Sunday, June 6, 2021

Location, Location, Location

Baseball, regardless of whether it's one word or two, often seems to be a game of trite clichés and unbroken rules or principles that teams violate at their own risk.  Yet there is a reason why we fall back on those clichés and principles - all too frequently they are literally true. That has certainly been the case with the 2021 version of  the Flemington Neshanock -Elizabeth Resolutes rivalry, the oldest in the state.  Take for example the oft used expression "when these two teams get together anything can happen and usually does."  In the opener back on May 1st, Flemington took an early lead, but the Resolutes kept chipping away and won the game in the bottom of the ninth.  Saturday's second meeting at the Howell Living History Farm near Lambertville was more of the back and forth variety, but with all the drama anyone could want.  As per usual, all game photos are by Mark "Gaslight" Granieri

Shooting Park Grounds, Vailsburg, Newark - 1898

Flemington won the toss and sent the Resolutes up first to the striker's line.  The visitors tallied once, a run the Neshanock matched and then added three more for a 4-1 lead after one.  Felmington increased it's advantage to 7-2 after three innings, but Elizabeth came roaring back with five in the fourth and four in the fifth to lead 11-8 after five innings.  The two teams basically traded runs over the next few innings so the Resolutes still had a three run lead when Flemington came up in the bottom of the seventh.  The Neshanock were far from done, however, tallying seven times for an 18-14 lead which looked even better when Elizabeth didn't score in their half of the eighth.  Flemington added one more tally in the bottom of the eighth and held a five run advantage as the game headed to ninth. One of the timeless principles of baseball is with a big lead late the one thing to avoid at all costs is giving the opponent base runners, a principle the Neshanock violated three times.  The Resolutes are far too good a team to give that kind of help and the visitors tied the game at 19-19.

Note the tree taking up most of right field

Having abused one cardinal baseball principle Flemington did so again in the bottom of the ninth - loading the bases with one out, but then failing to score sending the game to extra innings.  Offending the baseball gods that often usually leads to disaster and this was no exception.  Elizabeth put one run across the plate in the top of the tenth and although Flemington got the tying run to third, he died there and the Resolutes had a second dramatic one run victory over the Neshanock.  None of this is to take anything away from Elizabeth who earned the win with timely hitting and solid defense. Flemington had plenty of offensive contributors as Danny "Lefty" Gallagher, Dan "Sledge" Hammer, Rene "Mango" Marrero, Chris "Low Ball" Lowry, Chris "Sideshow" Nunn and Ken "Tumbles" Mandel all had three hits.   In the process "Mango" earned his first clear score of the season.  Not far behind were Gregg "Burner" Wiseburn, Joe "Mick" Murray and Scott "Snuffy" Hengst each with two hits apiece.  After an open date this Saturday, the Neshanock will visit the Liberty Club of New Brunswick on Saturday, June 19th.   

Ken "Tumbles" Mandel about to score for Flemington

The Resolutes have taken to live-streaming their matches over Facebook - a boon to the their followers, but obviously not something that was part of baseball  in the 1860s and 70s.  The innovation along with a recent post by MLB historian John Thorn, in his always interesting and informative blog, reminded me that the first motion picture of a baseball game was made right here in New Jersey.  That probably shouldn't come as a surprise since the leading innovator of motion pictures, Thomas Edison both lived and worked in West Orange.  When Edison was ready to experiment with filming  a baseball game, he didn't have to send his staff very far, just a few miles away to nearby Vailsburg, then an independent borough, now part of the city of Newark.  Fortunately the film survives and can be viewed at the Library of Congress' web site.  One word of advice - don't blink - it lasts less than 30 seconds.  

A very historically accurate picture (minus the water bottle)

The film captures a very brief segment of a game between the Newark Colts and the Reading Coal Heavers two teams in the Atlantic League, a minor league that operated from 1896 to 1900.  The game was played on either May 17, 1898, a game won by Newark 10-7 or the following day, a 4-2 Reading triumph.  The action depicts two Newark batters, both of whom, as far as I can tell, were put out at first base.  There is speculation that the first Newark batter (at about 11 seconds) is Zane Grey who after trying dentistry and base ball, found his calling as a novelist especially of westerns like Riders of the Purple Sage.  Grey also wrote some baseball books, most notably in this case, The Shortstop, a story of minor league baseball based to some extent upon his experience with the Newark Colts.

Philadelphia Inquirer - May 18, 1898 - note the attendance of only 125, testament to the financial challenges of running a minor league team before the introduction of farm systems.

This historic event took place in New Jersey because of another old adage, this time about real estate where the three most important things are location, location and location.  In this case that means the proximity of the field to Edison's laboratory.  Even so, someone had to put up and maintain a ballpark there and a further benefit of the film is one of the earliest pictures of a New Jersey baseball field or grounds as they were then called.  The Newark team played its home games at the Shooting Park Grounds in Vailsburg and from the pictures we can see a wooden grandstand with a covered roof - not exactly luxury, but something more than an open field.  Baseball's equivalent of "George Washington slept here" is the famous players who passed through these obscure minor league parks on the way to the majors.  The Shooting Park is no exception. In 1896, the Atlantic League's first season, the Paterson club was represented on the field by future Hall of Famer Honus Wagner under the direction of his manager, Ed Barrow.  Barrow effectively created the general manager's position and is also a Hall of Fame inductee.

Paterson Atlantic League team - Honus Wagner is third from left in the back row, Ed Barrow is the man in the bow tie. 

Such stories of future major league stars playing at minor league venues are far from unique, but what is unusual in this case is that Wagner's opinion of the Shooting Park survives - in short, he didn't like it.  According to the Paterson News, Wagner (unflatteringly referred to as "Harris") moaned that there was "not room enough to play marbles on the diamond."  Perhaps prompted by Wagner, the reporter provided a detailed list of the fields shortcomings beginning with it's "cigar box" like dimensions including a short right field fence and "a big tree" in left field.  Perhaps the tree in the playing field was modeled on the Howell Living History Farm where a large tree in right field made for some interesting ground rules.  Nor was the infield much better since the "lumpy" ground made it "hard for a player to get a ground ball."  The small size of the ground forced the writer to continually look for new metaphors since after starting out as a "cigar box," a few days later the Shooting Park was a "cheese box."

Always a fun venue

While the park's limitations couldn't have been a good thing, at least it was there when Edison was ready to make motion picture history.  That was no sure thing since a year earlier, the future of the park and the club was very uncertain.  On August 24, 1897, some questionable calls by the umpire led to a riot that led the borough council to ban Sunday games at the Shooting Park.  Since the bulk of the club's revenue came from Sunday games, it was feared the club couldn't make it financially and that Newark might not have a team in 1898.  Fortunately, however, not only did minor league base ball continue in Vailsburg, the owners decided to spend up to $2500 to upgrade the grounds.  Not only would the seating capacity be significantly upgraded, but the right field fence was to be moved back 60 feet and the "annoying gravel bed" near shortstop would be replaced by sand.  The improvements were too late to make any difference to Wagner who was then in his second season  in the majors, but the upgrades helped insure the New Jersey "location" was there for that historic moment.

1 comment:

  1. It seems that nearly all of the unspoken rules are vanishing. Is the only one that remains "don't bunt when a pitcher is close to a no-hitter?"