In the classic baseball movie, The Natural, one of Roy Hobbs’ (played by Robert Redford) most memorable lines comes as he is sitting in a hospital bed, realizing that his final game is just days away.
“God, I love baseball,” Hobbs declares softly with a tilt of his head and a sincere look in his eyes that tells you how much he really means it. Watching that scene, you know Hobbs doesn’t care about the money that can be made playing baseball. He only cares about the pure joy of playing.
Well, Roy Hobbs would certainly fit right in with those who play Historic Base Ball at Greenfield Village.
The “Boys of Summer” will soon take the field for another season of historic base ball in Greenfield Village (and yes, base ball is two words here - in the time period we represent, base ball was spelled with two words unlike today). This Saturday is the home opener (the Lah-De-Dahs are hosting the Wyandotte Stars Base Ball Club) and marks the 20th season of the historic base ball program at The Henry Ford.
The program began on a very small scale in 1993 with a hand full of employees volunteering to make up a club of nine. The idea and concept of a historic base ball program came while researching the J.R. Jones General Store in Greenfield Village. In the early 1990s, the J.R. Jones General Store received a major re-installation, overhaul of maintenance and repair needs, as well as new and updated presentation priorities. While searching through the Waterford, Mich., area newspapers, where the General Store originated, references were made to the Lah-De-Dahs base ball club from the area.
The first season of the re-created Lah-De-Dahs saw the club wearing reproduced white base ball shirts with a red script “L.” Players wore nondescript white painter’s pants as the period clothing department made matching knickers style bottoms. Little is known about the uniform of the Lah-De-Dahs, but a small color clue was provided in the Pontiac Bill Poster newspaper on Sept. 14, 1887:
As the contest went on, slowly but surely dawned upon the minds of all the truth that a fine uniform does not constitute a fine pitcher, nor La-de-dahs in their mammas’ red stockings make swift, unerring fielders.
Only a few matches were played that first season with an amalgamation of rules from various “understandings” at the time. A couple of matches played in one of the Firestone Farm’s harvested wheat field wherein the Lah-De-Dahs club played the Firestone Farm hands before whatever crowd gathered along the farm lane. A couple other games were played on the Activities Field (Walnut Grove) with outside clubs coming in to play.
Over the course of the next two seasons, complete reproduction uniforms were hand made for 25 players that made up the Lah-De-Dah roster. By 2002, the home schedule consisted of no more than a dozen games, playing only on select Saturdays throughout the summer. Games were only scheduled when visiting opponents could be recruited to make the trip to Dearborn. The addition of the Dodworth Saxhorn Band on a few of those dates combined with the wonderful pastoral setting of Walnut Grove made for some very memorable experiences.
The popularity of the historic base ball program increased with Greenfield Village visitors each year. The request for a more consistent base ball schedule with more games also intensified as an emerging Lah-De-Dahs fan-base grew.
The colossal Greenfield Village restoration in 2003 heightened the stakes of programming and the historic base ball program stepped up to the plate so to speak. Mr. and Mrs. Edsel Ford provided financial support that made it possible to plan and deliver an entire summer of base ball. The Henry Ford was able to expand the program in three areas; daily offerings of period base ball, the formal nine inning game played by the rules of 1867 on both Saturday and Sunday every weekend of summer season, and the development and expansion of the World Tournament of Historic Base Ball, based on the original and first-ever World Tournament of Base Ball hosted by the Detroit Base Ball Club that took place in Detroit in August of 1867.
With the start of the 2004 season, the 12-game schedule was expanded to 30 games. In order to insure an opponent for the now beloved Lah-De-Dahs, a new Greenfield Village club was created. A simple name was chosen from among those who had originally played in the tournament in Detroit, the National Base Ball Club. Striking dark-blue-and-gold shield front uniforms were purchased along with a new set of the familiar red-and-white uniforms of the Lah-De-Dahs. The roster was also expanded to 42 players.
Greenfield Village’s daily program now includes Town Ball or Massachusetts Rules. This important program element allows Greenfield Village the capacity to offer a base ball experience on weekdays in the summer season. The chaotic rules of the early version of base ball, the soft ball, and minimal equipment needs made this a perfect choice for a game to be played on the Village Green. A dedicated staff now teaches and plays Town Ball with families throughout the day on weekdays all summer long.
Other key investments include a uniquely designed sound system on the primary base ball field, Walnut Grove. The system, installed on the outside of several strategically placed permanent garbage cans, allows the umpire and scorekeeper, by way of invisible cordless microphones, to present essentially a 19th century version of a play-by-play account of the game. The specially trained core of umpires and scorekeepers now are able to combine theatrical and interpretive techniques in the calling of each game. The play-by-play, live music and unpredictable nature of gloveless play makes for a very entertaining afternoon.
To further enhance our guests’ experiences, food opportunities were added to the field using contextual temporary structures in keeping with the rural/pastoral feel of the field. A huge hit with the visitors and fans has been the introduction of historically inspired base ball trading cards of the volunteer players. Throughout the entire game day, fans of all ages, but especially children, approach the historic base ball players wanting autographs on their base ball cards and/or programs.
This is considered baseball's first official rule book. Author Henry Chadwick was a sports journalist and leading promoter of the game. (Object ID: 2003.12.1)
Although Greenfield Village now has two official clubs, the Lah-De-Dahs and the Nationals, many veteran staff and visitors associate the Lah-De-Dahs as the “home” club of The Henry Ford. With great matches, excellent sportsmanship and many close games going to either club, the fan base has evolved to embrace both clubs with equal partisanship.
The base ball clubs of Greenfield Village play every Saturday and Sunday from June 8 to Aug. 18, with the World Tournament of Historic Base Ball Aug.10-11. As an American innovation, base ball is touchstone to our past, present and the future. With this program we represent a time prior to professional players when amateurs played for recreation and innocent amusement. For the love of the game - HUZZAH!
Brian James Egen is Executive Producer at The Henry Ford
“Hip, Hip, Huzzah” echoed through the village with the annual World Tournament of Historic Base Ball. It was 1867 all over again as underhand pitches fairly met strikers at the plate, and gloveless fielders caught brown leather-covered balls.
The Saginaw Old Golds took home the trophy by winning the championship matchup, 33-12, over the strong-hitting Columbus Capitals. The annual tournament features Historic Base Ball played by the rules of 1867 as set down in Haney’s Base Ball Book of Reference. That same year, Detroit hosted 24 clubs in the World’s Base Ball Tournament.
Sixteen ball clubs from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana took turns in the field and with the bat in what proved to be an exciting two full days of base ball.
Since the balls are rubber that is wrapped in yarn and covered with leather, Saturday’s rain added some weight and some challenges. But the rain didn’t dampen the fun, as one player noted, “We were all playing with the same ball.” As much as the tournament is about base ball, it is about fun.
As well as team and player awards – a special award went to a dedicated fan, and the future of Historic Base Ball was recognized with cheers.
Award-winning teams and individuals take home trophies made in Greenfield Village’s Pottery Shop.
Although they didn’t receive trophies, the Welkin and the Bonneyville Millers clubs didn’t go home empty handed. The two teams each were presented a bag of peanuts: The same prize awarded in 1867 for the team with the least number of tournament wins.
By most accounts, this was the largest crowd to gather for the World Tournament of Historic Base Ball championship event. It’s the tournament’s 10th year at Greenfield Village.
It was competitive but gentlemanly play, and it was hard to find a player (or fan) who wasn’t smiling.
When we asked Wayne State University Professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology Dr. Marcus Dickson to shed some light on the when the sport once known as base ball became known as baseball, here's what we learned:
There were, of course, many bat and ball games prior to our modern version, and they went by many names in both England and the U.S. (and elsewhere). Virtually all references to a game with "base" and "ball" in England, and almost all known 18th and early 19th century references in the U.S., refer to the game as "base-ball". For example, the famous 1791 ban on game playing that threatened the windows of the Meeting House in Pittsfield, Mass., says "no person or inhabitant of said Town, shall be permitted to play at any game called Wicket, Cricket, Base-Ball, Bat-Ball, Football, Cat, Fives, or any other games played with Ball, within the Distance of eighty yards from said Meeting House."
By the late 1830s and into the 1840s, "base ball" had begun to replace "base-ball." Interestingly enough, the Knickerbocker rules of 1845 and the amendments from 1854 do not include either version of the word -- they simply refer to "the playing rules for 1854", etc. But the rules amended for 1857 do explicitly refer to "base ball." Nothing other than simple changes in type-setting convention seems to have driven the change, as far as I can tell (as an analog, we no longer use "&c", but instead use "etc.", for no particular reason), and in many cases the decision on what form of the word to use seems not to have been made by the authors, but by the typesetters and their chosen convention.
Just for fun, the convention changed again (after "base-ball" had become "base ball"), and by the mid-late 19th century (late 1870s, early 1880s), the word in the U.S. had again become "base-ball", and according to Dickson's (no relation) Baseball Dictionary (a major source for much of this essay), in 1896 the U.S. Government Printing Office specified that the word should be spelled with a hyphen. Again, no reason for the change is given or evident.
However, by the time the U.S. Government took action (no surprise here), the field was shifting again, and The New York Times had explicitly changed its style guide away from "base-ball" to "baseball" in 1884. As always, no reason other than common usage is given.
Of course, these practices overlapped in time, and you can find the word "baseball" (combined, no hyphen) in print as early as 1858 (though not at all common, and actually as early as the 1830s - though that is believed to be a misprint). You can find "base ball" in some circles into the 1900s (again, not at all common). So there are periods of overlap, and some periods of pretty common usage, and 1867 is square in the middle of a period in which "base ball" was the common spelling. However, I don't think that they ever got as worked up about it as we do today, in our efforts to be accurate. Yes, it was clearly "base ball" in 1867, but any person reading "base-ball" or "baseball" at that time would have known what was intended. In our efforts to highlight the game's history, we emphasize the two-word spelling.
That's Marcus Dickson, playing catcher for the Lah-De-Dahs.