THE OLD BALL GAME by Barb Chandler

The striker, dressed in a white lace shirt and knickers, walks to the dish. He straightens his black pillbox hat, and tells the umpire he wants the hurler to throw the horsehide low. “He wants it low,” the umpire yells. The hurler winds up, and throws the horsehide. The striker swings the willow. CRRRACK! The horsehide soars in the sky toward the outer garden.

The strange terms in the first paragraph are words used in the mid to late 1800s to describe a vintage base ball match .  Ballists play base ball according to the rules and customs of the mid-to late nineteenth century. These matches provide fans with a combination of baseball history and the re-enactment of the game as it used to be played.

To date there are over 60 vintage base ball clubs in the United States.  Each club represents a different time period so the rules and customs differ from team to team. For example, an 1860 game in Columbus, Ohio is played as a gentlemen’s sport, whereas an 1873 game in New Jersey, represents a time when the game was becoming more like it’s played today.

One of these clubs, The Hoover Sweepers of Canton, Ohio, play the match as a gentlemen’s sport. “The game is recreated by having “One of the ballists intentionally spit. The umpire stops the competition, and fines the club manager for his member’s ungentlemanly conduct,” said Ann Haines, Hoover Historical Center sponsor of the club.

Besides customs, another difference between vintage and modern day baseball is clothing and equipment. Either early style long trousers and a shield shirt are worn, or the later style lace shirt and knickers. The players catch the ball with bare hands. There are no gloves or other protective equipment such as face masks or padding since the balls are smaller and softer. The only modern allowance is for cleated tennis shoes for safety’s sake. However there are some players that forego this luxury, and play in more period, cleat-less shoes or boots, and some even choose to play barefoot.

Watching vintage base ball gives a person a peek into the beginnings of the grand old game, and traces it’s origins through the rules and customs.

To find a vintage ball club in your area call your local history museum.

If you would like to start a vintage team contact the Vintage Baseball Association at;


Ballist – player

Base Ball – originally spelled as two words

Base-tender – first, second or, third baseman

Cranks (or Throng) – fans

Dish – home plate

Horsehide – the ball

Hurler – pitcher

“Huzzah!” – hooray

Match – game

Outer garden – outfield

Striker – batter

Willow – bat


Vintage Baseball Association

The Old Ball Game ,  By: Williams, Geoff, Indianapolis Monthly, 08990328, Apr2003, Vol. 26, Issue 9

Kent Base Ball Club

Stuhr Museum


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