Pumping Bog Iron
Coming off a subpar 1897 National League season, finishing in seventh place – middle of the 12-team pack but also 32 games back, Brooklyn Bridegrooms President Charles Ebbets knew his squad needed a fresh start. Though he had retained manager Billy Barnie, the roster received quite a shakeup. The Bridegrooms were also scheduled to play in a new ballpark, Washington Park, in 1898.
By this time, teams had begun to see the value in spending the spring training season in warmer climes. Hot Springs, Ark., was becoming one such popular destination.
Ebbets had other things in mind, though, and in late February, he decided that the Bridegrooms would train at Allaire, a small village tucked into the trees in southern Monmouth County, N.J. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Ebbets “thinks the place a good one, and that the men will get into better shape there than by going South. A diamond will be laid out and games played between scrub teams.”
Allaire, at the time, was home of the former Howell Works, an early company town founded by James P. Allaire. The bog iron found in great supply in that area was used by Allaire at his iron works in New York City. In time, the Howell Works became a small community with a church, store, and post office. When iron ore became more available, Allaire closed the Howell Works but remained there with his family.
It was those amenities that intrigued Ebbets into picking the village for his team’s training site.
“The Hall Hotel, where the men will stop, is big enough to comfortably accommodate the team, while it is conducted cleanly and liberally,” Ebbets told The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “An important feature is that the cooking is first class, a matter to which I have always paid particular attention.”
The Bridegrooms departed Brooklyn by train on March 14, bound for Allaire, but they weren’t the only team choosing the Jersey Shore for spring training. The New York Giants planned to train in Lakewood, a major resort town just a few miles from Allaire. The Philadelphia Phillies travelled to Cape May to gear up for the season.
A crowd was on hand to greet the Bridegrooms upon their arrival, the Eagle described:
“The entire population of Allaire, numbering 32 all told, not to speak of one mangy dog and an antiquated cat, was at the station to welcome the players, but the well dressed and sporty appearance of the visitors gave the inhabitants the impression that they were about to be assailed by a delegation of green goods merchants from ‘the city,’ and they broke for cover. They were reassured by Proprietor Delisle of the Hall House and the station agent and expressed surprise at the fact that ‘ball players looked like real gentlemen, by gosh.’”
With a regulation diamond laid out behind the hotel and a gymnasium at the Bridegrooms’ disposal, as well as miles of country roads to use for walking, running and bicycling, Barnie and trainer Jack McMasters would try to get the team in shape for the season by reducing the “superfluous flesh.”
News of all the activity at Allaire spread throughout the area, and the Bridegrooms’ practices attracted locals and visitors, according to the Eagle.
“The fact that the Brooklyns are here is known for miles around and there is quite a gathering of natives each day, people who read the papers and know the game,” the newspaper reported. “The practice on the ball field attracts the greatest interest and the announcement that a game would be played to-day attracted fully 250 spectators from miles around. A party of twenty-five boys came from Manasquan, six miles away, to see the sport.”
The following year, bolstered by several player acquisitions, Brooklyn won 101 games and clinched the 1899 National League pennant.
Today, The Historic Village at Allaire preserves several of the buildings at the old Howell Works, including some of the buildings used by the Bridegrooms. Located at Allaire State Park, visitors can enjoy a variety of programs there.
Baseball – or, more appropriately, base ball – also continues at Allaire, as the Bog Iron Boys of Allaire Village suit up to take on the competition. The Bog Iron Boys play base ball as it was played under rules from the 19th century, facing teams from the spring through the fall. For more information, please visit their Facebook page.
Matt Rothenberg is the manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum features a collection of nearly 250,000 photographs like this one. Reproductions are available for purchase. To purchase a reprint of this photograph or others from the Photo Archive collections, please call (607) 547-0375 or email email@example.com. Hall of Fame members receive a 10-percent discount.
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