Photo by Bob Martuch
Article by Gina Myers
Each spring brings a new baseball season, whether it is Little Leaguers starting out in t-ball, high schoolers competing for state championships, or Major Leaguers already dreaming of October. In recent years, new attention has been brought to a form of the game that took place during a simpler time. Thanks to teams like the Saginaw Old Golds, people are learning about vintage base ball—and yes, it is supposed to be two words.
When local historian Thomas Mudd was doing research in Hoyt Library, he was surprised to discover mention of a professional base ball team, the Old Golds, in Saginaw in 1883. This piqued his interest because he knew there were a number of vintage base ball teams in the state, including right in the tri-cities. "I had heard Midland had the Mighty River Hogs and Bay City had the Independents. I wondered, 'Why don't we have a vintage base ball team too?'"
Mudd originally took the idea to the board planning the Saginaw sesquicentennial celebration, but the idea did not catch on. In fact, Mudd was informed that "this would never go over in Saginaw." Believing that simply wasn't true, he took the idea to the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame, asking directors to support the team under the museum's non-profit status. Two representatives of the Hall of Fame, Richard Curry and Harold Campau, were immediately excited. They called a meeting, advertising it in the paper, and had a great turnout. Members of the Bay City Independents were on hand, dressed in their uniforms and carrying bats and balls, to talk about the game with the interested crowd.
Vintage base ball varies quite a bit from the game you see when turning on the TV today. Old Golds Captain Adam "Squints" McCauley explains, "It's a gentelmen's game. We play by the 1865 rules of base ball. There is no spitting, cursing or sliding." He also explains that while there are a lot of similarities to the current game, the terminolgy is different. Instead of runs, there are "aces," and instead of outfielders and infielders, there are "longfielders" and "shortfielders." The pitcher is a "hurler" and the catcher is the "behind."
However, the main difference between vintage base ball and today's game is the fact that the players do not wear gloves. McCauley says, "Each fielder is required to catch the ball with bare hands." Mudd explains that this aspect of the game may have turned off some of those who showed up at that first meeting: "[Playing without a glove] can hurt. If you have to catch a hard line drive with your hand, yes, it can hurt." McCauley adds, "There are a lot of fingers broken or jammed during the season."
The original team took its name from the color of the uniforms, and both Saginaw Old Golds teams have seen success. John Clarkston, a member of the 1883 team, played in Saginaw for one year before moving into the majors. He now is in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY as the 12th winningest pitcher in Major League Baseball history. Meanwhile, the current Old Golds have won the State Championship Cup the past two years, and they are current defending World Champions.
The team does not play in a typical league but plans its schedule during the winter and travels to play various teams. This year the team is especially excited about hosting a vintage tournament at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, NY, explains McCauley. "It's the John Clarkson Classic. We'll be playing the best teams from Massachusetts and New York." McCauley is also looking forward to returning to Sylvania, Ohio for the Swamp Frog Tournament. He adds almost as an aside, "We won that one too."
The Saginaw Old Golds kick off their season on Saturday, May 8th at Carroll Park in Bay City, with two games. First they play the Greenfield Lah-De-Dahs, and then they play the Bay City Independents. For more information on the Old Golds, visit their website at www.saginawoldgolds.com/ or join the Facebook group "Fans of the Saginaw Old Golds."
© Gina Myers, 2010