Vintage Base Ball, Played by rules of 1858, now
*The Hamilton Standards battled the London Tecumsehs at the Crystal Palace grounds on June 10, 1876, according to the Canadian Illustrated News. The Tecumsehs scored a 27-1 win. Now Hamilton will field a Vintage Base Ball tournament played under the rules of 1858-1860. Ballists didn’t gloves (as above), used an original lemon peel ball (below) and period uniforms (below).
By Alexis Brudnicki
Baseball is a game of balls and strikes, hot dogs and peanuts, and winners and losers. The sport has evolved from its modest beginnings into one about money, egos and championship rings. But where exactly did it begin?
America’s pastime was once played for fun, anywhere a patch of grass could be found. The game began with just a ball (the “apple”), which had a “lemon-peel” design, and a bat. That was the only equipment necessary, because gloves were not worn when baseball originated. Though there were “arbiters” involved, similar to today’s umpires, balls and strikes were not called.
While this friendly gentlemen’s game began to change when money and politics entered the scene, the Vintage Base Ball Association (baseball was originally two words) would like to bring people back to see the sport as it once was.
The Hamilton Young Canadians are recruiting players for the upcoming season as they try to develop just the fourth vintage club in Canada. The Hamilton team will join along with many teams across the United States, who participate and according to their mission statement, try to, “educate the public regarding the character, history and growth of the game with attention to the historical context in which it originated and developed.”
The old-style game is played with the rules as they were in the 19th century, focusing mainly on the specifics from 1858-60, when rules were first implemented. The uniforms worn are fashioned roughly after the early teams as well, with either long trousers and shield shirts, or a slightly later style lace shirt and knickers.
Roger Campbell has been involved with the Woodstock Actives for a large part of their 18-year existence, and believes that the league gives a new perspective to the classic game.
“It offers the chance for everyone to take a look back in history and see what it is like without the attitudes, the big pay cheques, and of course, without a glove,” Campbell said. “No gear and no fear.”
Though Campbell has spent many years in the game, from fastball to softball to slo-pitch, he feels this version of the game is the only one where he hasn’t run into a team or player who takes the fun out of friendly competition.
“If you can find a patch of grass, you can have a game and it’s played for fun and entertainment without all the competitiveness, big money contracts and attitude that has grown into the modern-day game,” he said. “The game is left on the field and friendships grow or renew.”
Jacy Flynn, co-GM of the newest team in Hamilton, is hoping to be able to draw attention to the city’s rich baseball community, not only with the Young Canadians playing for entertainment value, but also providing an outlet for charitable organizations.
In addition, the Hamilton club is looking for ballists (players), but they are also seeking game day sponsors, advertisers, and people to be involved with the historical committee and community events committee.
“Our club, being in its first season, must succeed in gaining interested participants who will embrace the true spirit of baseball,” Flynn said. “The spirit of baseball is alive with these 19th century teams.”
The Co-GM of the newest addition to the Vintage Base Ball Association would like to invite players of all ages to come out and enjoy the game.
“Skill is less relevant, as the game is played so ballists can hit and run each time, and it is meant to be fun,” she said. “Arguably all baseball is meant to be fun, but we have all had experiences when there has been strain or uncomfortable interactions either on the diamond or at the executive table. There’s none of that here.”
To go with the pure enjoyment of the sport, Campbell believes that the vintage game offers a real chance to go back in history and educate onlookers to the rules, customs and lingo of the old way. A members meeting takes place Sunday April 17th at the Pheasant Plucker in Hamilton at 1 pm, for interested ballists.
“Vintage baseball for me is the opportunity to meet other baseball enthusiasts and take part in a game that has shaped the history of Canada and the US.”