Do you love baseball, but hate the multimillion dollar contracts, arrogant players, and brash
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 Ball Players.

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.



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