Emmett Machinists knock off Quicksteps in Vintage Base Ball

By Steve Williams

I had heard about vintage “base ball” being played at the Historic Ramsey House, but I had never been to a game. So Saturday afternoon (June 10) I finally got out there to check it out.

I’m glad I did. It was very interesting and fun to watch. I guarantee it won’t take me long to go back.

After parking and on my way to the field, I passed by some Cherokee Indians on the property and a group of folks from the Colonial era picnicking. I later learned they were with “Tennesseans for Living History” and portraying 18th century living.

Portrayals of President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Lincoln also were on the grounds.

As I approached the field and saw the base ball players and their attire, I thought to myself: “This is really like going back in time.”

The second game of the day between the Knoxville Holstons and the Cumberland Club of Nashville was just finishing. The Holstons also played in the opening game at 11 that morning against the Lightfoot Club of Chattanooga.

There was a 30-minute break before Emmett Machinists of Knoxville would play the Quicksteps of Spring Hill.

By the way, a player for the Quicksteps told me their nickname was derived from players hurrying to get to the “outhouse” during games back in the day!

The atmosphere was laid back in between games and a 4-year-old boy from Seymour got to go on the field and take some swings against one of the team’s pitchers. After a few misses, the determined lad hit the ball and ran the bases. After crossing the plate, one of the players lifted the boy up so he could yank the rope to ring the bell. Apparently, this was done in games in this era nearly 160 years ago.

Spectators on hand were settling into their lawn chairs and there were several shady areas behind the backstop and down the third base side of the field in the late afternoon.

After introduction of the players, the “arbiter” (umpire) tossed the bat up between two opposing players, and the one who grabbed the knob had the choice of batting first or last. This time, the Machinists got to bat last.

Noticeable differences in the vintage game: Players do not wear a glove. Pitches were thrown underhanded. The arbiter did not call balls and strikes, so there was not any base on balls. The “striker” (batter) had to swing and miss three times to be out. A warning from the arbiter, however, could be given to the striker if he repeatedly did not swing at good pitches over the plate.

Yes, the “plate” was actually round and the bases were “sacks.”

“You still have three outs in an inning. That’s about the only thing that hasn’t changed,” said a player on the Machinists.

This vintage game was played according to 1864 rules, which was the last year a fielder could catch a ball on “the first bound” for an out. Starting in 1865, the ball had to be caught in the air like in today’s game.

It was a see-saw battle. Spring Hill went ahead 15-14 when they scored three runs in the top of the ninth inning. But with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Chase McSpaddin, a burly left-handed slugger for the Machinists, lifted the Knoxville team to a 16-15 victory when he drove in two runs with a hit to center field.

It was a big win for Emmett Machinists, considering the Quicksteps won the 2022 pennant in the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball. This season the league has nine teams, including three in Nashville.


MORE TO COME: There are three more dates on the schedule this season for vintage base ball at Historic Ramsey House.

The Knoxville Holstons and Emmett Machinists of Knoxville will square off Saturday (June 24) at 1 o’clock and it will be Greatest Dad’s Day.

Games also are scheduled for July 8 and Aug. 5.

Admission and parking is free and concessions are available.

As I drove home, a suitable item I thought that could be added to their menu was Cracker Jack, which came on the scene in 1896 and is famous for its connection to baseball lore.

But then, even that product may be too modern for vintage base ball.