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Vintage Rules and Slang

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Base ball didn’t always sound the way it does today! Men’s matches at Genesee Country Village & Museum are played according to the rules and regulations adopted by the National Association of Base Ball Players in New York on December 11, 1867. Highlights include:


No gloves or protective gear are authorized. Bats must be round, made of wood of any length, and may not exceed 2½ inches in diameter.

The ball must weigh not less than 5.5 or more than 5.75 ounces. It must measure no less than 9.5, or more than 9.75 inches in circumference. It must be composed of India rubber and yarn and covered with leather.


The umpire calls the striker to the line. The striker must stand on a line drawn through the center of the home base. The striker shall keep one foot on this line. He may step forward or back with his other foot. There is no restriction on stepping into fair territory.


The ball must be pitched underhand, and not “jerked” or thrown to the bat. The pitcher must have both feet on the ground when the ball leaves his hand. He must stand and deliver the ball within two lines that are 12 feet long and 3 feet apart. Any violation of these rules is considered a baulk, which the umpire must call immediately and unasked. The pitching motion is described as being like the pendulum of a clock. It is permissible to impart a bias or twist to the ball. The ball may be pitched at any speed.

The pitcher must deliver the ball as near as possible over the center of the home base and for the striker. If the pitcher fails repeatedly, the umpire may call balls, after a warning. Three balls is a walk, and all base-runners advance, whether forced or not.

Balls and Strikes

Batters may call for the location of the pitch, but they are expected to swing at hittable pitches. If a batter fails to swing at hittable pitches, the umpire may call strikes, after a warning. Three strikes constitute an out. A hittable pitch is defined as one foot from the ground, to head high, and within the legitimate reach of the bat.

Foul Balls

Foul balls are not strikes. A foul tip caught by the catcher in the air or on one bounce, regardless of the count, is an out. If the pitched ball hits the batter, first base is not awarded. The ball is dead and runners may not advance.

Leading Off

Leading off base is permitted. As a matter of convention, leads should be limited to a few steps away from the base. The runner may not overrun first base.


Sliding was not prohibited in the 1860s. However, at Silver Base Ball Park, sliding is not allowed out of concern for players’ safety and well-being.


As a matter of convention, stealing is allowed only on a passed ball, wild pitch, or a muff by the catcher (defined as any time a pitched ball bounces more than once), or on a “pickoff” attempt by the pitcher or catcher.

Infielders and outfielders are allowed to position themselves as the game conditions may warrant, or where directed to play by their captain.


There is only one umpire/referee. His decision is final, and there is no arguing a call. The umpire may occasionally take into account a spectator’s view of a play before making a call.

Fair-Foul Rule

Fair and foul are determined by the baselines. The baseline is fair. Home base is therefore ¼ fair, and ¾ foul. First and third bases are ½ fair and ½ foul.


While any struck ball may be caught in the air or on a first bound for an out, it is considered more “manly” for a player to catch the ball on the fly.

Foul Balls/Running

There is no infield fly rule. Base runners must “tag-up” when a fair ball is caught on the fly. Base-runners may not advance on any foul ball and must return to their bases. They are subject to being put out in returning to their base if the foul ball has first gone to the pitcher.

Base ball didn’t always sound the way it does today. Here’s a sampling of some early base ball terminology:

Aces: runs

Apple, pill, horsehide, onion: the ball

Basetender: an infielder stationed near one of the rag-stuffed bags that serve as bases

Behind: catcher

Blooper, banjo hit: weak fly ball that barely soars beyond the infielders

Bowler, hurler, thrower, feeder: pitcher

Break one off: to throw a curveball

Club nine: team

Daisy cutter: a well-hit ground ball

Dew drop: slow pitch

Dead: put out

Dish: home plate

Duff, muff: an error

Foul tick: foul ball

Hand out: player out

Leg it: run hard

Muffin: a player of lesser talent

The line: the batter’s box. The umpire would often shout, “Striker, to the line!”

Make your first: a single. Also, “make your second,” or “took his third.”

Match: game

Plugging the runner, soaking the runner: throwing the ball at the runner to put him out (illegal after 1845)

Show a little ginger: play harder or play smarter

Side out: three outs

Sky ball: a high pop-up

Stinger: a hard hit ball

Striker: batter

Tally: a run or ace counted after a runner has touched all four bases in consecutive order

Three hands out: side retired, teams must switch sides

Whitewash: to hold a team scoreless in an at-bat

Willow: the bat