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Vintage Base Ball

If you don’t care for the current style of baseball, perhaps this will be more to your liking.

Former major league pitcher Jim Bouton announced Thursday the launch of an organization that will play by 19th century rules: The Vintage Base Ball Federation. Yup, back then baseball was two words.

It will be six balls for a walk, and a foul ball won’t count as a strike – unless it’s caught, in which case the batter will be out. A foul ball caught on a bounce counts for an out, and a hit batter is only a ball, with no base awarded.

Gloves will be tiny, bat handles will be thick and the ball – that’s right, one ball will be used per game unless it falls apart or is lost – will be dead. There aren’t any pitcher’s mounds, and there’s no such thing as a balk on pickoff attempts.

In a mixture of sport and theater, umpires must be addressed as “sir.” Fans – called “cranks” – will be encouraged to wear period costumes, so ladies get out those flowered hats and gentlemen doff your straw boaters.

Amateur baseball and softball teams are invited to join the VBBF.

[…]

“The game the way it was meant to be played,” Bouton said during a news conference at Delmonico’s, a restaurant that opened in 1836. “No batting gloves, helmets, wristbands, elbow pads, shin guards, sunglasses. No arguing with the umpire. No stepping out of the batter’s box. No charging the pitcher or posing at home plate. No curtain-calling, chest-thumping or high-fiving. Just baseball.”

Well, at least it’s not Baby Boomer-inspired nostalgia for all things 1950s and 60s. The most recent edition of the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract gives a good, concise feel for how baseball was played and by whom back in the ancient days. It’s a perfectly valid way to play the game, and I daresay people will find it interesting both as a novelty and on its own merits, but it has no more claim on being “the way it was meant to be played” than any other era has. For my money, this is like baseball version of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, with its utter romanticism of a past that wasn’t particularly pretty.

While the Hartford Senators have a team spittoon, gambling will be prohibited – 19th century baseball was marked by alleged fixed games.

“The 1880s and ’90s were characterized by very rough play and ill-mannered conduct toward umpires and opponents and spectators,” said John Thorn, a board member who serves on the 19th Century research committee of the Society for American Baseball Research.

You can dress up in period costumes all you like, but the game of baseball at that time was filled with ruffians and gamblers. And of course you can’t talk about 1880s baseball without discussing the origins of the game’s organized racism, which began when future Hall of Famer Cap Anson refused to play against a team that featured Fleet Walker.

Obviously, the goal of the Vintage Base Ball Foundation is to evoke the positive things from that era, and to provide a contrast to what it sees as an artificial and commercial game now. Which is fine, if a bit naive about the actual history of the game. I personally prefer to remember that the good old days weren’t always good. To each his own. Thanks to Matt for sending me this link.

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9 Comments

  1. Greg Wythe says:

    I’m not sure that I go back quite that far in my appreciation of old-school baseball. I’ll just eagerly await the return of a raised pitcher’s mound, and the athletic ressurection of the next Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton and JR Richard.

    That’s “old school” enough in my book.

  2. Stephen Sullivan says:

    Vintage Base Ball has been played since 1980. I have been playing since 1994 and I can honestly tell you that this federation will not acurately depict the way the game was played. First off he has combined the rules of many different years and combined them into one version. Plus players did not use gloves back than. This is just a scheme to make money and by selling uniform and equipment. It is rather ironic that Jim Bouton claims to what to get the game back to the way it was but in all reality is just looking to make a quick buck.

  3. Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw says:

    Vintage Base Ball clubs believe in teaching what the game was like back then. They try to be as historically accurate as possible when portraying a particular year’s rules; whether it be 1864, 1873, 1886 or whatever. The VBBF will be using a hybrid set of rules that cannot be identified with any one year. Lemon peel balls were not used beyond the early 1870’s and overhand pitching was not allowed until 1883. The VBBF will feature both. Just as Civil War reenactors should not use guns from the War of 1812, Vintage Base Ball clubs should not use rules from multiple years. Vintage Base Ball is Living History; aimed at teaching spectators about the roots of our National Pastime. The VBBF is there to entertain and may undermine the historical aspects of the hobby.

  4. Pops O'Maxfield says:

    I don’t know what type of vintage dope Stephen Sullivan is smoking nowadays but his information about Bouton’s new league and baseball history is full of smoke. 1880’s style of play is an accurate reflection of the way professional baseball was played, gloves and all. I think he used his head too much when he played…as a catcher!

  5. Billy Pollifrone says:

    Sorry Pops. I think you may be the one ‘smoking the dope’ to use your words. This entry is about vintage base ball and not about professional baseball. Those two terms are not mutually exclusive. Taking rules from the 1860’s and adding them to the ones of 1880’s does not accurately represent the vintage sport or the professional sport of the period either.

  6. Billy Pollifrone says:

    Sorry Pops. I think you may be the one ‘smoking the dope’ to use your words. This entry is about vintage base ball and not about professional baseball. Those two terms are not mutually exclusive. Taking rules from the 1860’s and adding them to the ones of 1880’s does not accurately represent the vintage sport or the professional sport of the period either.

  7. Billy Pollifrone says:

    Sorry Pops. I think you may be the one ‘smoking the dope’ to use your words. This entry is about vintage base ball and not about professional baseball. Those two terms are not mutually exclusive. Taking rules from the 1860’s and adding them to the ones of 1880’s does not accurately represent the vintage sport or the professional sport of the period either.

  8. Billy Pollifrone says:

    Sorry Pops. I think you may be the one ‘smoking the dope’ to use your words. This entry is about vintage base ball and not about professional baseball. Those two terms are not mutually exclusive. Taking rules from the 1860’s and adding them to the ones of 1880’s does not accurately represent the vintage sport or the professional sport of the period either.

  9. Pops O'Maxfield says:

    My good Mr. Pollifrone. I don’t recall your name as being either Stephen or Sullivan and judging by the number of times your reponse has appeared here, I say your finger must have the same palsy as your addled brain.