July 11 is the day of the 88th Major League All-Star game. It is setting records before it is even played: twelve of the men on the rosters are in their rookie year, nine of the top eleven players, stats-wise, are on the two teams, and six of the top nine longball hitters will make appearances as well. As Sports Illustrated says, “. . . plenty of youth and even more power.”
The first Major League All-Star Game was played on July 6, 1933, at Comiskey Park in Chicago. It was initiated at the insistence of Arch Ward, a sports editor for the Chicago Tribune, to coincide with the celebration of Chicago’s “Century of Progress” Exposition. For over seventy-three years, the All-Star Game has remained a fan favorite showcasing the top talent in baseball. But what about the talent that is not so near the top? And what does this have to do with the Civil War?
Before the stats, before television or the Internet, before the million dollar salaries, there were hurlers, strikers and ballists who just wanted to play the game. Many of them served in both the Union and Confederate armies. They shared their love of base ball between battles, during campaigns, in training, and even in prison, Many a memento from home was tossed out of a knapsack to make room for a handmade, misshapen sphere that could be thrown, hit, or fielded if the time was right
Whether you just love baseball for itself, or if you are a dedicated fan of a particular team, almost everyone can agree that seeing a major league game is an expensive, nerve-wracking undertaking nowadays. (Did I mention expensive? Because it is very expensive.). Here is a suggestion: Vintage Base Ball.
Today’s Vintage Base Ball has been around for a while, but is becoming more popular than ever due to the limits of major league ball. And–even better–you can play it yourself. You can get out in the fresh air, have a catch with like-minded folks, and participate in a form of reenacting that is less expensive, less demanding, and just as much fun as Civil War reenacting. It began in Old Bethpage Village Restoration, on Long Island, in 1979, and was quickly picked up by the Ohio Village Living History Museum (home of the Muffins) in 1981. Today there is a Vintage Base Ball Association and leagues all over the United States.
Teams wear reproductions of vintage base ball uniforms, use period-authentic equipment, and follow 19th century base ball rules. Not every association uses the same guidelines. Some play the game as it was in the 1860’s, some play by later rules and styles, but every group tries to accurately present the history of baseball to the general public. Several ballists have been interviewed by NPR and one main thing comes across very clearly–there is the opportunity to go “back in time” and to “play the game as it was originally played.”
Emerging Civil War has been a friend to baseball from the beginning. We have published posts on different aspects of the game, and have collected those posts below. Please take some time to read or reread a few. We also have added a list of Recommended Reading, in case your interest has been whetted (I hope so). I keep pushing to play a vintage-style game at one of our Symposiums–no luck so far–my personal Lost Cause, I guess–but there are vintage base ball games in almost every state in America.
Check your computer listings–Vintage Base Ball in Your State–and see what is out there. Go see a game! It is usually free, you usually don’t pay to park, and there are no $22.00 PizzaBurgers or zip line demonstrations. What there is are nice people who will share their passion with you, call you a “crank,” and help you learn how to cheer your team along. Speaking about “passing the ball smartly” to “the first baseman’s trap” in order to send an opposing player “to the grass,” beats yelling drunken obscenities at millionaire millennials “all to smash,” in my opinion.
Baseball has always been more than just a game. It enriches our lives. As John S. Bowman and Joel Zoss state in The Pictorial History of Baseball, “As part of the fabric of American culture, baseball is the common social ground between strangers, a world of possibilities and of chance, where ‘it’s never over till it’s over.'”
Much like studying the Civil War.
David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game, Bison Books, 2006, 352 pp.
George B. Kirsch, Baseball in Blue & Gray: The National Pastime During the Civil War, Princeton University Press, 2003, 145 pp.
Patricia Millen, From Pastime to Passion: Baseball and the Civil War, Heritage Books, 2001, 111 pp.
Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills, Baseball: The Early Years, Oxford Paperbacks, 392 pp.
. . . and Recommended ECW Blog Posts