Balls, Bats, and Top Hats: These S.F. Baseball Teams Play by 1886 Rules

Journey back to the 1880s, when baseball was becoming America’s pastime but the etiquette, aesthetics and language of the game were completely different. Picture top-hatted umpires called “sirs” and “batsmen” facing off against “hurlers.” 

Now imagine that happening today, in Golden Gate Park.

For the past twelve years, Bay Area Vintage Base Ball, a nonprofit organization, has been serving up a healthy dose of nostalgia at baseball fields across the larger San Francisco area. From June to October, you can find any one of the San Francisco-based teams, such as the Pacifics, Barbary Coasters and Pelicans, duking it out at Golden Gate Park using rules, uniforms and equipment authentic to 1886.

For friends Brody “Rev” Romsey, Sage “Buttercup” Bray and Carl Gibbs, the classic game brings a sense of normalcy and community at a time when both can be in short supply. 

Umpire (or “sir”) Carl Gibbs gets dressed for a game of Bay Area Vintage Base Ball at his home. | Image by Mike Kuba

What I love about baseball, especially Bay Area Vintage Base Ball, it just takes you back to those best moments you had playing baseball as a kid,” said Romsey.

Bay Area Vintage Base Ball features 12-member clubs that play 12-15 games a season in a casual, laid-back setting where both genuine athleticism and simple sportsmanship are showcased. There are reproduction 1880s uniforms for each club, as well as replica balls, gloves, bases and other equipment that look, feel, and perform much like the originals. 

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“It’s about changing the mindset of what being a baseball player is about,” said Bray. “We adhere to 1886 rules and we use equipment that is authentic to the time.” That means a 40-ounce bat in place of the modern-day 33-ounce bat, small gloves with only the barest of padding and a deader ball that doesn’t travel—so you’re not likely to see a home run.

It’s hard to imagine a comparable “vintage” league in another sport, but then again nostalgia has long been part of baseball’s appeal.

The great thing about baseball is that you can tell time with it,” said Gibbs. “I tend to think of years by what happened in baseball. Some people think of 1969 as the year that we landed on the Moon. Some think of it as the year of Woodstock. I think of it as the year the New York Mets won the pennant for the first time.”

This post was last modified on October 25, 2021 7:51 am


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