Local resident resurrects gentlemans league;
game returns to Havre for first time since 1897
By Jason Shoot
It may have taken 104 years, but baseball is finally coming to Havre.
Oh no, not that baseball. We're talking the kind of baseball where players don't whine about called third strikes or their multimillion-dollar contracts not putting enough caviar and Dom Perignon on the dinner table.
Hell, in this kind of baseball, the players aren't even permitted to wear gloves.
Havre's Daniel Bates is organizing a vintage baseball league that would take baseball away from its current over-commercialized form and take it back to the days of baseball just being a game.
The rules are, perhaps, the most intriguing aspect to the game if not the most appealing. Players, as mentioned before, cannot use gloves to field the ball, which Bates said is slightly larger than a baseball, yet smaller than a softball.
"A baseball used in that time frame was not a modern ball definitely not a juiced ball," Bates said. "It tends to be heavier and mushier."
Because gloves are not allowed, players may record an out by catching the ball off one bounce.
But won't players still be at risk of suffering an injury induced by a blistering line drive or ground ball?
"While every attempt should be made to make a manly catch," said Bates, "discretion is sometimes the better part of valor."
Players are also not allowed to lead off a base, steal or slide. That conduct was considered to be ungentlemanly in the 1860s, and Bates said the players in this league all of whom must be over the age of 30 could certainly get hurt. Stealing and sliding also tends to lead to a competitive nature that Bates says takes away from the game.
"It's all about having fun," he said.
Another distinguishing rule change from the current game involves umpires. While strike zones vary from umpire to umpire in the Major Leagues, this league will remove that problem entirely by removing umpires from the game completely and calling no balls or strikes.
"The idea is that the pitcher wants to throw something up there that the batter will try to hit and take a cut at," Bates said. "Otherwise, the game would go on forever."
Vintage baseball (in fact, the word "baseball" used to be termed "base ball") began in 1845 when a group of young professionals organized the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in New York City.
The Knickerbockers set the rules bases set at 90 feet, establishing foul territory, etc. and by the 1850s more than a dozen teams had formed in New York City. By 1860 the game had spread to large cities such as Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.
Astonishingly, the original rule book had just 13 rules to its credit, many of which had to do with field dimensions and on-field conduct.
Considering eight different methods currently exist to reach first base base hit, walk, reached via error, catcher's interference, fielder's interference, hit by pitch, passed ball and a dropped third strike it is not difficult to imagine just how different this game is.
Vintage baseball did exist in Havre beginning in May 1897, Bates said, but soon the game evolved, adopting rules more in tune with those used in the modern game.
In fact, Jim Thorpe yes, that Jim Thorpe was a player with the Havre Hillers when they played Scobey for the 1926 All-Montana baseball championship, Bates said.
But even with Thorpe in the lineup, Havre fell short of a title after losing in three games.
Bates said this league is family-oriented and is designed for players who can no longer play the aggressive style of baseball played today.
"When you're a little bit of an older guy and still want to play but don't have the speed or skills to play the modern game, it is an opportunity to still get out and play the game," he said.
The interest in the league has caught Bates by surprise, he said.
"I'm a member of the Optimist Club, and that's where this has kind of been based out of," Bates said. "But I've been surprised in how many guys are interested in playing at all. ... We would be the only team west of the Mississippi (River) playing this style of baseball, as far as I know."
Bates wants to see the league flourish and eventually become affiliated with the nationally-recognized Vintage Baseball Association, although he also understands that crawling comes before walking.
"What I'd like to see is if we can get enough guys interested, maybe we could just have one or two teams play a couple games here and there and expose more people to the game," he said.
"Hopefully, if we can get enough of a response, when the Hill County Fair rolls around we can do a little demonstration."
Bates has become a tad miffed by baseball today, and he laughed when asked if he was motivated to pursue the return of this league because of the modern game.
"I recognize that it's still baseball, but that's as far as it goes," Bates said. "The game has changed tremendously in the last 100 years.
"I think all sports fans kind of long for when players played for the love of the game. It wasn't necessarily something you did to make a living at, but just to play it."