


Photo by Mark Granieri

Flemington was led at the striker's line by Danny "Lunch Time" Shaw, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri and Dave "Specs" Chamalion with three hits each, including two doubles by "Gaslight."  Adding two hits apiece to the Neshanock attack were Jeff "Duke" Schneider, Joe "Mick" Murray, Bobby "Melky" Ritter and Ken "Tumbles" Mandel.  In addition to his offensive heroics, not to mention taking pictures for the blog, "Gaslight" had 10 put outs on foul tips which I believe ties a previous record.  Also noteworthy on defense was fine, leaping catch by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner at short stop and a exceptional "dig out" of a low throw by "Specs" at first.  Since the Neshanock were playing, it's no surprise rain made an appearance as well, beginning with a steady down pour in the eighth inning.  Between games another steady rainfall began and it was agreed to call it a day.  Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw did manage to squeeze in "Casey at the Bat," to perhaps the smallest audience yet.  With the win, Flemington is now 11-6 on the season heading into next Saturday's doubleheader against the New York Mutuals at New Bridge Landing in River Edge, New Jersey, a rare north Jersey appearance by the Neshanock.




As noted many times in this blog, historical accuracy is one of the highest priorities (if not the highest) of vintage base ball, but achieving it isn't always that simple since it's not easy to know exactly how the game was played so many years ago.  This season has seen the debut of a Facebook page devoted to the subject with much of the discussion thus far focused on understanding how the umpire carried out his responsibilities.  Occasionally the discussion has gotten somewhat heated, reflecting just how much the participants care about historical accuracy.  If I didn't understand or appreciate the strength of those feelings previously I do now that I've once again witnessed the comments and observations on the anniversary of the June 19, 1846 game at Elysian Fields between the Knickerbockers and the New York Club. In spite of all the work that has been done on the early years of organized base ball and some clear supporting evidence to the contrary, far too many people still give far too much importance to this game.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Let's be clear, the June 19, 1846 game was not by any standard, the first match game, incontrovertible evidence exists that at least three games were played in October of 1845 including at least one at Elysian Fields (some of the evidence can be seen at http://amanlypastime.blogspot.com/2017/06/present-or-at-least-near-creation.html0). Some would also argue the 1846 game wasn't even a true match game.  Inaccurate accounts of this game, used to claim an important part for Hoboken and/or New Jersey in base ball history are not only wrong, they obscure the important base ball firsts that did happen our state such as the first African-American club organized in Newark in 1855.  Fortunately for my frustration with all of this, I'm going to have another platform,  besides this blog, to debunk the myths and try to get the story right.  I'm honored to have been asked by the Morven Museum and Gardens in Princeton to be the guest curator for an exhibition on early New Jersey base ball (1855-1880) scheduled to open in July of 2018.  I'm also working on a companion book which will use historical evidence, not myth or legend to tell the story of our state's part in base ball history - stay tuned.