Brewers, St. Croix split 1860-rules games

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Photos by Brad O’Neil. Right-click for larger images.

The Forest Lake Brewers took a break from their baseball schedule to play a pair of “base ball” games using rules circa 1860 against the St. Croix Base Ball Club on June 1 at Schumacher Field.

“We did this for the first time last year and we had a blast,” Brewers coach Adam Gallatin said. “It’s definitely different.”

The Brewers took the first game of the doubleheader 9-4, while the re-enactors claimed the second game 9-8.

In 1860, fielders did not wear gloves. Players were spared the need to risk their hands by a rule allowing a fielder to put the batter out by catching the ball after one bounce, though infield throws were still winged as hard as they are today, making the old-time game particularly harsh on first basemen.

“It’s very interesting with no gloves,” Gallatin said.

To begin a play, the “hurler” pitched the ball underhand, while the “striker” could take an unlimited number of pitches. Only swings-and-misses counted as strikes, the foul-strike and called-strike being later additions to the game. The slow pitching style meant that no one struck out in either game.

Another difference from the modern game is that a runner had to stop dead on first base. The Brewers learned that rule immediately, when Dave Gaurke saw his first-inning single canceled when he overran the bag and was tagged out.

“Stopping at first base is a little hard to get used to,” Gallatin said.

The St. Croix players were known almost exclusively by nicknames like “Buzzsaw” and “Port Cider.” Brent “Skinny” Peterson and Erik “Sugar” Sjogren served as captains.

“We do our best to portray the heart of the game as it was originally played,” Sjogren said.

The St. Croix nine’s Ankles earned the first “tally” in the second inning when he hit a sacrifice fly to bring home Squeak. The 1-0 lead held up until the fifth, when the Brewers began to get the hang of the old-time game and pushed across nine runs over the final three frames.

In game two, the Brewers scored big in the fourth-inning. Singles by Bub Lovas, Logan Walker and Joe Rydal loaded the bases, and a sacrifice bound-out by Brandon Rogers and RBI knocks by Jake Kari and Clayton Edstrom brought in four runs, giving the Brewers a 7-1 advantage.

In 1860, a batted ball was fair as long as it bounced in-play once, even if it skipped foul thereafter. St. Croix third baseman Lariat used that rule to his advantage to get a comeback going in the top of the fifth. As the pitch lobbed toward the plate, Lariat turned his back to the hurler and swung his bat backhanded and downward. The ball smashed into the ground in front of the plate and then rolled into the Brewers’ dugout – a fair play in old-times that earned Lariat an infield double.

St. Croix scored four in the fifth and three in the sixth to take an 8-7 lead, though the Brewers tied the game on a Brent Kolbow single in the bottom of the sixth.

St. Croix scored its winning run with two “hands” out in the seventh, when Squeak cranked an RBI single to score Smalls from second.

St. Croix ended the game using the old hidden-ball trick – where a baseman pretends to return the ball to the pitcher only to tag out a baserunner when he takes his lead – to catch a Brewer off second.

Whether that ruse had been tried in 1860 is not known, though an 1884 issue of The Sporting Life describing an instance of the play in a game between the Chicago White Stockings (the modern-day Cubs) and the Buffalo Bisons calls it “a very old trick.” The report continued, “any player stupid enough to be caught in that manner deserves a fine.”

The St. Croix Base Ball Club is an outreach program of the Washington County Historical Society.

Any person with an interest in baseball, history or both is invited to play for the St. Croix group. More information can be obtained at wchsmn.org.

“To us, it doesn’t matter if you can play or if you just like to play,” Sjogren said. “We welcome everybody. We’ve had people who didn’t learn baseball until their 20s, and some who have played college ball. We’re always welcoming new players into the fold.”

St. Croix will be in action all day July 22 at Lumberjack Days in Stillwater.

When they play under modern rules, the Brewers are 10-6. They will meet the Champlin LoGators at home on July 7 at 7:30 p.m.