Do you love baseball, but
hate the multimillion dollar contracts, arrogant players, and
commercialism that plague the game today? Do you yearn for the
olden days, when the game
was about sportsmanship and entertainment, not just dollars and
cents? If so, then vintage base ball is for you.
Meet the Akron Black Stockings and Akron Lady Locks, base ball
clubs made up of volunteer
players dedicated to evoking the original spirit of the game
when "ballists" played for enjoyment. Using historically
accurate equipment, uniforms, rules, and 1860s vocabulary, we
hope to bring back the glory days of a sport that has changed
dramatically since its inception.
Games of "bat and ball" were played in America before the
Revolutionary War. Derived from an even earlier game of rounders,
different forms of baseball grew up in the East. In 1842, a group of
young New Yorkers began playing regularly on a Manhattan field. The
Knickerbocker Base Ball Club drafted and documented what was to
become baseball’s first rules. Among other things, these rules
established the now accepted three outs in a half-inning. The
Knickerbockers first official game took place in June of 1846.
Inspired by the Knickerbockers and playing
their New York version of the game, other clubs sprouted up. The
popularity of the sport spread with the advent of the Civil War, as
young Union soldiers from other parts of the country suddenly found
themselves in close quarters with Easterners. Veterans brought the
sport back to their communities, increasing its reach and
popularity. Even this early on, the sport was a hit with spectators
and fans were devoted to their teams. By the 1850s, fans were being
charged admission to cheer them on. Although baseball had been
organized for some time (governed by the National Association of
Base Ball Players), professionalism was just around the next base.
Vintage Base Ball is base
ball (yes, it was two words originally) played by the rules and
customs of any earlier period. Ballists don period uniforms and
recreate the game ‘as it was meant to be played.’ The activity
of vintage base ball can be seen at open-air museums,
re-enactments and city parks and is played on both open grass
fields and modern baseball diamonds.
Most vintage base ball clubs in the VBBA
play the game of base ball as it was played in the late 1850s,
1860s and 1880s. Many clubs use the rules recorded in the first
Beadle's Dime Base Ball Player, published in 1860, which
recounted the third meeting of the National Association of Base
The mid-nineteenth century game was considerably different than
today’s game. Ballists played with bare hands until the 1880s
and balls caught on one bound were outs until the mid-1860s.
Balls are considered fair by where the ball first touches the
ground. That is, a ball hit in front of home plate that then
spins into foul territory is still a fair ball. There are
numerous other differences, but modern spectators would still
recognize our game as base ball.
A Brief History of the Game
In 1845, Alexander Joy Cartwright, Doc Adams and others were
early members of a group of young professionals who made up the
Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. The Knickerbockers began the
process of formalizing the rules (e.g. bases set at 30 paces or
90 feet apart, establishing foul territory, etc.) in the late
1840s and early 1850s. Establishing clear foul territory was a
major improvement as it allows spectators to get up close enough
to the action to become interested in the game.
By the mid to late-1850s, more than a dozen teams with names
like the Eagles, Empires, Excelsiors, Putnams, Unions and
Atlantics had formed in New York City and Brooklyn to play the
Knickerbocker or New York game of base ball. In 1858, the
National Association of Base-Ball Players was formed. By 1860,
the number of teams playing skyrocketed as teams formed in other
cities like Philadelphia and Washington. Gradually other
variants of the game, most notably the Massachusetts game, died
out in favor of the New York game.
The Knickerbockers modeled their club after the gentlemen’s
clubs that had been organized in cricket. The Knickerbockers
seemingly had more team rules and regulations about gentlemanly
behavior than the game itself. But the popularity of the game,
and the prospect of charging admission (first done in 1858)
lured some working-class clubs into the game like the powerful
Brooklyn Atlantics whose main interest was to win.
After a brief lull during the Civil War,
interest in the game of base ball was rekindled in the post-war
years. As the popularity (and prospects for getting paying
spectators) grew, still more professionalism crept into the
game. Eventually, Harry Wright’s Cincinnati Red Stockings
fielded the first, openly all-professional team in 1869 and the
rest is history.