Posts Tagged ‘New Jersey’

The Début of Roosevelt Field

Monday, May 8th, 2017

When Christian Ziegler got the assignment to design a new stadium for Jersey City, he planned a voyage with Parks and Public Buildings Commissioner Arthur Potterton for a reconnaissance trip to Rochester, Cleveland, Montreal, Boston, and Philadelphia, according to the New York Times.

On June 5, 1929, Mayor Frank Hague made the announcement about the city getting a new stadium with a capacity to host 50,000 people.  The Times reported, “Work can start in three months, it is expected, and the stadium should be finished by the Spring of 1930.”

It took a bit longer, as is the tradition with construction projects.

On December 10, 1935, groundbreaking began at the site, adjoining Newark Bay, and which formerly housed Jersey City Airport; the Jersey Observer noted, in particular, Hague’s positive proclamation after making the initial dig:  “This is a great day for Jersey City.  You must realize that all the money needed for the construction of the stadium was donated by the government.  The city merely furnished the ground and pays the architect’s fees.

“This stadium has been the dream of the Jersey City officials for a number of years.”

Hague, a politician who exerted the right amount of pressure on the levers, switches, and buttons of Jersey City’s political machinery to get things accomplished, often colored outside the lines of the law to get things done.

Less than a year and a half later, the dream became reality—named for President Franklin Roosevelt, under whose aegis the Works Progress Administration governed the construction, Roosevelt Stadium débuted on April 23, 1937; the Jersey City Giants occupied home team status in the International League contest, losing a 12-inning game to the Rochester Red Wings.  Final score:  4-3.  In attendance were New Jersey luminaries, including Jersey City  Hague and Senator A. Harry Moore, who was a former governor.

Future Dodgers skipper Walter Alston banged the pitching of Giants hurler Rollie Stiles like a southerner swats flies on a humid night in August—the Red Wings first baseman went four-for-five and drove in two runs, including the game winner.

Roosevelt Stadium’s architecture affected the crowd.  “All who attended yesterday’s imbroglio gasped at the layout which Mayor Hague and the W. P. A. have provided,” reported New York Herald Tribune scribe Stanley Woodward.  “The grandstand and bleachers are of yellow fire-brick and a wall of the same substance surrounds the whole layout.  The end seats of each row are emblazoned on the aisle side with cast-iron shields, painted with ferryboats and square-rigged ships and bearing the motto, ‘Let Jersey Prosper.'”

Nine years after it opened, Roosevelt Stadium became the site of history—on April 18, 1946, Jackie Robinson played his first professional baseball game.  It was a 14-1 pounding of the Giants by Robinson and the Montreal Royals.  Robinson turned in an impeccable performance at the plate:

  • 4-for-5
  • 4 RBI
  • 2 Stolen Bases
  • 2 Putouts
  • 3 Assists

There was, however, one blemish—Robinson made a throwing error to first base on a double play ball.  In turn, the Giants batter, Clefton Ray scampered to second base and then home, when Bobby Thomson swatted a single.

In August of 1984, the Historic American Buildings Survey, an arm of the National Park Service, compiled a detailed history of Roosevelt Stadium, including, among other items, descriptions of the stadium’s interior, layout of seating areas, geographic location, flooring, and landscaping.  Like other stadia lost to history—Mack, Navin, Ebbets et al.—Roosevelt Field marked a specific place in time, when men wore fedoras, newspapers in larger cities had evening editions, and generations of families stayed in the same area code.  “In short, it was a meeting place for all the people of Jersey City and as such, the stadium embodies a time, an era, an overwhelming feeling of the essence of a city in its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s that simply no longer exists,” states the HABS report.

Roosevelt Stadium was demolished in 1985.  Society Hill, a gated community, occupies the site.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 3, 2017.

The Chicago Bears, the Miami Dolphins, and the Legacy of Perfection

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

Professional athletes are forced to live up to legacies.  Retired uniform numbers, highlight films, and statues of icons from past eras remind them of the giant footprints to fill.  Or at least in which they must tread.  Such was the burden for the Miami Dolphins on December 2, 1985 in a Monday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears.  The former had a legacy of perfection to protect—the 1972 Dolphins squad had 17-0 record; the latter compiled a 12-0 record, theretofore.

During the same year that Marty McFly went back to the future, the Bears had an aura of celebrity transcending popular culture.  A spat concerning quarterback Jim McMahon wearing an Adidas headband became a matter of national debate—NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle fined McMahon $5,000 for endorsing a product during a game.  McMahon responded the following week—during the NFC Championship—by wearing a headband with Rozelle’s name written on it.

William “Refrigerator” Perry transformed from a defensive back into a fullback—but only with the end zone in sight.  This tactic may have seemed to be a gimmick because of Perry’s size, but it did result in touchdowns, as well as guaranteed prominence on national and local sportscasts.

Head Coach Mike Ditka had Bears blood running through his veins—he played for the team in the 1960s; Walter Payton’s graceful running garnered cheers from and catharsis for Chicagoans; Buddy Ryan’s 46 Defense alignment protected leads; and Mike Singletary’s single-mindedness set a model for defensive players to be aware of every twitch, movement, and indicator of their opponents.

There was a scent of destiny surrounding these Monsters of the Midway.  With each victory came a certain inevitability that the Bears would go to their first Super Bowl.  When pre-game shows mentioned Chicago, eyes and ears narrowed their focuses to ingest the latest information about the personalities, performances, and progress of the Bears.

Marching towards perfection, the Bears took the field at the Orange Bowl on December 2nd; a perfect season was a sustainable reality.  Miami would not allow that to happen.  Tension tighter than a prospector’s clutch on his gold pervaded the stadium.  And it pored through television screens tuned to the game, from Puget Sound to Passaic, New Jersey.

Larry Csonka and other members of the ’72 Dolphins stood watch on the sidelines, with arms folded and sober visages.  Theirs was a mission of intimidation, steadfastness, and pride—Miami’s  perfect season will not be matched.  Not tonight.  Not tomorrow.  Not ever.  It was an event made for the moment—ABC’s Monday Night Football was the only national telecast of NFL games; CBS and NBC aired games regionally.

The Dolphins beat the Bears 38-24.  Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino had an outstanding game:

  • Completed 14 of 27 passes
  • Threw for three touchdowns
  • Total yards:  270

Chicago Tribune sports columnist Bernie Lincicome tried to put things in perspective.

“So much for immortality,” wrote Lincicome.

“Not to underrate history, but the Bears did not lose a season in the Orange Bowl Monday night, they merely lost a game, and they already have so many.”

The day after, the Bears recorded “The Super Bowl Shuffle”—this rap song became a signature of the Bears’ brashness.  When the music video aired, it showed the Bears wearing their jerseys and singing in a studio.  If cockiness bled through the song’s lyrics, confidence poured.  Perhaps it was the right time for a diversion; the Bears won the remaining games in the schedule, dominated the playoffs, and beat the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 25, 2017.

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.

The Last Eagle

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

Once upon a decade—the one that introduced Elvis Presley, car tail fins, and McDonald’s franchises—a ballplayer blessed with speed, grace, and athleticism rivaling Orsippus’s climbed to the apex of baseball, popular culture, and media.

The year was 1951.  The place was New York City.  The ballplayer was Willie Mays.

Talent alone does not make a major leaguer, however.  Responding to this reality, Leo Durocher, manager of the New York Giants, selected a member of his Polo Grounds posse to shepherd the 20-year-old Mays upon the rookie’s ascension from the Minneapolis Millers—the Giants’ AAA team.

Monford Merrill Irvin.  Monte.

In his 1975 book The Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff, Thomas Kiernan wrote, “Irvin not only accepted responsibility for Mays, he took the move as a challenge.  For the first time as a Giant he had a teammate who, it appeared, was every bit as talented as he was.”

Under Irvin’s tutelage, Mays matured into the professional that Durocher et al. hoped he would be.  “Irvin would instruct Mays on game situations, shout out which bases the rookie should throw to, position against each enemy hitter—to make it easy for Mays to turn what would be extra-base hits with anyone else in center field into outs,” stated Kiernan.

Irvin played in the Negro Leagues before desegregating the New York Giants with Hank Thompson in 1949.  Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles, testified, “Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major league team.  We all agreed, in meeting, he was the best qualified by temperament, character ability, sense of loyalty, morals, age, experiences ad physique to represent us as the first black player to enter the white majors since the Walker brothers back in the 1880s.  Of course, Branch Rickey lifted Jackie Robinson out of Negro ball and made him the first, and it turned out just fine.”

Appropriately, Manley’s statement is on Irvin’s Baseball Hall of Fame web site page.

Irvin led the Eagles to the 1946 Negro Leagues World Series championship against the Kansas City Monarchs—a shining moment for the kid from Orange, New Jersey, for whom playing playing baseball was oxygen.

When Irvin died on January 11, 2016, he took with him the status of being the last living monument to the Eagles.  In a statement, Mays said that his mentor “was like a second father to me.”

Jerry Izenberg, an iconic New Jersey sports writer, eulogized Irvin in the Star-Ledger, which gained international recognition when Tony Soprano ambled down his driveway in a robe and slippers to pick it up, often thumbing through the pages for the latest news on mafia arrests.

Decades after his career in the Negro Leagues, Irving maintained joyousness that could light up Chancellor Avenue.  Irvin’s exclamations occurred repeatedly in conversations with Izenberg, who recalled the thread of joy running through them, including an excerpt of a conversation from the early 1990s:  “I played in three countries.  I played in two World Series.  But I never found anything to match the joy and the laughter those years with the Eagles brought me.”

Monte Irvin retired with a .293 batting average after eight seasons in the major leagues; the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted him in 1973.  “I hope my induction will help to ease the pain of all those players who never got a chance to play in the majors,” stated the man largely responsible for the career of Willie Mays.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 9, 2016.

Baseball, New Jersey, and “The Sopranos”

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Lou Costello appeared in two episodes of HBO’s The Sopranos.  Sort of.

New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano of the DiMeo crime family used Paterson’s statue of the comedian as a meeting spot in two episodes; Paterson is Costello’s home town.  In “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” Tony saw the recent import of Furio from Italy as an ignition to rearrange his familial paradigm.  Costello’s statue, a New Jersey landmark, offered symbolism to a confab between Tony and Paul, a mobster who once worked for Tony’s father.

In his 2002 book The Sopranos on the Couch:  The Ultimate Guide, Maurice Yacowar explained, “Furio’s arrival creates some possible problems for Tony.  He coaxes Artie into providing a job front for Furio’s immigration, as master cheesemaker.  Only later, meeting outside The Lou Costello Memorial, does Tony inform Paul.  The site suggests the comical sidekick that Paulie fears he is becoming.  Lou’s statue stands parallel behind Paulie in one shot, and looms over him, hat befouled, in another.  But that is rather Pussy’s fate, as Tony promotes Paulie and Silvio and leaves Pussy to report to them.”

Tony met with rival boss Phil Leotardo at the Costello statue in “Cold Stones” to discuss the storm surrounding Vito Spatafore’s homosexuality.  While this presented a problem for Tony and his old school associates, the issue went deeper for Phil—Vito is a cousin, hence, a betrayer of bloodline.  Ultimately, two underlings beat Vito to death while Phil watches.

Costello’s statue portrays the rotund funnyman—one half of the comedy team Abbott & Costello, the duo responsible for “Who’s on First,” perhaps the greatest comedy routine ever—bearing a grin, wearing a derby, and casually resting a bat on his left shoulder.  “Who’s on First” contains Costello feverishly trying to deduce the names of the players on a ball club, with Abbott trying to explain that Who’s on first, What’s on second, etc.

Another baseball reference appeared in the episode “Down Neck” during a flashback scene set in 1967, when Tony discovered that his uncle and his father—Corrado “Junior” Soprano and John “Johnny Boy” Soprano—operate in a criminal sphere of society.  As Junior picks up Johnny Boy to begin their daily duties, he lauds a certain Yankee to his nephew:  “Hey! Did ya hear the game last night?  Joey Pepitone!  Three RBI’s!”

In addition to the Paterson site, New Jersey filming locations for The Sopranos included the Pulaski Skyway, the Asbury Park boardwalk, and Newark Penn Station.

The Sopranos burst onto television screens on January 10, 1999 with James Gandolfini playing Tony Soprano, a Garden State mafia don prone to panic attacks.  In Variety, Phil Gallo wrote, “Gandolfini does a lot with body language, and his mood is nicely limned in virtually every scene; it can be summed up as a midlife crisis, yet it feels like so much more; life will never be the same.  Eventually, Tony Soprano’s only comfortable with a handful of friends and his psychiatrist.”

Upon HBO’s rerunning the first season in the summer of 1999, Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote, “‘The Sopranos,’ more than any American television in memory, looks, feels and sounds like real life.  Watch any episode and you’re likely to come away with the queasy feeling of having consumed a greasy slice of late-90’s America with its surreal mature of prosperity and brutishness.  Tony, a northern New Jersey mob boss in his early 40’s, isn’t an exotic evil king holed up in a fortified stone castle.  He is a middle-class family man who, except for his occupation, is pretty much like the rest of us.”

The Sopranos finished its run in 2007.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 20, 2016.

Bill White: Player, Broadcaster, Executive

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

When Bill White hit a home run in his first major league at-bat, he began a journey of solidity that garnered career statistics of 1,706 hits, 202 home runs, and a .286 batting average.  Beginning his career in 1956 with the Giants, White also played for the Cardinals and the Phillies.  Although more than a decade had passed since Jackie Robinson broke the color line, White suffered racism into the early 1960s, along with other black players—and he refused to be silent about it.

In his autobiography Uppity, written with Gordon Dillow, White described an incident in 1961 involving the Cardinals during Spring Training—St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Salute to Baseball” breakfast excluded black players on the Cardinals.

“That was bad enough,” wrote White.  “Then I saw that the list included a couple of rookies who had never swung a bat in the majors.  The idea that the local bigwigs wanted to honor unproven players while ignoring proven players because of the color of their skin rankled me.

“No, it more than rankled me.  Combined with all the other crap that black players had to take, it made me furious.”

White told Joe Reichler of the Associated Press.  Reichler’s story hit newspapers, triggered threats of a black boycott of Cardinals owner Anheuser-Busch, and spurred an invitation to the event at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club; Elston Howard of the Yankees also received an invitation.  White refused.  “I hadn’t wanted to eat with those bigots anyway.  All I had really wanted, what all the black players wanted, was simply the opportunity to say no,” explained White.

For Yankee fans of certain ages, White is fondly remembered as an announcer on WPIX-TV, sparring verbally with Phil Rizzuto, who brought continuity from the Yankee glory years of the 1950s, further reinforced by Yankee icon Billy Martin managing the team.

Rizzuto’s non sequiturs about the best Italian restaurants in New Jersey and other personal items may have seemed goofy, or even annoying, had White not provided the slightly teasing manner necessary to let the viewers know that Phil’s personality ought to be embraced, not endured.  Frank Messer was the third broadcaster in the WPIX triumvirate, a “consummate professional” offering erudition, but not the same synchronicity with Rizzuto that White enjoyed.

“He genuinely liked Phil, and would play around with him on the air, but there was always a light tone of disapproval in it—and I think the listeners picked up on that,” wrote White.

When White took on the responsibility of the National League presidency, he confronted the Pete Rose gambling scandal in his first year.  White held the post from 1989 until 1994, when he resigned.  His hiring took place in the wake of a firestorm created by Al Campanis’s 1987 appearance on Nightline, when the Dodgers executive questioned whether black players “may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager or general manager.”  Further, Campanis opined that black players may not want a position in the front office after they retire from playing.  To some baseball insiders, it was a curious statement; Campanis roomed with Jackie Robinson during his playing days.

The incident ignited action; White became the first black National League president.  Dave Anderson of the New York Times wrote, “But no matter who the other candidates were, Bill White was as qualified as anyone else, and surely much more qualified than most.  If he happened to be the best black candidate at a time when baseball finally understood it needed a black executive, that is as historically important as it was 42 years ago when Jackie Robinson happened to be the best black candidate at a time when baseball finally understood it needed a black player.

“Of all of Bill White’s credentials, the most comforting is that he has been in baseball all his adult life.  He understands baseball and he understands its people.”

Among his many duties, White dealt with player suspensions, minority hiring, and National League expansion.

In his Foreword to Uppity, Willie Mays, a mentor of White, provided insight regarding White’s approach to baseball and life.  “But even as he got older, and his jobs changed, in some ways Bill was always the same as that young player in his first major league game way back in 1956,” wrote the Say Hey Kid.  “He was never loud or flashy about what he did, never thought that he was bigger than whatever team he was playing for or whatever job he had taken on.  He just went out every day and did his best—and he was never afraid to speak out for what he thought was right.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 26, 2016.

New Jersey’s Major League Teams

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

New Jersey, sandwiched between New York City and Philadelphia, divides its baseball loyalties, typically, with the top half of the state rooting for the former’s teams and the bottom half for the latter’s.  Briefly, on two occasions, the Garden State had a major league team of its own.

In 1873, the Elizabeth Resolutes played in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, which existed from 1871 to 1875.  Also known as the National Association, it was a precursor to the National League, which débuted in 1876.  Disputes concerning the NA’s status as a “major league” continue amongst historians, scholars, and enthusiasts.  But for the purpose the Elizabeth squad’s story here, it shall be considered a “major league.”

Playing home games in Waverly Fairgrounds—a product of the imagination, expertise, and dedication of agriculturalist James Jay Mapes—the Resolutes compiled a 2-21 record, failing to draw crowds necessary to sustain appeal.  In the June 21, 1873 edition of the New York Times, an article highlighted a deficit in marketing efforts as the culprit:  “The game between the Mutuals, of this City, and the Resolutes, of Elizabeth, N.J., which was played on the Union Grounds yesterday afternoon, was very poorly advertised, and consequently poorly attended, there not being more than 500 persons present.”  The Mutuals pounded the Resolutes, winning the game 9-1.

Hugh Campbell pitched both victories for the Resolutes in 1873.  Compiled and edited by David Nemec, the book Major League Profiles: 187-1900, Volume 1, The Ballplayers Who Built the Game, highlights Hugh Campbell’s major league genesis:  “In several 1872 exhibition games against NA teams Campbell had fared reasonably well.  These outings gave the Resolutes confidence that they could compete in the 1873 NA, but it was illusory.”

Campbell’s brother Mike played first base on the 1873 Elizabeth Resolutes; the Campbell brothers had also played together on amateur teams.

The Newark Pepper occupied a slot in the short-lived tenure of the Federal League, a third major league, which existed for two seasons—1914 and 1915.  The team originated in Indianapolis as the Hoosiers in 1914, won the Federal League championship, and migrated to Newark for the 1915 season under the auspices of team owner Harry F. Sinclair, an oil and banking magnate.  Sinclair had been a principal owner in Indianapolis.  He bought the remainder of the team after the 1914 season concluded.

Future Hall of Famer Bill McKechnie played third base for Newark and managed the team for part of the season, achieving a 54-45 record.  He was 27 years old.  McKechnie’s managerial career included pennants with the Pirates, the Cardinals, and the Reds—he is the only manager to win pennants on three different National League teams.  With World Series titles for the ’25 Pirates and the ’40 Reds, McKechnie became the first manager to win a World Series championship with two teams.

Edd Roush, another Hall of Famer, played outfield for the 1915 Pepper.  In 1962, the Hall of Fame inducted McKechnie and Roush, along with Jackie Robinson and Bob Feller.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 9, 2015.

The Death of Charles Ebbets

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

When Charles Ebbets died on April 18, 1925, Brooklynites lost their remaining link to the genesis of professional baseball in their beloved borough.  Ebbets began his baseball career in 1883, when Brooklyn inaugurated professional baseball for its denizens from Coney Island to Canarsie.  Starting as a clerk in the Brooklyn team’s front office, Ebbets mastered the art of the tedious.  In his 1945 book The Brooklyn Dodgers, Frank Graham wrote, “He sold tickets, hawked scorecards through the stands, attended to all the little drudgeries in the business office that the other employees were glad to shirk, and made friends for the club by his good humor and his patience.”

Ebbets took to baseball like a woodpecker to a tree.  Rising through the front office hierarchy, Ebbets achieved sole ownership status after several years of gradually accumulating the team’s stock.  He presided over a team that had many monikers before it cemented the Dodgers label in 1932; Dodgers, Trolley Dodgers, Superbas, Robins, and Flock were entries used in newspaper reports.  Sometimes, a headline used one name while the story used another.  Whatever the label, Ebbets fought for his team.  Loyalty personified, Ebbets jettisoned half his ownership to contractors Steve and Ed McKeever for the necessary funds to complete his vision of a stadium suitable for Brooklyn’s baseball fans.  Ebbets Field débuted in 1913, atop a site known as Pigtown.  Its name derived from pigs feeding on the wretched garbage.

To reach his goal, Ebbets needed to consolidate disparate parcels.  No small task, this.  He kept the process secret, buying the parcels through a dummy corporation.  And he had every piece necessary, save one.  It was 20 feet by 50 feet.  Tracking the parcel’s owner was a worldwide affair—California, Berlin, Paris.  Finally, Ebbets located him in Montclair, New Jersey and bought the land for $500.  When Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley revealed plans to build a successor to Ebbets Field in the 1950s, Arthur Daley recounted the Ebbets story in his “Sports of the Times” column in the New York Times.  “No one ever received five hundred bucks faster,” said Daley.

When former manager and minority owner Ned Hanlon attempted to overtake the team through litigation, Ebbets could have resolved the dispute by selling Brooklyn players Tim Jordon and Harry Linley to the New York Giants for the funds needed to settle with Hanlon.

Even if Ebbets decided to fight Hanlon rather than settle, the money generated from a sale could serve as a financial cushion if Hanlon won his case.  Despite the practical appeal of selling Jordon and Linley, Ebbets declined the offer from the rival ball club.  In a 1912 article in the New York Times, Ebbets said, “I felt that if I had sold those two star players at that time the fans would run me out of Brooklyn.  To my way of thinking, it was my duty to Brooklyn fans to keep those players in spite of the fact that we needed money worse than we did players at that time.  it wouldn’t have been fair our patrons to sell those players.”

Brooklyn adored Ebbets, as did the baseball industry.  Reach Baseball Guide eulogized, “He never played baseball ‘politics,’ was without guide, and so universally popular that he may be truly said to have been the best, loved man, not only in his own league, but throughout the entire realm of baseball.  Ebbets was one of the comparatively few old time magnates whose interest in the affairs of the game never faltered.”

The New York Times obituary for Ebbets quoted Joseph A. Guilder, President of the Borough of Brooklyn:  “I am deeply moved to learn of the death of Mr. Ebbets.  It was my pleasure to know him many years.  His death is a distinct loss to the borough and to the national game with which he was so prominently associated.  At all times he exhibited a keen interest in Brooklyn affairs, and his advocacy of clean sport caused him to be held in high admiration by a host of friends.”  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle also highlighted the Brooklyn-Ebbets connection:  “Nothing could shake his conviction that Brooklyn was the best baseball community in the country and that it was deserving of the best he could give it in the way of a better playing field and good players.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 29, 2014.

New Jersey’s Hall of Famers

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

New Jersey is more than the land of Bruce Springsteen, Tony Soprano, and the Meadowlands.  It is also the home state for three players in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In a career spanning 1888 to 1901, Billy Hamilton played for the Kansas City Cowboys, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Boston Beaneaters.  The Newark native holds the record for most runs scored in a single season—198 in 1894.  During that season, Hamilton also tied George Gore’s record of most stolen bases in one game—7.  Gore set the record in 1881 with the Chicago White Stockings.

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Hamilton in 1961.

Leon Allen “Goose” Goslin and Joseph Michael “Ducky” Medwick received their inductions in 1968.  Goslin, a native of Salem—in the southern part of New Jersey—grew up shouldering chores on his family’s 500-acre farm in nearby Fort Mott.  For Larry Ritter’s book The Glory of Their Times, Goslin recalled baseball interfering with farm work.  “I always played ball around the sandlots here when I was a kid,” said Goslin.  “I’d ride 10 miles on my bike to play ball, play all day long, and then get a spanking when I got back ’cause I’d get home too late to milk the cows.”

When he got to the major leagues, Goslin received the nickname “Goose” from sports editor Denman Thompson, according to Goslin’s Society for American Baseball Research biography.  A left fielder for the Washington Senators, Goslin won the 1928 American League batting title with a .379 batting average.  He beat Heinie Manush of the St. Louis Browns by .001.

Goslin played for the Senators, the Detroit Tigers, and the Browns in a career lasting from 1921 to 1938.  His pedigree includes a .316 lifetime batting average, 1,609 RBI, and two World Series championships—1924 Senators and 1935 Tigers.

Medwick, a native of Carteret, New Jersey, enjoyed a 17-season career, including stints with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants, and the Boston Braves.  Also a left fielder, Medwick compiled a .324 lifetime batting average that includes 2,471 hits, 540 doubles, and 1383 RBI.  In 1937, Medwick won the Triple Crown Award and the National League Most Valuable Player Award.  Medwick’s Cardinals and Goslin’s Tigers faced each other in the 1934 World Series; the Cardinals won.

Medwick’s hometown furthers the legacy of its favorite baseball son with Joseph Medwick Park.  It is Carteret’s largest recreational facility—88 acres, including two Little League fields.  One is synthetic, the other has natural grass.  Medwick’s portrait hangs in Carteret’s Borough Hall.

A version of this article originally appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 1, 2013.