Enter Username & Password
Lost Password

The gentlemanly sport of 1860s baseball

John Collins - 10/03/2015 04:43 CDT

Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States

Back in 1860's when the sport was young the name of the game baseball was two words, not one.  Though some did wear gloves, many base ball players thought it unmanly to do so.

In 1860 the game was played by Beadle's Rules which is used by many members of the Vintage Base Ball Association.  The fellow with the bat at the home plate was called the striker.  It was the pitcher's responsibility as a gentleman, to pitch the ball as close to the center of the home base as possible so as to present a hittable ball for the striker.  The pitch was generally an underhand throw, much like pitching a horseshoe.

While there were no penalties to the pitcher for a bad throw, there was no room for deception.  If a pitcher were to put a foot beyond the pitcher's plate (15 yards  from the home base) or were to start a throw without completing it, a baulk would be called and all men running bases would be entitled to advance one base.

Later rules, such as in the 1867 Haney's Base Ball Book of Reference used by The Greenfield Village National Base Ball Club, allowed the referee to warn the pitcher that he must throw hittable balls if the pitches were not hittable.  If the pitcher continued to throw an additional three unhittable balls, the striker would advance to the first base.

Similarly, in the 1860 rules, there was no penalty for strikers to pass up good pitches but to swing and miss a pitch was considered a strike and three strikes were an out, ending the batsman's turn.  In addition to giving more power to keep the pitcher honest, Haney's also allowed the umpire to warn the batter if they were not swinging at hittable balls.  On subsequent hittable pitches, he would call a strike if the striker didn't swing.

By Beadle's Rules a striker with a successful swing was called out if an opposing player caught the ball on the fly or after only one bounce.  By the time Haney's rules were printed, fair balls had to be caught before the first drop in order to be considered an out though foul balls caught on the first bounce were considered outs as those were harder to catch, being out of the normal playing field.

For some anachronistic, summertime fun don your Victorian garb and check out an 1860s style base ball game at Greenfield Village, and other venues or join one of the many Vintage Base Ball Association clubs and take a swing at it yourself!

For more about John N. Collins, find him on TwitterInstagram, Youtube, and Facebook.