Vintage Base Ball is the re-creation of the game as it was played in the 1860’s. The Ohio Village Muffins were the first team to play the vintage game, beginning in 1981, and still fields teams today. There are now over 100 teams throughout the country, with the majority based in Ohio and the Midwest, and many associated with museums or historic sites. And as in the earliest days, all teams are amateur.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings and their fellow clubmates, the Cincinnati Buckeyes, play by the rules of 1869 when playing at Heritage Village. They also have special ground rules for the Heritage Village field that are described here.

The game of baseball is basically the same in any era – nine fielders play for nine innings, with each team trying to outscore the opposition by hitting a ball with a bat. But there are many subtleties to the vintage game that spectators will note.

Vintage players do not use gloves. Gloves were not widely used in the game until the 1880’s. The bat is much heavier and more variable in size and shape than a modern bat, and the ball slightly larger and softer than a baseball of today. Typically, the game was played on any flat, grassy field that was as free of obstructions as possible.

In the 1860’s, base ball was a gentlemen’s game, and the players are supposed to act as such. There is no spitting, swearing or other action that may be offensive to a lady. They congratulate their opponents when a good play is made, and help the umpire make close calls with honesty.

The Umpire
Only one umpire is used in the vintage game, and he typically stands behind and off to the side of the field. He is allowed to use both players and spectators alike to judge close plays. No hand signals were used; decisions were shouted.

He does not call balls and strikes, but rather can issue warnings to the striker (batter) or the pitcher if the at-bat is not proceeding well. If such warning is administered and the offender not compliant, the striker is either called out for failing to swing at hittable pitches or is allowed his first if the pitcher offers no hittable pitch. If the striker fails to strike the ball after three swings, he is out. Foul balls are not counted as strikes.

The Pitcher
The pitcher stood only 45' from the plate and pitched underhand. There is no mound.

Batting Order
A coin toss preceded each game, and the team captain could elect to take the field or hit first. The batting order is not restricted to nine players, and players can be benched and return as often as needed. At the beginning of each inning, the batter that follows the player that made the final out of the previous inning (as a batter or a runner) is the first batter of the inning.

Playing defense isn’t much different, except that outfielders generally must be straight-up in their field and first, second, and third basemen should be two steps off their base. The shortstop can essentially play wherever he is needed, but typically covers the hole between second and third for right-hand hitters or between first and second for lefties.

Foul Balls
During our Queen City Festival, a somewhat more obscure rule was used a great deal concerning foul balls. In the modern game, runners that run when a foul ball is hit and not caught for an out can return safely to their original base without fear of being tagged out. This luxury is not available to the vintage player. If the foul ball is recovered and returned to the hands of the pitcher, he may make a play to tag out any tardy runner that has not returned to their base of origin.

Game Play
Some of the more noticeable nuances to the vintage game occur on the field. In the earliest version of the game, players could catch a fair ball on the fly or on one bound (or bounce) to get the batter out. In the 1869 game, the one-bound rule was eliminated. The team captains decide which version to play before the start of the game, though home field rules are usually honored. But in either case, a foul ball caught on one bound or on the fly is an out, even if it is just a foul tick. Also, a ball is deemed foul only if the first bounce occurs in foul territory. If it strikes fair territory first then goes foul before passing first or third base, the ball is still in play (it’s called a “fair-foul” and often used by strikers who are fleet of foot).

Other pre-modern rules include: no over-running first base, stealing only if the catcher muffs the pitch, and sliding (before 1869) was considered ungentlemanly (and could cost the offender a week's wages!)


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