Sports Outside the Beltway

Return of Old Time Base Ball

The Vintage Base Ball Federation has put together a sizable nation-wide league playing base ball the way it was meant to be played. Or, at least, the way it was played in the 1880s.

Talk about turning back the clock. Former major league pitcher Jim Bouton announced Thursday the launch of an organization that will play by 19th century rules: The Vintage Base Ball Federation. Yup, back then baseball was two words.

It will be six balls for a walk, and a foul ball won’t count as a strike — unless it’s caught, in which case the batter will be out. A foul ball caught on a bounce counts for an out, and a hit batter is only a ball, with no base awarded. Gloves will be tiny, bat handles will be thick and the ball — that’s right, one ball will be used per game unless it falls apart or is lost — will be dead. There aren’t any pitcher’s mounds, and there’s no such thing as a balk on pickoff attempts. In a mixture of sport and theater, umpires must be addressed as “sir.” Fans — called “cranks” — will be encouraged to wear period costumes, so ladies get out those flowered hats and gentlemen doff your straw boaters.

“The game the way it was meant to be played,” Bouton said during a news conference at Delmonico’s, a restaurant that opened in 1836. “No batting gloves, helmets, wristbands, elbow pads, shin guards, sunglasses. No arguing with the umpire. No stepping out of the batter’s box. No charging the pitcher or posing at home plate. No curtain-calling, chest-thumping or high-fiving. Just baseball.”

There will be some allowances for modern times, such as protective gear inside uniforms for catchers and lining under the short-billed caps when players bat. There will be relief pitchers, and uniforms will have polyester, because flannel isn’t durable enough.


Before each plate appearance, a batter will declare his “desired strike zone preference” — belt to knee or belt to armpits. If the umpire misses a call because his view is blocked, a team captain can ask for a “gentleman’s ruling,” in which players involved in the play are to truthfully say what occurred. If a dispute remains, the umpire may ask the cranks for their opinion.

It sounds fun. The wistfulness for old times, however, just demonstrates how we tend to remember the good and forget the bad. As the piece notes,

“The 1880s and ’90s were characterized by very rough play and ill-mannered conduct toward umpires and opponents and spectators,” said John Thorn, a board member who serves on the 19th Century research committee of the Society for American Baseball Research.

Somehow, though, we have gotten the idea that showboating and rude play is an invention of the modern era.

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Posted by yetanotherjohn | August 29, 2006 | 06:03 pm | Permalink

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