Historic Accuracy – An Appeal to VBBA Members

by the Rules and Customs Committee 

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It is the purpose and mission of the Vintage Base Ball Association to make an accurate presentation of the game “as it was actually played in accordance with the rules, equipment, uniforms, field specifications, customs, practices, language, and behavioral norms of the period”.

It is the purpose of the VBBA to strengthen its member clubs “by sharing vintage base ball information, setting standards of historical accuracy and participation…Encourage research and disseminating information in order to recreate the game in keeping with the highest levels of accuracy and authenticity. Educating the public regarding the character, history, and growth of the game with attention to the historical context in which it originated and developed.”

There are a lot of misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and lack of knowledge of rules, customs, and practices amongst our members. As a result there are a lot of inaccuracies being practiced, and inaccurate information being disseminated to the public. It is time the VBBA address some of these practices. This information pertains mainly to the 1860’s because that range covers nearly all VBBA members. The purpose of this writing is to share information and address a few of the most common inaccuracies currently being practiced so that all members can participate in the satisfaction of the purpose and mission of the VBBA. In addition to our enjoyment of playing the game, we will get the unique thrill of experiencing history – and increase our overall enjoyment of the great game of base ball as it was played in its formative years. Please share this information with all members of your club.

How we play our games, conduct ourselves when in uniform, and the information we share with the public, is our image. It is how we, and the game we love, will be perceived. We want to create the best image possible. If the VBBA is to be considered a respectable organization, all of our members must share an obligation to the VBBA, to the other VBBA member clubs, to the living history museums where many of us play, and most of all – to our spectators – to make historical accuracy a priority. Every player should know the difference between customs and rules. Every club should have one or more knowledgeable members who are designated to be the spokesman for any media interview, to insure that accurate information is given with regards to rules, customs, practices, and terminology.

PLEASE read the 1860 and 1864 rules & interpretations by the Rules & Customs Committee. This will give you a good basic understanding of 1860’s rules (it would help your understanding of vintage base ball if you can forget everything you already know about base ball before reading the rules). If you are playing any year other than 1860 or 1864, then read the rules for the year you are playing in addition to these interpretations. Most of the information is directly relevant to subsequent amateur era rules (1858 – 1871). If you have not declared a year, please do so. Umpires could call strikes as of 1858. If you want your umpire to call balls, play 1863 or later. If you want to play the fly game, play 1865 or later, etc. As you read the rules notice some of the things that are NOT prohibited – such as defensive player positioning, lead-offs, stealing, and sliding.

Customs & Practices

  • Defensive player positioning –  The only player restricted by rule to play in a specific area was the pitcher – when pitching the ball. Other players could position themselves as desired, and were encouraged to position themselves according to the batting habits of the striker (1860 Beadles). Some vintage teams like to play the basemen within a couple of steps of the base, and outfielders in the center of their position. Player positioning (except the pitcher) is a choice made by the club Captain or an individual player, and NOT a rule. The club Captain should position his players. A game should never be stopped by an umpire to position a defensive player.
  • Lead-offs and Stealing – Except for foul balls (dead ball) runners may lead-off as far as they choose, and run at any time. Lead-offs and stealing were never restricted by rule (there was a balk rule since the Knickerbockers 1845 rules). Some vintage teams like to restrict their lead-offs, and choose not to steal except on a muff by the catcher. That is a choice made by the club Captain or an individual runner, and NOT a rule.
  • Sliding was not mentioned in the rules. Runners were sliding in the 1860’s. How common, and what method is still unclear. Some vintage clubs choose not to slide at all. That is a choice made by the club Captain or an individual runner, and NOT a rule. There should not be a penalty for sliding.
  • Tally bell – Clubs may have rung a bell, or beat a drum, or in some other way celebrated scoring a run. Some clubs may have had a very formal way of reporting to the scorekeeper to be sure that their run was tallied. There was never a rule that required ringing a bell, or reporting to the scorekeeper in order for the run to count, and is no primary source evidence of such a custom. Some vintage clubs practice reporting to the scorekeeper and/or ringing a bell when scoring a run. This is a modern practice that a club does by choice, NOT a rule, and should not be required for a run to count.
  • Bunting, Chop bunting – Bunting and intentionally hitting fair foul hits as a tactic has not been found to have yet been used in the amateur era of the 1860’s. Although not illegal, chop bunting would have probably been considered “unmanly” and frowned upon.
  • Modern bats – The rule was simple – bats “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” (limited to 42” after 1868). Pictures of bats in the 1860’s seem to show a straight taper or a slight bottle shape. Bats with modern logos are obviously not vintage. Bats with thin handles and a curved contour into a thick barrel, although are not illegal by rule, do not appear to be vintage. Laser engraving was not yet available. The VBBA strongly discourages the use of modern style bats.
  • Uniform, jewelry, logosPLEASE respect the uniform. Be proud of the uniform and either wear it properly or not at all. Remove modern jewelry. Cover logos on shoes – all black or brown only. Keep modern equipment away from bench area, put it in a cloth bag, or cover it up. Sunglasses were not common 1860’s eyewear. If you advise new clubs, please encourage them to make an effort to wear a uniform appropriate to their year.
  • There is no requirement in the rules for a player to retain control of the ball after a tag, or a catch. If the player tags the runner with the ball, or catches the ball (in the opinion of the umpire), the out is made.


  • Hurler – This is a twentieth century term. Hurl is a synonym for throw. The rule states “the ball must be pitched, not jerked or thrown”. This term was not used to describe the pitcher in the 1860’s, and is clearly not appropriate. The correct vintage term is pitcher.
  • Cranks – This is not an 1860’s term. It is a derogatory term first used in the 1880’s to describe rowdy and unruly spectators. The correct term is “spectators”.
  • Behind – The catcher was not called a behind. The area of ground that the catcher covers may have been called “behind”, as in behind the batsman. The player who covers that ground was the “catcher”.
  • Rover, scout, base-tender, tallykeeper – These are not base ball terms (maybe town ball or other bat & ball games). The correct terms are shortstop, fielder (left, center, right), baseman (first, second, third), and scorekeeper.
  • A foul “tick” will always go backwards, otherwise it is just a “foul ball”.


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