Although rules differ according to which playing year is being used, there are some mostly common rules differences between the modern game and vintage base ball. In rules of years prior to the 1880s, the ball is pitched underhand in a manner suitable to the batter, or “striker.” There are typically no fences as base ball is mostly played in fields and green spaces. However, obstacles (e.g. trees, building, etc.) often come into play. In many of the rules sets the ball can be played off of one bounce to get a striker out. Catching the ball can be very difficult because no gloves are used. This lack of gloves, the underhand pitching and other rules make vintage baseball similar to the sport of British baseball.
Because limited descriptive evidence exists to illustrate how live gameplay may have looked or sounded, researchers and vintage “ballists”, or ballplayers, engage in an ongoing interpretive discourse about how the game may have actually appeared. There is continuous debate about such points of play as how frequently runners would steal bases, when sliding first became common and what it might have looked like, how strikers would hold or swing the bat, how the umpire’s authority evolved, and how players would have conducted themselves on the field.
One commonly held interpretation is that gameplay was marked by a spirit of gentlemanly sportsmanship. Modern vintage ballists will often observe this custom through friendly gestures such as cheering good plays made by opposing players, assisting umpires with making calls at bases, and conducting organized cheers for opposing teams (and often for the umpire and “cranks”, or fans) at the conclusion of a match.
The politeness and sportsmanship observed in these games are more in keeping with the early days of baseball, which was considered a “gentleman’s game”. As the game progressed into professionalism in the 1870s, and money (and thus winning) became a primary motivator, the 19th century game became marked by rough play and cheating, which was relatively easy to accomplish, due to the lone umpire who might fail to see such infractions.
1860s VINTAGE BASE BALL RULES
Most vintage base ball clubs play the game as it was played in the 1850s-1880s. Clubs in our area, however, mostly adhere to the rules recorded in the first edition of “Beadle’s Dime Base Ball Player,” published in 1860, which recounted the third meeting of the National Association of Base Ball Players. As such, the 1860s rules are the standard for these parts:
SECTION 1. The Ball. The ball must weight no less than 5 ¾ nor more than 6 ounces avoirdupois. It must measure not less than 9 ¾ nor more than 10 inches in circumference. It must be composed of India rubber and yarn, and covered with leather, and in all matches shall be furnished by the challenging Club, and become property of the winning Club, as a trophy of victory.
SECTION 2. The Bat. The bat must be round, and must not exceed two and a half inches in diameter in the thickest part. It must be made of wood, and may be of any length to suit the striker.
SECTION 3. The Bases. The bases must be four in number, placed at equal distances from each other, and securely fastened upon the four corners of a square, whose sides are respectively thirty yards. They must be so constructed as to be distinctly seen by the umpire, and must cover a space equal to one square foot of surface. The first, second, and third bases shall be canvas bags, painted white, and filled with sand or sawdust; the home base and pitcher’s point to be each marked by a flat circular iron plate, painted or enameled white.
SECTION 4. Positioning the Bases. The base from which the ball is struck shall be designated Home Base, and must be directly opposite to the second base, the first base must always be that upon the right-hand, and the third base that upon the left-hand side of the striker, when occupying his position at the Home Base.
SECTION 5. The Pitcher’s Position. The pitcher’s position shall be designated by a line four yards in length, drawn at right angles to a line from home to the second base, having its center upon that line, at a fixed iron plate, placed at a point fifteen yards distant from home base. The pitcher must deliver the ball as near as possible over the center of the home base and for the striker.
SECTION 6. Delivering the Ball. The ball must be pitched, not jerked or thrown to the bat; and whenever the pitcher draws back his hand, or moves with the apparent purpose or pretension to deliver the ball, he shall so deliver it, and he must have neither foot in advance of the line at the time of delivering the ball; and if he fails in either of these particulars, then it shall be declared a baulk.
SECTION 7. Balking. When a baulk is made by the pitcher, every player running the bases is entitled to one base, without being put out.
SECTION 8. Foul and Fair Hit Balls. If the ball, from the stroke of the bat, is caught behind the range of home and the first base, or home and the third base, without having touched the ground or first touches the ground behind those bases, it shall be termed foul, and must be so declared by the umpire, unasked. If the ball first touches the ground, or is caught without having touched the ground, either upon, or in front of the range of those bases, it shall be considered fair.
SECTION 9. Scoring a Run. A player making the home base shall be entitled to score one run.
SECTION 10. Running on Third Strike. If three balls are struck at, and missed, and the last one is not caught, either flying or upon the first bound, it shall be considered fair, and the striker must attempt to make his run.
SECTION 11. Caught Foul Ball. The striker is out if a foul ball is caught, either before touching the ground, or upon the first bound;
SECTION 12. Three Strikes. Or, if three balls are struck at and missed, and the last is caught, either before touching the ground or upon the first bound,
SECTION 13. Caught Fair Ball. Or, if a fair ball is struck, and the ball is caught either without having touched the ground, or upon the first bound;
SECTION 14. At First Base. Or, if a fair ball is struck, and the ball held by an adversary on the first base, before the striker touches that base.
SECTION 15. Touched with the Ball. Any player running the bases is out, if at any time he is touched by the ball while in play in the hands of an adversary, without some part of his person being on a base.
SECTION 16. Running on Fair and Foul Balls. No ace nor base can be made upon a foul ball, nor when a fair ball has been caught without having touched the ground, and the ball shall, in the former instance, be considered dead, and not in play until it shall first have been settled in the hands of the pitcher; in either case the players running the bases shall return to them, and may be put out in so returning in the same manner as the striker when running to the first base.
SECTION 17. The Batsman’s Position. The striker must stand on a line drawn through the center of the home base, not exceeding in length three feet either side thereof, and parallel to the line occupied by the pitcher. He shall be considered the striker until he has made the first base. Players must strike in regular rotation, and, after the first innings is played, the turn commences with the player who stands on the list next to the one who lost the third hand.
SECTION 18. Forced off a Base. Players must make their bases in the order of striking; and when a fair ball is struck, and not caught flying (or on the first bound), the first base must be vacated, as also the second and third bases, if they are occupied at the same time. Players may be put out on any base, under these circumstances, in the same manner as the striker when running to the first base.
SECTION 19. Running Out of the Base Lines. Players running the bases must, so far as possible, keep upon a direct line between the bases; and, should any player run three feet out of this line, for the purpose of avoiding the ball in the hands of an adversary, he shall be declared out.
SECTION 20. Interfering with a Fielder. Any player, who shall intentionally prevent an adversary from catching or fielding the ball, shall be declared out.
SECTION 21. Obstructing Baserunners. If the player is prevented from making a base, by the intentional obstruction of an adversary, he shall be entitled to that base, and not put out.
SECTION 22. Illegally Stopping the Ball. If an adversary stops a ball with his hat or cap, or takes it from the hands of a party not engaged in the game, no player can be put out unless the ball shall first have settled in the hands of the pitcher.
SECTION 23. Caught Fly Balls. If a ball, from the stroke of a bat, is held under any other circumstances than as enumerated in Section 22, and without having touched the ground more than once, the striker is out.
SECTION 24. No Run Scored. If two hands are already out, no player running home at the time a ball is struck, can make an ace if the striker is put out.
SECTION 25. End of Innings. An innings must be concluded at the time the third hand is put out.
SECTION 26. The Game. The game shall consist of nine innings to each side, when, should the number of runs be equal, the play, shall be continued until a majority of runs, upon an equal number of innings, shall be declared, which shall conclude the game.
SECTION 27. Eligible Players. In playing all matches, nine players from each club shall constitute a full field, and they must have been regular members of the club they represent, and of no other club, for thirty days prior to the match. No change or substitution shall be made after the game has been commenced, unless for reason of illness or injury. Position of players and choice of innings shall be determined by captains previously appointed for that purpose by the respective clubs.
SECTION 28. Duties of the Arbiter. The arbiter shall take care that the regulations respecting balls, bats, bases, and the pitcher’s and striker’s positions, are strictly observed. He shall keep record of the game, in a book prepared for the purpose; he shall be the judge of fair and unfair play, and shall determine all disputes and differences which may occur during the game; he shall take especial care to declare all foul balls and baulks, immediately upon their occurrence, unasked, and in a distinct and audible manner.
SECTION 29. Selection of Arbiter /Scorer. In all matches the umpire shall be selected by the captains of the respective sides, and shall perform all the duties enumerated in Section 28, except recording the game, which shall be done by two scorers, one of whom shall be appointed by each of the contending clubs.
SECTION 30. Betting Prohibited. No person engaged in a match, either as umpire, scorer, or player, shall be, either directly or indirectly, interested in any bet upon the game. Neither umpire, scorer, nor player shall be changed during a match, unless with the consent of both parties (except for a violation of this law), except as provided in Section 27, and then the umpire may dismiss any transgressor.
SECTION 31. Suspending and Completing Game. The umpire m any match shall determine when play shall be suspended; and if the game can not be concluded, it shall be determined by the last even innings, provided five innings have been played, and the party having the greatest number of runs shall be declared the winner.
SECTION 32. Special Ground Rules. Clubs may adopt such rules respecting balls knocked beyond or outside of bounds of the field, as the circumstances of the ground may demand; and these rules shall govern all matches played upon the ground, provided that they are distinctly made known to every player and umpire, previous to the commencement of the game.
SECTION 33. Interfering with Participants. No person shall be permitted to approach or to speak with the umpire, scorers, or players, or in any manner to interrupt or interfere during the progress of the game, unless by special request of the umpire.
SECTION 34. Eligible arbiters and scorers. No person shall be permitted to act as arbiter or scorer in any match, unless he shall be a member of a Baseball Club governed by these rules.
SECTION 35. Forfeited Games. Whenever a match shall have been determined upon two clubs, play shall be called at the exact hour appointed; and should either party fail to produce their players within fifteen minutes thereafter, the party so failing shall admit a defeat.
SECTION 36. Ineligible Players. No person who shall be in arrears to any other club, or who shall at any time receive compensation for his services as player, shall be competent to play in any match.
SECTION 37. Calling Strikes. Should a striker stand at the bat without striking at good balls repeatedly pitched to him, for the apparent purpose of delaying the game, or of giving advantage to a player, the arbiter, after warning him, shall call one strike, and if he persists in such action, two and three strikes. When three strikes are called, he shall be subject to the same rules as he had struck at three fair balls.
SECTION 38. The Match. Every match hereafter made shall be decided by a single game, unless mutually agreed upon by the contesting clubs.