Written by Patty Decker Tuesday, 04 September 2012 13:30
The 75th annual Labor Day Celebration in Florence this past weekend had something for everyone, including an 1860s vintage baseball game pitting the local talent of the Harvey Boys against the Chase County Preservationists.
It was a close game, according to Nancy Boyce, public education director of the Lyon County Historical Society, who provided the Florence team with vintage uniforms from that era.
“Vintage baseball is a neat way to teach and learn history,” she said.
Boyce said she enjoys “sitting back” and watching the spectators having a good time with it.
“If you can get the cranks (fans) going, it makes for a lot of fun,” she said.
Another good thing about the vintage games, Boyce said, is that in this day and age and with everything going on, people get weighed down.
“At the end of one of these events, if I can see the load lightened for some and their mood lifted a little bit, then I know it was a success,” Boyce said. “I love it.”
Witnessing something like that happening and coming away from it, she said she gets the sense of why we have these pastimes.
One of the Florence players, who normally plays by current baseball rules, Boyce said, told her vintage baseball was a lot harder.
“He told me the reason it was harder was because there were no gloves, pitching was underhanded and they couldn’t step over the line,” she said. “Of course, ball players in the 1860s wouldn’t have had electric lights either.”
The national anthem
Singing the “Star Spangled Banner,” was not part of 1860 ball games, she said, and it was something teams researched.
“We found out that during World War I, there was a battle that was fought (in 1918),” Boyce said.
Keeping in mind that news didn’t travel as quickly as it does today, she said, an announcement was made that U.S. soldiers had broken through German lines.
“After the announcement,” she said, “the crowd (at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, N.Y.) spontaneously broke into singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’”
From that day on, she said, the National Anthem is sung at every baseball game in America.
Daylight saving time
Another historical item associated with baseball in the 1860s involved daylight saving time. According to Boyce, baseball at that time played a major factor in daylight savings time because ball fields didn’t have lights.
With the introduction of DST in the early 1900s, though, Boyce said, players could play ball later in the day and have large crowds attending.
“Everybody thought it was for the farmers, but the farmers went to bed by the sun and they didnt care about the time,” she said. “It was baseball, because they wanted more crowds, which helped the revenue.
In the 1860s, Boyce said baseball terms and rules were much different then they are today.
“Most baseball players had some kind of nickname,” she said. “It was fun for them to take one on. Dennis Newell, umpire at the Florence game, had the nickname “Blind Tom.”
“They came up with nicknames (that day),” which she said added to the fun.
One Florence player was nicknamed “Skyscraper” because the player was so tall; another one was “Wheels” to reflect his speed.
Boyce said when she plays vintage ball, her nickname is “Belle.” But she plays only when the team is short of players because girls playing is not vintage.
Florence players had to familiarize themselves with the rules and verbiage. In 1860s baseball, a pitcher was called a “hurler” and a batter was a “striker.”
One of the rules that is very different today is that the batter was out if the ball was caught on the first bounce.
Another rule forbade the pitcher from crossing a line.
“The pitcher can’t take steps forward,” she said.
Vintage baseball is a gentlemen’s game, Boyce said, which meant no cussing, no spitting and no insulting the umpire.
“If a team player does speak to the umpire’s call, he would need to apologize to other players and the crowd,” she said.
As for underhanded pitching, Boyce said there wasn’t much precedence for overhanded pitching in that time period.
Vintage baseball has no age restrictions, she said, which means a father and son can play together on the same team.
Boyce said the Florence team’s uniforms were supplied by the Lyon County Historical Society, which sponsors the Emporia Vintage Baseball Team.
Prior to the game, Boyce was provided with a list of the players sizes.
“Believe it or not, the uniform style is Dickey pants (without the pleaded front),” she said.
For baseball, the pant length was shorter so they could be drawn up just below the knee.
“Men’s shirts haven’t changed a whole lot,” she said, “but the bib-style shirt was one style of the uniform.”
Boyce encourages other small towns to consider forming a vintage team and competing with other teams around the state.
“To witness something like this happening is a fun thing,” she said. “It provides a break from what is going on in our daily lives and there is a need for this kind of entertainment, particularly now in our society.”