There is no strike zone. The arbiter (umpire) of the game, Stephen Workman, dressed in a top hat and bright blue vest, calls out a striker (batter) after he hits the ball into the outfield where it is caught, bare handed, on its first bounce. It’s baseball, circa 1864.
A few dozen spectators at the Ryerss Museum in Fox Chase Saturday took in the game, pitting the Philadelphia Athletics against the Kennett Square Mohicans. The players are members of the Mid-Atlantic Vintage Baseball League, which stretches from Northern Virginia to Providence, R.I.
Vintage baseball is a “gentlemen’s game,” according to Athletics team captain Jamie Ford, a celebration of simpler times when it was expected that players be honest about who was safe or out. However, the arbiter has the final say.
The standard rules for the league are those from 1864. There are no gloves, so players must catch the ball with bare hands only. The use of a hat results in a penalty of one out during the offending team’s next at bat.
Pitchers throw underhand and the arbiter decides whether or not a ball was hittable. There is no strike zone as we know it today.
Under the “bound rule,” a ball caught after it’s first bounce results in an out. This rule was eliminated in 1865, said Ford.
“Every team has their own preference for year of rules,” said Ford. “A couple teams in New Jersey like to play ’73 ball, but most everybody can agree that ’64 is what we want to play.” The Athletics captain said a few teams do prefer 1883 rules, when overhand pitching was permitted.
Kennett Square defeated Philadelphia 35-7, though no one seemed too upset by the loss. The mercy rule had not yet been introduced in 1864.