Vintage Rules of Play Versus Authentic Rules of Play
1860 Rules Base Ball was resurrected in the 1980’s. At that time, for various reasons, including the fact that research regarding base ball’s origins was in its infancy and without the use of the Internet to collect widely disbursed source materials, rules were often patched together by the use of photos inaccurately interpreted, fragmented news reports of the time, and hearsay or antidotal stories that have since been debunked.
This is important for 21st Century viewers in that often times when a “vintage match” is announced fans expect they are seeing a historically accurate interpretation of the rules of 1860. What viewers actually see is a mix of accurate rules, crowd pleasing fictions and practices that serve the needs of the membership of the vintage teams, rather than actual play as it was in 1860.
Both forms are very interesting to view, and to play. Both forms allow you to get a glimpse of what our national pastime was like in 1860. One is accurate, one is not.
Authentic Rules include:
Unrestricted Running: Once on base, runners were expected to attempt stealing all bases, including home base. It was, primarily, a running game. It was a very fast paced game, a full 9 innings could be played in 60 to 75 minutes. However, some times it took longer. Bases were always 90 feet apart, and the pitcher’s plate was 45 feet from homeplate.
Runners were allowed to lead off and attempt to steal at will. Therefore, double steals were expected if there were more than one runner on base, as were steals on muffs. Once the ball had been hit, the hitter became a runner. The runner was not allowed to intentionally kick, hit, or make contact with the ball to any way change the course of the ball’s movement. The umpire was allowed to make a decision as to whether any contact was intentional, and if this was the ruling, the runner was out due to interference. I have played for about 14 years and have seen runner contact with the ball about 3 times. Most of the time deliberate effort is made to NOT come in contact with the ball.
Strikers (batters) were expected to “take pitches” in an effort to let the runner advance. This fundamentally changed the importance of the catcher. This accounted for the introduction of balls and strikes and then a strike zone.
Fielders could play anywhere. The Short Stop, along with all other players could play in either fair, or foul, territory. Fielders and tenders were often moved from position to position, even within an inning. Matches were played without any form of backstop.
Authentic rules allow for only 9 persons on the field and 1 substitute only used in the case of illness or injury. Therefore, a club would carry a total of 10 players.
All the players stood together on one side of the field. There were no “benches” or opposing locations for each team.
All nine innings, both top and bottom, of the inning had to be played, or the “home” team might be forced to forfit the match.
The Umpire’s sole job was to call hit balls foul if they went outside of the base line before the first bounce. The Umpire was also obliged to call baulks when necessary. The Umpire, could at his discretion begin calling strikes if he felt that the batter was allowing hittable balls to go unchallenged. In the case of baulks, all runners on base (regardless of which base they might be on, moved up one base. Therefore, if the only person on base was at 3rd, that runner would score.) The Umpire might also be asked to make a call as to a runner being safe or out, but it was preferred that the individuals in the action would make that decision mutually between themselves.
Vintage Rules include inaccuracies including:
Fielders are often held to playing within a step or two of the base.
Runners are often held to leading off a step or two, or even not at all.
Runners scoring a run are often to “ring a tally bell upon scoring”. The bell did not exist.
Teams did not sit on opposite sides, they stood together on one side or the other.
In modern recreations, the start of the match teams line up and offer introductions including “nick names”, neither happened in authentic matches.
At the conclusion of vintage matches speeches are made congratulating each other for good play. In authentic matches, this was actually done during a post-match meal of soup and sandwiches. At that time the game ball would be awarded to the winner of the match.
Often times the Umpire would interject himself into play by levying fines (which is actually only done by the Field Captain).