Sunday, December 16, 2018

"The Old Year Passes"

The last post about Charles Ebbets salary negotiations with Casey Stengel was the 300th since A Manly Pastime first saw the light of the Internet in February of 2012 and will be the final post for this calendar year.  Typically we take a break until January, but this year the hiatus will be extended.  At the latest we'll be back in April for the opening of the 2019 Neshanock season, but a March return is also possible.  The reason for the extended break is that I need to focus on the last stages of another big project - the upcoming baseball exhibit at Historic Morven in Princeton and the companion book.  Originally the exhibit was to cover New Jersey baseball - 1855 to 1880, but for a number of reasons, the period has been extended through 1915.  That will enable us to explore baseball in the Garden State from its earliest beginnings through the one season when New Jersey had a major league team - the short lived Newark Peppers in the equally short lived Federal League.  The companion book will still cover New Jersey base ball through 1880.

One of my goals when the blog returns is to anticipate the Morven exhibit by giving readers some sense of the different stories to be told and the topics to be covered.  In addition there will be plenty of coverage of the 2019 vintage base ball season, focusing, of course, on the Flemington Neshanock.  The blog seems to be fairly popular in vintage base ball circles which I greatly appreciate.  But regardless of whether a reader's interest is vintage base ball, the game's history or anything else, I sincerely thank everyone who has taken the time to read.  At this point in my writing career, my highest goal is to be read and for that I am truly thankful.  Best wishes to everyone for the holidays and all of 2019.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

"A laborer is worthy of his hire"

In today's game, salary negotiations can sometimes be a mind boggling mixture of players, agents, general managers and club owners arguing about amounts of money that seem almost incomprehensible.  A hundred years ago, when Charles Ebbets was a baseball owner, things were very different.  Players didn't have the combined advantages of free agency and agents while owners couldn't delegate the negotiations to skilled baseball executives working within a given budget.  And while the amounts of money may seem absurdly low to us today, they were to the average person as unimaginable as they sometimes seem today.  The last few chapters of my just published Ebbets biography devote a considerable amount of space to the Brooklyn magnate's handling of salary negotiations with three Hall of Fame players - Zach Wheat, Burleigh Grimes and Dazzy Vance.  In this post, however, I want to give a sense of the negotiating process by looking at Ebbets' dealing with another future Hall of Famer (although not due to his playing prowess), one Charles "Casey" Stengel.

Casey Stengel during the Dodgers 1916 pennant winning season, posing near the famous right field fence

Although Stengel wasn't as talented as the other three players, he took a back seat to no one when it came to salary negotiations.  As noted, players didn't have much of a bargaining position a century or more ago.  The hated reserve clause limited their choice to playing for their current team or not playing at all.  Trained to play baseball, players were often at an unfair disadvantage negotiating with owners who were more experienced at the process.  There were, however, a few brief periods when baseball trade wars, caused by new upstart leagues seeking major league status, not also gave players another option, but also a source of leverage with their current team..  Such was the case not long after Stengel joined the Dodgers in late 1912 when the Federal League burst on the scene tempting players and threatening existing owners especially Charles Ebbets who had just finished building an expensive new ballpark.  Fortunately, the Brooklyn owner had plenty of experience dealing with such threats and he knew the best, perhaps only strategy was to aggressively sign his own players even if it was at the expense of higher salaries and long term contracts.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - January 20, 1917

While Stengel may have been new to the major leagues, he knew how to take full advantage of this situation negotiating a salary that by 1916 had reached $5,300.  Looking at historical salary data for players of the Deadball Era compiled by Mike Haupert, a professor at University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse, Casey clearly did very well for himself.  During the Dodgers 1916 pennant winning season, Stengel received the same salary as Zach Wheat, who was without question a much better player and was also in the same range as Gavvy Cravath, Art Fletcher and George Burns all of whom had better career numbers.  By the end of the 1916 season, however, the baseball landscape had changed considerably.  The Federal League was dead and buried, removing that option for players and priming owners to try to cut salaries that had reached unprecedented levels.  Unfortunately, for Charles Ebbets, the timing couldn't have been worse for 1917 salary negotiations since he was in the position of trying to impose pay reductions on players who had just won the National League pennant.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - February 3, 1917

On the surface, Ebbets' position may seem more than a little unreasonable, but the 1916 Dodgers were built to win that year and there was little likelihood they would  continue to draw big crowds again in 1917.  According to Ebbets, a team that finished fourth or lower would lose money if its payroll exceeded $80,000, not a good situation when Ebbets claimed the Dodgers pay list was at $125,000 including bonuses.  Ebbets self appointed goal was to reduce the Brooklyn payroll to about $90,000 and perhaps understandably, he felt Stengel was an obvious candidate for a $2,000 pay cut.  Equally understandably Stengel didn't agree and voiced his displeasure publicly at the proposed reduction arguing that a pennant winning season should be rewarded with a "nice little increase."  Declining to deal through the media, Ebbets boarded a train for Kansas City where he met with his unhappy player.  In addition to what other arguments he used, Ebbets reminded Stengel that he had been paid his full 1915 salary even though he missed a good portion of the season due to illness - something Ebbets had no contractual obligation to do so.  Stengel, claimed Ebbets, left the meeting "somewhat chastened," but chastened or not the Dodger right fielder was absent when Brookyn began spring training.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - March 1, 1917

The deadlock was resolved in a way unimaginable today after Abe Yager of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, sent a telegram to Stengel on behalf of the sportswriters saying they wanted him at spring training and asked him to come to camp even without a contract.  Stengel quickly agreed and while Ebbets wasn't happy with third parties getting involved in the negotiations, he met with his discontented player and they reached an agreement at a $3,000 salary with a $400 bonus if Stengel hit over .300, a bonus the Brooklyn owner didn't have to pay.  After the 1917 season, Ebbets, who was no fool when it came to judging talent, decided Stengel wasn't worth a repeat salary squabble and included him a trade to Pittsburgh in return for, among others, Burleigh Grimes.  Grimes would become an ace pitcher for Brooklyn as well as a royal pain in Ebbets' neck at salary time, but he was at least a player worth the effort.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - March 18, 1917

While cutting a player's salary after the team won the pennant may seem to be an example of Ebbets cheapness, a charge he was tarred with somewhat unfairly throughout his career, he had every right to negotiate the new salary on the current market conditions, as unfair as they may have been to players.  Indeed at some level it was his responsibility to do so since an unprofitable Brooklyn club would never be competitive.  It's estimated that the 1916 regular season generated an operating profit of just over $73,000, but that was on attendance of about 448,000 and there was no reason to believe future crowds would be anywhere near that large.  Not only was Brooklyn unlikely to be as good on the field, the threat of World War I became a reality in April of 1917, dropping attendance to 221,619 that season and then an almost unimaginable 83,830 in the shortened 1918 campaign.  Even with whatever salary reductions Ebbets was able to negotiate, it was a financial blood bath that again put the Brooklyn club at the brink of ruin.  Fortunately, the end of the war and the advent of Sunday baseball in 1919, finally put the Brooklyn club on a sound financial footing.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Just another day at the ballpark

One of the goals of my soon to be published biography of longtime Brooklyn Dodger owner Charles Ebbets is to explore what it was like to own a baseball team in the first part of the 20th century.  The next few posts at A Manly Pastime will anticipate publication with brief looks at some of the challenges and issues faced by Ebbets and his peers.  Although being a baseball owner a century ago was a very different from today, there are some similarities beginning with the club owner's two primary responsibilities - providing an attractive venue and putting together competitive, if not championship teams.  Much, however, was different a hundred years ago beginning with the very nature of the baseball business. Professional baseball teams in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were very small businesses even within the context of the time.  In 1869, some seven years before the founding of the National League, railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt called the Harlem Railroad "a small thing" with "a little capital" of only $6 million.  Maybe so, but compared to the Brooklyn baseball club established 14 years later with capital of just $20,000, it was big enough.  Major league baseball teams were a mere drop of water on the vast ocean of American commerce.

National League Magnates - 1913 - Ebbets is in the second row sixth from the left

Small businesses owners typically have frequent contact with their customers and such was the case in major league baseball.  That was due not just to the relative small size of the business, but also because of the importance of the ticket buying patron.  Unlike today, there was no television or radio revenue so that the club's financial well being was almost entirely dependent on those who might or might not pay a few quarters to buy a ticket to a baseball game.  This greater degree of personal contact between owners and the fan base led to one very interesting experience for Mr. Ebbets late in his career.  Although Brooklyn's 1916 National League championship season was followed by three straight second division finishes, hopes were high for the 1920 season with Ebbets himself predicting a possible championship run.  And the Dodgers didn't disappoint getting off to a good start that had them in first place heading into a long home stand in late July. Hopes were so high, that Tom Rice of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, in what might have been a scripted interview, asked Ebbets his plans for World Series tickets.  It was an important question because Ebbets's handling of ticket prices for the 1916 Fall Classic had brought down the wrath of both the Brooklyn fans and the New York media on the Dodgers owner.

The Sun and New York Herald - August 8, 1920

Acknowledging past mistakes which he claimed had been a learning experience, Ebbets said he was planning on giving loyal fans the highest priority.  In practical terms that meant the prudent fan would be well advised to start saving ticket stubs from the upcoming home stand because the more ticket stubs, the greater the opportunity for World Series tickets.  Needless to say Ebbets knew full well the added incentive wouldn't hurt regular season gate receipts in the least, World Series or no World Series.   Unfortunately, the home stand didn't go well with the Dodgers doing no better than 5 - 7 for the first 12 games and an August 7th loss to Pittsburgh, a 7-0 whitewashing, was the last straw for some increasingly impatient fans.  It wasn't just the loss, but the nature of it that had the fans blood boiling.  Pittsburgh first five runs were not only unearned, they all scored due to Dodger errors on Pirate double steal attempts, twice with two out.  Offensively, Brooklyn suffered the ignominy of being shut out by 38 year old Babe Adams, the hero of the 1909 World Series.

Babe Adams

Today similarly disgusted fans would have been limited to using talk radio and social media to blast everyone from the owner on down.  The 1920 Dodger fan, however, had another alternative and, according to Charles Mathison in the New York Herald several hundred frustrated fans cornered Ebbets near the grandstand and peppered him "with pointed questions" for a half an hour, queries like:

"Why don't you get a catcher?"

"Why don't you hire a shortstop?"

And inevitably - "What's the use of us hoarding rain checks for a world's series?"

Somewhat surprisingly the sometimes short tempered Ebbets was more than equal to the occasion, answering each question to the best of his ability including offering fans a financial reward if they could tell him where to get a good catcher.  While the answers may not have been totally satisfactory, just paying attention clearly earned the Brooklyn magnate some credit with the fans.  Fortunately Ebbets was helped out at the end of the session by the "squeaky voice of a small boy" who wanted to know if he could ask a question.  Probably sensing what was coming Ebbets told the youngster to go ahead.  Predictably, the boy politely said he "would like to know if you will give me a pass for tomorrow."  Ebbets loathed giving out free passes (part of his somewhat undeserved reputation for cheapness), but he was also no fool so he joined in the laughter and granted the youngster's request.  Although doubtless still disappointed with their club's performance, the fans left in a better frame of mind and fortunately for everyone a 23-6 September spurt gave the Ebbets and his customers/fans the 1920 National League pennant.  On that August day, however,it was just one more, perhaps exaggerated example, of how hard Ebbets and his peers worked at keeping fans coming through the turnstiles.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The World Series comes to Ebbets Field

When the modern World Series began in 1903 (or arguably 1905), a discerning Brooklyn fan could legitimately think that his or her beloved Dodgers (or Superbas) had missed the trolley car.  A World Series was only possible if there was a second major league to compete with the National League and the American League's success in doing so was at least partially because of its raids on National League rosters especially Brooklyn's. The City of Church's pennant winning teams of 1899 and 1900 had been decimated by the war between the two leagues and the Dodgers' remaining talent was so limited, an appearance in the new fall classic was a distant dream.  It's unlikely however, that fans at the time had any idea how distant those dreams would prove to be.  Peace with the American League was accompanied by a new order in the senior circuit where only three teams; the Pirates, Giants and Cubs would win the pennant for more than a decade.  The other five clubs including Brooklyn had little more to compete for than fourth place and avoiding a second division finish.

The Brooklyn club ready to defend it's home turf - The Evening World - October 10, 1916

Fortunately few things lasts forever and when the change came, it did so with very little warning in the middle of the 1914 season.  On July 4th, the Giants seemed well on the way to their fourth straight National League flag with the hapless Braves stuck once again in last place.  In one of baseball's most dramatic, not to mention improbable, turnarounds, Boston went 68-19 over the course the season to easily win the pennant and proved it was no fluke by sweeping Connie Mack's heavily favored A's in the World Series.  The door was now open for new pretenders to the league throne and while it took some time, Brooklyn's turn came in 1916 when the club held off three challengers to win its first National League pennant since 1900 and earn its first appearance in the modern World Series.  Fittingly, Brooklyn also had a new ball park, Ebbets Field that would be an appropriate home for the series with the defending champion and heavily favored, Boston Red Sox.  Unfortunately, loyal Dodger fans had to wait a little bit longer for their first World Series game since Brooklyn's late clinching of the National League pennant made it impossible to prepare the ball park in time for the first two games both of which were played in Boston.

Boston's fabled royal rooters arrive at Ebbets Field - Brooklyn Daily Eagle - October 11, 1916

Equally unfortunately, Brooklyn lost both contests in heart breaking style, first when a last ditch ninth inning rally fell one run short in game one and then a 2-1, 14 inning loss to Babe Ruth in the second contest.  The Dodgers had, however, proven to be a resilient bunch all season so Brooklyn fans still had plenty of reason to come out and cheer their heroes.  As loyal as the fans may have been to their team, however, there was also some real dissatisfaction directed toward club president Charles Ebbets for pricing reserved seats in the front rows of both decks at Ebbets Field at an unimaginable $5 up from $3 a year earlier.  The result was a below capacity crowd of about 21,000 with "yawning gaps" in the aforementioned sections demonstrating how strongly the fans felt on the subject.  Attendance also wasn't helped by temperatures below 50 degrees and strong winds from the northwest, conditions which according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle made Ebbets Field "as cold as the inside of a refrigerator."  Still when the Dodgers took the field,  they were greeted by a loud cheer from their fans.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - October 11, 1916

On the mound for Brooklyn was Jack Coombs who had been acquired by the Dodgers a few years earlier in what Tom Rice of the Eagle described as a baseball "speculation."  Not only was Coombs at the end of his career, he had also suffered through an illness that threatened not just his career but also put his very life in danger.  The veteran pitcher had however more than justified Ebbets' "speculation" by winning 25 games over two years including a crucial shutout win over the Giants in the last week of the 1916 pennant race.  Coombs was also not likely to be bothered by the big stage as he had a 4-0 life time record in the fall classic.  Coombs retired the first two Boston batters, but then allowed two singles before being bailed out by his right fielder, one Charles "Casey" Stengel who threw out a Boston runner at third.  The Dodgers then brought the home crowd to its feet by loading the bases against Boston starter Carl Mays with only one out only to see the Red Sox escape without giving up a run.  The Boston pitcher wasn't so fortunate after that, however, as Brooklyn scored single runs in the second and third and seemed to put the game out of reach in the fifth, when Ivy Olson tripled to give Brooklyn a 4-0 lead.

Casey Stengel

The Red Sox, however, had no intention of going quietly, scoring twice in the sixth before Coombs got out of the inning.  Brooklyn wasted a golden opportunity to get back a run when Jake Daubert hit one to the left field corner which Harry Hooper played poorly.  Daubert should have had an inside the park home run, but was out at the plate due to a poor slide.  Coombs managed to get the first Boston batter in the seventh, but Larry Gardner homered over the right field fence on to "Bedford Street" (sic) to cut the Brooklyn lead to one.  After already suffered two heart breaking losses, many Brooklyn fans had to feel that they were in for another disappointing finish this time right before their very eyes. However, Coombs wisely knew he was done, signaled for a relief pitcher and manager Wilbert Robinson brought in 25 game winner Jeff Pfeffer.  No manager ever made a better choice since not only did the big right hander get out of the inning, he retired all 8 batters he faced without allowing a single base runner.  When Stengel caught the last out in right field it set off a football like celebration as the crowd poured onto the field.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - October 11, 1916

As they left the park, Dodger fans could have been forgiven for hoping their heroes would tie up the series on the morrow as could Charles Ebbets for thinking that the victory and better weather would produce a larger crowd.  All such hopes proved to be in vain, however, since even through the weather was perfect, the crowd was no larger than the day before.  And while Brooklyn got off to a  quick 2-0 lead, another Gardner home run helped Boston take charge for a 6-2 win and a stranglehold on the series which they clinched the next day in Boston.  All the same the 21,000 in attendance at the third game could claim that not only had they seen a World Series game in person, a rarity at the time, they had seen their local club prevail.  Ironically the Dodgers would play their last World Series game at Ebbets Field 40 years later to the very day, this time losing the seventh game of the 1956 classic to the Yankees and, perhaps even more ironically, their manager Casey Stengel.  All told Brooklyn would play 28 World Series games at Ebbets Field including both great (Lavagetto's 1947 hit) and horrible (Mickey Owen's 1941 dropped third strike) moments in club history.  But there could be only one first game and those in attendance got their money's worth even if they forked out $5 for the supposedly over priced grandstand seats.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Season's End

The Neshanock rang down the curtain on the 2018 vintage base ball season on Sunday by splitting two matches with the Diamond State Club of Delaware, dropping the first match, 16-3, but then coming from behind in the second for a 13-10 triumph. Neither I nor official blog photographer, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri were present thus the absence of both photos and any detailed account of the matches.  Flemington, therefore, closes the season with a 18-9 mark, the team's fourth consecutive winning season.  The biggest difference between this season and any of my eight prior seasons as Neshanock score keeper is the relatively small number of games played.  The 27 matches played in 2018 is significantly less than the 42 played in 2017, a decline of just over 40%.  Typically Flemington plays about 40 matches a season so this is the fewest number played in some time and it could have been worse.  A review of the matches that were played indicated that 11, close to 50% were played in less than ideal conditions with the cold and rain at Long Valley actually worse than some of the games that were cancelled.  Things were especially bad in August when the Neshanock were only able to play on one weekend - fortunately that was the Philadelphia Navy Yard Classic so that Flemington was able to get four games in.

Season's end also means it's time to thank those who made another season of vintage base ball possible beginning with team founder and president Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw.  From scheduling matches to chasing down 20 or so players every week by social media, it takes a lot of work to make things happen from early April through mid October.   That "Brooklyn's" been doing this since 2001 provides all the evidence needed of his commitment to recreating the game the way it was played back in the 19th century.  Thanks also to everyone who played for the Neshanock at least once during 2018 - there have been a number of additions to the roster over the past few years giving the team a good blend of youth and experience.  A special thank you to "Gaslight" for resuming his official blog photographer position in July since without question the pictures that supplement game accounts had fallen off in his absence.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

It's also important to remember two groups without whom no matches would ever take place - opponents and umpires.  Whether it's renewing old rivalries and friendships or meeting and competing with new friends, vintage base ball is at its best when its competitive, but also with the highest standards of sportsmanship.  Umpires also play a vital role so thanks to all those who officiated at Neshanock matches, especially Sam "It ain't nothing' till I say" Bernstein, our "regular" umpire who objectively calls them as he sees them, but always with a sense of humor.  Finally, but certainly not least are the spouses, partners, significant others, parents and children who support the Neshanock in so many different ways particularly tolerating the time commitment almost every week for seven months.  The reality is that being part of the Neshanock means more than being on a team, it also means being part of a community.  All the cancellations in 2018 should remind us how much vintage base ball means to us and what we miss when it's not there.  Let's hope for better weather in five months time when once again the Neshanock take the field for another season of this great game.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Between Innings

A Manly Pastime is taking a brief break, we will be back no later than October 15th.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

"Freshly Remembered"

Newark Evening News - October 21, 1929

Having survived, if not recovered, from last week's three hour, rain soaked marathon, Saturday saw the Neshanock at historic Cameron Field in South Orange (much more about that later) for what, I believe was the fourth time.  As always, the opposition was provided by the home standing South Orange Villagers, a team which comes together annually just for this game.  Last year the locals pulled out a dramatic win in the bottom of the ninth so Flemington had a full squad on hand for this year's renewal.  Striking first, South Orange tallied once and then added two in the second, matching the three runs Flemington scored in the bottom of the first.  In their half of the second, however, the Neshanock tallied six times and added four in the third for a commanding 13-3 lead and never looked back on the way to a 24-12 victory.  Despite being behind almost from the very beginning the local team played hard and put forward a very manly effort.  Playing 19th century base ball just once a year is very difficult and the South Orange team always puts forth a solid effort.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Danny "Lefty" Gallagher led the Neshanock attack with a five hit clear score, tallying all five times in the process.  Not far behind were Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Dave "Illinois" Harris with four apiece while "Jersey" Jim Nunn and Bob "Melky" Ritter each contributed three hits to the Neshanock attack.   Ken "Tumbles" Mandel also had three hits and reached once on a muff thereby earning Flemington's second clear score of the day.  Of special note on the defensive side was Mark "Gaslight" Granieri who "gunned" down an opposing runner, a feat he usually saves only for matches in Hudson County or Long Island.  Also, for what seemed like the first time this season, Flemington twice took advantage of the fact that there was no infield fly rule in 1864, recording a double play on each occasion.  Flemington recorded two other double plays, giving plenty of support for "Melky" and Scott "Snuffy" Hengst in the pitcher's box.  With the win, Flemington is now 16-7 on the season with six matches left over the next three weekends, beginning next Saturday in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Mention Cameron Field to almost anyone in Essex County and invariably the response is that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played there.  It says something about the importance of memory and history in base ball, perhaps more so than in any other sport.  Being reminded again of this historic event motivated me to look at the contemporary newspaper accounts of the game played on Sunday, October 27, 1929 when our country was on the precipice of the stock market crash and the great depression.  Looking at the reports in the Newark Evening News and the Daily Home News yielded further information including the fact that over the course of eight days, Cameron Field hosted base ball royalty not once, but twice.  On the preceding Sunday, the local team supplemented their lineup with the addition of three members of the Philadelphia Athletics fresh off winning the World Series from the Chicago Cubs.  Understandably we think of the Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig as being invincible, but 1929 was the exception.  Even though the Bronx Bombers had eight future Hall of Fame inductees on their roster, they were no match for a Philadelphia Athletic squad with four players bound for Cooperstown that won 104 games, finishing 18 games ahead of second place New York.

Left to right, Mule Haas, Howard Ehmke and Mickey Cochrane, Newark Evening News, October 21, 1929 

Both sets of major league reinforcements strengthened a semi-pro South Orange team that was enjoying plenty of success in its own right.   On Sunday, October 13, the local team defeated a squad from neighboring Maplewood for their 11th straight win, improving their overall record to 25-4.  Present at that game was George "Mule" Haas, a native of nearby Montclair and the center fielder on the Athletics, a lifetime .292 hitter who had just batted .313 for the World Series champions.  In mentioning Haas' presence, the Newark Evening News reported that he and pitcher Howard Emhke plus catcher Mickey Cochrane (one of Philadelphia's Hall of Fame players) would play for the South Orange club in next Sunday's game against the Doherty Silk Sox.   Ehmke and Cochrane were the same pitching/catching combination that won the first game of the 1929 World Series for Philadelphia.  While Cochrane's role was no surprise, Connie Mack's choice of the journeyman Ehmke over Lefty Grove and other star Athletics pitchers to start the first game of the World Series is a story that may merit a post in its own right.  Suffice it to say that Ehmke, a career .500 pitcher, not only won the game 3-1, he set a World Series record for strike outs with 13.

Daily Home News - October 28, 1929

While the addition of the three major leaguers to the already powerful South Orange lineup might suggest an impending rout, the Doherty Silk Sox (better known as the Paterson Silk Sox) were another strong semi-pro club with a long track record of playing and sometimes defeating major league teams.  Nor had the Paterson club stood pat with its own lineup adding three players with major league experience especially third baseman Joe Stripp.  Stripp from Harrison, New Jersey had just begun a ten year major league career that would see him hit over .300 on six different occasions.  Although Ruth and Gehrig obviously had more star quality, it was the October 20 game with the three Athletics which drew the bigger crowd, estimated at 12,000 by the Newark Evening News.  The crowd which the paper claimed "topped all records for semi-pro games in the state," got their money's worth in a game that saw the home team hold off a ninth inning Silk Sox rally and prevail, 7-6.  Cochrane managed two hits, but Haas, the local hero was only able reach base safely once.

Photo by Mark Granieri - note the 350 sign on the scoreboard, the railroad tracks are above and behind the fence so depending on exactly where Gehrig's first home run landed it probably traveled in the 375 to 400 range to left center.

Apparently not satisfied with giving the local fans one taste of base ball's best, the South Orange club hit the jackpot the following Sunday with Ruth and Gehrig.  Nor would the addition of the talented duo hurt the local club's chances of gaining a measure of revenge against their opponents, the New Brunswick Eagles who had handed South Orange one of its four losses.  Before a crowd, the Daily Home News of New Brunswick estimated at 10,000, the visitors took a quick 1-0 lead, but Eagles pitcher Mike Lauer quickly, and understandably, got in trouble in the bottom of the first.  With two on (Ruth via a single), Gehrig hit one "to the railroad tracks," his first of three circuit clouts on the day.  Ruth managed only one home run, a blast the Home News put at improbable 600 feet.  There was no further scoring until the top of the fourth when South Orange pitcher William "Wuzzy" Fullerton (supposedly a high minors pitcher) came unglued allowing five runs before Ruth came on in relief and struck out the last batter.

Daily Home News - October 28, 1929 - note the name of the umpire 

South Orange and its imported stars eventually restored order and the home club prevailed 14-7 in a game that was stopped in the eighth inning.  The Home News claimed the game was stopped because the supply of baseballs was exhausted (between 50 and 75) since unlike regular semi-pro games, fans were allowed to keep souvenirs.  The Newark Evening News offered a different explanation, claiming that the game was called when the crowd began "swarming out on the field" seeking Ruth's autograph.  Although Lauer, the New Brunswick pitcher had been predictably pounded by the two Yankees, he did have the satisfaction of striking out Ruth, a story he doubtless told ever thereafter to anyone who would listen.  Similarly fans from five to fifty-five, with or without autographs, had seen base ball royalty not as a distant speck from the bleachers, but much closer up and on their local field.  Clearly those memories have been repeated over almost a century so that the story is now a permanent part of community lore.  Doubtless there were many cold winter nights and hot summer days when those two Sundays in October were "in their flowing cups freshly remembered."

Sunday, September 9, 2018

"A Time to Every Purpose"

Base ball is a very difficult game to play.  Perhaps it's the sport's unique nature - no clock and the only one I'm aware of where the defense handles the ball.  Regardless of the reason, however, no basketball player or football quarterback would make their respective Hall of Fame, if they were successful only 30% of the time, but base ball hitters who do so are lauded as being the best in the history of the sport.  It's a game, therefore, that's hard to play under the best of conditions and on Saturday, the Neshanock and their guests, the Diamond State Club of Delaware, found out what it's like playing in some of the worst conditions imaginable.  Played as part of Long Valley, New Jersey's green festival, the game took place like many vintage matches on a field that was far from level, but on "grass" that was at least ankle high making every ground ball a challenge.  That would have been bad enough by itself, but steady rain, as per usual not predicted, made bats, balls and hands so wet that it's safe to say there were no easy plays throughout the match.  On reflection, both teams and the umpire deserve a tremendous amount of credit for how, in spite of the difficult conditions, they gave it everything they had and then some.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The Diamond State Club is one of the east's best teams as evidenced by their winning the National Silver Ball Tournament in Rochester, New York only a few weeks ago.  A team that combines good hitting plus solid defense and pitching, Diamond State is not a team to play catch up against, but on this afternoon the Neshanock tried to so on an epic scale.  The game began at 4:08 (more on that later) with what has to have been the worst defensive inning in Flemington history (if there is ever a worse one I don't want to see it).   Diamond State's usual good hitting combined with double digit muffs and walks gave the Delaware Club a 13-0 lead before they even took the field.  The Neshanock, however, quickly got their bats going and aided and abetted by the poor conditions tallied 15 times in the first three innings while holding Diamond State to only four more runs so that incredibly, Flemington trailed only 17-15.  From that point the game consisted of the Neshanock trying to match however many runs Diamond State scored and always coming up a little short.  

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Ahead by just four (nothing on this day) headed to the top of the ninth, Diamond State added four more insurance tallies with two out which was too much for Flemington overcome.  The final score was a hard to believe 37-32 (no football jokes please) in an equally unfathomable two hours and 52 minutes which has to be a Neshanock record, again one I have no interest in seeing matched or repeated.  A few weeks ago, I wrote about a 19th century reporter for the Trenton Evening Times who qualified his box score of a 14 inning game by saying he couldn't vouch to the accuracy because he had run out of paper.  I can now identify with him since my score book got so wet, it was impossible to keep detailed records for the last few innings.  As far as I can tell, Flemington was led by Dave "Illinois" Harris with six hits while Joe "Mick" Murray and Danny "Lefty" Gallagher contributed five apiece.  "Mick" did so, in spite of having to leave early and miss the last three innings.  Also noteworthy were four hits by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Mark "Gaslight" Granieri plus two home runs by Joseph "Sleepy" Soria.  Congratulations to Diamond State on winning a vintage base ball marathon and to both teams plus our umpire Sam "It ain't nothin' til I say" Bernstein for  their efforts under extremely unpleasant conditions. 

Photo by Mark Granieri

Saturday's scheduled start time of 4:00 was a first in my more than ten years of vintage base ball score keeping.  For the most part, the first pitch of Neshanock matches is supposed to take place at 11 or 12:00 o'clock and I gather that's fairly common place with some club preferring a 1:00 start especially on Sundays.  The atypical start time for the Long Valley match brought to mind a recent discussion about start times on the Historical Accuracy in Nineteenth Century Base Ball Face Book page. The pressing issue or question was the practical one of finding the time most conducive to player participation in second decade of the 21st century rather than the page's primary concern about how things were actually done in the second half of the 19th century.  Like most things, start times didn't happen in a vacuum, there was a reason or reasons for picking that specific hour on that specific day.  Typically, the start time was set for the convenience of a certain group or audience which has changed not just as the game has changed, but as the world around it has changed.  A look at start times in two different eras will, hopefully, illustrate the point.

New York Clipper - August 13, 1864

The place to look for historical start times is, of course, contemporary newspapers, but the Neshanock's score book, a replica of Henry Chadwick's 1868 version provides at least one clue to the 1860's.   Included on the pre-printed format is space to record when the match started and ended, with both listed as p.m. so clearly the late morning start times so popular in vintage base ball were not part of 19th century base ball world or at least not as far as Henry Chadwick was concerned.  Scanning through the New York Clipper for the 1864 season, the most popular match times were 2:30 or 3:00, a little bit earlier than I would have thought.  While some players were certainly paid in those days, few, if any, could support themselves and their families by base ball alone so matches had to be played during their free time of which there was precious little in the 1860's.  The only day off was Sunday when base ball and pretty much every other enjoyable activity was verboten to the point of incurring the wrath of the local police.  As a result time had to be found Monday-Saturday, almost all of which were work days, limiting participation to those with at least some control over their time.  The start times, therefore, were primarily driven by the needs of the players, not unlike the start times of vintage games.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - October 2, 1916

If we fast forward about 50 years to 1916, towards the end of the Deadball Era, a season I'm very familiar with, start times were even later.  A scan of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle confirms that the typical start time for Brooklyn Dodger games that year was 3:30 which even with decreasing day light after Labor Day (there was no Daylight Savings time), wasn't moved up to 3:00 until the very last week of the season.   According to the paper, sunset the first week in October was around 5:30 so there wasn't a big window of daylight, but fortunately games during the Deadball Era typically lasted less than two hours.  Still suspensions for darkness weren't uncommon, raising the question of why not start earlier.  The answer is that by 1916, game times were driven not by the needs of the players, but those of the fans.  Sunday base ball was still illegal in New York City (until 1919) and this was long before night games so most contests were played when people were working.  As a result the target audience became those who again had some control of their time, (typically middle class office workers) this time not to play, but to watch.  In fact, the start time, plus the two hour or so game, let fans see a game and get home in time for dinner, both saving money and helping to preserve the domestic tranquility.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The late afternoon start times are also evidence of how dependent club owners were on fans who paid to come to the ballpark.  At the time, the owners, or magnates as they liked to be called, had only one primary source of revenue - ticket sales.  Radio and television rights, memorabilia and other things were years away forcing owners to pay much more attention to the needs of the average person with a quarter to spend on a game.  Today, of course, its the opposite, television is the biggest source of revenue and it drives game times as well as other things.  Televised base ball is, of course, a wonderful thing, expanding the game's reach far beyond those with the money and time to attend a game.  However, attending a 2015 National League playoff game on a Monday night that ended after Monday Night Football (can't think of the last time I saw the end of a Monday night football game), made me remember fondly the days when the World Series was played during the day even when school forced us to miss the first few innings.  Of course, no matter the start time, it's the game itself that counts and that's always worth waiting for even under conditions like Saturday in Long Valley.

Monday, August 27, 2018

"I'd Rather be in Philadelphia"

Photo by Mark Granieri

Much like the singer in Simon and Garfinkel's 1968 hit song "America," I spent a fair amount of time over the weekend on the New Jersey Turnpike, not "counting the cars" or trying to"look for America," but rather on my way to and from Philadelphia in order to count tallies and outs at the Philadelphia Naval Yard Classic.  Played every other year, the event is hosted by the Athletic Club who once again did a fine job of bringing together vintage base ball clubs from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and, of course, Pennsylvania to play four matches over two days.  The games were played on the parade grounds of the former Naval Yard, an appropriate place to recreate 19th century base ball since Union troops used some of their off duty hours to play base ball on fields more typically devoted to drilling and military training.  Never doing anything by half measures, the Neshanock's first match on Saturday was against the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn, one of the country's top teams and long time friends of the Neshanock.  It would be great to say the two clubs are friendly rivals, but while the first word is accurate, it's hard to consider it a rivalry when one club (Flemington) has won only once in over a decade.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Vintage base ball is, of course, about recreating the game the way it was played in the 19th century, in this case 1864, but there are always differences, both intentional and otherwise.  One aspect, however, where the vintage game mirrors the original, is the importance of who shows up for a given game.  That this was an issue back in the day is confirmed by the way pioneering sports writers, William Cauldwell and Henry Chadwick typically began 1864 game accounts in the Sunday Mercury and the New York Clipper by evaluating the turnout, not of fans, but players.  Had both gentlemen been transported to the Naval Yard on Saturday, they would have quickly concluded that the Atlantic were missing some of their key players, especially the left side of their infield, one of the best in the country.  The Brooklyn team, however, didn't get to be a top team by relying on just a few players and those present were more than worthy of the club's reputation especially in terms of its defense.  While the Atlantic players are fully capable of making spectacular plays, their strength, in my view, is the way they consistently make the routine play, thereby giving opponents the minimum number of offensive opportunities. 

Photo by Mark Granieri

Flemington was also not at full strength and fortunate to have Chris Lauber, a muffin playing his first game and Matt Nunn, returning to action for the first time in several years.  Playing some good defense of its own, the Neshanock held the Atlantics scoreless for the first three inning while tallying five times for a 5-0 lead going to the bottom of the fourth.  No one thought that trend would continue and the Brooklyn club scored twice in both the fourth and fifth innings to trail by only one tally.  The Atlantic comeback was aided by one of the Neshanock's characteristic multiple out innings, in this case, combining three errors with the standard three outs.   Fortunately, and uncharacteristically, however, the damage was limited to only two tallies.  From that point on, however, it was the Neshanock's day, Flemington tallied seven more times while holding the Atlantic to only two runs for a 12-6 Neshanock victory.  Offensively, Flemington was led by Jeff "Duke" Schneider and Mark "Gaslight"Granieri with three hits each, "Gaslight" recording a clear score in the process.  They were ably supported by Adam "Beast" Leffler and the Neshanock's three Nunns - "Jersey" Jim, Chris "Sideshow" and the aforementioned Matt with two each.  Scott "Snuffy" Hengst,in only his second career start, pitched very effectively and, with the one exception, was well supported by his defense. 

Photo by Mark Granieri

After taking on one of vintage base ball' senior clubs in the first Saturday match (the vintage version of the Atlantics were founded in 1997), the Neshanock next played a relatively new team, the Brandywine Club out of West Chester, Pennsylvania, founded in 2013.  Flemington has enjoyed playing Brandywine at various locations ranging from Ringwood Manor State Park in New Jersey to two memorable contests a year ago at the Hecklerfest in Harleysville, Pennsylvania.  Flemington again got off to a fast start, scoring twice in the first and leading 7-0 after four innings.  Brandywine is too good a team to go down easily, however, and they rallied to close to within 9-6 as the game went to the bottom of the seventh.  Fortunately, Flemington tallied four times, for a 13-6 lead and held on for a 13-8 victory.  Sadly, the win was marred by a broken finger suffered by "Sideshow"which will sideline him for the rest of the season.  Flemington got another strong pitching performance from "Snuffy" and the offense was led by Ken "Tumbles" Mandel and "Gaslight" with three hits apiece, "Gaslight" coming up just one at bat short of another clear score.  Five other Neshanock's had two hits apiece and even more impressively, 10 of the 11 Flemington players tallied at least once.

Photo by Mark Granieri

After round trips of varying distances, early Sunday morning found the Neshanock in reduced numbers back at the Navy Yard for the festival's second day.  Fortunately the remnant from Saturday was joined by some regulars plus two muffins, Nick Mendell and Joel Price both of whom made important contributions.  First up for the Neshanock was the host Athletic Club already with one win under the their collective belts, and another to come, led by former Neshanock and old friend Greg "Southwark" Stoloski.  Once again, (are we noticing a pattern here), Flemington got off to a quick start leading 6-0 after just two innings.  At that point, however, the Athletics shut down the Neshanock and closed to within 6-3 as Flemington batted in the sixth.  Fortunately, the Athletics, according to "Southwark," have a tendency to give up the ten run inning, much like the Neshanock's susceptibility to the multiple out inning.  On this occasion it turned out to be eight runs, but it was more than enough to propel Flemington to a 17-4 win, nowhere near as decisive as the score suggested.  Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner led the Neshanock with five hits while Renee "Mango" Marrero and Joel (in his first game) added four apiece.  Continuing the offensive balance of Saturday's second game every Neshanock had at least two hits.   

Photo by Mark Granieri 

By the time Flemington's final match of the classic began, my sense was both teams were tired from the heat, the travel and two full days of baseball.  I know I was and, other than hitting the dirt twice to avoid foul line drives, I hadn't been moving around that much.  After opening the weekend against, one of the country's top vintage teams, the Neshanock finished up with another, the Talbot Fairplays from Maryland.  Like Flemington, Talbot didn't have its full roster, but those present took a back seat to nobody.   While the Neshanock again scored first, Talbot quickly took the lead in the bottom of the first and led 8-6 after four innings before Flemington tied it in the fifth. The Neshanock then retook the lead, scoring twice in the fifth and five times in the seventh to lead 13-8.  Unfortunately, the multi-out inning once again raised its ugly head and along with some solid hitting, Talbot closed the gap to 13-11.  Flemington only had one base runner over the next two innings which might have spelled disaster, but Talbot managed only a single run in the eighth and the game headed to the last inning with the Neshanock clinging to a one run lead.  In its last at bat of the weekend, however, the lower half of the Flemington order added two badly needed insurance runs and the Neshanock earned a very hard fought 15-12 victory over a very worthy adversary.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Dan "Sledge" Hammer led the Neshanock attack with four hits, including two triples and tallied four times, once more than "Duke" who had two hits of his own.  "Thumbs," "Mango," "Jersey" and Chris "Lowball" Lowry each added three hits with "Lowball's" especially important since they came from the bottom of the batting order.  Now 15-6 on the season, Flemington will be off for the Labor Day weekend before returning to action at 4:00 (yes 4:00) on Saturday, September 8th in Long Valley, New Jersey against the Diamond State Club of Delaware.  The quote at the head of this post is from a popular urban legend about the comedian, W. C. Fields (1880 - 1946), who was born in Philadelphia and made countless jokes at the expense of his native city.  Supposedly his tombstone bears one last shot at the City of Brotherly Love of which there are various versions including  "Better here than in Philadelphia."  According to the website,, the story is in fact only a joke he told many years before his death.  For those of us in the vintage base ball community fortunate enough to attend the classic, it's safe to say that thanks to the Athletic Club, there was no place we would rather have been this past weekend than in Philadelphia!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Half a Loaf

The Neshanock's weekend in New England began successfully (at least on my part) with two days with Sophie and Henry, seen above enjoying finger puppets from Ecuador courtesy of amiga Linda.  Things began to go downhill on Friday morning (Gettysburg all over again) when the weather forecast changed from thunderstorms to rain all day on Saturday with more storms on Sunday.  In the end the entire weekend of games in Massachusetts and Connecticut was rained out leading to a ride home on Saturday that became el viaje del infierno (the trip from hell).  What's normally a 4 to 5 hour trip lasted 7 hours (a new record) topped off by taking an hour to go the last 10 miles due to flooding in north Jersey.  Having set a team record for fewest games played in July (4), the Neshanock are now on target for a similar record in August with four the maximum possible.  While I don't usually forecast the weather, next weekend should be one of the nicest of the summer since Flemington has no games scheduled.  The following weekend,  however, the prudent reader would do well to have indoor plans since the Neshanock are scheduled (the operative word) to participate both Saturday and Sunday in the Philadelphia Navy Yard classic, held, of all places, at the Philadelphia Navy Yard under the leadership of the Athletic Club of Philadelphia.   At this point, we would probably settle for one tolerable day.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

In Search of New Jersey's Lost Ballparks

For Christmas one year, I presented my father with a sweatshirt that had emblazoned across the chest the words - "Voice of Doom" because of his uncanny ability to identify and, all too often accurately predict, the worst possible thing that could happen.  The best or worst example was the time we were watching an indoor track meet on television where the lead runner had almost lapped the field, prompting my father to say "If he doesn't fall down, he'll win the race."  No sooner were the words out of his mouth when, in what was probably a foregone conclusion, the unfortunate runner indeed fell down and lost the race.  What brought this to mind is that I'm starting to wonder if I've inherited that trait.  Two weeks ago when I said the Neshanock's 2018 season could be summed up in one word - "cancellations," it was meant to be analytical not prophetic.  Since then, however, the two succeeding matches have been cancelled and I'm starting to wonder what this means for the rest of the season especially next weekend's visit to New England.  The schedule calls for participation in a Saturday event sponsored by the Essex Base Ball Association at the Spencer-Pierce-Little farm in Newbury, Massachusetts, followed by a Sabbath visit to Rhode Island to take on the Providence Grays.  For me, it's a combination of base ball and grandchildren (not necessarily in that order) so I'm hoping I haven't jinxed the Neshnock's entire season.


Readers of this blog may recall that I have been in discussions with the Morven Museum and Gardens in Princeton about a possible exhibit on 19th century New Jersey base ball and the good news is that the exhibit is going ahead and is scheduled to open in June of 2019.  Originally, the idea was to cover the first 25 years of New Jersey base ball, but we've since decided to extend the period through 1915 which will allow us to tell the story of New Jersey's sole major league team, the short lived Federal League's, even more short lived, Newark Peppers.  Another possibility under consideration is to show through maps and other media, the location of some of the state's earliest base ball grounds or fields.  Locations which for the most part have long since been consumed by some kind of urban development.  It's an idea not without its challenges since like player identification, the contemporary media wasn't always that precise in describing the specific locations, but it should be possible to identify at least some of these lost base ball fields.  Jersey City, for example, where the Neshanock were supposed to play the Hoboken Club this past Saturday has a number of interesting possibilities.

Although there are claims Jersey City had a base ball club as early as the 1830's, the first two well documented teams, the Pioneer and Excelsior Clubs took the field, wherever it was, in 1855.  The description of the two clubs' first match unhelpfully listed the location as the "field between Hoboken and Jersey City," thereby rendering identification impossible.  Despite some on-the-field success, the two charter clubs lasted only one year, supposedly to some degree to the difficulty in securing grounds, but more likely because the best players on the two teams defected to the Eagle Club of New York.  The next Jersey City senior team was the Hamilton Club, probably the most well-documented antebellum New Jersey club, which will likely play an important part in the exhibit in its own right.  From 1858 to 1860, the Hamiltons played and practiced on a field near the Long Dock in Jersey City which can be seen in the 1867 lithograph of New York harbor at the top of the post, helpfully pointed out to me by John Ward Beekman of the Jersey City Public Library.  The Long Dock and the adjoining fields can be seen left center of the full picture at the beginning of the post and/or at the center of the smaller version immediately above.

Although the Hamilton Club intended to play base ball in 1861, there's no record of club activities after their annual meeting in April of that year where they discussed the problem of finding adequate grounds, suggesting the field near the Long Dock was no longer available.  While it took a few years, a number of clubs filled the gap, especially the Champion Club which became Jersey City's premier base ball team of the pioneer period.  The Champions, as they liked to call themselves, played their matches at "the head of Erie Street."  Review of a contemporary map of Jersey City suggests a vacant lot within the trapezoid shape marked in red above, with Erie Street on the left, Grove Street on the right and Jersey Avenue at the bottom.  Interestingly the field was located only a few blocks east or to the right of one of the city's minuscule African-American community which helps explain how an impromptu 1870 pickup game included some black players in what appears to have been New Jersey's first integrated base ball game.  Identifying early base ball grounds will have its challenges, but stories like these make it well worthwhile.  

Friday, July 27, 2018

A Rogues Gallery

Cancellation continues to be the theme for the Neshanock's 2018 season as the match with the Hoboken Club scheduled for July 28th has been cancelled.  Now 11-6 on the season, Flemington is scheduled to again take on the Hoboken Club on Saturday, August 4th at a to be determined location.  In the interim, please find below portraits (click to enlarge) of some of your favorite Neshanocks taken at Gettysburg.  Unless otherwise indicated, the photos were taken by Mark Granieri.

Chris "Sideshow" Nunn

Ken "Tumbles" Mandel

Meshack "Shack" Dusane

Joe "Irish" Colduvell

Dan "Sledge" Hammer pitching and Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner at short

Dan "Lefty" Gallagher, courtesy of KJS Photography

Matt "Professor" Ayres 

"Jersey" Jim Nunn

Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, courtesy of KJS Photography

Steve "Dave" Colon

Guess who? Courtesy of the Allegheny Ironsides