Vintage Base Ball | Baseball played 1800 style | A league maybe in your area
Actually it’s not misspelled, base ball was two words instead of just baseball as used today.
From a distance it might look like any normal softball game, two teams in uniform with a group of spectators’ cheering them on.
But as you look closer you quickly realize these guys aren't playing with any gloves or other protective gear.
The uniforms look a bit odd as well. Kind of old fashioned actually looking like what the players wore in the movie Field of Dreams.
Over close to home plate is a gentleman who is dressed in a top hat and vest, looks like he came right of a western movie himself. He seems to be the umpire officiating the game.
He is on the game with an eagle eye but watches the batter strike at three balls in a row and says nothing. Suddenly then after looking over the runners on base, on the fourth apparent strike he yells out "strike".
The opposing team says nothing and the game keeps on going. Then the batter tips the ball as if it would be another strike and takes off to home base.
The next batter comes up and as you watch the pitch you realize the pitcher is pitching underhanded. The pitch is very precise and smooth, there’s no jerking around.
The next batter hits and the ball right down the foul line but the old guy says nothing on if it’s considered fair or foul. He quickly turns to the group of spectators and turns his thumb up and then down. Several of the spectators gives him a thumbs up.
The outfielder picks it up and makes the play quickly to third base but the runner has already made it to the base and passed it.
The third baseman still touches him with the ball and the old guy yells “Player Dead”. Throw the onion to the pitcher’s point. The batting team makes no comment.
The next batter does a line drive down center field and someone yells out "sky ball" instead of fly ball, the runner on second base runs on to home plate. The old guy reaches down a rings what appears to be a ship’s bell and makes a mark on a chalk board.
You turn to the lady sitting next to you and ask her what kind of soft ball game is this.
She chuckles and says, "why this is vintage base ball just like it was played in 1868. You're watching a vintage base ball game between the Houston Babies and the Katy Combines".
She goes on to say "There's several teams in Texas that play against each other, usually during at historical event celebrations".
As you walk back through the plays you just witness she tells you that in this era the umpire didn't call a strike unless he felt the batter was taking advantage of the game by allowing players on the bases to advance.
A foul ball also was not considered a strike and if the batter did hit the ball after so many strikes he had to take 1st base.
What about the foul or fair ball? She indicates the umpire would call foul balls immediately but would not declare it was a fair ball. The umpire would also depend largely on the spectators to gain their point of view.
How was the player out after he had touched the base? The rules of vintage base ball state that at any time the ball is in play a runner can be placed out when he is touched by the ball held by an opponent.
OK, then what was the player dead and the onion all about? She chuckles again and says a “player dead” means he is out and the “onion” was what the baseball was called.
Why no baseball gloves? Well they weren't even invented until a few years later and weren't considered a manly thing until late in the 1870s when players could use them without being made fun of.
The onion was a handmade ball that was a bit softer than today’s softball. It was also about 10” in diameter made of rubber and yarn and then covered with hand stitched leather.
The pitcher was called a hurler, and since he pitched underhanded there were no fast balls to sting bare hands.
About that time a player yells out to his team mate to show a “little ginger”. In a blank puzzled stare you look back at the lady and she says, means "to play a bit harder”.
You respond there’s no cussing or swearing, anger or emotions? That’s because baseball in the period was considered a gentleman’s game where everyone was polite and courteous to each other even to the opposing team.
And why doesn't the players argue with the umpire or try to correct him? Umpire’s were considered golden and their decision was to be accepted no matter how much a player, manager, or spectator might have disagreed with them.
As the game continues more terminology is used, come on “stir your stumps”. The lady nudges you and says it means to run faster, the same as if someone says to “leg it”.
With peaked interest you return home later that evening and Goggled Vintage Base Ball to find more information.
In the search you discover there’s an active Vintage Base Ball Association at http://vbba.org with all the information about Vintage Base Ball leagues state by state and rules.
It’s a rather fascinating sport for many to enjoy a part of vintage history. One thing that has changed is that the ladies are now encourage to join the Ballist (players) instead of just being spectators.
Pictures courtesy of Cottage Craft Works .com back to basic vintage reproduction products general store.