Monday, March 31, 2008

New York Herald, Nov. 11, 1845

An Unremarked Baseball Game of 1845

I wish to report a new find of some import while inviting interpretation and debate. In the New York Herald of November 11, 1845 appears the following squib, a trailing part of a larger article on trotting at the Centreveille Track on Long Island.

NEW YORK BASE BALL CLUB:--The second Anniversary of this Club came off yesterday, on the ground in the Elysian fields. The game was as follows:

Runs Runs
Murphy 4 Winslow 4
Johnson 4 Case 4
Lyon 3 Granger 1
Wheaton 3 Lalor 3
Sweet 3 Cone 1
Seaman 1 Sweet 4
Venn 2 Harold 3
Gilmore 1 Clair 2
Tucker 3 Wilson 1
- -
24 23

J.M. Marsh, Esq., Umpire and Scorer

After the match, the parties took dinner at Mr. McCarty’s, Hoboken, as a wind up for the season. The Club were honored by the presence of representatives from the Union Star Cricket Club, the Knickerbocker Clubs, senior and junior, and other gentlemen of note.

As others have noted, searching electronic databases may provide erratic results. When I ran “base ball” through the New York Herald of the 1840s some time back (using Gale’s 19th Century Newspapers as well as Newsbank’s Early American Newspapers) I failed to pick up the item above. It also did not emerge from searches for “New York base” or “ball club” or other plausible (and implausible) search terms.

However, last week I got lucky by searching for “Union Star Cricket Club,” whose members made up the Brooklyn Ball Club that played against the New York Base Ball Club in a home-and-home match on October 21 and 24, 1845. I call these games home-and-home though neither was played in New York. The first match was played at the Elysian Fields of Hoboken, home to the NYBBC since its formal founding under that name in November 1843 (the same month in which the Magnolia Ball Club of New York, as previously reported here, mustered its players for a ball game in Hoboken). The second match was played at the grounds of the Union Star Cricket Club on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn. Both games were played eight to the side, as depicted in the Magnolia Ball Club ticket [see:

Several interesting things emerge from this newfound notice of the game played on November 10.

Prominent Knickerbocker names are present—Wheaton, Tucker, Cone, Clair (Clare). So too are Gotham players of earlier prominence—Lalor, Ransom, Murphy, Johnson, Winslow, Case. The Davis who plays here and in the game of June 19, 1846 is likely not James Whyte Davis, who was elected a member in 1850 and marked his 25th anniversary with the club in 1875. Venn is Harry Venn, proprietor of the Gotham Cottage (a billiard and bowling saloon) at 298 Bowery, longtime clubhouse to the Gotham BBC. Gilmore is one of the cricketers who played baseball with the Brooklyns on October 21 and 24.

The game was played nine to the side, clearly to 21 runs or more in equal innings. The two sides were unnamed, and the game was an intramural one despite the presence of Knickerbockers (senior and junior, no less, possibly denoting a first nine and a muffin outfit, rather than being broken out by age, for a club that had organized not even two months before). While the New Yorks and their invited friends were celebrating their second year as an organized club, on another field in Hoboken the Knickerbockers were playing an intramural match all their own.

Playing with eight to the side, including a first appearance for Charles S. Debost, the squads lined up this way:

Turney Morgan
W. O'Brien


Van Nostrand
J. O'Brien

There is more work to be done with all this, certainly, but the NYBBC intramural match of November 10, 1845, seems to me to have more in common with the purported “first match game” of June 19, 1846, than with the “next” match against the Gotham club almost five years later (June 11, 1851, with the Knicks winning by a count of 21-11) ... which I believe to have been the true first.

Charles A. Peverelly wrote this in 1866, clearly fed his lines by a member of the Knickerbockers:

On June 5, 1846, the first honorary members were elected, viz. James Lee and Abraham Tucker. At the same meeting Curry, Adams and Tucker were appointed a committee to arrange the preliminaries, and conclude a match with the New York Base Ball Club. From all the information the writer has been able to gather, it appears that this was not an organized club, but merely a party of gentlemen who played together frequently, and styled themselves the New York Club. However, the match was played at Hoboken on June 19, 1846, it being the first the Club engaged in, and the particulars are certainly not creditable as far as runs are concerned. But four innings were played, as it will be remembered the game was won by the parties making twenty-one aces, or over, on even innings.

The scoresheet from that game was written over and altered in later years, probably by James Whyte Davis, to give the game the appearance of a match between two distinct clubs. But was it viewed that way by the men who had played in it? John Bowman and Joel Zoss address this question in their brilliant book, Diamonds in the Rough.

William R. Wheaton, who umpired the game of October 24, 1845 between New York and Brooklyn, umpired as well the Knick game of October 6, 1845, and played in the game of November 10, 1845 for the New Yorks, also drew up the original Knickerbocker rules with William H. Tucker. Before that, he averred, he had drawn up the rules for the Gotham/NYBBC club of the 1830s, and these were adopted with little if any change by the Knicks.

In short, Wheaton is a man who ought to know. He left New York in the Gold Rush of 1849, never to return, but kept up his interest in the game he had helped to create. In 1887 he said to a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, in a piece titled “HOW BASEBALL BEGAN: A Member of the Gotham Club of Fifty Years Ago Tells About It” [note the implicit reference to 1837]:

The new game quickly became very popular with New Yorkers, and the numbers of the club soon swelled beyond the fastidious notions of some of us, and we decided to withdraw and found a new organization, which we called the Knickerbocker. For a playground we chose the Elysian fields of Hoboken, just across the Hudson river.... We played no exhibition or match games [emphasis mine—jt], but often our families would come over and look on with much enjoyment. Then we used to have dinner in the middle of the day, and twice a week we would spend the whole afternoon in ball play.

--John Thorn

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

For What the Bell Tolls

From "Play's the Thing," Woodstock Times, March6, 2008:
Wilfred Charles Heinz, writer, born January 11, 1915, died last week. For most of today’s sports fans it came as news that he had until lately been alive or in fact had ever lived. Oh, there were a few obituary notices and some fond remembrances in the press, notably Dave Anderson’s in the Times, but not the outpouring you might expect for a man who had been the best of his class, to use a boxing reference of the sort Bill Heinz liked but never would have applied to himself. In a 2000 interview he observed that he was “last in his class,” a survivor from the Golden Age of Sportswriting spurred by Rice and Runyon, Gallico and Cannon, Liebling and the Lardners.

Heinz had started his career as a copyboy at the New York Sun in 1937, worked his way up to the city desk, and then was assigned to cover the war in Europe. The experience only reinforced his natural modesty and his admiration for those who fought because it was their job to do so. “I believe that you should be proud of your product and your service,” Heinz said in 2002, “but not of yourself. How could I be proud of myself after I saw so many kids die in the war? I got a byline and all they got was a line in the newspaper back home.”

In 1933, in an unkind memoir of the recently departed Ring Lardner, F. Scott Fitzgerald had written: “When most men of promise achieve an adult education, if only in the school of war, Ring moved in the company of a few dozen illiterates playing a boy’s game.” W.C. Heinz knew and respected both worlds. Upon his return from the war to the Sun he settled in the sports department in preference to the more prestigious post offered him, that of Washington correspondent. He wanted to keep writing about those who fought, in Gleason’s Gym or the ballyards, even if sport was only a shadow of war.

By the time the Sun shut down in 1950, Heinz had already begun to feel confined by the 750-word limit of his column. In the years to come he would write longer pieces for Look, Life, Sport, Collier’s, Argosy, True, and the Saturday Evening Post. By stripping down his style he found he could better expose the emotion of his characters. His novelistic approach to sports heroes and bums made him a household god to a new generation of writers, from Jimmy Breslin and Dick Schaap to Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe; they would later declare Heinz a pioneer of the “New Journalism.” According to Breslin and many others, a 1951 article in True titled “Brownsville Bum” — a portrait of fighter Al “Bummy” Davis — remains the greatest magazine sports story ever written.

“It’s a funny thing about people,” Heinz famously begins. “People will hate a guy all his life for what he is, but the minute he dies for it they make him out a hero and they go around saying that maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy after all because he sure was willing to go the distance for whatever he believed or whatever he was.”

By 1958 Heinz had already won the E.P. Dutton Prize for sportswriting four times and had earned enough money from his magazine career to take a year off to write a boxing novel. Modest demeanor aside, Heinz suspected he was pretty good, but he didn’t know it for sure until Hemingway said so. In a cable to Bill’s editor after the 1958 publication of his novel The Professional, The Great One had written:


A. J. Liebling, author of The Sweet Science, which Sports Illustrated has named the best sports book of all time, was fond of saying “I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better.” Amusingly damning himself with faint praise, Liebling, who died in 1963, could not have imagined that his bon mot would serve as the motto for a blogger generation for whom words fly from fingers to publication without a stop at the copy desk. For Heinz, even Liebling’s slight bow to speed would have been unseemly. When interviewed at his home in Dorset, Vermont, for Jeff MacGregor’s fine article that ran in Sports Illustrated in September 2000 — a year after the publication of Heinz’s anthology of fistiana, The Book of Boxing — Bill likened his method of writing to “building a stone wall without mortar. You place the words one at a time, fit them, take them apart and refit them until they’re balanced and solid.”

In our television age the athlete’s sound-bite is king, often appearing in print 24 hours after the reader has heard it on SportsCenter. A writer dare not misquote. MacGregor noted Heinz’s devotion to method.

He butters toast the way another man might perform a ritual tea ceremony, deliberate and contemplative — something worth doing right. We take our roast beef sandwiches on white toast out to the dining room. He points to my notebook and tape recorder and says gently, “Why don't you put those away for a while?”

The accuracy of Heinz’s portrayals of Floyd Patterson, or Pete Reiser, or Red Grange was in the flavorful rendition of their speech, not its recording. In taking liberties with the verbatim word Heinz and the old masters were not sloppy journalists, they were artists. By giving more words to dialogue, they could narrate under their subjects, not opine over them.

I have found myself strangely bereaved by Bill’s death, for I never met him and spoke to him only twice, when I published his Book of Boxing. Signing on Nathan Ward to update the anthology that Heinz had created in 1961, I had the great pleasure of restoring to print, in expanded form, one of the favorite books of my youth.

In his Preface to the volume Heinz slyly referenced Liebling’s quip, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one”:

Unless a writer has his own printing press he is indebted to his publisher, and that goes for anthologists too. That means that John Thorn and his team at Total Sports Publishing get this one’s thanks and, it is hoped, the reader’s.

I have always been proud of that scant memorialized connection with him. When Bill died last week I went to the shelf for The Book of Boxing and read in the front matter, as if for the first time: “To those who did the fighting this book is dedicated.”
--John Thorn

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

W.C. Heinz and Nathan Ward, editors

“Bill Heinz, Here”

Nathan Ward worked with Bill Heinz on The Book of Boxing, issued by Total Sports Publishing in 1999. Here he remembers "the old man."
One day in 1949 Bill Heinz was crossing Reade street in Manhattan, returning from lunch to the downtown headquarters of the old New York Sun, when a truck roared round the corner onto Broadway and nearly took him out. After diving to the sidewalk, the young newsman looked up in time to see the van, loaded with afternoon editions, blazoned along one side, “READ W.C. HEINZ ON SPORTS IN THE SUN.” It was the kind of incident the maddeningly modest Heinz later loved to tell, of a man nearly run down by the symbols of his own success.

As a young combat correspondent from the liberation of France all the way to the Rhine, Heinz said he “never forgot” that he slept safely away from the front each night, while soldiers stayed in harm’s way, an attitude far removed from the self-glorying accounts of embed journalism. “If the correspondent was of draft age, as was this one,” Heinz wrote, “and he accepted that his own career as a journalist was being advanced while those of his peers, his protectors, were on hold, some forever, he knew for the rest of his life he would be in debt.” Heinz, who’d been bullied during the First World War as a small child for speaking the Kaiser’s tongue his family used at home, as a war reporter confronted the horrors of what the Fatherland had become under the Nazis. He wrote some of the finest dispatches of anyone in the war about the D-day invasion, the execution of Nazi spies, the destruction of the Huertgen Forest, and the false calm of a moonlit jeep ride in the “cool silver quiet” through Belgium. When he returned to the U.S., Heinz was offered a distinguished job in the paper’s Washington bureau, since it was assumed that general reporting for the city desk would now be beneath him. He opted instead for sports, and that, as they say, would make all the difference.

Ten years ago, I lucked into a book project with the great Heinz, an old writer’s writer whose books (other than MASH) had by then fallen out of print. Our project was co-editing a new edition of Heinz’s classic Fireside Book of Boxing, what he described as a “museum” of boxiana that had been published just before the gabby advent of Cassius Clay, over whom we politely differed. But Heinz was open to all good writing about his favorite sport, and my job was to send him fight pieces from the last 40 years (Mailer, Barich, Remnick, McIlvanney) and see if any might become new exhibits in his updated “museum.” The first time he called me I had nervously sent him a sheaf of my boxing reportage with a shrill cover letter about my qualifications. “Bill Heinz here,” a husky older voice turned up on my phone days later, sounding both wised-up and cheery, hardboiled and curious. “Ya got a nice little style there,” he said, followed by a laugh. Nothing any teacher has said to me from grade school to college thrilled me like those seven words from the great Heinz.

I supplemented the many fight stories I sent him with the occasional tape of recent bouts that had either come on too late at night or seemed ridiculously pricey to a man who’d spent so many years at ringside for free. The fight tapes always drew a phone call afterward, “Bill Heinz here,” when the master would offer his analysis of these shining lights in a game that had otherwise gone to hell. Often Heinz would ask after my solid-looking young son, whom he’d nicknamed “Butkus.” Later the tape would come back, marked by an incisive observation on a post-it. (“Thanks again,” it says on an early De La Hoya performance, “Later there came to mind the classic manner in which Arguello handled Mancini. It’s almost sacrilege to compare them.”)

Heinz’s great boxing novel The Professional (1958) famously opens with a description of the flashing human scenes along an elevated section of subway line through the Bronx. While the sports writer who tells the story is riding out to visit his favorite fighter, the book’s opener is really a stretched out version of Heinz’s very first published piece — which the Sun ran while he was still a copyboy—an evocation of the women traveling to jobs as domestics downtown and passing tenement life on his ride to work the overnight “lobster shift.” Heinz’s signature — a quiet empathy and gift for clean, compressed observation — was evidently there from the first in that early published sketch. The vital stuff really can’t be taught.

In later years, only a man with Heinz’s gift for self-effacement could tell a story about a night that began with drinking with Rocky Marciano and ended with breakfast in Ted Williams’s kitchen and not seem to be dropping names. Many more famous writers made pilgrimages to Heinz’s home in woodsy Vermont, including the novelist Richard Ford, who wrote the old sportswriter an awestruck letter about how he lost his nerve on the edge of the property. Although towards the end Heinz became increasingly puzzled by outside events, I only encountered his pricklishness once, when I published an interview with him for American Heritage in 2004. “Why should the reader care about this W.C. Heinz?” he wrote in old man scrawl beside my intro to the transcript. Why, indeed.

--Nathan Ward