Rules And Customs
The modern game of baseball is the result of an evolutionary process. It was not invented or created by any one person, despite failed attempts to create that impression. Baseball interests of the past have done much to damage the game's history, and it is a major effort to untangle fact from fiction. Baseball historian John Thorn continues to add to our knowledge about bat and ball games and one of his most recent discoveries and his chronology of the game can be found on the SABR site.
Baseball has also never been uniform. The game in Japan is slightly different from the one in Cuba, which is different than Major League Baseball, and even then, the two leagues have slightly different rules. In vintage base ball, where the game from a time and place in the past is re-created, it becomes even more complex, for depending on the time and place, the game could be quite different. If you watch an 1860 game in Columbus, Ohio the emphasis is on the spirited, amateur gentlemen clubs of the day, whereas an 1873 rules game played in New Jersey, depicting a time when the best players were sought and professionalism of the game was taking root, the emphasis is on how well the game is played. As a counterpoint, baseball in the rural Midwest became popular after the Civil War, and several museums depict this type of amateur town game at different points in time.
One part of baseball history is not in doubt. The record of establishing codified and standard base-ball rules, and modifying them each year, has been retained. Prior to 1857, established mens' clubs devoted to a bat and ball game were free to create and modify their own rules. Children also made up their own rules. But the New York Knickerbockers, who had been experimenting with a set of rules since 1845, led the way to establish the first national base ball convention, and create the first standard set of rules. This act resulted in the first national association, the NABBP. Players in Massachusetts did much the same with their old folk game of Town Ball shortly thereafter. Today, people who re-create old-style ball games embrace these old rules as the foundation for their modern games.
Below you will find links to the rules most commonly used by VBBA member clubs, grouped by year. Included are comments, interpretations and customs commonly found in vintage base ball games of that year, and a locations where you can find re-created games under those rules.
Although some rules were adopted late in a calendar year, they are listed here by the season in which they were used.