Bay Area Vintage Baseball Takes Game Play Back to the 19th Century


Christopher McBride
Assistant Sports Editor

Vintage baseball is still commonplace in America.

Bay Area Vintage Baseball (BAVBB), a local non-profit organization and longest tenured vintage league in the area, preserves the rules and style of baseball played during the 1880s and 1890s.

“BAVBB is looking for players who simply love the game, can throw a ball across the field, swing a 40 ounce bat and tolerate the challenges of vintage equipment,” said BAVBB President and Oakland Colonels manager Matthew “Chops” Siee.

As challenging as the modern style of baseball may seem today, it was once much more difficult to play America’s favorite pastime.
According to the BAVBB handbook, organized baseball leagues, standardized rules, schedules and record keeping began with an American bookseller and volunteer firefighter by the name of Alexander Joy Cartwright.

On September 23, 1845, Cartwright and his associates took the first step towards formalizing the game of baseball with their creation of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. Within this club there were 20 established rules of baseball that made it similar to today’s game except that the winner was the first to score 21 runs, a fly ball caught on a bounce was an out and pitches were delivered underhand.

Yet, the game would see significant change over the next 40 years. As the game continued to evolve from casual play into professional play, rules altered and more organized teams were created in the east coast cities of New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., where they played in front of large crowds.

Also, to administer the league and appropriate game play, a National Association of Professional Base Ball was formed, consisting of a strong central president and other officers, the BAVBB handbook confirmed.

However, in 1876 and 1882, the battle between amateur and professional competition would come to an end as the first modern baseball leagues were founded, namely the National League and the American Association.

As these respective leagues competed against each other, there were some key additions that revolutionized the style of play.

For instance, players began using catcher’s equipment and primitive gloves. Moreover, the gear allowed catchers to position themselves upright behind home plate. In addition to catchers gear, the era of having one pitcher (aka hurlers) declined as more teams carried backup pitchers, according to the BAVBB website.

Significantly though, with these advances implemented in the game of baseball, this time period could be seen as the era of vintage baseball.

“In today’s Major League Baseball (MLB), you have a lot of players who are similar, great athletes with computerized stats. [However], what [we] need to do is put [ourselves] back in time to 1886 and envision what the players had to go through, like the hardships of travel, the inconsistency of how the game was played from town to town. It took quite a bit of skill to be good,” said Steve “Cappy” Garzay, founder of BAVBB and manager of the San Jose Dukes.

BAVBB has reawakened this historical brand of baseball, adopting rules directly out of Albert Spalding’s Base Ball Guide of 1886.

According to the 2010 player’s handbook, since nicknames were an important part of 19th century baseball, all players in BAVBB should have nicknames such as Bones, Slick and Danger. Also, players are required to wear retrofitted uniforms designed from the 1800s.

In addition to nicknames and uniforms, there are some unique rules of play that all players are required to follow.

Unlike modern baseball, in BAVBB there are seven balls and three strikes. The Striker (aka Batsman) is allowed to express their desired strike zone preference to both the umpire and pitcher.

In terms of pitching, there are no pitching mounds or wind-ups; the pitcher must begin and end inside of the designated pitcher’s box. Lastly and more importantly, respect must be shown for the game at all times. There is no berating of the umpire, the fans, or the opposing club.

There are six teams representing Bay Area cities in Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, Fremont, Alameda and Berkeley.

Games are nine innings and are usually scheduled every other Sunday at ballparks in each of the team’s respective cities.