Vintage Base Ball is base ball (yes, it was two words originally) played by the rules and customs of any earlier period. Ballists wear old-style uniforms, either the early long trouser and shield shirt, or a later style lace shirt and knickers, and recreate the game based on rules and research of the various periods of the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Vintage base ball is a reflection of how baseball existed at an earlier time.
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, and as in the earliest days, all teams are amateur.
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. The ball slightly larger and softer than a baseball of today and constructed in a “lemon peel” format using only one piece of leather. 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.
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. He does not call balls and strikes, but rather can issue warnings to the striker (batter) or the hurler (pitcher) if the at-bat is not proceeding well. No hand signals were used; decisions were shouted.
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 runner that has not returned to their base of origin.
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 1867 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 in the earliest form of the game was considered ungentlemanly and could cost the offender up to $1.25, nearly a week’s wages!