The following rules were in use during the 1880s. Most clubs playing this era typically play by all of these rules, or can modify slightly prior to a game based on club mutual Captain agreement.

All other regular baseball rules apply.


1. BALLS & STRIKES: 7 Balls = Walk. 3 Strikes = Out.

2. FOUL BALLS: Not counted as strikes. Any foul tip caught by catcher is an out, regardless of the number of strikes

3.FOUL BOUND RULE: Any foul ball caught on one bounce is an out. A fielder may not drop the ball to catch it on one bounce. Foul bounces must be caught within the designated area of play. Runners may advance.

4. FOUL FORCE RULE: On a foul ball that is not caught for an out, a runner (anticipating a hit) may be forced out if the ball is returned to the pitcher, and relayed from the pitcher’s box to the base before the arriving runner. If a pitcher’s throw is errant, runners can advance at will.

5. HIT BATSMAN: No base awarded. Counted as a ball. Dead ball.No base advance for runners.

6. LIMITED BALK: No balks on throws to any base. Fake throws to any base, while in or out of the pitchers box, are allowed. Pitchers may fake one or more throws to a base, then throw home. A balk only occurs when a pitcher starts to pitch, then throws to a base.

7. NO INFIELD FLY RULE: A fielder can purposely drop a pop fly to start a double play.

8. NO TIMEOUTS: Only a Club Captain and the umpire can call for a timeout. A batter who steps out of the box can be quick pitched. And a runner can be picked off.

9. NO INTENTIONAL WALK: Pitcher must pitch around the batter.

10. GENTLEMAN’S RULE: In the event the umpire has “missed” a play, due only to a blocked view, a Captain can request a “Gentleman’s Ruling” to reverse the call. The umpire will then announce, “A Gentleman’s Ruling has been requested.” Only players involved in the play must truthfully relate what transpired and a call can be reversed. Also, either club Captain can challenge a rule interpretation by requesting a meeting with the umpire and both Captains, and a call can be reversed.

11. BATTER’S CHOICE: Once the umpire announces “Striker to the line,” and the batter steps into the box, the umpire will ask the batter for his “Desired strike zone preference.” The batter can call for a low strike (belt to knee) or high strike (belt to armpits). The umpire will then announce to the pitcher “Striker has requested low (or high) strikes.” Throughout the at bat, only low or high strikes will be called. If a batter does not make a request, both high and low strikes will be called. Note: The belt area is a strike for either zone.

12. PITCHER’S BOX: There is no mound or rubber. Pitchers throw from a box that measures 4′ wide x 6′ deep and is outlined in chalk. The front line of the box is 50′ from home plate (if the field has a mound, the back of the pitchers box will have a slight slope). Important: the pitcher must begin and end inside of box on each pitch. If not, the umpire can call a no-pitch violation. If violation occurs twice in same at-bat, batter is awarded first base.

13: HOMEPLATE: Home plate is a 12″x12″x1/2″ wood base, painted white, that sits loosely on the ground, with a corner point facing the pitcher’s box. A modern home plate is permitted if a game is played on a modern field.

14: BASES: Bases are square bags filled with sand or sawdust that sit loosely at each location. No stationary bases unless field has stationary bases in place.

15. FIELD: Modern diamonds are acceptable.However, the ideal vintage field is all grass, which can sometimes be found in public parks. Such a field will likely require a simple backstop constructed of wood and heavy chicken wire. An outfield fence is not required, but a temporary snow fence can enclose the outfield, with distances of 275′ to 300.’

16. UNIFORMS & EQUIPMENT: Typicallyall 19th century style uniforms and 19th century replica style bats are acceptable for 1880s play. Fielder gloves are commonplace, but also optional. Modern baseball shoes are permitted but must be all black with logos blacked out. Metal or rubber cleats are permitted. Baseball must be figure-eight stitch. For more information on uniforms & equipment: www.vbbf.com

17: CATCHERS GEAR: Catchers gear includes glove, mask and chest protector ­but no shin guards. As a substitute for shin guards, catcher may wear soccer shin guards under uniform socks, or kneepads stacked from ankle to knee. Catcher may also wear a half-finger glove on throwing hand.

18. BALLS: Game balls may be replaced only if lost or defective. Traditionally, one ball was used for an entire game. Most vintage clubs will allow two balls for an entire game. Note: This may not be possible in all locations and new balls may be needed to expedite play.

19. BASE COACH: Only one or no base coaches permitted at any time. A coach may move from the first base box to the third base box, depending on the situation.

20. CAPTAIN: Each club needs a Captain who knows the vintage rules and is team spokesman and organizer. Captains may wear the letter “C” on uniform shoulder or upper thigh area on pant.

21. UMPIRE: One umpire only. Positioned behind the pitchers box or 15′ behind, and at a 45-degree angle to, the batter. Umpire will move from side to side depending on whether the batter is a lefty or righty. Calls are made in a slightly raised voice with simple hand gestures. The umpire must wear period dress and may smoke a cigar. Note: Contact local Umpire’s Association for candidates who might be willing to learn about vintage base ball.

22. HOME TEAM: Determined by the umpire, flipping a coin at home plate between the clubs Captains just prior to the game. This is done at all games, home and away.

23. NOT PERMITTED: Exterior protective gear, including batting gloves, helmets, wrist bands, elbow pads, shin guards (except catcher), etc. Also, no uniform numbers, player names, sponsor logos, sunglasses, high fives (Hand Shakes Only PLEASE!) , backward caps, or jewelry.


CODE OF CONDUCT: Sportsmanship is paramount in vintage base ball. Arguing with the umpire, charging the pitcher, taunting, and fighting are not permitted. Clubs earning a reputation as unruly or unsportsmanlike typically risk difficulty in scheduling future games with opponents..

GENTLEMANLY PLAY: Respect must be shown for the game. There is no berating the umpire, the fans, or the opposing club. Celebrations are limited to handshakes. No posing at home plate, curtain calling, chest bumping, or high fives! Applauding an opposing player is proper. And the umpire must always be addressed as “Sir.”

JARGON: To make the 19th Century game come alive, players should adopt the period base ball jargon:

cranks = fans
hands down = out
ballist = player
captain = manager
behind = catcher
garden = outfield
sky ball = pop up
ginger = determination
daisy cutter = grounder
ace = run
striker = batter
hurler = pitcher
striker to the line = batter up
muff = error

Player calls from the bench might include: “Nice ginger!” Let’s get a “daisy cutter.” We’ve got “two hands down.” Sounds like “the cranks” are restless.

HISTORY: Most clubs adopt the name and uniform style of an actual 19th or early 20th century club that played in their town or county. A little research at the local library or historical society office will turn up many details that can be incorporated by your club. Connecting with the history of the town will also build community support.

PLAYER NICKNAMES: Nicknames were an important part of 19th century base ball. Your players should all have nicknames with a period flavor. Examples: “Crazy Legs” for a fast runner; “Death to Flying Things,” a nickname for a player famous for his outfield catches; “Short Order” for a player whose last name is Cook.

HIP! HIP! HUZZAH! At the end of each game the clubs gather on opposite sides of home plate, and the winning Captain makes a short speech congratulating the losing club on their fine play or effort. The winning club, with caps held aloft, cheers HIP, HIP HUZZAH! Then the losing Captain gives a similar speech, his club cheers HIP, HIP HUZZAH! And the players all shake hands.
Note: Extra “HIP, HIP HUZZAH!” cheers are often given for the umpire or the town where the game was played.


RUN EVERYTHING OUT: With gloves no bigger than a man’s hand, there is no such thing as a routine play. A vintage game is a wonderful mix of routine plays gone awry and difficult plays executed perfectly. Nothing is taken for granted. Every play is an adventure.

SMALL BALL: All the elements that make baseball a great game are magnified in vintage base ball. The bunt, the steal, the hit and run, and the squeeze are frequent occurrences. With the slightly deader ball, batters must “hit ’em where they ain’t.” The smaller catcher’s glove forces pitchers to use finesse instead of power. The outfielders need to use both hands. And for infielders, the game is catch and flip, rather than pump and gun.

QUICK PITCH: Because quick pitches are legal, the pitcher can pretend not to be ready, and then suddenly fire the ball to the plate. Multiple fake throws to a base can lull a batter into relaxing or stepping back from the plate, setting him up for a sneaky fastball. A pitcher can take a return throw from a fielder and suddenly spin and fire the ball to the plate.

HIDDEN BALL TRICK: Since there is no rule requiring the pitcher to have the ball in his hand while he’s in the pitchers box, and no time outs between plays, there are many opportunities to successfully pull this off. Crafty infielders will also slip the ball into a back pocket while showing free hands, inviting the runner to lead off base.