Thursday, May 19, 2011

NEWARK BEARS ~ A Baseball City At A Crossroad... Again

From the desk of:  Growlings from Brooklyn

NEWARK, N.J. ~ A Classic Baseball Town, Rich In Tradition, Is Facing Tough Times At The Gate and an Even Tougher Future Ahead.  Newark Has Too Rich Of A Baseball History To Allow The Present Team To Fade Away Apathetically.

There's a richness of Baseball history involved with Newark that predates even that of the Yankees and Mets.  Fielding competitive teams as 19th century amateurs; independents; Negro League members; or being Minor League Champions, Newark's Baseball tradition proudly sports over a century's worth of tales of the game.

The Bears' official website makes mention that Newark boasts a baseball history that goes as far back as the Civil War.  Unmentioned by their site are some of the names of those teams.  The Newark Eurekas were one of those clubs of Baseball's earliest era.  The Elizabeth Resolutes were their nearby rival ball club.  So, yes indeed, Newark was a participating member of towns that launched this great game forward during and after the Civil War.

Some other of the 19th century teams to hail out of Brick City were the Newark Domestics and Newark Little Giants; both minor league teams.

In the 20th century, various entities of Newark Baseball all contributed to form one of the richest legacies anywhere in the country.  In the very early 20th century, the first of these teams; the Newark Indians; existed as a Minor League team in both the old Eastern League and International League from 1902 through 1915 respectively.


After winning a championship in 1914, the Indianapolis Hoosiers Baseball Club reorganized, and in 1915 Newark threw their hat in and joined the rebellion against the Major League monopoly on Baseball.  Newark became one of the participating cities in a rival circuit to the National and American League establishments, picking up where Indianapolis left off.  Newark was now the proud rooting fan-base of the NEWARK PEPPER Baseball Club of the newly formed (1914) Federal League of Baseball.  That team finished in fifth place with an 80-72 record; six games back of first.  But 1915 would be the last year of operation for the Federal League.

Days As The New York Yankees Minor League Affiliate:
The true, original Newark Bears were a AA-Class minor team that started up in 1917.  This is the date the current Newark Bears organization likes to symbolically pin their date of established recognition.

Then came what's considered to be the real Newark Bears Baseball Club; a minor league member of the International League (Class-AAA) from the years 1926 through 1949.  Their home field was Ruppert Stadium; yes, as in N.Y. Yankees' owner Col. Ruppert.  The Bears were a Yankees' farm club in those days.  In 1937, they enjoyed what many call one of the most spectacular seasons in Minor League history.  That team won their division flag by 25 1/2 games.  Their line-up was stacked with players like Charlie Keller, Spud Chandler, and Joe Gordon.  In the '37 Junior World Series, Newark found themselves down 3-0 against the American Association Champs; Columbus Red Birds.  Newark staged a four game comeback to secure a miraculous Title victory.

NEWARK'S Proud Tradition In The Negro National League of Baseball:


Sharing Ruppert Stadium, The Newark Eagles ball club, played in the (second) Negro National League during the years 1936 through 1948.  This team fielded equally, if not potentially more legendary players than their Stadium-mates (the Bears) did.  Names like Monte Irvin, Ray Dandridge, Don Newcombe, and Lary Doby, to name just a few, graced the fields of Newark along with the Bears' notables providing the city of Newark, most likely unbeknown-st to them at the time, a legendary assemblage of Baseball figures.

It's hard to imagine that in such a place as the N.Y. Metropolitan area when three teams; the Yankees; Dodgers; and Giants dominated the landscape and an era of local baseball, that somehow, Newark was able flourish through their own Golden Age of Baseball.  In those two decades before the 1950's, Newark Baseball might have even enjoyed more notoriety than even one or two of the local big three of the day, in a relative sense that is.

Other Negro League Teams of Note:
* Newark Eagles



Even before (the N.Y. Mets) my team's Matriarch; Ms. Joan Payson; herself a former Board Member and season ticket holder of the New York Giants, and who later became the original owner of the New York Mets, - even before her, there was Effa Manley.  She and her husband founded the Newark Eagles together.  They purchased the Negro League Newark Dodgers and merged the two operations.  Under her stewardship, the team went on to defeat the very mighty, and famous Kansas City Monarchs in the 1946 Negro League World Series.

And Then, The Games Stopped:
After the 1949 season, the Newark Bears were moved out of town.  In 1950, the Newark Eagles folded operations also.  And just like that..., Newark's glory days of Baseball were over.  A new version of the Newark Bears made a brief go of it in the New York-Penn League during the years 1950 through 1952.  But they also ended operations.

Once Negro Players were incorporated into the Major Leagues after Jackie Robinson became the first in 1947, the unfortunate and sad end of the great, great tradition of Negro League Baseball came to an end; or more precisely, went out of business.  Additionally, minor league teams and whole circuits around the country were devastated by a sharp downturn in interest during the ensuing decades.

Roughly fifty years later, the cobwebs and accumulated dust were blown off all that history.  The Newark Bears name was once again revived in 1998 by an independent team.  A new version of Newark Bears was born of a new league on the scene; The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.  PLAY BALL! would once again be heard in Newark.

Newark Bears ~ Newark Eagles  Ring of Honor

Prior to this upcoming season, the Newark Bears Baseball Club played the last 13 years in the Atlantic League.  Charter members of the League and founded by former New York Yankees catcher; Rick Cerone, they've been playing at Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium since 1999.  In that time, the Bears won two Atlantic League Championships.  The first title came in 2002.  Their most recent came in 2007.

Featuring their first Logo Design.

Featuring their second Logo Design.

Baseball in NEWARK is at a Crossroad..., Again:

Current Logo

This upcoming season will be their first campaign in the Independent Canadian/American League.  Why the switch?  The Bears have suffered from woeful attendance over the years and the cumulative effect has taken a mighty toll on club operations.  The Can/Am League allows the Newark Bears to play a shorter schedule in addition to having to endure less extensive road trips.  These measures are hoping to bring down expenses while the organization, under new management, tries to stabilize financial losses sustained over recent years.

They'll have a new rival to compete against in the New Jersey Jackals, who play only a few miles away in a park adjoining Montclaire St. University.  It is also the site of Yogi Berra's Museum and Learning Center.  Also in nearby Rockland County, N.Y., a new team; The Rockland Boulders, will play their inaugural season in the Can/Am League, supplying Newark with yet another short trip from home.  Three more teams are bunched together in Massachusetts offering a tighter travel group for the Bears.  Getting up to Quebec remains as the challenge for Newark.  However, this arrangement far lessens the travel incurred by member clubs of the Atlantic League who maintain a footprint from Connecticut down to South Maryland; west to Pennsylvania and then out east deep into Long Island.

That 2007 Season:
I caught lightning in a bottle in 2007.  It was a season in which I attended more Atlantic League games that I ever had before.  Naturally, Newark, very convenient for me to get to from Brooklyn, had become my team of rooting interest by then.  I'd decided to commit to driving around and following the playoffs.  As it worked out, the Newark Bears would face off against the Somerset Patriots for the A.L. Championship.

I'll say this, for the time and money spent following the series from town to town, I had a blast that didn't bust the budget.  In the deciding game played in Newark, Bear's second baseman Javier Colina was kind enough to seek me a ball and autograph it for me just before the start of the deciding Game Three.  He had a tremendous 2007 season which earned him a trip back into affiliated ball for a spell until he landed back with the L.I. Ducks this season.  Players like Joey Gomes and Victor Rodriguez stopped for some small talk.  All the players in fact, were gracious and kind enough to sign my program as I wished them all luck.


Newark Bear veteran and crowd favorite, Jose Herrera, had a tremendous day that can only be described as the Independent League version of Reggie-Reggie-Reggie.  He belted three home runs in the deciding Game Three for the Bears while putting any chance of a Patriots' comeback to sleep.  The team greeted Jose at home plate after completing his trip around the bases after hitting his third home run of the evening,  He walked off into the dugout to a standing ovation.  What ever level of Baseball, this was a tremendously fun moment I had the pleasure to witness.



So Where Does The Club Go From Here?
Time will tell.  But it's my sincerest hope they remain a viable franchise and keep
Newark's Baseball tradition going.  Hopefully the switch to the Can/Am League helps.




Game One of the 2011 season is May 26th.


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