Welcome to the 1880s. Baseball fever is sweeping the country! Urban centers boast professional teams of paid, recruited players, like the Detroit Base Ball Club pictured on the trade card below, part of the National League from 1881 to 1888. (The Detroit Tigers were created in 1901, as part of the newly organized American League.) The Detroit Base Ball Club is gaining some notoriety. They'll win the pennant (the forerunner of the World Series) in 1887, beating the St. Louis Browns of the American Association in 10 out of 15 games.
Trade Card for the Detroit League Base Ball Club, Sponsored by "Splendid" Plug Tobacco, P. & G. Lorillard, 1886 / THF225148
Chief among the team's heroes is star catcher Charley Bennett (pictured upper right). Charley is the first professional-league catcher to wear a chest protector outside his uniform. Detroit fans so adore him that they will name their first official ballyard Bennett Park. Charley is the team's "muscle"; center fielder and team captain Ned Hanlon (pictured center) is its "brains."
The passion for baseball is equally evident in small-town America. Amateur clubs show up just about anywhere that nine men can agree on a time and place to practice. Games against rival towns and villages engender fierce local pride. Over in the village of Waterford, Michigan, some country lads have formed a team called the Lah-De-Dahs. Their exploits are well documented in the local newspaper. On September 2, 1887, local fans will smile to read, "George Wager is the best catcher in the township and of the Waterford nine; if he fails to catch the ball with his hands he will catch it with his mouth."
The back of the trade card features an ad for Lorillard’s “Splendid” plug tobacco, as well as the home and “abroad” schedules for Detroit. / THF225149
See the Lah-De-Dahs in Action
Would you like to see the Lah-De-Dahs in action? You can, every summer in Greenfield Village. Our own team borrows the look and playing style of an 1880s amateur baseball club like the original Waterford Lah-De-Dahs.
When you go to a Historic Base Ball in Greenfield Village game, you will notice some different baseball terminology. For example, instead of "batter up," the umpire will declare "striker to the line." When he notes "three hands dead," he simply means that the side is retired.
Visit a Historic Base Ball game this summer and learn some new terminology for yourself!
Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. This article was adapted from the May 1997 entry in our previous “Pic of the Month” online series.
The Base Ball Player's Book of Reference, by Henry Chadwick, 1867 / THF214794
Almost 40 years before Major League Baseball's first World Series, the city of Detroit hosted the "World's Tournament of Base Ball."
On July 14, 1867, the Detroit Free Press carried an announcement of the tournament, which was held at the grounds of the Detroit Base Ball Club from August 14 to August 21. The international tournament attracted teams from Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ontario. When Detroit hosted the World’s Tournament in 1867, it announced it would abide by the rules as published in Henry Chadwick’s book, Haney’s Base Ball Player's Book of Reference. Chadwick and Albert G. Spalding were the two individuals who helped baseball achieve national prominence.
Trade Catalog, “Black Band” Spalding Bat / THF624007
Chadwick, a New York sportswriter, immigrated to the United States from England as a boy. He reported on baseball games and created a system for scoring games that continues to appear in sports pages today as the box score. Chadwick also authored a number of instructional books on how to play the “national game.” Books such as Chadwick’s helped create a uniform game, and promote baseball as acceptable recreation for men, and appropriate for men, women, and children to watch. Chadwick also authored the annual publication Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide until his death in 1908.
Albert G. Spalding started his baseball career as a player, and later became a manager and president of the Chicago White Sox, which at the time was part of the National League. Spalding also created a popular sporting goods company, specializing in baseball equipment. The popularity of Spalding equipment is represented in photographic images from the late 1800s. The individual player shown above has a Spalding bat, and Spalding bats may be seen in the team photograph below of the Round Oak Club of Dowagiac, Michigan.
In the early 20th century, Spalding and Chadwick put forth different versions of the origins of the game of baseball. Chadwick had long asserted that baseball developed based on British bat and ball games, such as “rounder." In an era of American nationalism, Albert Spalding hoped to find an American source for the game. He cajoled professional baseball to appoint a commission in 1905 to investigate the origins of the game. Chaired by A.G. Mills, the commission received a letter from a Denver, Colorado, engineer by the name of Abner Graves, asserting that Graves was present when Abner Doubleday developed the game in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. Chadwick responded with evidence detailing the history of English bat and ball games without avail. Spalding’s zeal to establish baseball as a purely American game, and his connections within the commission, compelled the group to recognize the circumstantial evidence and acknowledge Doubleday as baseball’s founder.
If only someone had bothered to research Doubleday’s life, it would have revealed that he was at West Point in 1839, and could not have devised baseball in Cooperstown, as many now believe. In actuality, games of baseball (or “base ball,” as it was spelled into the early 20th century) were reported in newspapers in the 1820s. The Knickerbocker Club of New York is credited with formulating the nine-player team format that eventually led to the formation of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1858. Pitching was done underhanded and balls caught on the fly or the first bound were outs. The rules continued to evolve into the game that is now America’s pastime.
"American Sports, Base Ball, Striker & Catcher" Plate, circa 1850 / THF135816
"On Saturday afternoon, Sept. 10, at the farm of Louis Bradley, might have been seen a small gathering of people. They came to see the final game between the Lah-da-dahs, of Waterford, and the White Lakes of Webster neighborhood."
–Pontiac Bill Poster, September 14, 1887
In the 1880s, many Michigan towns supported baseball teams, including Waterford, in Oakland County, but the game's history goes back further. The game of base ball (as it was often spelled into the 1890s) had its origins in a number of children's games, but especially a British game called "Rounders." Rounders rules called for the game to be played on a diamond, with a striker (batter) who faced a feeder (pitcher).
The American game of base ball gained in popularity in the mid-1800s, so much so that English ceramic makers produced dishes such as the "Base Ball" plate above, depicting a "Striker & Catcher," to appeal to American consumers. American interest in base ball in the late 1800s is evident in the production and marketing of such a plate.
Americans purchased these English-made ceramics to celebrate their national game, but base ball did not have all the regulations we know in modern baseball today. Until the 1880s, rules stated that the pitcher had to deliver the ball underhanded with a straight arm. The batter could call for a high or low pitch. A high pitch was considered one between the belt and shoulders, and a low pitch was to be delivered between the belt and knees, a range close to the modern strike zone. Balls and strikes were usually not called until the 1870s.
Some rules called for home plate to be made of marble or stone, but there was no batter's box, only a line that bisected the plate. Consequently, today's historic base ball umpires will frequently signal the start of a game by calling, "Striker to the line!" Early rules discouraged, and often forbade, players being paid.
You can browse artifacts related to both the early and more modern forms of baseball in our Digital Collections. Or, if you want to see vintage base ball firsthand, check out the schedule for the Greenfield Village Lah-De-Dahs, who borrowed the name of the old Waterford team. The Village nine suit up to play teams from Ohio and Michigan throughout the summer as a part of Historic Base Ball in Greenfield Village. Though the song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was not written until 1908, you might hear the band play it. If you wish, you can sing along and cheer on the base ball strikers for the Lah-De-Dahs.
This post was adapted from the July 2000 entry in our former Pic of the Month series.
Opening Day is behind us, so baseball season is now in full swing (pun intended), and the return of Historic Base Ball in Greenfield Village is just around the corner. Celebrate this beloved sport with a few artifacts and stories from our collections.
H.J. Heinz Company Baseball Team, circa 1907 / THF292401
The H.J. Heinz Company, at the forefront of employee welfare during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, offered many recreational activities for its workers. This photograph from 1907 shows the Heinz company baseball team, comprised of its employees.
Portrait of a Baseball Player, circa 1880 / THF94413
In the decades following the Civil War, base ball clubs came to represent a community’s identity and honor. Players donned colorful uniform shirts to make the team readily visible to its supporters and opponents alike.
This bright red wool base ball shirt is a great example of uniforms of that time. The oversized “A” would have identified the community, company, or school the team represented, while the “BBC” stood for “Base Ball Club” – the two-word phrase later changed to “baseball” in 1884.
World Tournament of Historic Baseball in Greenfield Village, August 2007 (Photographed by Michelle Andonian) / THF52274
In 1867, Detroit hosted the World Base Ball Tournament. To commemorate this event, Greenfield Village hosts the World Tournament of Historic Base Ball every summer—one of the finest exhibitions of historic base ball in the country, playing by 1867 rules.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Tournament of Historic Base Ball was canceled last year, but it will be back in 2021! Until then, you can learn more about historic baseball at Greenfield Village by watching this video.
Jump on the Weiser Railroad and take a tour of Greenfield Village and eventually, you’ll see a lush patch of grass behind Cotswold Cottage. It may just seem like an open field until you listen to your fellow passengers, as I did this past week.
“That’s where we watched the baseball game,” said one mother to her kids.
“Remember when we saw the Lah-De-Dahs play here? That was so cool!” said another family to each other. Then they are told that the season has been canceled, and a wave of disappointment hits.
Do we understand that it had to be done to ensure the safety of visitors, volunteers and staff? Sure. Does that make it any easier to accept? Not at all.
During the second weekend of August, the attention of everyone is usually focused on this seemingly unassuming patch of grass behind Cotswold Cottage. Groups of people from all over the Midwest put on uniforms reminiscent of 1867, bring a bat they made themselves, leave their gloves at home and prepare for two days to relive the glory of their times. Visitors bring their chairs, find a spot on the hill with plenty of shade, pick up a free program, and keep track of the day’s results. The kids who come don’t see computer programmers, lawyers, government employees, or professionals. They see ball players that they want to emulate. The players sign an autograph and pause for a picture to help commemorate the occasion. Sure, we would love to raise a trophy, but the best reward is the sight of our spectators coming back day after day, year after year.
The historic base ball program here at The Henry Ford brings together families by giving them something familiar—with a twist. A children’s game played by men in knickers might gain a laugh or two until you see how hard they can hit the ball or catch it without the aid of a glove. The World Tournament of Historic Base Ball is the culmination of a season’s worth of work by our home clubs, the Lah-De-Dahs and Nationals, while at the same time welcoming in multiple other teams from around the Midwest. It’s a vital part of The Henry Ford’s summer lineup of events, because it demonstrates our strength in the living history field, tells the American story through ball and bat and shows our visitors how innovations turned a kid’s game into America’s pastime.
Baseball Bat Presented to John L. McCord for First Prize at the World's Tournament of Base Ball, 1867 / THF8654
The original World Tournament was held in Detroit during the summer of 1867 (why the Lah-De-Dahs and Nationals play by the rules of that year). The hosts, the Detroit Base Ball Club, had an exciting 1866 and were hoping to make Detroit into a new Midwest hub of base ball (written as two words at the time) and to answer the question, “Who is the best team in the world?” At the conclusion, the Unknown Base Ball Club of Jackson, Michigan, won the first-class championship and earned $300 as well as a beautiful rosewood bat. Unfortunately for the Detroit club, 1867 didn’t pan out the way they would have liked, and the World Tournament would go into a 136-year hibernation.
In 2003, the World Tournament was reborn here at Greenfield Village. The Clodbuster Base Ball Club of Ohio would win three of the first four events (2004 was rained out with no definitive winner other than “Mother Nature”). The Lah-De-Dahs would win their first crown in 2007 and then add three more titles in 2008, 2016, and 2018. The Saginaw Old Golds have won the most World Tournaments, with six total.
It is, however, a much larger event than just watching the games (though for many visitors, that is enough to keep them entertained). The Dodworth Saxhorn Band plays songs of the 19th century with instruments of the period. Kids can test their skills on the Village Green along with a hands-on display of the game of cricket, one of baseball’s forefathers. In recent years, there was a pop-up exhibit featuring artifacts, including the original rosewood bat won by the Unknowns in 1867, as well as modern trophies created by the Liberty Craftworks pottery team for presentation to that year’s winning teams.
We may not be back this season but rest assured: To those disappointed fans who pass Walnut Grove on the train, we will be back! We hope you will be, too!
Jeff “Cougar” Koslowski is a volunteer with The Henry Ford’s Historic Base Ball Program.
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.