Vintage Base Ball — playing the game the way it was meant to be played
Eleven years ago, Fred Bendure played in a reenactment of an 1869 baseball game between the Carson City Silver Stars and Virginia City Baseball Club that turned out to be a memorable experience. Memorable enough that the Carson City man is trying to organize a Vintage Baseball League for play this summer.
Oh, by the way, the game in 1869 was known as base ball.
“We had a ball,” Bendure said. “It’s baseball, just a little different. You have to swing the bat a little differently. The pitchers have to throw underhand and they have to stand a certain way. When we finished that game, we looked at each other and we wanted to keep playing because we knew we hadn’t really gotten the hang of how to play this game.”
What he hopes to organize is a league for adults that plays with rules, equipment, uniforms, field specifications, customs, practices and language entirely from the 1860s and include teams from Carson City as well as surrounding communities.
This won’t be a league for anyone who wants to emulate Sammy Sosa or Alex Rodriguez in terms of hitting tape measure home runs. Try Cap Anson, who hit .339 with 96 home runs during his career and was widely recognized as the foremost player/manager of the 19th century. Or George Bradley, who on July 15, 1876 pitched the first no-hitter in National League history for the St. Louis Brown Stockings. Or a pitcher Anson and Bradley may have seen develop in the 1890s — a kid by the name of Cy Young.
“We’re trying to do a re-creation from the 1860s, where the game is played based on the rules and customs of that era,” said Bendure, who is looking to organize the Carson City Silver Stars — named after the team that actually played in 1869.
Bendure plans to schedule a meeting sometime in April to try and organize the Silver Stars. Anyone looking for information may call him after April 8 at (775) 883-2962. He hopes to be joined by other teams from surrounding communities.
“We’d like to have teams from, say, Virginia City, Dayton and Gardnerville,” said Bendure, a standout infielder at Carson High School in the early 1970s. “It would kind of be like the town team concept that we had when I was a kid and all of the towns had their own ball clubs.”
The plans haven’t been finalized yet, but the Silver Stars are tentatively scheduled to play on Sunday afternoons starting in June at James Lee Park in Indian Hills. The league is designed for players 35 years and over, although provisions may be available for younger players who want to play. Bendure is also looking for sponsors to help the Carson City team.
“This is something that has really taken off the last few years in the East and Midwest,” Bendure said, referring to the Vintage Base Ball Association, organized in 1996 (for information, go online to http://www.vbba.org.).
From a historical standpoint, the original Silver Stars played the Virginia City Baseball Club for the state championship in 1869 on a field located on a site now occupied by the state capitol building. The Silver Stars won Nevada’s first major base ball game, 81-31.
Before anyone laughs at that score, it should be remembered players in the field wore no gloves (which were introduced in the mid-1870s). Pitchers stood only 45 feet away from the batter, but the deliveries were all underhand. The main difference in the ball used in Vintage Base Ball today is that it’s softer, for safety purposes.
Otherwise, 1860s rules are adhered to. The first, second and third basemen are required to line up alongside their bases and the shortstop is used as a rover who can position himself anywhere on the infield. Batters are known as “strikers.” Runs are known as “aces.” The bats weigh up to 55 ounces and measure between 38 and 40 inches. The bases themselves are actual bags (bags of flour were used in the 19th century) and home plate resembles a circular disk. And, remarkably, umpires in those days were treated with the utmost respect — no booing allowed.
Nor were there any bean ball wars, according to Bob Nylen, the curator of history at the Nevada State Museum and an avid baseball fan.
“The idea in the early days was to let the guy hit the ball and I think that’s evident by looking at the scores,” Nylen said. “You were supposed to be gentlemanly and not throw anything tricky.”
Nylen developed the idea for the 1992 reenactment, staged as part of the Founder’s Day activities at Mills Park. He was also the umpire and Bendure was player/manager for the Silver Stars. While the outcome of the original game looked more like a basketball score, the rematch was a 1-0 pitcher’s duel won by Virginia City.
The reenactment even received mention in the Los Angeles Times newspaper, which led to a noteworthy discovery.
“Someone read the story in the Times and realized they had a tobacco box that was given as a presentation after the game to J. Mart Reese, who was the honorary captain of the Carson City Silver Stars,” Nylen said. “So through that game, we found a unique piece of Nevada history that is now on display in the Silver Room at the museum.”
But, just in case there are any concerns, unlike its 19th century forerunner, the 2003 version of the Carson City Silver Stars won’t have to travel to their games by wagon, carriage, horseback, stagecoach or train.
Dave Price is a sports writer for the Nevada Appeal