A Vintage Base Ball Game
In 2006, Strat-O-Matic Game Company issued its first roster disks for nineteenth-century baseball. As part of the team that developed the first three seasons, I was very interested when I read that a vintage base ball game was to be played in Lancaster, PA on Sunday, July 23, 2006. The game, played using 1864 rules, took place prior to the Lancaster Barnstormers (Atlantic Independent League) game. The contestants were the Flemington Neshanock (wearing uniforms with red trim) and the New York Mutuals (wearing uniforms with green trim). The Mutuals delighted the cranks by winning the game, 7-4.
The actual Flemington team was founded in 1866. The team was resurrected in 2001 by present-day captain Brad “Brooklyn” Shaw. (Incidentally, Captain Shaw did an excellent rendition of “Casey at the Bat” during the seventh-inning stretch.) The original Neshanock might not have been particularly talented—records show that they lost to their chief rivals, the Lambertville Logan, by scores of 77-25 and 71-47. Those seeking more information about the Neshanock can check their web site:
The New York Mutuals were founded in 1857 and were reestablished in 1999. The original team was formed by, and named after, Mutual Hook and Ladder Company 1 of New York. “Boss” Tweed was a major financial backer and served on the team’s board of trustees. From 1857-1867, the Mutuals would play all of their home games at one of the more famous early base ball sites—Hoboken Grounds in New Jersey. (This field, otherwise known as Elysian Fields, is claimed in folklore as the site of the first organized game of base.) The Mutuals most notable game was played against the Brooklyn Atlantics at Elysian Fields on August 3, 1865. The game drew 20,000 spectators and was the subject of a notable Currier and Ives lithograph. The Mutuals’ web site is:
The Mutuals was known as the most powerful club of the many in New York around the early/mid 1860s. (The teams in Brooklyn would not have been considered New York teams at that time.} The Mutuals are one of the 1870s teams created by Len Durrant and available on Gary Simonds’ web site.
The game I viewed was completely recognizable as baseball, but there were some significant differences between the vintage game and the modern game. The most obvious difference was that vintage players do not wear gloves. The vintage ball is considerably less hard and lively than a hardball. Because of the “dead” ball, the outfielders were positioned at about two-thirds of the modern depth.
The second difference made the vintage game confusing, at least until I became aware of the rule. Any ball (fair or foul) fielded on the first bounce (or on the “bound” as it was referred to back then) was an out. Consequently, the infielders and catchers would dive in attempt to snare a foul ball before it would take its second bounce. Line drive “singles” hit directly to an outfielder usually resulted in outs. The hardest-hit ball of the game went over the centerfielder's head, took a high bounce, and was fielded after one hop—the batter was out.
Other differences from the modern game include:
--The game was officiated by a single umpire positioned about eight feet beside the batter.
--Whenever there was a close play at first, the base runner slid into the base. It didn’t occur to me until later that the runners were not permitted to overrun first base until years later.
--The “hurling” was underhanded. The batters were essentially allowed four strikes and four balls--the first strike resulted in a "warning" and then there were three additional strikes. I don’t believe that there was a single strikeout during the game. This enabled the game to move quickly—the nine-inning game was completed in about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
--Leads and stealing were permitted—in fact, it looked pretty easy to steal a base. Also, there were quite a few passed balls. Quick pitches were sometimes used to upset the timing of the base runners and the batters.
--The Mutuals used a sledge hammer head (I believe mounted on a bat) as a warm-up bat. I don’t know whether this was a common practice 140 years ago.
--The scoreboard was not running during the game, nor were there many announcements. Although the inning and score were announced about every two innings, the lack of information made the game a bit hard to follow. The strange part about this is that it made the game more authentic—there wouldn’t have been elaborate scoreboards and public address systems to provide information during the nineteenth century. Unlike the games of the nineteenth century, there did not appear to be wagering by the cranks during the game.