Posts Tagged ‘Hoboken’

New Jersey, Allaire State Park, and the Revolutionary War

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

Monmouth County, located somewhat equidistantly between Hoboken and Atlantic City, boasts land of high significance to baseball and America.  Once the spring training home of Brooklyn’s major league squad around the turn of the 20th century, nearly four decades before that gloried organization settled on the Dodgers label—having also been known as Bridegrooms, Flock, Trolley Dodgers—Allaire State Park has the ghosts of the National Pastime dancing around its environs.  When vintage baseball teams, dressed in uniforms play on Allaire’s grounds, they continue the legacy.

Named for James Peter Allaire, who bought the land in 1822, the park showcases a 19th century village, complete with a reenactment of daily activities.  Allaire purchased approximately 5,000 acres—it was labeled Howell Works.

The web site for the Monmouth County Historical Association calls Allaire “one of the foremost steam engine manufacturers of his time, although he was trained as a brass founder.  Between 1804 and 1806, he cast the brass air chamber for Robert Fulton’s ‘CLERMONT’ and was with Fulton on the steamboat’s historic maiden voyage.”

Allaire enjoyed the confidence, friendship, and trust of Fulton, who manifested the bond by appointing Allaire executor of his will.

Expansion occurred under Allaire’s aegis—”an additional 3,000 acres of woodland to ensure the charcoal fuel supply necessary for the bog-iron production.”

Once a self-contained village of approximately 500 people, Allaire declined because of the “discovery of high grades of iron ore in Pennsylvania along with the benefit of an anthracite coal fuel source,” according to Allaire Village’s web site.

13 of the original buildings remain for visitors to take a peek into history, including tool making using 19th century methods.

Additionally, vintage baseball teams meet not he grounds once graced by the Brooklyn ancestors of Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, and Pee Wee Reese.  “To my knowledge, visitor and Villagers participating in 1831 Philadelphia Townball at Allaire Village are involved in a unique experience not replicated anywhere else in the country!  Most other historical site interpretations of Townball play the 1850’s Massachusetts-style Game.  We play the game that Howell Works residents most likely would have known,” explained Russ McIver in a 2014 article on Allaire State Park’s web site. McIver is an Allaire volunteer and vintage baseball enthusiast, one of many dedicated to recreating 19th century baseball.

Allaire also has the distinction of being in a county that saw a turning point in the American War for Independence, also known as the Revolutionary War.  General George Washington led the rebels in the Battle of Monmouth, which highlighted a severe dispute between the general and his second in command, General Charles Lee.

Washington ordered Lee into battle.   Instead, Lee led his soldiers to retreat, which ignited wrath in his commanding officer.  It was a clash of strategies.  On the George Washington’s Mount Vernon’s web site, Dr. Mary Stockwell explains that regret formed a cornerstone of the conflict:  “Washington’s fury stemmed in part from his regret at having appointed Lee in the first place.  When Washington initially proposed attacking the British on their way through New Jersey, Lee scoffed at the idea.”

Lee wasn’t alone; General Henry Knox advocated against entering a battle with troops numbering around 15,000.  Marquis de Lafayette, General Nathanael Greene, and General Anthony Wayne took the opposite approach.

Washington opted for battle, which resulted in victory.  “Noticing British campfires burning in the distance, Washington decided to continue the fight in the morning.  But at sunrise, he realized that the redcoats had kept their fires burning as a ruse and were safely on their way to New York,” described Stockwell.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 4, 2016.

Elysian Fields, Alexander Cartwright, and the Knickerbockers of New York

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

With civic pride running as deep as the Hudson River abutting it, Hoboken boasts a singer who defined the standard for American popular music, an Italian festival dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, and a Beaux-Arts train terminal built by the once iconic Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad.  Respectively, these cornerstones are better known as Frank Sinatra, St. Ann’s Feast, and Hoboken Terminal.

For baseball fans, Hoboken occupies vital territory in the National Pastime’s genesis.  This jewel of New Jersey was the location of the first official baseball game, according to lore—it happened on June 19, 1846, when the New York Nine defeated the Knickerbocker Baseball Club of New York at Hoboken’s Elysian Fields; the score was 23-1.

Alexander Cartwright spearheaded the creation of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club during the previous September.  It was a turning point that established rules, including the setting of a diamond shape with 90 feet separating the bases, the recording of an out when a fielder possesses the ball on a base rather than the runner being struck by the ball, and the equaling of three strikes to an out.

In his 1969 book Baseball: An Informal History, Douglas Wallop described the barometer of 90 feet as optimal.  “Had the distance been, say, ninety-two feet, stealing second would have been so difficult as to be seldom achieved,” wrote Wallop.  “Had it been eighty-eight, stealing second might have been too easy.  Few baseball players in history—Ty Cobb and Maury Wills chief among them—have had the speed and base-stealing technique to give the runner the upper hand, and even they made no mockery of it.”

These were not, however, measures easily created.  “Even the steps the Knickerbockers did take toward organization and uniformity were made reluctantly,” stated baseball historian Peter Morris in his 2008 book But Didn’t We Have Fun? An Informal History of Baseball’s Pioneer Era, 1843-1870.  “According to [Knickerbocker Duncan] Curry, when Alexander Cartwright proposed standard rules: ‘His plan met with much good natured derision, but he was so persistent in having us try his new game that we finally consented more to humor him than with any thought of it becoming a reality.'”

Cartwright’s place in baseball history may not rest on bedrock, however, in light of recent scrutiny.  In her 2009 book Alexander Cartwright: The Life Behind the Legend, Monica Nucciarone peels away the layers of Cartwright’s involvement in baseball’s embryonic phase, resulting in a chronicle with a different conclusion than the one learned by every generation of baseball fans since the Polk administration.  It is an example of the continuing examination of myths, legends, and facts comprising history.

In his review of Nucciarone’s book for the Summer 2011 issue of Journal of Sport History, Thomas Altherr wrote, “Several baseball historians, including John Thorn and Randall Brown, have already undercut the Cartwright theories and attributed more influence to other Knickerbockers, such as Daniel Adams, William Wheaton, and Daniel Brown.  Nucciarone’s work should now inspire the complete toppling of the Cartwright mystique.”

Thorn, the Official Historian of Major League Baseball, has excavated 19th century baseball history for countless books, articles, and lectures.  “The length of the baselines was imprecise, although latter-day pundits have credited Cartwright with divine-inspired prescience in determining a distance that would yield so many close plays at first,” wrote Thorn in his 2011 book Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game.  “Sometimes referred to in histories of the game as an engineer even though he was a bank teller, and then a book seller, Cartwright was further credited with laying out the game on a diamond rather than a square.  Yet even this was no innovation in 1845.”

Wheaton, Adams, William H. Tucker, and Louis Fenn Wadsworth form a quartet with “legitimate claims to baseball’s paternity.  They were all present at the creation, although no lightning bolt attaches to any given date, and all played with the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York,” added Thorn.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 17, 2016.

Morgan Bulkeley, the Hartford Dark Blues, and the Birth of the National League

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the character of Malvolio says, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

By a conventional wisdom paradigm, Morgan Bulkeley fell into all three categories.

Bulkeley was born into greatness by virtue of the stature that ran through the blue blood of his prominent Connecticut family.  With the Mayflower’s voyage in his family tree, the Bulkeleys enjoyed a rarefied lineage.  Bulkeley’s father, Eliphalet Bulkeley, wielded connections to the power structure in Connecticut’s Republican party through employment as judge, a state senator, and a state’s attorney.  He also co-founded the Aetna Life Insurance Company and served as its first president.

Bulkeley achieved greatness by furthering the family’s political legacy in staking out political territory of his own:

  • Mayor of Hartford for four terms (1880 to 1888)
  • Governor of Connecticut for two terms (1889 to 1893)
  • U.S. Senator for one term (1905 to 1911)

Additionally, Bulkeley became the third president of Aetna, a position he held for more than 40 years, until his death.

Bulkeley had greatness thrust upon him by luck dictating the responsibility, honor, and prestige of the National League’s inaugural presidency in 1876.  Sort of.

With other members of Hartford’s elite, Bulkeley formed the Hartford Dark Blues, which played in the National Association in 1874 and 1875.  When the NA folded after the 1875 season, its demise created a void for professional baseball.  The Dark Blues received an invitation to be one of eight charter members in the nascent National League, set to début in 1876.  “Hartford owed its selection over larger New Haven to the substantial reputation of Bulkeley and his fellow Hartford shareholders, the strength of their team, and the financial reliability they had demonstrated in two NA seasons,” explained David Nemec in Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 2: The Hall of Famers and Memorable Personalities Who Shaped the Game.

Bulkeley’s one-year presidential reign was neither significant nor outstanding.  Its greatness, therefore, may be a matter of opinion.  A pro-Bulkeley argument rests on the thesis that Bulkeley provided baseball with a necessary image of honor, respect, and stability to contradict the edgier parts of a game that was, in some cases, far removed from the 19th century pastoral activity depicted in the iconic Currier & Ives painting of a Hoboken baseball game—rowdiness, gambling, and liquor pervaded a game that struggled toward growth, organization, and prosperity.

Representing the Chicago White Stockings, another National League charter member, William Hulbert was a primary force in creating the new league.  Hubert signed marquee pitcher Albert Spalding, the future sporting goods mogul.  They endorsed Bulkeley’s rank in the National League hierarchy.  Bulkeley’s biography on the Baseball Hall of Fame web site states, “A drawing was held to determine the first president of the new league, and Bulkeley’s name emerged first.  This sat well with William Hulbert and Albert Spalding of Chicago, who saw in him the integrity and character needed to drive the league’s acceptance.”

It is a matter of debate concerning Bulkeley receiving the presidency through a drawing, describes Nemec: “Whether the directors were actually chosen by lot or Hulbert deliberately engineered their selection, all of its members could probably have seen as well as Hulbert that Bulkeley was a natural choice for the presidency as an easterner who was personally respected but did not represent one of the traditional powers of eastern baseball.  The office was essentially an honorific one, at any rate.  All the president did was preside at meetings.”

Even so, Bulkeley’s aristocratic image cannot be ignored.  Figureheads can be useful in projecting a reputation of solidity, value, and importance.  Bulkeley was a critical component in helping the National League build a foundation for a sustainable enterprise.  His baseball days ended, however, shortly after his National League presidency.

In 1877, the Dark Blues played their home games in Brooklyn.  It was their last season.  Consequently, Bulkeley’s pursuits did not include further baseball opportunities until he joined the Mills Commission in 1905 to ascertain baseball’s origins.  It labeled Abner Doubleday as baseball’s creator, a mistake rectified in later decades by numerous baseball historians.

Morgan Bulkeley was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 26, 2014.