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

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

"A New Birth of Freedom"

Photo by Mark Granieri

Over the course of a six month base ball season, it's not unusual for a theme or pattern to develop that seems to characterize that particular year.  It might take the form of frequent close games, too many heart breaking losses (one may be too many) or a season full of injuries.  If we had to use only one word to characterize the Neshanock's 2018 campaign thus far it would be "cancellations."  Far too many games lost to the weather ranging from extreme cold to extreme heat, not to mention the old reliables, rain and wet grounds.  It should, therefore, have been no surprise that the ninth edition of the Gettysburg National 19th Century Base Ball Festival was plagued by rain of biblical proportions.  Typically the weather issue at the festival is heat and humidity, conditions all too common to that small village in central Pennsylvania.  Since the weather forecasts predicted temperatures in the low 80's (mild for Gettysburg in July) with a chance of thunderstorms (a default summer prediction in Gettysburg), the weather outlook seemed promising.  However, just as Carol and I left home on Friday, we noticed that rain and a lot of it was predicted for Saturday.  On arrival mid-afternoon, we experienced the tease only the weather can offer, a beautiful albeit hot day, repeatedly leading to the thought (hope) it could somehow continue.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The Neshanock had, however, caught a break in the schedule, playing early on Saturday morning offering the possibility that we might get at least one match in before the rains came.  Flemington's opponent in the 8:30 opener was the Allegheny Ironsides from Donora, Pennsylvania about 30 or so miles south of Pittsburgh.  Donora, as most base ball fans will recall, is the birthplace of not one, but two Hall of Fame players - Stan Musial and Ken Griffey, Jr., not to mention Ken Griffey Sr., no mean player in his own right.  Founded in 2015, the Ironsides have a real challenge scheduling matches due to the lack of vintage clubs in western Pennsylvania.  Allegheny won the toss and elected to strike first under gray, but not particularly threatening clouds.  After the first striker was retired, the next Ironsides hitter reached first and promptly stole second only to be gunned down by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn when he tried to repeat the feat at third.  The play set an early pattern to the game as the Allegheny club tested "Sideshow's" arm, a test he more than passed, throwing out three runners in the process.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Having shut out the Ironmen in the top of the inning, Flemington quickly got to work in their turn at bat as the first four batters hit safely leading the way to four tallies and a 4-0 lead.  Allegheny responded with two runs in their next at bat, but the aforementioned defensive effort by "Sideshow" stopped any big rallies from developing.  Meanwhile, the Neshanock added two in the second and three in the third for a 9-2 lead, but were only able to score once in the next three innings.  During that same period, the Pennsylvania club added two more runs and trailed 10-4 heading to the top of the seventh.  When the Ironmen put runners on first and third with only one out, the sickening feeling of a lead slipping away crossed at least one mind on the Flemington bench.  The Neshanock defense, however, was equal to the occasion, retiring the side without allowing any runs and Flemington broke the game open adding seven more runs for a deceptive 17-5 victory.  Allegheny played error free ball in the field and the match could easily have been much closer.   The Neshanock offense was led by Dan "Sledge" Hammer with four hits, followed by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner, Dan "Lefty" Gallagher and Steve "Dave" Colon with three apiece.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Shifting quickly, and still ahead of the rain, to a new field for a new opponent, Flemington took on the Monarch Club of Moscow, Ohio in the second match of the morning.  Also, I believe, a relatively new club, the Ohio team was making its first appearance in the festival and had the misfortune to take on the Neshanock in a game where Flemington consistently got the good bounces in the field and the Monarchs got nothing but bad hops.  The game saw the Neshanock again take a 4-0 lead after one and the match quickly got out of hand in the second inning when Flemington added 10 tallies for an insurmountable lead on the way to a 23-8 victory.  As the score indicates, it was an especially productive offensive match for the Neshanock, led by "Sideshow" and "Thumbs" with four hits each, both earning a clear score in the process.  Although he had one less hit, "Lefty" more than made up for it terms of power, hitting two home runs.  "Sledge" also added three hits as did "Jersey" Jim Nunn and Meshack "Shack" Dusane.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Saturday also marked the return of crafty Neshanock veteran Mark "Gaslight" Granieri who had two hits in each game, and even more importantly, resumed his role as official blog photographer.  At one point during the second game, the sun even came out prompting thoughts/hopes the forecast was wrong.  Unfortunately, the ray of sunshine was literally the lull before the storm.  The game with the Monarchs finished under a steady rain growing into a downpour that continued with unrelenting fury into the early hours of the morning.  The Eclipse Club made every effort to get Sunday's games in, but the fields were simply too water soaked and they wisely cancelled the rest of the event.  Thanks as always to the Maryland club for the hard work and masterful management that goes into this event.  The Flemington Neshanock are proud to have been part this wonderful festival for every year since its inception.  We're already looking forward to the 10th anniversary in 2019, hopefully under drier conditions and for at least one year, I don't think anyone will complain about the heat.

Photo by Mark Granieri

One of the casualties of Saturday's storm was a battlefield tour that was going to end with a visit to the New Jersey and Pennsylvania sections of the National Cemetery.  Much of what I was going to say at the cemetery was based on ideas in Gary Wills' book - Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America.   According to Wills, once the fighting at Gettysburg was over, both sides rushed to interpret the meaning of the battle. Lincoln, however had a much higher goal, quite simply he was trying to win the entire Civil War or more specifically definitively define why the North was fighting the war.  And Wills thinks Lincoln successfully achieved that goal.  In his speech, Lincoln claimed the North was fighting to preserve a nation "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" with the goal of "a new birth of freedom" based on those principles of equality.  Those were hardly universally accepted sentiments in 1863, just one example is a contemporary editorial in the Chicago Times excoriating Lincoln for claiming that the Union dead were fighting for equal rights for blacks or that the founders entertained any such ideas.  Lincoln, of course, never mentions slavery in the Gettysburg address, but everyone knew what he was talking about.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Like most of Lincoln's deathless words, the phrase "a new birth of freedom" has become sanctified as part of American scripture, but that doesn't necessarily make it easy to visualize what it looks like in practice.  Earlier in July, in a grace filled moment, I had the opportunity to personally witness and experience the kind of equality I think Lincoln was talking about.  Due to a series of events that would have been hard to foresee, I accompanied a friend to a memorial service at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.  About 100 people gathered for the service, but what was impressive was the not the number present, but rather the remarkable diversity of the group encompassing race, sexual orientation, gender and age.  It's one thing, however, to bring a diverse group of people together, its quite another for them to interact on an unspoken, but no less real, level of equality, grounded on this occasion by their shared love and respect for the deceased.  Regardless of how it came to be, however, it was for me a striking demonstration of Lincoln's vision of what our country can be when we live out the core values embodied in the Declaration.  As eloquent as Lincoln's words were however, their effectiveness ultimately depended on the sacrifices of those who at Gettysburg "gave the last full measure of devotion."  Because of what they did there and because of what Lincoln said there, we live in a very different and a much better America.