The Bay Area Vintage Baseball League Plays by 1886 Rules
It’s a sweltering Sunday and bearded men in wool uniforms are sweating it out on the baseball diamond. The umpire wears a top hat and smokes a stogie. In the stands, spectators lounge under umbrellas, drinking beer and chatting. After a line drive is called foul, a cry comes from the stands: “Repose to your abode and retrieve your spectacles, Ump!”
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Despite how it sounds, this is not a scene from yesteryear but a game held by the Bay Area Vintage Baseball League. The teams play by the 1886 rules of baseball, back when there were 7 balls, 3 strikes and mits were scarcely more than gardening gloves. Today’s game may be a reenactment, but it’s a genuinely casual way to pass the time, making it easy to understand why baseball caught on in the first place. It’s pleasantly pastoral. Kids run past with ice cream while dogs scamper about and hawks soar amongst the trees. And with nary a corporate sponsor to be found, the games are free to attend.
Sitting close enough to hear the players talk let’s you learn their nicknames. The Pelicans cheer for “Sticky” as he gets on base with a good crack towards the outfield. “Sticky” gets his nickname from the gobs of pine tar he coats his bat with. “What do you say, Bean?!” is heard as another player fields a foul ball. “Bean” earned his moniker by getting beaned by a ball at least once per game. The 1886 rules don’t entitle a batter to take a base when hit by a ball. They only only entitle him to take it like a man. Foul tips also don’t count for squat. And then there’s “Bayou,” who get’s his name from his propensity to throw the ball right “By You.”
As the innings end, the ump dusts off the plate and scrawls the score in chalk on the green wall of the backstop. In addition to the top hat, he’s dressed in black, the traditional attire for games that were supposedly judged by the town undertaker. Outside of a priest, the undertaker was considered the closest to god and therefore the most qualified to rule fairly.
The gear the Vintage Baseball players wear is mostly made in Connecticut by old-fashioned companies that still expect a check in the mail before shipping out the goods. The Bulldog Bat Company makes two bats that are approved for Vintage Baseball League play. Sunglasses and batting helmets are not allowed but modern cleats are OK.
“It’s for safety,” explains a player. “It’s really easy to slip on the dirt otherwise.”
Unfortunately for the Pelicans, they are being served a right proper trouncing by the Pacifics. But after the last out, both teams congratulate each-other and salute the crowd. And the Pelicans still smile and laugh as they unwind in the stands. There aren’t thousands of dollars at stake and nobody’s career is riding on the game, so as long as some fun was had, the day’s been a success.
Check out their calendar for upcoming games. On May 22, there will be three games at Big Rec field in Golden Gate Park near 7th Ave and Lincoln. Also, take a look at the Vintage Baseball Card Project done by Matt “Chops” Siee, a pitcher for the Oakland Colonels.