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Base ball in 1858


Base ball was in its infancy in 1858 and had not yet evolved into America's pastime.  Only a few rules beared resemblance to the modern game:  nine players, four bases, three outs, etc.

in 1858, there were no professional leagues or centralized control over how the games were played or organized.  Towns organized their own teams and arranged matches with clubs from neighboring towns. 

The spirit of the game

In 1858, baseball matches were events of gentility and courteousness.  These were opportunities for towns to demonstrate not just the baseball ability and acumen of their club players, but also the civility, fairness, and manners of their citizens.  Visiting clubs were frequently welcomed warmly by their hosts, with friendship, fellowship, and celebration.  There were banquets and many toasts of good wishes made in each other's honor.


The rules and customs often varied depending on teams and location.  It was not unusual for clubs from two neighboring towns to play by slightly different sets of rules.  There were very few people who knew the rules intimately.  If one lived in your town, they were often appointed as the "arbiter" or umpire for the match.  The arbiter was treated with the utmost esteem by all players and spectators.  The arbiter was given every comfort - plenty of cold drinking water, a comfortable chair, and the coolest shade available.

Matches are conducted according to the highest standards of sportsmanship, courteous behavior, and respect for others.  There is no cursing, spitting, scratching, consumption of alcohol, chewing of tobacco, or wagering.  The penalty for such behavior is often a day's wage or more, according to the judgement of the arbiter.


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The rules of the game

Here are the rules by which the Voles play at their home field:

Fly balls
  • The striker is dead when a batted ball is caught on the fly, fair or foul

  • Tagging up is not allowed.

  • Runners may not advance on a caught fly ball

  • Runners must return to their base on a caught fly ball and may not be put out

Ground balls
  • The striker is dead when a batted ball is caught on one bound, fair or foul

  • Runners may advance at their own peril if the batted ball is caught on one bound.  All forces are off and the runner must be tagged out.

  • A ball is fair or foul by where it hits the ground first, not where it goes

Hurling ("pitching")
  • The hurler stands 45 feet from home plate

  • The ball must be hurled underhanded, not jerked or thrown

  • Must deliver the ball as near as possible over the center of home plate or any location desired by the striker

Striking ("batting")
  • The striker is dead ("out") when:

    • a fair or foul ball is caught on the fly

    • a fair or foul ball is caught on one bound

    • the ball arrives at first base ahead of the striker's sprint to the bag

    • after three swinging strikes.  Foul tics are not counted as strikes.

  • Bunting is not allowed

Base running​
  • A base runner is dead ("out") when:

    • forced at a base

    • tagged out in a non-force situation

    • running three feet outside the base path to avoid a tag

  • Lead-offs, stealing, and sliding are forbidden.  Runners may leave their bases only when the ball crosses home plate or is hit by the Striker.

  • Runners may advance at their own peril if the batted ball is caught on one bound.  All forces are off and the runner must be tagged out.

  • Runners may not advance on a caught fly ball

  • Runners may not advance on a foul tic.  

  • Runners must return to their base on a caught fly ball and may not be put out

  • Runners are not allowed to overrun first base or they may be tagged with the ball

  • When a runner reaches home plate safely, they must ask the tally keeper for permission to record their ace.  With the tally keeper's approval, the runner rings the tally bell to make the ace official.

  • First, second, and third base fielders are required to play one step from their bag until the hurler releases the ball toward the striker at the plate. 

  • Outfield scouts must play straight away until the hurler releases the ball toward the striker at the plate. 

  • The Rover ("shortstop") may be positioned at any point on the field in fair or foul territory. 

  • The Behind ("catcher") may play as far as ten feet behind home plate. 

  • The Hurler delivers pitches from 45-feet away behind a 12-foot line that is parallel to home plate.

The arbiter ("umpire")
  • Balls and strikes are not called, but swinging strikes are counted

  • Foul tics are called immediately

  • May ask players and cranks for assistance in making calls

  • Levies fines, on the spot, for disrespectful conduct

The equipment of the game

Gloves are not worn since most ballists played with bare hands until the 1880's. 

Balls are a bit larger, heavier, and softer than a modern baseball.  They are made with a rubber core surrounded with woolen yarn and a one-piece "orange peel" leather cover.  Balls are entirely handmade which makes them very valuable.  If a ball is struck into a hazard, the game is paused until the ball is recovered.

Bats were made of many types of wood, but like today, ash was the most popular.  Hand-turned bats are often used for authenticity.


Uniforms comprised of long trousers, knickers, shield shirt​s, lace shirts, suspenders, and old-style caps are commonly worn.  Shoes must be unadorned of decoration and may not be metal cleats.  Jewelry and sunglasses are prohibited.


The vocabulary of the game

ACE: A score/run.


BALL:  Also referred to as the apple, onion, pill, horsehide

BALLIST: A base ball player

BASE BALL: Yes, it was two words in the 19th century

BEHIND: Catcher

BOUND:  Bounce

BOUND OUT: A batted ball caught by a fielder on the first bounce. The batter is out, but runners may advance at their own risk.

CRANK: A fan

DEAD:  Out

DISH:  Home plate

FAIR-FOUL HIT: A batted ball that lands first in fair territory, then bounces/rolls foul. It is considered a fair ball. In the time period depicted by the Voles, a batted ball is called fair or foul based on where it first hits the ground, regardless of where it ends up

FOUL TIC:  Foul ball

HANDS DEAD: Outs, as in "no hands dead," "one hand dead," etc. Often shortened simply to "Hands," as in "How many hands?" "One hand."

HUZZAH!: Hooray!

HURLER: Pitcher

LEG IT: Run fast

MATCH:  Game

MUFF:  an error

ON THE SQAURE:  To tell the truth..."on the square, I caught the ball on the first bounce"

ROVER: Shortstop. May play anywhere of his/her choosing

SAND:  Fearless, having nerve..."that first baseman has a lot of sand!"

SCOUT: Outfielder. Scouts must position themselves straight away, no shading to left or right

SIDE OUT: End of an inning, said when a team has three hands dead


STRIKER TO THE LINE: The arbiter calls this when play is ready to begin. Similar to "Batter up." The "Line" is a line running through home plate, perpendicular to the path of a ball thrown by the hurler. The striker must have one foot on either side of the line to take the proper position at the plate (in other words, the striker may not be "back in the box")

TALLY BELL: A bell rung to alert cranks that an ace has been scored

TALLYKEEPER: Scorekeeper

TENDER: A baseman, as in "first tender," "second tender," "third tender." Tenders must position themselves within one step of their respective bases


Likewise, there are some terms we use today that were most likely not used in the 19th century such as "On-Deck," "In the hole," etc.

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