5 things you can see at an 1860s-era base ball game

In the 1860s, base ball was a gentlemanly, pastoral game. Playing base ball using rules from 1860, the Fort Verde Excelsiors will host the Prescott Champions at 1 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Fort Verde Parade Grounds, a part of the annual Fort Verde Days celebration. (Photo by Bill Helm)

In the 1860s, base ball was a gentlemanly, pastoral game. Playing base ball using rules from 1860, the Fort Verde Excelsiors will host the Prescott Champions at 1 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Fort Verde Parade Grounds, a part of the annual Fort Verde Days celebration. (Photo by Bill Helm)

CAMP VERDE – It’s part historical, part reenactment – and 100-percent fun.

It’s also part of the Oct. 13-15 Fort Verde Days celebration in Camp Verde.

At 1 p.m. Saturday at the Fort Verde Parade Grounds, men and women of all ages and skill sets will play baseball the way it was played in its formative years.

From using 1860s rules to wearing vintage-style uniforms and using vintage-style equipment, the host team Fort Verde Excelsiors will take on the Champions of Prescott.

Here are five things you can count on seeing in the Vintage Base Ball game:

1

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(Photo by Bill Helm)

They sure talked differently in the 1860s.

The batter was known as the “striker,” the pitcher was called the “hurler,” the catcher was the “behinder.” Bases were known as “sacks,” a player known as a “ballist,” a batter out known as a “dead man,” the umpire was called the “arbitrator” and a team was the “club nine.”

When you hear someone say “huzzah,” it means good work! To “muff” the ball is to make an error, and the ball is known as either an “apple” or a “pill.”

At the end of the inning, it’s “side out.” And a game is known as a “match.”

2

Say a bad word – pay two bits.

According to rules in the 1860, either a player or a fan – fans in 1860s were known as cranks – could be fined cents for getting out of hand.

According to the official rules played by teams in the Arizona Territories Vintage Base Ball League, the umpire’s word is the law. 

“Only the team captain is permitted to speak to the umpire, who is always addressed as sir,” the league’s rules state. “Any arguing with the umpire, profane language, or ungentlemanly conduct is punishable by a 25 cent fine.”

3

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(Photo by Bill Helm)

If a ball is cleanly caught either in the air or on one bounce, it’s an out.

This is how teams in the Arizona Territories Vintage Base Ball League play, but according to one of the league’s coaches, the “one-bound rule” had its detractors even in the 1860s.

“There were those who thought it not to be manly enough,” says Mike Adrian, coach of the Prescott Champions. Known by some as the “Father of Baseball,” Henry Chadwick thought that all fly balls “should be caught in the air, his thinking being that if you then dropped it you would still have a chance to catch it on the bound.”

Anyone, meaning a player from either team – or even a crank – can catch the ball on the fly or on one bounce to retire the striker.

“In the first vintage game I ever played, we were getting crushed, and just couldn’t get the third out to stop the bleeding,” says Josh Freeman of the Fort Verde Excelsiors. “But we caught a break when a high fly ball bounced towards an unassuming spectator sitting along the third base line. It seemed like the entire team yelled ‘catch it!’ almost in unison. He made the catch, we escaped the inning and celebrated like we had just won the game.”

4

A batted ball is determined fair or foul based on where it first strikes the ground. 

It does not have to pass first or third base to be considered fair.

According to the Prescott champions coach and hurler, this rule was the precursor to what was known in the 1890s as the Baltimore Chop, “where the batter would chop, not bunt, the ball in the same hope of reaching first base with the hit only going 30- to 60-feet.

In the 1860s, the striker “could chop the ball fair, after which it would roll foul, and the batter could usually make his base quite easily,” Adrian says.

This “small ball tactic” continued even after rules on fair and foul balls changed to the way the game is now played.

5

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(Photo by Bill Helm)

Ball players played to win, but most important was to have a leisurely, pastoral experience.

“By playing by the rules of the late 1850s or early 1860s, [we] are playing with the same sense of awe, sense of competitiveness and sense of comradery that was being exhibited 157 years ago,” Adrian says. “Sometimes if you just let yourself relax and stare out at the players hustling, commenting, laughing, making great plays, and just playing the game you can almost transport yourself back in time.”

Other things you may not know …

Since base ball has been played in some form since the early-1800s, rule changes in the game’s formative years were as common as New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Gerald Milewski says that he oftentimes plays against early-era base ball teams that play by rules from different years than his team.

“My most difficult adjustment is that each team both uses rules from different years,” says Milewski, the hurler for the Champion City Reapers of Springfield, Ohio. “And they also interpret them differently, making every game both a learning experience and a need to ignore so many rules, both modern and vintage.”

The Reapers play 1864 rules, he says.

In Ohio, Dayton has four vintage base ball teams, Columbus has three, Cincinnati has about 10, and rural Ohio has three or four more teams.

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42

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Bs1119 2 months, 1 week ago

This looks like fun, but I’d like to correct a few things. Pitchers were not called hurlers in the 1860’s. This is a more modern term used by sportswriters in a later era. Likewise with the term “Crank”, which did not come into use until the 1880’s. Catchers played behind, but were never known as Behinders. Umpires were never referred to as arbitrators. No official rules on fining players or spectators. The idea a spectator can catch a ball for an out is just silly. If they want to call it “Silly Old Base Ball” then they should keep playing the way they do. If they want to play “Vintage Base Ball”, they should do some research and try to play and use terms the way they actually did in the 1860’s. By the way, some other incorrect rules used by numerous base ball programs are as follows: Tally Bells (never existed) No sliding, leading or stealing (always permitted) Players must play near a base or in the center of their position at (Nope)

I think when you claim to be historical, you should be factual.

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