W.C. Madden is a journalist and the author of 16 books, including Baseball in Indianapolis and Indianapolis in Vintage Postcards (Arcadia Press). He'll also serve as umpire and narrator for a special exhibition of baseball using 1860s rules at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, prior to the Indianapolis Indians-Durham Bulls game at Victory Field.
Q: How long has baseball been played in Indianapolis?
A: It depends on how you define it. There was a major league team, the Indianapolis Hoosiers, in 1887. There were minor league teams dating back to the 1860s. Baseball has been played here since after the Civil War and there were probably unorganized games prior to that, but there's no documentation of it.
Q: What exactly is vintage baseball, anyway?
A: The rules we're going to be using on Thursday are 1867 rules. Back then, pitching was underhanded from 45 feet away. There wasn't a mound, but basically a line drawn on the field on which the pitcher had to stand. There weren't any balls and strikes called unless the batter wouldn't swing at balls thrown over the plate.
A big difference between then and today is that, in 1867, if you caught the ball on the first bounce, the batter is out but the runners can still advance. Stealing was allowed in 1867, although some vintage baseball teams don't allow it because the runner has a big advantage with an underhand pitcher.
The game then was a hitter's game, in which the goal was to out-hit the opponent. The ball in 1867 was called the lemon peel. It was a little bit smaller than today's baseballs. It was made of twine inside and is covered with leather. It's not hard to begin with and it gets softer as it's used. So it doesn't fly as far as modern baseballs.
A lot of the fields in those days didn't have a fence, so you had to run really fast around the bases to get a home run.
They didn't use any gloves in the 1860s and they really didn't substitute players much then. A player couldn't be substituted for unless he was injured enough to be taken off the field. Teams just had nine or 10 players to begin with.
The players were a lot more gritty and tougher than the players today, where if you tweak your back you're on the disabled list for a month.
Q: And the umpires wore different uniforms then, too, right?
A: On Thursday, I'll be wearing a black top hat, a stovepipe. I'll also have an 1880s vintage shirt and pants to boot, an 1880s vest and a fob watch. But we'll be using 1860s rules, so I don't know what that means.
For more information on vintage baseball and a preview of Thursday's matchup, visit www.indianapolishoosiers.com.