Baseball was a different game in the nineteenth century. Fielders wore no gloves, and if players caught the ball off one bounce, it was still considered an out. (You can read more about the vintage rules here.) Many of the rules and regulations we’re familiar with today were added to the rule books in the 1890s or the early twentieth century. There are people across the country dedicated to remembering nineteenth century baseball, and who still play in period uniforms with period rules. There are three such teams in the Cleveland area and one of those, the Cleveland Blues Base Ball Club, recently won the National Silver Ball Championship for the second year in a row.
The Blues were founded in 2008 and are patterned after the 1878-1884 Cleveland Blues of the National League. The team calls League Park their home grounds and plays most of their games there. In addition to the Blues there is the Forest City Base Ball Club, founded in 1994 and patterned after the 1865-1871 Forest Cities of the National Association of Base Ball Players and the Whiskey Island Shamrocks. (In 2009 the Forest City club won the World Tournament of Historic Base Ball.) Vintage baseball is extremely cool and worth checking out; if you’re not in the Cleveland area to see one of these three teams, you may be able to find one playing near you.
As a way to honor the Blues’ Silver Ball victory, I’d like to share a field report from team manager Jay Demagall:
For the past nine years, the Genessee Country Village and Museum, in Mumford, New York, has hosted the National Silver Ball Tournament, one of the nation’s premier vintage base ball tournaments. The event attracts champion teams from all over the country, and many of the matches are played in Silver Base Ball Park. The park is located in the historic village between two cornfields, and is an exact replica of the park in which the 1860’s Troy Haymakers used to play. It is one of only two 1860’s replica ballparks in the world.
This year, the Cleveland Blues returned to defend our 2010 Championship by playing several top area clubs. Teams from Ontario, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and Ohio were invited to the event. Each team would play four nine-inning matches by 1865 rules. The two teams with the top record would then face off in a championship match for the title.
The Blues’ first match was against the mighty ball players of the Flower City Base Ball Club out of New York. These gentlemen patterned their club after the Flower City club of the early 1860’s. The game was close at first, with fine defensive play by Flower City scouts Steve Ost and Todd Draper. However, the Blues, led by our four daredevil outfielders: Scot “Stoney” Wahl, Tom “Meal Ticket” Inch, Brad “Woody” Zreny and Matt “Duke” Endersby, made amazing plays in the garden. In addition, the Blues willows were alive and well. Muckle shots by Joel “Plowboy” Watters and Adam “Chopper” Miller complimented the stinger shots of Ken “Hammer” Schutz and “Constable” Dan Bing. The Blues prevailed by a tally of 23 aces to 13 aces.
Our second match was against our good friends, the Live Oak Club out of New York. The Oaks were also patterned after a Western New York club from the 1860’s, and normally play their home games on the grounds of Silver Ball Park. The Blues took advantage of a 12 run first inning to mount a ferocious offensive spectacle that can’t be blamed on the good players of Live Oak, but only the phenomenal striking of the Blues. This jauggernaught, led by the 6-6 four run effort of Stoney Wahl, Woody Zreny’s four doubles and Bryon “Speedy” Schutz’s four runs and two doubles, complimented fine pitching performances from Plowboy Watters and Jay “Tomahawk” Demagall. The Blues prevailed, and entered the final match of Saturday 2-0.
The final match of the day was a formidable opponent. The Victory Base Ball Club, also out of New York, was well known for their fearsome striking, and relentless defensive ability. The match was a back and forth battle for all nine innings. The Victory hurler, Mr. Jim Sears, kept the Blues hitters guessing, and his stonewall defense stopped, for the most part, the Blues’ hot bats. The Cleveland’s were down one ace in the bottom of the ninth. Tomahawk Demagall led off with a two-baser. This was followed by a well-struck stinger shot by Duke Endersby, another two-baser. Hits by Speedy Schutz, John “Goliath” David and Andy “Stumpblaster” Senkovich put the Blues over the top, winning the match by a final if 17-16. It was one of the finest matches of base ball the Blues have ever played, especially since both clubs handled themselves as complete gentlemen throughout the heated match.
At the end of the first day, the Blues, who had played 27 innings of bare-handed base ball in heat, humidity and long sleeved heavy cotton jerseys, were spent, hoping to return on Sunday and play well enough to make the Championship Match.
Our first match on Sunday pitted the Blues against the Rochester Base Ball Club, led by the Gotham, Devito, Northup and Sajdak families. The Gothams had a father and two sons playing, whom we remembered from 2010 because of their impressive play and gentlemanly manner. The Blues were without our starting rover, Neal “Bristles” Dobrovic, who was injured the day before. First Basetender John “Goliath” David was also very hobbled, but still managed to strike the ball well. The rest of the Blues picked up right where we left off the day prior, with another offensive fireworks show. Blues strikers Matt “Duke” Endersby and Joel “Plowboy” Watters struck onions over the 300 foot fence, leading the team to 27 runs. Great defense and fine hurling by Plowboy and Tomahawk helped the Blues claim their fourth victory, and the privilege of playing in the Championship match for the second year in a row.
Our opponents in the final match were the mighty Fair Plays Base Ball Club from Talbot County, Maryland. The Fair Play’s were playing with a heavy heart, having lost their captain, Scott “Curly” Murphy, only three weeks ago to a heart attack he sustained on the field of play. However, the spirit of Mr. Murphy was with his club, as they played with great skill, and as true gentleman throughout the match. A giant of a man nicknamed Tin Cup hit the onion so far over the fence; the announcer declared that it might have landed in downtown Mumford. However, the Fair Play’s muckle shots and great defense was no match for the Blues continued offensive onslaught. Led again by the brilliant striking of Woody Zreny and Stoney Wahl, the Blues came out of the match victorious, just as the skies opened up and a heavy downpour began at the end of the match. The Clevelanders prevailed again, becoming repeat champions of the National Silver Ball Title.