Vintage Base Ball: A Gentleman’s Game

The setting is an open field, often times played on historic grounds. There are no vendors taking $20 to park, $60 ticket prices, or multi-million dollar ballplayers on the field. It’s what baseball once was, when it was played purely for the love of the game, not the fame or money. It’s popularity is growing more with each passing year.

You won’t find familiar names like Miguel Cabrera, Clayton Kershaw or Bryce Harper in these lineups. Instead you will find names like “Schoolboy”, “Cornstalk”, and “Meatball”. Vintage Base Ball gets back to the original roots of the game, playing under the rules from the 1850’s, 1860’s and 1880’s. There are over 400 teams in the Vintage Base Ball Association playing across the United States bringing the game, and happiness to many people, in many states.

The look of the game, and the terminology is quite different than the game we know today. Players dress in period uniforms. The ball, or lemon peel, has the stitches going in a different direction than now, and has a slightly different feel. The fielders do not wear or possess gloves, they tough it out. baseballAd04

The bases are still 90 feet apart, but running through the bag on a grounder could result in an out. The plate is called a disc, and there is a chalk line right in front of the disc. The batter must either be straddling the line, or have one foot on the line when hitting the ball.

There are no Chase Utley type slides into second base, because this is a gentleman’s game (also the players have to go to their real jobs the next day!). There is no arguing with the Arbiter, aka the Umpire. If there is a close play at a base, or at the disc, and the arbiter cannot make a call, the fielder and the runner try to come to a gentleman’s agreement on a fair call. If they cannot agree, the Arbiter will turn to the Audience (today’s term for fans) and ask for assistance. In Vintage Base Ball, a two-to-three minute instant replay is not necessary. The fans’ decision is then final. There is also no concern that children in the Audience will catch a few naughty words being uttered after a strikeout.

The pitchers pitch the ball underhanded with some speed on it, and prior to 1864, balls were not called. A strike was called on a swing-and-miss only. There are two very large distinctions from the rules of 1864, that several Vintage Base Ball teams and leagues follow and the current game today. The first is regarding fair/foul balls. The chalk lines are drawn the same as they are today, minus batter boxes. If a player hits the ball and it first hits in fair territory and then rolls foul, regardless how far foul it continues to roll, it is a fair ball. Seeing this in person, is a treat, once you get over the confusion.

The second big rule that is quite different from today is how fly balls are fielded. Remember, there were no gloves back in the mid-19th century. A fly ball, line drive, foul tip back to the catcher, that is caught in the air, or caught after one bounce, yes one bounce, is an out, or in the terminology of the times, a hand down.

With Vintage Base Ball growing in popularity, and new leagues and teams being added quite frequently, there is bound to be a team playing close to you. A game of Vintage Base Ball is truly great experience for the baseball purist, and for families alike. Those who play are a very welcoming group of people, truly out there for the joy and fun of the game, and are always looking to sign up volunteers to either play, umpire, score keep or assist in any other way.

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