.. Annotated Ground Rules and Gentleman's
...Agreement Options For Vintage Base Ball
(With the applicable 1860 rules and additional comments in italics)
The purpose of ground rules will be to clarify issues not specifically covered by the
official rules. They also allow for gentleman’s agreements to be made to allow for
special conditions or situations encountered by our modern players and teams. The
comments following many of the questions are not to be seen as arguments for or
against the specific items, but serve simply as reference points. In all cases, care
must be taken when considering these options as they might not reflect the game as
it was played in 1860.
1. Will we allow overrunning of first base?
This is permitted by some teams for safety reasons, but the 1860 rules did not make
allowances for it.
2. Balls bounding from building, tree or other object: Will this count as one bound?
Henry Chadwick’s notes in Beadles Dime Base Ball Player notes that, “Nothing is
mentioned in section 8 in reference to any ball that is caught, either on the fly or
first bound, after touching the side of a building, a fence, or a tree. In such cases a
special rule is requisite before beginning a match”. This means that a ground rule
should probably be agreed upon beforehand.
3. Balls struck out of bounds, upon rooftops, lodging in tree, etc: Will this count as a
home run or a ground rule single, double, etc?
Sec. 32 states that, “Clubs may adopt such rules respecting balls knocked beyond or
outside of bounds of the field, as the circumstances of the ground may demand; and
these rules shall govern all matches played upon the ground, provided that they are
distinctly made known to every player and umpire, previous to the commencement
of the game.”
4. Balls overthrown into inaccessible areas: What advance will runners be allowed?
This isn't addressed in the rules so an overthrow might just be a piece of good luck
for the runners unless a ground rule is established limiting the advances.
5. Will runners be allowed any compensation (advance, score, etc.) if a backstop (not
commonly used until the 1870s) provides a defensive advantage in the case of a
This issue probably comes under the heading of Sec. 32 regarding "obstacles".
6. Fly balls dropped by fielders and then recovered before bounding twice: Will this
still count as a "one bound fly" or viewed as a muff with the ball considered fairly hit?
Errors were not called in 1860 and Sec. 13 simply does not cover this scenario so this
might need to be addressed as a ground rule.
7. If a ball is knocked out of the hand of a defender by a base runner, will the tag still
Sec. 20 states, “Any player, who shall intentionally prevent an adversary from
catching or fielding the ball, shall be declared out”. Attempting to tag a runner
might well be covered under the “fielding” definition, and if so, the runner would be
8. Leading off: How far is allowable?
9. Defenders distances from bases: How far is allowable?
These two items are not specifically addressed by the rules and it seems that the
customs of runners and basemen staying on the bags might be holdovers from pre-
1857 versions of the game. Regarding the defenders, Chadwick’s notes in Beadle’s
indicate that his ‘position in the field should be based on the ‘style of batting he is
called upon to face’. In Haney’s, he goes on to state that ‘a good fielder or base
player never stands still; he is always on the move ready for a spring to reach the
10. Stealing: Is unlimited stealing allowed, or is advancing only to be allowed once
the ball is in hands of pitcher, after the ball is pitched, after ball passes home plate,
after a passed ball or error or only after the ball is struck?
There is no rule forbidding base stealing. In fact, Sec 37 says that the umpire may
begin calling strikes if he feels the batter is failing to swing "for the apparent
purpose... of giving advantage to a player" and it could be interpreted that such
"advantage" refers to leading off or stealing. However, the history of the game
indicates that the first officially recorded major league steal took place in 1863, so it
probably wasn’t all that common in the early days.
11. Deliberate sliding: Is this permitted, discouraged, fineable or will runner be
The rules do not prohibit this. This prohibition seems to be a carryover from the
days when ballists were "gentlemen" and sliding was both undignified and
damaging to their suits or business clothes. The first officially recorded major
league slide took place in 1863. In any case, coming in "cleats high" is surely
12. After a no-bound fly ball is caught, must runners tag up (and then be allowed to
advance at risk) or will the ball be considered dead and runners allowed to return to
Prior to 1859, Sec 16 said, "In either case the players running the bases shall return
to them, and shall not be put out in so returning unless the ball has been first
pitched to the striker." However, the rules of 1860 were amended with the phrase, "...
the players running the bases shall return to them, and may be put out in so
returning in the same manner as the striker when running to the first base." In other
words, after 1860, runners were required to tag up.
13. When a ball is struck foul, does it become live again once in the hands of the
pitcher (wherever he is), making base runners who have not returned subject to put-
out or will it simply be considered dead and runners allowed to return to bases safely?
1860's Sec 16 also addresses this issue and goes on to indicate that once the foul ball
is returned to the hands of the pitcher, it is live and the runner returning can be put
out "in the same manner as a striker running to first base".
14. Will we play nine innings or might we agree to a shorter game if needed?
15. If home team is ahead in the bottom of the last inning, should an equal number of
innings still be played or should we allow a walk-off win?
Sec 26 calls for games to be nine innings long, although Sec 31 allows the umpire to
call a game for weather, darkness, etc. after five innings. In either case, despite the
score, the 1860 rules call for an equal number of at-bats.
16. Will we use a tally bell?
17. Will a runner crossing home plate be required to request that a run be tallied by
Neither the bell nor the request are called for in the 1860 rules. Based on the most
recent research, the tally bell and the tally request seem to be modern additions to
vintage base ball as there is no historical evidence for their historical usage. In
addition, although it is not commonly practiced today, Sec. 28 of the 1860 rules calls
for ‘two scorers, one of whom shall be appointed by each of the contending clubs’.
18. If a team does not have enough players to replace one who is injured or has trouble
running, will a "pinch runner" be allowed or might we even allow unlimited
Sec 35 calls for all players to be present or the game is to be forfeited. However,
please see item 23.
19. Will we substitute the modern batting order for the 1860 rotation?
The 1860 rotation is addressed in Sec 17.
20. What shall be the policy on player-called time outs?
Since there are generally no called strikes (or balls), there would be no consequences
if a ball were pitched when the batter was not ready. However, if the umpire felt
that the batter called for a pause as or after the ball was pitched for
unsportsmanlike reasons, he should have the right to give warning and begin to call
strikes. As the umpire controls the game, he should be the only one to order a delay,
but with his permission, others, particularly team captains might address him with
21. Is there an order in which runners can be put out when forced?
Sec 18 addresses the force but does not specify the order in which the runners may be
put out. It appears that many teams allowed the outs to be made in any order. Later
rules did specify that the "forcing" runners had to be put out first.
22. Shall we have the option of using a second ball to avoid delays while waiting for
the return of some foul or home run balls, and then will the replacement ball be
swapped when the original is returned?
Sec 1 refers to the "game ball" but does not say anything about lost balls or
23. Do we agree to forego or overlook portions of the following sections?:
Sec.27. In playing all matches, nine players from each club shall
constitute a full field, and they must have been regular members of
the club they represent, and of no other club, for thirty days prior to
the match. No change or substitution shall be made after the game
has been commenced, unless for reason of illness or injury. Position
of players and choice of innings shall be determined by captains
previously appointed for that purpose by the respective clubs.
Sec. 28. The umpire shall take care that the regulations respecting
balls, bats, bases, and the pitcher's and striker's positions, are strictly
observed. He shall keep record of the game, in a book prepared for
the purpose; he shall be the judge of fair and unfair play, and shall
determine all disputes and differences which may occur during the
game; he shall take especial care to declare all foul balls and baulks,
immediately upon their occurrence, unasked, and in a distinct and
Sec. 29. In all matches the umpire shall be selected by the captains of
the respective sides, and shall perform all the duties enumerated in
Section 28, except recording the game, which shall be done by two
scorers, one of whom shall be appointed by each of the contending
Sec. 30. No person engaged in a match, either as umpire, scorer, or
player, shall be, either directly or indirectly, interested in any bet
upon the game. Neither umpire, scorer, nor player shall be changed
during a match, unless with the consent of both parties (except for a
violation of this law), except as provided in Section 27, and then the
umpire may dismiss any transgressor.
Sec. 34. No person shall be permitted to act as umpire or scorer in
any match, unless he shall be a member of a Base-Ball Club governed
by these rules.
Sec. 35. Whenever a match shall have been determined upon two
clubs, play shall be called at the exact hour appointed; and should
either party fail to produce their players within fifteen minutes
thereafter, the party so failing shall admit a defeat.
Sec. 36. No person who shall be in arrears to any other club, or who
shall at any time receive compensation for his services as player,
shall be competent to play in any match.
These sections are primarily administrative in nature and might not apply to
modern reenactments of the game. It would probably not benefit the sport if
someone were to call for a forfeit or cancellation of a match or tournament because
of a technicality.