Legends On Deck

World Tournament of Baseball Brings Baseball History to Life

One of the things I like best about baseball is the long, rich history of the game.  This weekend, at Greenfield Village in Dearborn (MI), the World Tournament of Baseball took place.  My good friend Wayne Riegle, the official photographer for SRX Racing, attended the event on Saturday.  Wayne and his wife Jennah shared their experiences with me.  Wayne took the photos and Jennah took notes.  Anyone who has visited the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village knows that they bring history to life.  The baseball exhibition was no exception.

The event is based on an actual games that occurred on August 13, 1867.  According to the event program, the World Tournament of Baseball was hosted by the Detroit Base Ball Club and fans paid $0.25 per ticket to attend.  The tournament included a number of historic baseball clubs from around the Midwest.  Historically based clubs from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois participated.  The reenactment of the 1867 tournament has taken place in Dearborn since 2003.

Here are some of their observations and photographs from the event:

The commitment to aesthetic was obvious from the seemingly handmade bats to the uniforms the players wore. No gloves were in use in the infield and the slap of skin on ball sounded painful, but the players didn’t seem to mind. The rules were different from modern baseball, the pitchers threw underhanded which the announcer commented was the norm for the era. “Pitching” meant underhanded lobbing and “throwing” is overhanded and what we do today. Another difference was the number of tries the pitcher had to toss a ball the hitter could actually hit.  The “three strike” rule still stood, but the pitcher was responsible for throwing “fair balls” and I saw quite a few pitchers taking 6-7 balls to throw a “fair ball”.

For the first game I sat near the scorekeepers tent to get shots along the baselines between third and home. Sitting near the scorekeepers tent, I could hear some pretty funny dialogue being tossed between players, seemingly in character. The same kind we hear today, but in a much more amusing delivery. Each time there was an ‘out’ the players switched from at bat to in the field, the opposing teams ribbed each other or congratulated good plays. From this vantage point I saw quite a few foul balls and some amazing base steals.

For the second game I sat to watch, I was sitting about 20 feet to the right of first base. This gave me an excellent view of the batter, pitcher and the run from home to first. This spot is where I overheard some of the difference in rules including “trees are considered ground” and balls could bounce once on the ground and be caught up and still be in play. I also heard some interesting information about the make up and size of the bats they used.

Bats could be used out of any wood, but had to be under 35” long and at the most 2.75  inches at the widest point. Many people used lighter weight woods such as ash and willow for some of the bat to increase the speed of the swing and apply a heavier wood at the end for the impact with the ball. Others would hollow out a heavy wood and put a core of lighter wood inside, but according to the research, this did little in the way of helping the batter.

The game of baseball has certainly changed over the years, but the appeal remains the same.  A special thanks to Wayne and Jennah for providing outstanding photographs and insights from the event.  This seems to fit perfectly into the week where the Field of Dreams game was played in Iowa.  It reminds us that baseball has always been a grassroots game, forged from the fields of small towns and big cities across the American landscape.

Brian Koss
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