The Beginner's Guide: 6 Need to Know Facts About Vintage League Baseball

vintage baseball

Phoenix Bats was born when founder Charley "Lefty" Trudeau began building vintage baseball bats for The Ohio Historical Society. A player himself in a 19th century league for five years before he began building bats, Charley has a big heart for these throwback leagues and players.

What is vintage league baseball?

In the early 1800’s, America’s favorite pastime began taking root in urban environments throughout the country. Using makeshift equipment and playing under far different rules than modern ball teams, baseball gained national allure with the forming of semipro leagues and teams in the mid 1850’s which would lead to a governing body and the adoption of more formalized rules by the turn of the century.

Today, amateur vintage leagues around the country celebrate the early days of baseball by fielding teams that use the original equipment, uniforms and rules from the pre-1890’s teams. Are you new to the idea of vintage league baseball? Let us help you put your best foot forward with six facts that will properly introduce you to the vintage league community.

Fact #1: It was called base ball, not baseball.

The name of the game used to be two words, not one. One of the earliest organizations governing the sport was called the National Association of Base Ball Players and players were often known as ballists. Vintage league teams will use the 1800’s terminology to describe the sport, the players, their equipment, and the rules.

Fact #2: There are different rules based on different years.

As the game developed in the earlier part of the nineteenth century, different clubs and organizations established their own rules. Today, vintage leagues play by many of these different sets of rules. The 1873 rules, established by the first National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, helped bring base ball into the modern era. These rules required a standardized ball for the first time in history. Most commonly used in vintage leagues are the 1860 Beadles rules, named for the “Beadle’s Dime Base Ball Player Manual” released in the year. This set of rules focused on building camaraderie between players and required two scorekeepers—one from each team. Some vintage teams also play by the 1845 rules of the New York Knickerbocker Club, which required games to be played to 21 runs, or “aces” as they were called.

Fact #3: The rules are really different from today’s game.

Vintage games are fun throwbacks to the simpler times of the game. For example, in vintage games, there’s no over-the fence homerun because there’s no fence. If a player hits a ball 400 feet, he still has to run the bases and beat the throw. A few of our favorite traditional 1860 baseball rules, still followed by a large number of clubs, include:

  • Underhand pitching only and no fast pitching
  • No leading off and no foot-first sliding
  • No spitting, no chewing tobacco, no foul language
  • A ball hit into fair territory that then goes into foul territory is still fair
  • If a ball is caught on a bounce, it’s an out

Fact #4: They dress the part.

Just like Civil War re-enactors, vintage league players wear the proper uniforms when playing baseball. Players can create the full woolen uniform, from pants or knickers, to buttoned or bib shirts (made with team colors and logos), gloves, and caps. They also must use traditional styles of bats and balls, which different dramatically from those that exist today. Vintage bats were typically longer and thicker than modern ones, and were often very heavy in order to propel softer balls further.

Fact #5: They’ve been around since the 1980’s.

Like the sport they celebrate, vintage league clubs have been around for decades. Vintage teams have been recreating history since the 1980’s. The Vintage Base Ball Association first formed in 1996, growing out of separate vintage clubs from around the country, and met to create the VBBA in Columbus, Ohio!

Fact #6: There’s a women’s league.

Most people are familiar with women’s baseball leagues thanks to A League of Their Own, but women were playing base ball as early as the men were, back in the 1800’s! Women’s leagues are now recreating games from the early “Bloomer Girls” clubs or the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

If you’re a baseball fan, one great way to celebrate the sport is to see its history come alive. Look up a nearby vintage base ball clubs so you can catch a game – or better yet, participate in one—and don’t forget use one of Phoenix Bats’ quality vintage bats!

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