Vintage Base Ball

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Welcome to our newest ‘reenactors’  the Prescott Champions Vintage Base Ball Club.

The Champions next game is at Fort Verde on October 14th to celebrate Camp Verde Days.

Another great costuming event!!

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Here’s more information about ‘vintage’ base ball… yes, it’s two words.

Vintage Base Ball is a pastime, with its beginnings and progressions mimicking those that occurred in America over 160 years ago.  Teams competing today wear period reproduction uniforms, use period authentic equipment and follow baseball rules from the 19th century in order to accurately present the history of baseball to the public.  Matches can be seen almost 12 months out of each year at open-air museums, living history villages, Civil War re-enactments and city parks and is played in over 20 states including Canada.

The mission of the VBBA is to preserve, perpetuate, and promote the game of base ball as it was played during its formative years in the nineteenth century and other historic eras. Proper rules interpretation is an important aspect to our game. VBBA member clubs have access not only to vintage rules with interpretation but also to game historians and more.

[click on anything in green to take you to that page]

Most vintage base ball clubs in the VBBA play the game of base ball according to the rules of the late 1850s, 1860s and 1880s.

The mid-nineteenth century game was considerably different than today’s game. The game evolved steadily from the 1850s through the turn of the century into the game as we know it today.

In the 1850s

  • Early baseball meeting
  • Very few clubs were in existence in the early and mid 1850’s.  Each followed slightly different playing rules.  The three most established clubs met to establish a common set of playing rules in 1854.“At a meeting held November 19, 1853, a communication was received from the Eagle Club, asking for a committee to join them in arranging a set of rules for playing and Dr. [Daniel] Adams, [Duncan] Curry, and [William] Tucker were appointed.The annual meeting, for 1854, was held at Smith’s, 35 Howard Street, on the 1st of April.  The committee on rules presented the following as having been arranged to govern the three clubs, viz. the Knickerbockers, Gotham, and Eagle.” – Peverelly, Charles A., The Book of American Pastimes; 1866, p. 346.
  • All three appointed members were from the Knickerbocker Club, the second oldest operation club to this point.

In the 1860s

  • Baseball gradually over took cricket as America’s favorite pastime and by 1866; there were hundreds of base ball clubs competing throughout the east coast and mid-west.
  • Due to the competitive nature and the revenue that touring clubs generated, the Cincinnati Red Stockings announce that they would pay their players for the 1869 season, thus becoming the first openly professional base ball club in America.

In the 1870s

  • The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NAPBBP) began operating in 1871.  This was the first professional baseball league in America
  • After the National Association ended operation in 1875, the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (NL) began business in 1876 and is still in existence.

In the 1880s

  • The American Association of Base Ball Clubs (AA) began competing with the NL in 1882.
  • In 1884, a third baseball business, the Union Association of Professional Base-Ball Clubs (UA) challenged the NL and AA for the public’s money; however, folded after one season.
  • The NL and AA agreed to use the same playing rules, starting with the 1887 season.

In the 1890s

  • The Players’ League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (PL), spear-headed by player John Montgomery Ward, opened operation for the 1890 season.  Although the PL had better attendance than either the NL or AA, it too ended operation at the end of one season.
  • The AA ended its 10-year existence at the conclusion of the 1891 season, with four clubs being absorbed by the NL.  The new league was named the National League and American Association of Base Ball Clubs.


Today’s vintage base ball began on Long Island at Old Bethpage Village Restoration in the summer of 1979.  The Ohio Village began their program in the summer of 1981.

Close to 400 clubs are in existence at any one time today and the VBBA is constantly working to increase that number.

Parts of the Uniform

Taking the Field Wearing a Shield

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The shield-front jersey style first gained popularity as the baseball craze boomed in the late-1850s. Many of the leading clubs of the 1860s and 1870s wore the style that was reminiscent of volunteer fire company uniforms. Though sporting goods supplier A.G. Spalding & Bros. advertised the flannel “Fancy Shield Shirt” as late as 1893, few baseball clubs wore the style after the mid-1870s. The Boston Beaneaters revived the shield-front uniforms in 1897, but by the turn of the century the old-fashioned style was abandoned for good.

Fred Cone, Bob Addy and A.G. Spalding of the Rockford (Illinois) Forest Citys donning shield-front jerseys, 1869

Running the Bases Wearing Laces

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The late 1870s saw the introduction of the laced-front jersey. Styles varied, with some shirts featuring lacing that ran the entire length of the shirt, while others had lacing for just the top portion of the jersey. Laced-front jerseys remained popular through the 1890s, but by 1901 only two of 16 major league clubs were wearing the style. Ten years later, laces on shirts had disappeared altogether.

Pete Browning of the American Association Louisville Colonels, c. 1887


Right on the Button

Though button-down jerseys were first advertised in the mid-1880s, the style had gained popularity earlier in the decade and was probably first worn on the diamond in the 1850s. Ballclubs quickly adopted the style and, by the turn of the century, it was rare to see a baseball uniform that didn’t feature a button-down jersey.


Clown Costumes

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Perhaps the boldest experiment with the baseball uniform came in 1882, when the rules of the game called for multi-colored uniforms designed to denote each player’s position. When the members of a ballclub took the field, no two men were wearing the same uniform. Shortstops, for example, were required to wear maroon shirts and caps, while first basemen dressed like candy canes in scarlet-and-white-striped caps and jerseys. Regardless of position, the 1882 rules stipulated that each player wear white pants, a white belt and a white tie. The only way the fans could tell which club was which was by looking at the players’ stockings, as each club wore uniquely colored socks. The rulebook called for Buffalo to wear gray stockings, while Cleveland donned navy blue hose. Not surprisingly, Chicago wore white stockings and Boston dressed in red socks. No doubt the wild color schemes caused mass confusion on the field and in the stands, and so the experimental uniforms, derisively called “clown costumes,” were abandoned in mid-season.

Members of the American Association Cincinnati Red Stockings in “clown costumes,” 1882


Pinstripes and Checks

Numerous 19th-century baseball clubs had adorned themselves with striped uniforms, some stripes wider than others, but true “pinstripes” were not introduced until 1888. That season three big league clubs, Washington and Detroit of the National League and Brooklyn of the American Association, adopted the dapper pattern. The two National league clubs finished poorly in 1888, and the following season they reverted to more traditional uniforms. Donning pinstripes, Brooklyn improved from a sixth-place finish in 1887 to a second place showing in 1888. Looking to improve in 1889, the club added more stripes … this time in a horizontal direction. The result was the first checked uniform in big league history and Brooklyn won the pennant. For reasons unknown, Brooklyn discarded their cross-hatched duds for the 1890 season, and the club dropped to the cellar.

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Pinstripes and checked uniforms both returned to big league baseball in 1907. For that season, the Boston Nationals (later known as the Braves) adopted pinstripes, while the Brooklyn Superbas (later known as the Dodgers) wore checked jerseys. The team best known for their pinstripes, the New York Yankees, first tried the style in 1912 and adopted pinstripes for good beginning in 1915.

Joe Visner of the American Association Brooklyn Bridegrooms, 1889


Wearing the Collar

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Throughout the 19th century, baseball jerseys featured a full collar. The first collarless jersey was introduced to the big leagues by the New York Giants in 1906. Over the next few decades, numerous collar styles were used. The Chicago Cubs of 1909 were the first to don a short “standing” or “military” collar, a style that proved extremely popular throughout the 1910s. A V-neck collar with a slight extension (essentially a compromise between the collarless and “military” collar styles) was introduced by the New York Giants in 1908, and by the 1920s most every club had adopted the look. By the 1930s, however, the simple collarless jersey took over as the “industry standard.” Other than a brief revival of a faux full collar by the Chicago White Sox in the late 1970s, the full-collared jersey was last seen on a big league uniform in 1913, when the Chicago Cubs “wore the collar.”

Zippity-Do Duds

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The zipper, in its earliest form, was invented in 1891, but it was not until the 1930s that the handy fastener was added to the baseball uniform. The 1937 Cubs were the first big league club to switch from a button-down jersey to the zipper-front style, but other teams soon followed Chicago’s lead. The zipper fad reached its peak in 1940 and ’41, when half of all big league clubs had zippered jerseys. The zipper was an integral part of the tunic-dress uniform worn during the 12-year run of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), as the device was used to cinch the uniform snugly around the waist. The last major league club to wear a zipper-front jersey was the Philadelphia Phillies in 1986.

Weighty Wool

Can you imagine playing baseball during the hot and humid summertime in a wool uniform? From the first baseball uniforms of the mid-19th century to well into the 1940s, the cloth of choice was flannel, made from wool or a wool-cotton blend. During the 1930s and ’40s, some clubs donned satin uniforms for night games, as the shiny weave stood out under the glare of electric lights. However, the style never quite caught on. Light-weight blends of wool with synthetic fibers were an improvement to the uniform, but the greatest leap forward occurred in 1970 when the Pittsburgh Pirates introduced comfortable and more durable double-knit uniforms to big league ball. Today, synthetic double-knits are used throughout all levels of baseball.


Dressed in a Vest

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In 1940, the Chicago Cubs unveiled a bold new look in baseball uniforms: a lightweight flannel vest worn over a knitted undershirt. The vest, designed by club president Philip K. Wrigley, allowed for greater freedom of motion for players’ arms and shoulders. Though the Cubs abandoned the innovation just three seasons later, the style has enjoyed a number of revivals over the years. Today, multiple clubs wear sleeveless jerseys, either as part of their primary or alternate home uniform.

Chicago Cubs outfielder Bill Nicholson, 1940


Pittsburgh Pirates Pull-Overs

Pull-over jerseys (shirts without buttons, laces or fasteners of any kind) were used sporadically during the 19th century, but it is doubtful they were ever adopted by a major league club. The style first appeared in the big leagues on July 16, 1970, when the Pittsburgh Pirates unveiled their brand new ballpark, Three Rivers Stadium. At the same time, the club unveiled brand new uniforms that featured the buttonless pull-over jersey. The revolutionary duds were also the first made from a cotton-nylon blend and the first to feature beltless pants. The bold new look proved quite a success, with nearly ever major league club soon following suit. The pull-over jersey style lasted until 1993, when the Cincinnati Reds became the final team to return to the button-down style.


 Accessories and Accoutrements

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Ties were a popular accessory to the baseball uniform throughout much of the 19th century. Ballplayers of the 1860s and ‘70s often wore bow ties with their shield-front jerseys. Later in the century they donned short ties, often tucked into their jersey placket, as was the fashion of the day. Tie colors and styles often differed among club members, and the use of ties was often haphazard, with some players adopting the dapper look, while others chose to abstain.

First introduced in the 1890s, detachable sleeves were popular throughout the first few decades of the 20th century. Buttons on the sleeve extensions attached to button holes on the jersey, eliminating the need for multiple jerseys of different sleeve lengths and allowing players to dress comfortably, whatever the weather conditions.

Pockets were introduced as a part of the laced-front and button-down jerseys in the 19th century, and many baseball uniforms of the 1880s and ‘90s featured the convenient accoutrement. The pocketed look lasted into the first decade of the 20th century then quickly faded from the ballfield, though the Pittsburgh Pirates donned jerseys with pockets as late as the early 1920s.

Members of Brooklyn (National League) wearing ties, 1890

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Yes… they didn’t always use gloves!

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To find out more about this group:

Mike “Ace” Adrian


                                                                     © Michelle Young 2012