Playing Baseball Without Gloves—1860s Style

Two vintage base ball teams demonstrated on Wednesday during Eureka's Fourth of July festivities what it was like to play the game with different, "gentlemany" rules. In 1858, base ball was even two words.

In vintage base ball, ballists (the players) must let the balls hop before catching them. Batters are actually strikers. Pitchers are called hurlers. And catchers are simply referred to as the behind.

Cranks (the fans) were able to witness for the first time ever in a vintage base ball exhibition at the city's Fourth of July Celebration Wednesday. Cranks had to learn a whole new vocabulary as the St. Louis Brown Stockings took on the St. Louis Cicadas at .

Program Coordinator Michael Biedenstein plays on the Brown Stockings team, and asked the two teams to showcase a different version of one of America's great past times.

Cicadas Co-Captains Matt "Scoops" Lurk and John "Knapsack" Mena said they were very open to playing in Eureka. Mena said it's important to note all sorts of differences in rules, compared to modern-day baseball, such as ballists could not overrun first base.

"People always think it's interesting how we don't play with gloves," said Lurk.

"It's a gentleman's game," said Mena. "Hurlers (pitchers) did not try to trick strickers (batters). Today's game is one that pits pitchers versus batters. Whereas the game in the 1860s put the batters against the fielders."

"And it was all about being respectful. If someone thinks the runner is safe, but you know you were out, you call yourself out," said Lurk.

Lurk said there are a handful of vintage base ball teams in the St. Louis area, and about 100 such teams in the United States. He said there are about 20 vintage teams in nearby Illinois and Indiana, so they travel throughout the Midwest states to demonstrate the game.

Vintage teams meet each fall to plan out a schedule for the coming year, which consists of practices, tournaments and games.

Mena said the teams love to play at local festivals so they can help cranks learn the novel vocabulary and rules. As readers can see from the photos that accompany this article, vintage ballists wear old-style uniforms and recreate the game of the mid- to late-19th century by staying in character.

Most of the U.S. vintage teams play base ball as it was played in the 1850s, 1860s and 1880s. Many Midwest clubs adopted the rules recorded in the first Beadie's Dime Base Ball Player, which was published in 1860. It recounted the third meeting of the National Association of Base Ball Players.

Most ballists played with bare hands until the mid-1860s, but catchers with raw hands needed to wear think buckskin gloves to keep playing. Until 1865, fair or foul balls caught on one bound were outs. Material handed out by the teams Wednesday indicated the best players always attempted to catch the balls "on the fly," which eventually made the rule unnecessary.

When baseball leagues allowed overhand pitching in 1885, the game took on a more modern appearance.

Vintage base ball teams sometimes play 1884 rules to interpret the last year of side-arm pitching or 1886 rules to interpret early overhand pitching. According to the vintage handout, 1886 was the first year a pitcher could deliver the ball with one foot off the ground.

The Cicadas and Brown Stockings will play at the St. Louis Arch grounds during August and October. One element remains the same as the present sport:  They play nine-inning games.


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