What Is Vintage Base Ball?
Many clubs play without gloves.
Vintage Base Ball is base ball (yes, it was spelled two words prior to the 1880s) played by the rules and customs of the 19th Century. Our players (sometimes called ballists) wear period reproduction uniforms, either with long trouser and shield shirt, or a later style lace shirt and knickers. They recreate the game based on rules and research of the various decades of the mid-to-late nineteenth century. The playing of vintage base ball can be seen at open-air museums, tournament re-enactments and city parks. It is played on both open grass fields and modern baseball diamonds. Spectators may consider vintage base ball to be a new sport, however, some clubs have been in existence since the 1980s. Vintage base ball is a reflection of how baseball existed at an earlier time.
Most vintage base ball clubs in the VBBA play the game of base ball according to the rules of the late 1850s, 1860s and 1880s. Many clubs have adopted the rules recorded in the first Beadle's Dime Base Ball Player, published in 1860, which recounted the third meeting of the National Association of Base Ball Players. Proper rules interpretation is an important aspect to our game.
The mid-nineteenth century game was considerably different than today’s game. Most ballists played with bare hands until the mid-1880s, but starting in the late 1860s a few catchers with raw hands needed to wear thin buckskin gloves to keep on playing. Until 1865, fair or foul balls caught on one bound were outs. However, the more skilled players always attempted to catch it "on the fly" which eventually made the bound rule unnecessary. More and more vintage base ball clubs play the late 1860s style fly game. Balls are also considered fair by where the ball first touches the ground. That is, a ball hit in front of home plate that then spins into foul territory is still a fair ball. Talented vintage base ball strikers take advantage of this rule and use the bat to swat at the ball, creating what is known as a "fair-foul" ball, which first lands fair and spins foul, forcing either the first or third baseman off their base. Historically, this technique was abused forcing the fair ball rule to be changed for 1877. There are numerous other differences in the all-amateur games of baseball prior to 1869, but modern spectators would still recognize vintage version as base ball.
When baseball leagues allowed overhand pitching in 1885, the game took on a more modern appearance. Vintage base ball clubs will often play 1884 rules to interpret the last year of side arm pitching or 1886 rules to interpret early overhand pitching. 1886 is also the first year a pitcher could deliver the ball with one foot off the ground. Historical research is an interesting part of our sport and we invite you to uncover more information on the evolution of base ball.
A Brief History of the Game
In New York City, in 1845, Alexander Joy Cartwright, Doc Adams and others were early members of a group of young professionals who made up the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. The Knickerbockers began the process of formalizing the rules (e.g. bases set at 30 paces or 90 feet apart, establishing foul territory, etc.) in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Establishing clear foul territory was a major improvement as it allowed spectators to get up close enough to the action to become more interested in the game.
By the mid to late-1850s, more than a dozen teams with names like the Eagles, Empires, Excelsiors, Putnams, Unions and Atlantics had formed in New York City and Brooklyn to play the Knickerbocker or New York style game of base ball. In 1858, the National Association of Base-Ball Players was formed. By 1860, the number of teams playing skyrocketed as new clubs formed in other cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC. Gradually other variants of the game, most notably the Massachusetts game, died out in favor of the New York game. It is generally accepted by historians that American base ball evolved from the British games of cricket and rounders.
The Knickerbockers modeled their club after the gentlemen’s clubs that had been organized in cricket. The Knickerbockers seemingly had more rules and regulations about gentlemanly behavior than the game itself, such as being fined for using inappropriate language. But the popularity of the game, changes in the work schedules of many laborers, and the prospect of charging admission (first done in 1858) lured some working-class clubs into the game such as the powerful Brooklyn Atlantics whose main interest was to win.
Base ball was played during the Civil War. Interest in the game grew immensely in the post-war years. As the popularity (and prospects for getting paying spectators) grew, still more professionalism crept into the game. Eventually, Harry Wright’s Cincinnati Red Stockings fielded the first, openly all-professional team in 1869. In 1876, the National League was established, and the rest is history as base ball evolved into America's National Pastime.
Click Here for links to sites devoted especially to base ball history.
Click Here to see Chadwick's description of a model base ball player.