Sunday, September 24, 2017

The New York game comes to south Jersey (with some help from Philadelphia)

Having suffered three straight losses, the Neshanock were more than ready to get back on the winning side of the ledger when they visited the Dey Farm in Monroe Township for the annual matches with the Athletic Club of Philadelphia.  While there didn't appear to be any gamblers present, anyone who took the Neshanock in the second inning would have well rewarded as Flemington tallied nine times in the second inning of the first contest and then topped that by scoring 11 times in their second at bat in the second game.  Both big innings got Flemington started on what turned out be easy victories.  Leading the Neshanock attack in the first game was Dan "Sledge" Hammer who had four hits and a clear score.  Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner also had four base hits with Dan "Lefty" Gallagher, Dave "Illinois" Harris and "Jersey" Jim Nunn adding three apiece.  In the second contest, "Sledge" added another clear score while Chris "Sideshow" Nunn, "Lefty," "Illinois," Jeff "Duke" Schneider and Meshack "Shack" Desane added four each followed by Ken "Tumbles" Mandel and Scott "Snuffy" Hengst with three apiece.  As usual Bobby "Melky" Ritter delivered a strong pitching performance aided by a solid defense behind him.  With the two wins, the Neshanock are now 28-11 for the season, heading into two games next Sunday against the Gotham Club of New York at Garret Mountain in Woodland Park.

"Illinois" at the striker's line

Back in August when Flemington played the Providence and Boston clubs at Old Bethpage, I described it as playing 19th century base ball royalty.  The same could be said of the Athletic Club of Philadelphia which was one of the power house teams in the years immediately after the Civil War and it turns out the Philadelphia team also contributed to the spread of the New York game into south Jersey.  Other than the Camden Club, which played Philadelphia town ball through 1863, I haven't found any New Jersey newspaper accounts of base ball clubs south of Trenton until after the Civil War.  There is, however, evidence that one south Jersey community had a club during the war years.  Early in the 1864 season, as part of the Great Central Fair in Philadelphia, a picked nine from New Jersey played, and defeated, a similar squad from the City of Brotherly Love.  Included in the New Jersey lineup was Baird, representing the Bridgeton Club, the county seat of Cumberland County in extreme southern New Jersey.  I need to look again, but I'm fairly sure that the Bridgeton papers from 1863 make no mention of such a team.  It wasn't until I was looking for something else in the Philadelphia City Item (courtesy of Richard Hershberger) that I found an account of the founding of the Bridgeton club.  Falling down a metaphorical rabbit hole is a fairly common occurrence for 19th century base ball researchers.

According to the September 23, 1863 issue of the Item, Franklin Westcott, and others were in the process of organizing a base ball club in Bridgeton.  Westcott, it turns out was a prominent local lawyer, very active in Republican politics and an outspoken supporter of the Lincoln administration.  He graduated from Princeton in 1858, a time when according to Frank Presbrey's 1901 history of athletics at what was then called the College of New Jersey, "base ball clubs of all descriptions were organized on the back campus" which may have been Westcott's introduction to the game.  Just about six weeks after the September article, the November 4, 1863 issue of the Item reported on a visit paid to Bridgeton by the Athletics Club.  Founded as a town ball club in 1859, the Athletics had converted to the New York game and 1863 marked the beginning of the club's climb to a prominent role in base ball circles.  The Athletics' visit to Bridgeton was their second trip that year to take on a less experienced club, in September they journeyed all the way to Altoona where they pounded the Mountain Club 73 to 22.   Trips of this nature would become the norm for the Philadelphians in the 1860's where they would visit and overwhelm local clubs who apparently enjoyed the experience.

Frank Westcott's grave, he died in 1875, only 36 years old

While I'm not completely familiar with the nature of these other visits, the trip to Bridgeton on Tuesday, November 2nd seems to have taken a somewhat unique format.  After arriving in the south Jersey village, the two clubs played two games, first a game between the two teams and then a second contest where the two clubs divided into teams with five players from the Athletics on one squad with the remaining four joining five members of the Bridgeton Club on the other team.  It's safe to say the Athletics won the first contest, although no score or box score is provided which was also the case for the second contest.  After enjoying the local hospitality for the night, the two teams played another game the next morning, again without any score being reported in the paper.  The Athletics then enjoyed one more meal with their hosts before returning to Philadelphia.  While little or no details were provided about the matches, far more information was provided about the off the field activities.

President of the Athletics and Publisher of the City Item

When the first two games were over both clubs adjourned to the Bridgeton Hotel for dinner featuring a speech by the honorable John T. Nixon, like Westcott a prominent local lawyer and a leader of the Republican Party.  Once that speech was complete, the players went to the Union meeting hall at the town hall where Thomas Fitzgerald, president of the Athletics and publisher of the Item "spoke upon the issues of the day" for 90 minutes to a crowd of 500-600 people.  Not surprisingly his paper reported that "Mr. Fitzgeral's justification of the leading measures of the administration was most heartily endorsed by the intelligent and loyal citizens of Bridgeton."  Fitzgerald, needless to say, was also a Republican noted for his progressive views on racial issues.  It feels at some level, like the visit was as much about politics as base ball.  Perhaps the idea was to help the local Republicans solidify their position as the country headed into a presidential election year where the outlook was not at all favorable to the Republicans.  It couldn't have hurt as the Lincoln carried Cumberland County 2669 - 2032, a result the Camden Democrat claimed was due to the "corrupting influence of Philadelphia." Be that as it may and regardless of whether the game was a side benefit to political machinations, base ball had arrived in south Jersey to stay.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Satisfaction to All

Unfortunately I was again unable to make this week's Neshanock game, a visit to South Orange, New Jersey to take on the local town team.  Multiple sources confirm that Flemington held the lead going to the top of the ninth, but the host club rallied for three runs and a two run lead headed to the bottom of the inning.  As they have all season, the Neshanock rallied, scoring once and putting the tying run on third, but this time it was not to be and the South Orange club held on for a 13-12 win.  A lone source informs me the Flemington attack was led by Bobby "Melky" Ritter, Dan "Lefty" Gallagher and David "Illinois" Harris with three hits apiece.  According to the same source, "Illinois" parleyed his three hits into a clear score and also stole six bases, three times when his wily base running skills forced the opposing pitcher into a balk or at least that's what I'm told.  But who could possibly question the veracity of a gentlemanly 19th century base ball player, even a 21st century re-creator. 

Photo courtesy of Karen Marlowe's Facebook Page

Just one example of base ball's gentlemanly is past is how detailed newspaper accounts of matches invariably ended with the phrase "the umpire's decisions gave satisfaction to all" or words to that effect.  It was apparently a standard formula to emphasize base ball's gentlemanly nature even in the heat of competition.  While that was probably to some extent wishful thinking even then, by the beginning of the post Civil War era, winning became the priority with little being done to disguise that reality.  The below exchange in a Jersey City newspaper in 1866, between what were most likely junior clubs, illustrates the changing nature of the game and the extent to which those disputes became public.

American Standard (Jersey City) - July 14, 1860

American Standard - July 16, 1866

This was clearly not unique to the Orion and Aetna clubs since a similar dispute between the Una and National clubs later in the season, led the paper to wisely opt out of another dispute.

American Standard - September 26, 1866

By the end of the 1860's, not only was the "satisfaction to all" attitude gone forever, it had been replaced by actual public criticism of the umpires, one of whom was unwilling to take such criticism without a response.

Daily Times (Jersey City) - July 30, 1869

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Faces in the Base Ball Crowd

Returning to the base ball wars after taking the Labor Day weekend off, the Neshanock saw their winning ways come to an end, losing both games to another fine vintage club, the Eckford, by scores of 17-10 and 11-9.   With the twin losses, the Neshanock's overall record falls to 26-10.  Unfortunately I wasn't at the games so  I have no more information beyond the scores.  With five scheduled games remaining Flemington still has a shot at 30 wins, but there's little margin for error.

In lieu of any additional game information, I've posted below some New York Clipper drawings of some important 19th century New Jersey base ball players. They and some of their peers will be part of the early New Jersey base ball exhibit opening at the Morven Museum in Princeton in June of 2018.

New York Clipper - July 26, 1879

Andy Jackson Leonard was part of the Irvington Club's historic upset of the Brooklyn Atlantics in June of 1866.  Heading west a few years later, he played on the famous Cincinnati Red Stocking Club in 1869 and enjoyed a distinguished major league career.  Coincidentally, the Grave Marker project of SABR's 19th century committee, led by Ralph Carhart dedicated a new monument to Leonard at his grave in Massachusetts on Saturday.

New York Clipper - May 29, 1880

Although the above article incorrectly lists Paterson as Mike "King" Kelly's birthplace, the future Hall of Famer did begin in his base ball career in what was some times known as the "Cataract City."  Called professional base ball's first matinee idol, Kelly had a life time .300 average over 16 major league seasons before dying young at the age of 37.  

New York Clipper - June 7, 1879

New to me is this south Jersey product who played in the major leagues for 13 seasons, hitting .299 with Buffalo, Detroit and Boston among others.

New York Clipper - September 27, 1879

Less prominent than the above threesome, John Farrow played for Brooklyn's first major league team in 1884 after being part of two National Association clubs, including the the ill-fated 1873 Elizabeth Resolutes.