I would like to say a few words, on behalf of the Rules & Customs Committee, about the process of summarizing a recommended interpretation for match play within the VBBA. It is important to keep in mind, that while we hope that vintage base ball clubs will quickly adopt these playing practices, the VBBA is an organization dedicated to education, not enforcement. There will be no oversight or requirement for VBBA members to adopt these interpretations. Our inspiration, and our intent, has been to present a template for the game that will move us closer to the ideal encapsulated in the VBBA mission statement:
“The mission and purpose of the Vintage Base Ball Association shall be to preserve, perpetuate, and promote the game of base ball as it was played during its formative years in the nineteenth century…”
To this end we have relied on primary sources from the era including game accounts, previous and subsequent rule sets, newspaper articles, and period instructional manuals such as the nearly universal Beadle’s Dime Base Ball Player. Secondary sources from respected researchers were also considered. Speculation, unsubstantiated second and third party oral histories, or any points of play not supported by verifiable documentation, were rejected as unreliable. We gave especial consideration to the writings of Henry Chadwick, due to both his stature and renown, AND that his instructional manuals were so widely distributed. While Chadwick’s position and influence would wane over the years, in the amateur era of base ball, he was the “competent authority on all questions appertaining to base ball.”
Any set of baseball rules exists as part of a continuum, so we looked both forward and back in time to better frame the context of rules progression. For every point we looked for guidance and confirmation in these primary and select secondary sources, and distilled the collective wisdom of a genuinely impressive group of participants. At various times during this process the committee included Ed Elmore, Jim Tootle, Paul Hunkele, Bill Dieckmann, Marcus Dickson, Kevin Faria, Eric Miklich, and Bob Tholkes. In addition I had the luxury of my super-SABR advisory panel, to which I would refer occasional thorny points. This esteemed group was comprised of Greg Rhodes, Larry McCray, Tom Sheiber , Peter Morris, and the late Fred Ivor-Campbell. Rochester baseball historian, Priscilla Astifan, was another important resource.
While not everyone will wholly agree with all points, I believe this interpretation provides a sound foundation for accurate 19th century playing practices, although further research may well cause us to rethink and modify certain points of play. So, for now, we offer these recommendations to the greater community of vintage base ball players in the hopes that we have provided a valuable service.
-Glenn “Geezer” Drinkwater
Chairman, Rules & Customs Committee
A Few Points of Play Fielder Positioning
Fielders, both infield and out, may adjust their positions based on the tendencies of the striker, the situation of the game, or at the direction of the captain. There is a plethora of instruction on this point, including the Beadle’s 1860, Haney’s Base Ball Book of Reference, and very notably in The American Game of Base Ball. Umpires have no authority, either in the rules or by virtue of documented custom, to instruct fielders to move either closer to a base, or to the “center” of their position.
There is no evidence, either in the rules or in documented custom, that base running was ever restricted in any way – save for the prohibitions against advancing on a foul, the requirement to return to the base after a caught fly, or to restrict the direction and base path the runner may use. To the contrary, we have preponderant evidence, from accounts of early forms of the game, including the proto-ball era, to game accounts of the amateur era, and from the various manuals of instruction, that base ball has always been a running game. The complete game account from 8/31/1860, between the Live Oak and the Olympic clubs of Rochester, describes and differentiates between bases taken on errors, bases taken on passed balls, and stolen bases. If today’s vintage clubs choose not to run, or to restrict base running in match play, care should taken to inform spectators that this does not represent baseball play in the 1860s, but is an artificial restriction. The VBBA strongly encourages adapting our games to accommodate the free running of the bases.
Sliding was certainly practiced in 1860, although the modern foot-first, pop up or hook slide was NOT a typical technique of the era. Sliding was almost always a hand first approach, with the base runner attempting to grasp the strap around the base. We strongly discourage the use of modern, foot-first sliding techniques in vintage game play.
- The ball must weigh not less than five and three-fourths, nor more than six ounces avoirdupois. It must measure not less than nine and three-fourths, nor more than ten inches in circumference. It must be composed of india-rubber and yarn, and covered with leather, and, in all match games, shall be furnished by the challenging club, and become the property of the winning club, as a trophy of victory.
The VBBA recommends that clubs use balls constructed in this manner. Balls of the era varied considerably in their degree of hardness and/or liveliness.
- The bat must be round, and must not exceed two and a half inches in diameter in the thickest part. It must be made of wood, and may be of any length to suit the striker.
The intention of the rule is that bats be made entirely of wood. The VBBA strongly discourages the use of modern, thin handled bats, even if they meet the technical requirements of the rule.
- The bases must be four in number, placed at equal distances from each other, and securely fastened upon the four corners of a square, whose sides are respectively thirty yards. They must be so constructed as to be distinctly seen by the umpire, and must cover a space equal to one square foot of surface. The first, second, and third bases shall be canvas bags, painted white, and filled with sand or sawdust; the home base and pitcher’s point to be each marked by a flat circular iron plate, painted or enameled white.
Very few teams use a pitcher’s point, a practice we would encourage. Chadwick recommends home base to be no less than 9” in diameter. A 13” diameter plate would be just under 1 square foot in area.
There is some ambiguity as to the placement of bases on the line. Beadle’s shows the bases inside the line of the base. Most committee members felt strongly that the center of the base should be placed on the line. This would make 1st and 3rd bases half in fair and half in foul territory. Home base would be one fourth fair, three fourths foul.
There is clear instruction that the bases should be securely anchored, with further instruction in the Beadle’s. VBBA members may find there are many occasions where anchoring the base is not possible or practical. If the base moves from its position, the base, not the place, is the safe haven for the base-runner.
- The base from which the ball is struck shall be designated Home Base, and must be directly opposite to the second base, the first base must always be that upon the right-hand, and the third base that upon the left-hand side of the striker, when occupying his position at the Home Base.
When facing the pitcher.
- The pitcher’s position shall be designated by a line four yards in length, drawn at right angles to a line from home to the second base, having its center upon that line, at a fixed iron plate, placed at a point fifteen yards distant from home base. The pitcher must deliver the ball as near as possible over the center of the home base and for the striker.
We recommend measuring from the center of home base, assuming home base is centered on the line of the bases. The pitcher must deliver a hittable ball, a requirement with no penalty until 1863, when the calling of balls was introduced. “Hittable” is defined as one foot from the ground to head high, within legitimate reach of the bat. Speed of the pitch is not factor in the determination of a hittable ball.
- The ball must be pitched, not jerked or thrown to the bat; and whenever the pitcher draws back his hand, or moves with the apparent purpose or pretension to deliver the ball, he shall so deliver it, and he must have neither foot in advance of the line at the time of delivering the ball; and if he fails in either of these particulars, then it shall be declared a baulk.
- Note [from Beadle’s 1860]: According to Section 6, the pitcher makes a baulk when he either jerks a ball to the bat, has either foot in advance of the line of his position, or moves his hand or arm with the apparent purpose of pitching, without actually delivering the ball.
Pitching is underhand, with the arm perpendicular to the ground, the motion likened to that of a clock pendulum. The “time of delivery” of the ball is defined by the NABBP as the moment the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. Bias or spin may be applied to the pitched ball. The ball may be pitched at any speed.
Jerking is touching the body during the forward motion of the arm. Jerking is a baulk according to the note in Beadle’s; throwing is not specifically mentioned in this note. Whether throwing is called as a baulk, we leave to the discretion of the umpire. Failing to deliver the ball after the pitcher begins his regular motion(s), and stepping over the line are clearly baulks.
The purpose of this rule is to be fair to base runners who may be attempting to steal a base. There is nothing in the rules requiring a pitcher to cross his legs, stand in any particular manner, or present the ball to the striker.
- When a baulk is made by the pitcher, every player running the bases is entitled to one base, without being put out.
One of two calls the umpire MUST make, immediately and unasked. All runners get the next base. The rule does not specify whether a ball is live or dead after a baulk. The example given that the pitcher commits a baulk, and the ball passes the catcher. Can the base runner take as many bases as he wishes? (The ball is still live after a baulk) Or is he limited to the one “free” base? (The ball is dead after a baulk) Without game accounts or other primary evidence to guide the discussion, this is left to the discretion of the umpire.
- If the ball, from the stroke of the bat, is caught behind the range of home and the first base, or home and the third base, without having touched the ground or first touches the ground behind those bases, it shall be termed foul, and must be so declared by the umpire, unasked. If the ball first touches the ground, or is caught without having touched the ground, either upon, or in front of the range of those bases, it shall be considered fair.
- Note [from Beadle’s 1860]: Nothing is mentioned in section 8 in reference to any ball that is caught, either on the fly or first bound, after touching the side of a building, a fence, or a tree. In such cases a special rule is requisite before beginning a match.
Defines fair and foul. One of the most important duties the umpire has is call foul balls, immediately and loudly.
The original wording of the rule is potentially confusing as to the intent of the rule. Other documentation makes it clear that the determination of fair or foul is dependent on where the ball is in reference to the line of the base, when it either hits the ground or is first touched by a player. In other words a muffed ball cannot be knocked into foul territory to make it foul. The point is clarified in the 1861 rules.
The committee felt strongly that balls that come to rest on an object (blanket, chair, tree, etc) could not be retrieved for an out, as these balls are not “caught”.
Clubs must come to an understanding prior to the game, as to whether objects should be considered as the ground, for the purposes of defining “first bound”.
- A player making the home base, shall be entitled to score one run.
Base runners must touch each base in order to be entitled to score a run, according to the Beadle’s, but there is no mention that the runner is “out” for failure to do so. Perhaps the run just fails to count, perhaps there is no penalty. Whether such a run shall count we leave to judgment of the umpire, or prior agreement of the clubs. We see no provision for calling the runner “out”.
There is neither requirement in the rules, nor primary source evidence of any custom, that a runner should “check in” with a scorekeeper, or ring a bell of any kind. Actually, there is no scorekeeper, per se. By rule, there were 2 scorekeepers, each club supplying one. Runners did not have to check in with either of them.
- If three balls are struck at, and missed, and the last one is not caught, either flying or upon the first bound, it shall be considered fair, and the striker must attempt to make his run.
On a third strike swung at and missed, the striker MUST attempt to make his base. If he does not attempt to make his base, as in walking away from the plate, the umpire has the right to call him out immediately. (NOTE: Rule 37 adds that this includes a called third strike.) This rule applies whether first base is occupied or not, and regardless of the number of outs at the time of the play.
- The striker is out if a foul ball is caught, either before touching the ground, or upon the first bound;
Chadwick recommends always trying for the fly catch: “besides a fielder has two chances in attempting a catch on the fly, for should he fail in the first instance, he has the resource of the catch on the bound afterward.” Note that the ball must be caught; the committee strongly rejected the notion that a ball, having come to rest on any object, can be merely picked up, or retrieved for an out.
- Or, if three balls are struck at and missed, and the last is caught, either before touching the ground or upon the first bound,
- Or, if a fair ball is struck, and the ball is caught either without having touched the ground, or upon the first bound;
Same note as Sec. 11. Base-runners are free to advance after the first bound, whether or not the ball is subsequently caught for an out.
- Or, if a fair ball is struck, and the ball held by an adversary on the first base, before the striker touches that base.
Per other documentation, an out should not be recorded if the baseman only touches the ball to the base. Some part of the baseman must be touching the base, the back of his hand is acceptable.
- Any player running the bases is out, if at any time he is touched by the ball while in play in the hands of an adversary, without some part of his person being on a base.
If the fielder has the ball in his hand, and is in control of the ball, once he touches the runner the out is recorded, and anything that happens after that does not affect the call. Control of the ball after the tag is not necessary, and won’t become so until 1877.
- No ace nor base can be made upon a foul ball, nor when a fair ball has been caught without having touched the ground, and the ball shall, in the former instance, be considered dead, and not in play until it shall first have been settled in the hands of the pitcher; in either case the players running the bases shall return to them, and may be put out in so returning in the same manner as the striker when running to the first base.
On a foul ball, the base runners must return to their base. They may be put out in returning after the pitcher has possession of the ball. The pitcher may be anywhere on the field. In 1860 rules there are no “free backs” to the base. On a fair ball, caught on the fly, base runners must return to their base and they may be put out in returning, directly (no pitcher needed). On a caught fair fly, the base runner may immediately advance after successfully returning to his base (“tagging up”)
- The striker must stand on a line drawn through the center of the home base, not exceeding in length three feet either side thereof, and parallel to the line occupied by the pitcher. He shall be considered the striker until he has made the first base. Players must strike in regular rotation, and, after the first innings is played, the turn commences with the player who stands on the list next to the one who lost the third hand.
- Note [from Beadle’s 1860]: The line referred to, in the above rule, is one parallel to a line extending from the first to the third base. The striker should keep one foot on this line; as, if he stands back of the base, a ball striking the ground perpendicularly from his bat, will be considered a fair ball-if the umpire strictly enforces the rule-though it actually strikes the ground behind the home base. If this rule be not strictly enforced, many a ball that ought to be a fair one will be declared foul
The striker’s line may or may not be marked with chalk. The rule requires the striker to place and keep his foot on that line, however it is a requirement without a penalty. There is substantial documentation that this rule was often, or mostly, ignored by players and umpires alike in the 1860s, and an historically correct interpretation allows for either approach. As long as strikers have their feet in proximity to the line, history is served. At no point should the umpire stop a game or impose a penalty for this line violation.
Once a striker has reached first, he is considered to be a player running the bases. This will impact rule 24.
The rule spells out the batting succession.
- Players must make their bases in the order of striking; and when a fair ball is struck, and not caught flying (or on the first bound), the first base must be vacated, as also the second and third bases, if they are occupied at the same time. Players may be put out on any base, under these circumstances, in the same manner as the striker when running to the first base.
Describes the force out. Chadwick’s description in the Beadle’s suggests the force stays in effect without regard to the order of putout. With no change in the wording of the rule, Chadwick’s description in the 1864 Beadle’s changes, and describes the modern practice of applying the force. Other documentation suggests the modern interpretation was always the intent. We feel that the force staying in effect, regardless of the order of putout, was probably the norm in 1860, mostly due to the explanation in Beadle’s. However, there is enough evidence to allow for either interpretation in 1860 vintage game play.
- Players running the bases must, so far as possible, keep upon a direct line between the bases; and, should any player run three feet out of this line, for the purpose of avoiding the ball in the hands of an adversary, he shall be declared out.
The runner can be more than 3 feet out of the line between the bases if his speed around the bases compels it, the rule only penalizes the intentional avoidance of a tag out. The case of a runner who unintentionally overruns first, and then heads for second to avoid a tag out is a gray area, the majority felt strongly that the runner should be declared out, but we leave it to the judgment of the umpire or prior agreement of the clubs.
- Any player, who shall intentionally prevent an adversary from catching or fielding the ball, shall be declared out.
A runner who intends to interfere is declared out. A player who is accidentally hit by a batted ball is not out. It is up to the umpire to determine intent.
- If the player is prevented from making a base, by the intentional obstruction of an adversary, he shall be entitled to that base, and not put out.
- Note [from Beadle’s 1860]: These two latter sections are, of course, intended solely for any willful and unnecessary obstruction. It is impossible that a player, while in the act of fielding a swiftly-sent ball, can always be on the look-out as to where his adversary is running; or that a player running the bases can always be equally careful in regard to his preventing an adversary from getting to his base. The umpire must alone decide this difficult question, and he should never hesitate to put a stop to any tendency to infringe the rules in this respect.
Blocking a runner off the base, (including setting up to take a throw in front of the base) is obstruction, and the runner is given the base. As with the previous rule, determining intent is the key to making the call, but the fielder has the responsibility to avoid obstruction if at all possible.
- If an adversary stops a ball with his hat or cap, or takes it from the hands of a party not engaged in the game, no player can be put out unless the ball shall first have settled in the hands of the pitcher.
The pitcher may be anywhere on the field of play. Vintage ball games today rarely, if ever have spectators in fair territory in the field of play.
- If a ball, from the stroke of a bat, is held under any other circumstances than as enumerated in Section 22, and without having touched the ground more than once, the striker is out.
A clarification of the rule 22 “no hat” rule. This to further describe the word “caught” – that a ball did not have to be caught in the hands – that it could be trapped between the arm and the body, for instance. The committee felt strongly that this rule did not overturn the intent of “caught” in rules 8, 11, and 13, and should not be applied to a ball that has come to rest on any object.
- If two hands are already out, no player running home at the time a ball is struck, can make an ace if the striker is put out.
The majority of the committee felt strongly that a run scoring on the 3rd out of an inning, is an issue of timing. The umpire must determine if the run scored before the 3rd out was made. The exception was the striker, if he is the third out, before reaching first, no run can score,
without regard to the timing. The striker is no longer the striker after he has safely reached his first (rule 17). At that point he is a base runner, and the issue becomes a matter of timing.
- An innings must be concluded at the time the third hand is put out.
Further clarifies when a runner can score. No runs can be counted after the 3rd out is made.
- The game shall consist of nine innings to each side, when, should the number of runs be equal, the play, shall be continued until a majority of runs, upon an equal number of innings, shall be declared, which shall conclude the game.
In 1860, there were technically 18 innings, 9 for each side. An inning was one club’s turn at bat
- In playing all matches, nine players from each club shall constitute a full field, and they must have been regular members of the club they represent, and of no other club, for thirty days prior to the match. No change or substitution shall be made after the game has been commenced, unless for reason of illness or injury. Position of players and choice of innings shall be determined by captains previously appointed for that purpose by the respective clubs.
The “no ringers” rule. No substitution is a rule that is not practical in most modern vintage game play, where inclusion of volunteers is a significant issue.
- The umpire shall take care that the regulations respecting balls, bats, bases, and the pitcher’s and striker’s positions, are strictly observed. He shall keep record of the game, in a book prepared for the purpose; he shall be the judge of fair and unfair play, and shall determine all disputes and differences which may occur during the game; he shall take especial care to declare all foul balls and baulks, immediately upon their occurrence, unasked, and in a distinct and audible manner.
The record keeping portion is eliminated by the next rule. Allows the umpire to decide issues not specifically covered in the rules. Foul balls and baulks are the calls the umpire is required to make unasked. Most other plays were not called by the umpire, unless judgment was asked.
- In all matches the umpire shall be selected by the captains of the respective sides, and shall perform all the duties enumerated in Section 28, except recording the game, which shall be done by two scorers, one of whom shall be appointed by each of the contending clubs.
In 1860 there is not a score keeper, there are 2 scorekeepers, each team supplying one.
- No person engaged in a match, either as umpire, scorer, or player, shall be, either directly or indirectly, interested in any bet upon the game. Neither umpire, scorer, nor player shall be changed during a match, unless with the consent of both parties (except for a violation of this law), except as provided in Section 27, and then the umpire may dismiss any transgressor.
No gambling on the game, gentlemen. As with the players, there are no substitutions for the umpire or scorers, although this is hardly a critical issue for vintage game play.
- The umpire of any match shall determine when play shall be suspended; and if the game can not be concluded, it shall be determined by the last even innings, provided five innings have been played, and the party having the greatest number of runs shall be declared the winner.
5 innings constitutes a match (game).
- Clubs may adopt such rules respecting balls knocked beyond or outside of bounds of the field, as the circumstances of the ground may demand; and these rules shall govern all matches played upon the ground, provided that they are distinctly made known to every player and umpire, previous to the commencement of the game.
Special ground rules should be agreed on prior to the match
- No person shall be permitted to approach or to speak with the umpire, scorers, or players, or in any manner to interrupt or interfere during the progress of the game, unless by special request of the umpire.
- No person shall be permitted to act as umpire or scorer in any match, unless he shall be a member of a Base-Ball Club governed by these rules.
Prohibits “ceremonial” umpires, such as local politicians or other prominent citizens who may have little knowledge of the game. For our purposes, it is important that umpires be very familiar with the specific year’s rules and and playing customs.
- Whenever a match shall have been determined upon two clubs, play shall be called at the exact hour appointed; and should either party fail to produce their players within fifteen minutes thereafter, the party so failing shall admit a defeat.
Self-explanatory, but not typically an issue that would be considered in modern vintage match play.
- No person who shall be in arrears to any other club, or who shall at any time receive compensation for his services as player, shall be competent to play in any match.
Prohibits professional players
- Should a striker stand at the bat without striking at good balls repeatedly pitched to him, for the apparent purpose of delaying the game, or of giving advantage to a player, the umpire, after warning him, shall call one strike, and if he persists in such action, two and three strikes. When three strikes are called, he shall be subject to the same rules as he had struck at three fair balls.
- Note [from Beadle’s 1860]: Section 37 is a rule that should be strictly enforced, as it refers to a point of the game that is oft-times a very tedious and annoying feature. How often do we see the striker-the moment his predecessor has made his first base-stand still at the home base, and await the moment when the player on the first base can avail himself of the first failure of the pitcher and catcher to hold the ball, while tossing it backward and forward to each other. Some catchers-chiefly among boys however- actually stand to the right of the home base purposely for this style of game; and even when the pitcher and catcher are inclined to do their duty, the batsman is not, and the latter is frequently allowed to stop the progress and interest of the game, by his refusal to strike at good balls, under the plea that they do not suit him, when it is apparent to all that he simply wants to allow his partner to get to his second base. In every respect it is preferable to play the game manfully and without resorting to any such trickery-for it is little else-as this, which not only tires the spectator, but detracts from the merit of the game itself.
Called strikes are a remedy for the once common practice of extending a turn at bat while the striker waits for base runners to advance on passed balls, or by stealing their next base. The umpire shall warn the batter after two or more good pitches are ignored. Speed is not factor in the determination of a hittable pitch. After the warning, the umpire shall call strikes. There are no called balls at this time. Not all pitches have to be called.
Given the importance placed on this rule, vintage programs and umpires should be in the habit of calling strikes after the requisite warning.
- Every match hereafter made shall be decided by a single game, unless mutually agreed upon by the contesting clubs.
Prior to this rule, matches were typically a “best of 3” game format.