In August of 2011, I spent every weekend pretending it was 1867. A few years earlier, I’d been hired to play historic baseball at The Henry Ford, making me the first professional athlete in the Moroz family. They sold baseball cards with my name, Silk, and back story. My boss had snuck in a joke about my hands being sensitive in the short bio on the back of the card and I silently fumed for an entire year over it.
Over the years of the historic baseball program at the Henry Ford, the game became more popular, more teams from around the country wanted to compete in the annual World Tournament in Dearborn, MI. The tournament was at the end of the summer and brought in hundreds of spectators every weekend, lining the third baseline of the field, from home plate deep into left field. The local team grew into 3 teams (the Lah De Dahs, the Nationals, and the Unknowns) and became flooded with volunteers, reverting workers to paper boys, wading through the massive crowds to sell programs for a quarter. My brothers and dad joined in as volunteers, I quit, but stayed on as a volunteer. Playing historic baseball every weekend of the summer became our family activity.
The volunteers fell into one of four groups: old dudes with a hard-on for history, old dudes who thought they were the bomb at baseball (they were not), young dudes who brought the athletic show to the field, and dudes just looking to hang out with a crew and have a good time. The games were not staged, but real, competitive matches. I played every game with vigor, my trusty bat, Goldenrod, striking fear into the hearts of all opponents who felt its might against their hurls.
Historic baseball was 1867 rules, as recorded in Haney’s Base Ball Book of Reference, which was followed religiously by the players. However, the rulebook was long, long-winded, and somewhat confusing at times. I thoroughly enjoyed historic baseball, and it’d be great if you all did too, so I’ve re-written the rules in an abridged, simple format. With this list of rules, mayhap one day you can play fan and enjoy a battle of lumber and leather on a summer’s afternoon.
-Two teams (at least 9 players) line up along the third base line as the local judge introduces them and flips a coin to see who will strike first.
-There are 9 fielders, including a hurler (pitcher) and behind (catcher). Pitching is underhand and stealing is legal and embarrassing to be thrown out on.
-The game begins when the judge calls “Striker to the line!”
-The hurler must throw the ball where the striker (batter) would like it. If he misses the area frequently enough, the judge will give him a warning and then start calling balls, three of which would result in a walk. Likewise, if the striker fails to swing at good hurls, the judge will give him a warning and will begin calling strikes. if you strike out, you are an embarrassment to your family, no matter what they tell you afterward, and your children will be allowed to choose a more suitable father.
-Strikers must keep a foot planted on a line that crossed the plate area, forcing you to swing like old school wrestling/He-Man action figures.
-A foul ball counts as a strike against the batter, but if a ball touches fair territory before it touches foul territory, it is considered a hit in play. Several players use this strategy, known as the “Fair-Foul” to get a base hit by hitting the ball immediately down and away from all fielders. These batters are known as “Little Bitches.”
-Fielders play without mits, and those who do wear “gloves” (fingerless leather pads) are heckled relentlessly with taunts such as, “A man in gloves? Do you also wear those when you join our wives’ knitting circles, you tottering scut?”
-If a fielder caught a strike that landed in fair territory and only bounced once, the striker was called out. Sometimes, teams would negotiate this rule to count if a ball landed in fair territory as well, but only if they wanted to make the game very boring for any spectators.
-A player cannot “run through” first base. They must remain planted on the bag to remain safe. In modern-day historic games, this is not such a problem as 90% of the strikers cannot run with enough momentum to carry them beyond the bag anyway.
-No players are to be paid for their participation in the games. To accept money would make you a prostitute, which was a frowned upon profession. My first years in the game, I was a ho.
-At least one player during the game must joke at the hurler for taking too long to throw a pitch with, “What are you waiting for, 1868?” Without this joke, no game could be completed.
-If a ball is touched by a spectator, the play is immediately ruled “dead”. The fielder, being frustrated with his inability to potentially throw someone out, must also let the spectator know that after the game, he/she is also “dead” for making him look like a fool in his knickers and frilly tie.
-Spitting of any kind is illegal. If you have an unhealthy mucus build up, get the fuck off the field and go churn butter, you scumbag.
-No cursing is tolerated, either foul words or witchcraft. In fact, if witchcraft is suspected, the accused party must be burned before the game can proceed.
-The game ends after 9 innings, with whoever tallies more runs by the final hand (out) declared the winner. The game ball is presented to the winning team’s captain, who gives a speech thanking the other team for their efforts while smiting them with smug superiority. The winning team has successfully disgraced the losing team’s city and may create a drinking song regaling all with the lowly characteristics of that losing city.
I loved this game. Though I no longer play, I keep bats to remind me of my wonderful summers with the Goldenrod. The bats also serve as a great weapon in case someone breaks into your house and you need to be armed. And look dope as hell. My older brother, Soapdish, and his friend, Stonewall, have a business making custom bats, so you too can beat the history out of an intruder, with a good looking stick.
For bat information, click on the pic.