Historical Home Run: Playing ‘Base Ball’ From The 1800s

. July 31, 2018.
The Great Black Swamp Frogs roster, taken recently (don't let the color fool you).
The Great Black Swamp Frogs roster, taken recently (don't let the color fool you).

Toledo has, and is close to, a lot of great baseball games in the summer. The Mud Hens are in the heart of Downtown, and the Tigers and Indians are a short trip away. For more baseball fun, instead of traveling to a different place,  travel through time and catch a historical base ball game. With uniforms and regulations from the late 1800s, the Great Black Swamp Frogs are one of many Ohio teams playing by the old rules.

Batter Up

Back in the early 1980s a group of historical researchers named the Ohio Village Muffins started playing Civil War-era base ball. Eventually, they branched out, providing resources to allow other teams to be created around Ohio. In 1991, the Muffins spoke to John Husman, the current Team Historian for the Mud Hens, about establishing a new team in the area. Husman and some friends of his liked the idea, and the Great Black Swamp Base Ball Club was created. The current iteration of the Frogs is made up of area men and women who were drawn to the vintage game down different paths.

In keeping with the old traditions, each team member has a nickname. Former club president and current player Rick “Sparky” Fuchs became interested in the game after seeing a Frogs match at Sauder Village in Archbold, and current team vice president Mark “Goose” Skolnicki stumbled upon a game at Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village in Michigan. The nicknames are a big part of the spectacle, as Goose explained: “when vintage base ball players call each other by their nicknames during games, that adds to the nostalgic feel of the game we are recreating for spectators to enjoy.”

Play Ball

The vintage rules in Frogs games come from the 1800s, outlined in books like 1860’s Beadle’s Dime Base Ball Player. “I like the quirky rules of vintage base ball,” Sparky explained. “It takes the average new player about 6 months to master most of the differences between the vintage and modern rules.” Everything is followed according to tradition, from the size of the diamond and the lack of mits to “properly” spelling the game as “base ball”. Even the uniforms harken back to yesteryear; Goose explained that the uniforms are based off of New York and Wisconsin teams from the 1860s.

Aside from the rules and uniforms, the biggest thing that sets historical base ball apart from the modern game is the players’ attitudes. Most teams end up putting on games just by contacting each other. This leads to more camaraderie among teams and players. “While we do like to win, we ultimately just play for ‘the love of the game’,” Sparky said. Goose agreed, saying “This aspect of vintage base ball reminds me of summer afternoons playing pick-up games as a kid, for the sheer enjoyment of the great game of base ball!”

More information on The Great Black Swamp Frogs, including current roster, full schedule, and vintage rules can be found at https://greatblackswampfrogs.org

The Great Black Swamp Frogs upcoming schedule:

Saturday, August 11th against the Sauder Village Windmills
2:00 p.m. at Metamora Village Park in Metamora, OH

Saturday, September 8th against the Red Rovers Base Ball Club
1:00 p.m. at The Lutheran Home in Toledo, OH