Michael "King" Kelly of the Boston Players League team, circa 1891. (Courtesy of Boston Public Library)
Michael “King” Kelly of the Boston Players League team circa 1891 (Courtesy of Boston Public Library)

It may only be the middle of August, but the World Series is coming to the Bay Area this weekend. The 2013 Legends of Baseball Vintage World Series, that is.

It’s a trip back to 1886 when baseball was written as two words, umpires wore top hats, players wore woolen knickerbockers and the fans, or “cranks” as they were known, shouted “Huzzah!” instead of “Woo!” or “Awesome!” when they saw a great play.

Dr. John Eliot is the chair of the Vintage 9 Foundation, which organizes these charity games. He says it’s not just a historical re-enactment — there are characteristics of the vintage game that display the true spirit of baseball before the game became big business.

“Originally the game was meant to be about outthinking your opponents,”  he says. “That’s why baseball is sometimes referred to as the thinking man’s game. The rules are set up so that if you outsmart your opponent, you’ll win. It’s not so much about throwing harder or running faster or swinging harder. “

While there are 19th century niceties, such as addressing the umpire as “Sir,” a lot of the fun of vintage ball depends on cunning tactics that wouldn’t be allowed today. “There’s no balk rule — all pitching moves are legal,” Eliot says. “Hidden-ball tricks, fake pitches – the pitchers can pretty much do anything they want to fool the opponent. You really have to pay attention. If you’re a base runner and you lose sight of the ball for one second, you’re going to get tagged out.”

Four teams will contend in the Series: the Santa Clara Stogies, Amador County Crushers and Bay Area Bootleggers from Northern California, and the Westfield Wheelmen of Massachusetts. They play one game on Friday evening and three games each on Saturday and Sunday.

The rosters include amateurs who play vintage ball and retired major leaguers. For Bay Area fans/cranks, the most familiar face will be Kevin Mitchell, who ended his MLB career with the A’s in 1998 but is best known for his five seasons with the Giants.  In April 1989, Mitchell made a stunning barehanded catch of a fly ball at Busch Stadium — a feat that may help him in the vintage game.

“That was actually required, back in the 1800s,” Eliot says. That’s because fielders’ gloves in vintage baseball are more like something you’d wear to prune your rosebushes than the heavily padded gear major leaguers have today. This may make for a few more bruises, but in general Eliot says the old-school gear has its advantages.

“It’s a real equalizer,” says Eliot. “We have some MLB alumni players who are 60 years old, and some that just retired a couple of years ago (who) are 38, and they compete. It’s not that the younger guys are taking it easy on the older guys — the equipment and the rules put everyone on a level playing field.”

The Baseball Vintage World Series games are at Washington Park in Santa Clara. Prior to Friday evening’s game, the Vintage 9 Foundation and the MLB Players Alumni Association will put on a free clinic for aspiring players ages 6 to 16.  Registration starts at 3:30 p.m. and the clinic is at 4 p.m.

Author

Nina Thorsen

Nina Thorsen is a radio producer and director, and frequently reports on sports issues.  Previously, she produced and co-created KQED's "Pacific Time" and was the deputy foreign editor for "Marketplace". Thorsen began her public radio career while a student at the University of Minnesota, as a ticket taker for "A Prairie Home Companion".

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