Introduction to the Language and Terms of 1858 – 1869 Base Ball

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The ongoing mission and purpose of the VBBA is to present the game of base ball “as it was actually played in accordance with the rules, equipment, uniforms, field specifications, customs, practices, language, and behavioral norms of the period”. We understand that if our presentation is not somewhat interesting and entertaining we will have no spectators. Even more important, we recognize that the game must be fun to play. We do not need to sacrifice entertainment, or fun, for authenticity. Players and spectators both enjoy the use of period language and terminology to separate the base ball game we are representing from today’s game of baseball. There are a few terms that are commonly accepted and widely used in vintage base ball that are actually terms of unknown origin, likely having been created in the modern day (myths), or from another game (misapplications), or from another time period (anachronisms). We discussed a few of the most commonly used of these in our recent appeal to members in the VBBA Customs & Practices Document. As base ball researchers tried to authenticate the most commonly used terms, many interesting and entertaining terms have been documented. We would like to offer these as alternatives to the currently used myths, misapplications, and anachronisms.

We have broken the language into two pages. The first lists commonly used terminology found either in rules, base ball guides, or newspaper game accounts. The VBBA encourages use of terminology from this list.

The second is misused terms and has two lists. Listed first are the most commonly misused terms followed by a more inclusive list of misused terms. These are terms that have come to be common in vintage base ball, but were not used in base ball in the late 1850s -1860s. We appeal to clubs to eliminate them from their presentation, because they present an inaccurate perception of the era.

Please notice that the list of documented terms is longer than the total of the undocumented terms, so there are plenty of interesting and entertaining terms to use and still be authentic. Research has given us more than it has eliminated.

Some base ball writers were very creative in describing game play. We are not considering a term used once, or a one-time account of an occurrence during a game. The intent is to avoid presenting a term or phrase used infrequently by a sports writer for color as a commonly used term. We have focused on terminology that was commonly used and could reasonably be considered base ball language of the time. At the end of the list of documented terms, we provide some of the colorful but infrequently used terms and phrases seen perhaps once and not considered common terms. These are the sorts of terms and phrases that can be used to enhance the presentation of the game, and to help create for our spectators an authentic feeling of a mid- 19th century game of base ball.

Some of the undocumented terms on the first list have been widely accepted and used by vintage base ball clubs for over 30 years. Long-term use and acceptance does not make them accurate. We do not need to be ashamed or embarrassed that we have used inaccurate terminology, and we do not need to apologize for our past errors. With the internet, a lot more research has been done since vintage base ball began in the early 1980s.

In light of VBBA’s mission statement that we should focus on “Presenting the game of base ball as it was actually played in accordance with the rules, equipment, uniforms, field specifications, customs, practices, language, and behavioral norms of the period” (emphasis added), we believe that we have the obligation to make changes to our presentation of the game when we learn that what we are presenting does not represent the game “as it was actually played”. We realize that old habits are hard to break, and do not expect that old habits will change immediately, but we all should make an effort to teach our club members terminology that is accurate to the era we present. We do not ask that clubs throw out all existing printed materials, but would encourage clubs to revise them before reprinting – and update web sites. Let us embrace the authentic language and allow the myths, misapplications, and anachronisms to just gracefully go away.

Please remember that what spectators see, and hear, from us is believed to be accurate, whether we are playing at a museum, historical site, or just a local park. They trust that we are presenting the game in a way that is as educational and accurate as possible. We should not take their trust lightly. Our purpose is to educate our audience, not deceive them. Being educational does not mean sacrificing fun. Being educational greatly enhances the experience, both for participants and spectators. We are trying to re-live history, not re-write it. We are trying to revive an old sport, not invent a new one.

The Rules and Customs Committee would be honored to assist any member club in re-writing printed material or web sites regarding rules, customs, playing practices, and terminology. Feel free to contact any of the committee members at the email addresses shown below, or simply contact VBBA, and they will direct you to one or more of the Committee’s members.

On behalf of the Vintage Base Ball Association, we commend these documents to your use, and hope that your clubs will find them helpful in your portrayal of late 1850s – 1860s base ball.

Rules and Customs Committee members:
Marcus Dickson (
Bill Dieckmann (
Glenn Drinkwater (, Chairman Paul Hunkele (

We also appreciate the input and contributions of many noted historians and authors.


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