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 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.