Vintage base ball the subject of presentation

Vintage base ball the subject of presentation
Tom Rife

The final program this year for the County Line Historical Society at the Shreve Presbyterian Church will feature Jeff Carr, who will talk about vintage base ball.


When Jeff Carr umpires a Smithville Stars Vintage Base Ball game, there are always four specific no-no’s in effect:

“No bunting, no sliding, no cussing, no spitting,” he reminds the players and spectators before the first pitch is delivered to the plate in under-handed fashion.

Base ball, he said, is a game based on integrity. And yes, until the late 1880s, base ball officially was two words, not one.

“If it’s a hot, humid day, I ask the women in attendance if any of them would be appalled if the players rolled up their sleeves,” the longtime Smithville baseball aficionado/historian said.

And by the way, Carr insists it wasn’t Abner Doubleday who invented baseball as we know it. Yes, Doubleday was a career military officer and a Union major general in the Civil War. Yes, he fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter. Yes, in 1908, 15 years after his death, Doubleday was declared by the Mills Commission to have invented the game of baseball.

Yet Carr is one of many who have debunked the claim that not even Doubleday himself made during his storied lifetime.

“There have always been stick-and-ball games, going back to rounders. But I think now it’s pretty much been proven that it was Daniel ‘Doc’ Adams who invented baseball and help set up many of the standards that are still in effect today. Doubleday and Cooperstown get way too much credit,” Carr said recently in anticipation of the presentation he will make to the County Line Historical Society of Wayne/Holmes in Shreve on Oct. 17.

The program, the last of five this year for the County Line organization, will begin at 1 p.m. at the Shreve Presbyterian Church, 343 N. Market St. The public is welcome, and there will be no admission fee, according to the society’s Jayne Neal.

“We will practice social distancing and the current mandates of the governor,” Neal said.

Carr has been active with the Smithville Stars Vintage Base Ball effort since its inception in 1992. He owns published accounts of games played in Smithville that date back to the mid-1860s. Carr does credit the post-Civil War era as playing a major role in baseball’s development.

His countless stories of baseball’s evolution should result in an entertaining session for diamond enthusiasts and general historians alike who attend the upcoming Shreve seminar. Carr will answer questions from the audience and have early baseball artifacts on display.

The earliest baseballs themselves were much different than those common in today’s game. The stitching of the ball’s seams cross each other instead of running parallel to each other.

“It’s called lemon peel,” he said of the design.

Those vintage base balls were tightly wound, nonetheless, and as in today’s vintage games, players are not allowed to use baseball mitts or gloves. Contests were high-scoring.

The umpire’s role — he originally was called an “arbitrator” — actually is quite minimal because there are no called balls and strikes. Only a swing and a miss counts as a strike, and the strikeout is one of only four ways a “striker” can make an out. He can be forced out on a ground ball, on a fly ball that is caught in the air or on a ball that is caught after one bounce on the ground.

The vintage rules can create some confusion among spectators.

The Smithville Stars put on exhibitions throughout the region during the summer. They do not compete in a league, per se, because Carr fears the element of fun might be diminished. As is demonstrated by the level of play, the men of all ages do take the action seriously. Yet the main thrust is on the camaraderie and fellowship. The gist is to keep the banter friendly despite what “skulduggery” might transpire.

Carr showed one published report where a home-run ball was said to have traveled 750 feet. “What was the slope down to the creek and did the ball land in the creek and go downstream? C'mon, now,” he said.

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