A day at the park also reveals how much the game's nomenclature, equipment and uniforms have changed over the years. In the vernacular of the times, runs are aces, the batter is the striker, the pitcher is the thrower, a bad pitch is a wide and fans are called cranks. Even the team name originated in the mid-1800s: A player who couldn't hold on to the ball was called a muffin.
All the game's participants are outfitted in period garb. The umpire is dressed the way a businessman of the time would have been, complete with black top hat, vest, dark frock coat and a silver-knobbed walking stick. The Muffin uniforms are modeled after those depicted in an 1866 Currier & Ives print, American National Game of Base Ball. Players wear gray trousers and long-sleeved white cotton shirts that have a buttoned panel in front. The panel is decorated with a large scarlet M of Gothic design. Players also wear scarlet cravats and red caps that are banded by three narrow white stripes. The whole ensemble looks very convincing—except for the footwear, which tends toward modern running shoes.
The Muffins' greatest problem concerns the proper equipment. The earliest bats were ax or shovel handles or perhaps wagon tongues. The Muffins had difficulty hitting with these makeshift bats until they had them tapered slightly on a lathe.
Even more troublesome was duplicating authentic balls. The original 1850s design was a rag ball with a rubber core and a leather covering. Replicas of the rag balls first used by the Muffins were battered out of shape after a few innings. For the past couple of seasons the team has used an Incrediball, a foam ball with a stitched cloth cover that is manufactured by a company in California. This model is an improvement, but it still tends to soften after being hit, so the Muffins are working on a more durable, leather-covered version.
"The hardest part of this game is playing the ball," says Muffin first baseman Jerry Parsons. "The ball comes at you flattened on one side and it can shoot off on crazy angles when it bounces."
In past seasons the Muffins' familiarity with the archaic rules and the ball's peculiar characteristics gave them an edge over opponents. However, now that they play some opponents regularly, that advantage is disappearing.
Composed largely of volunteers and a few Ohio Village employees, the Muffins consider themselves to be more a reenactment company than a ball club. They usually play about 20 weekend games from May through September. Their opponents include teams from other historical groups, churches, radio stations, newspapers, even the front office of the Columbus Clippers, the local Yankee farm team. The Muffins have played throughout Ohio and even appeared at a 1984 exhibition in Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium before a Reds game.
But the Muffins play most of their contests at home before small but appreciative crowds, many of whom are seeing old-time baseball for the first time. Their homey ball field is the perfect locale for the game, set as it is within the 19th-century boundaries of Ohio Village, with the clatter of horse-drawn carriages in the background.
Even with their exacting commitment to the old-time rules, though, the Muffin brand of baseball is undoubtedly faster than the original game. In researching small-town baseball of the 19th century, Loveday came across numerous newspaper accounts of games with scores in the 50-40 range. Some early teams went so far as to adopt a rule that awarded the victory to the first side to score 21 aces. By contrast, the Muffins often whip through low-scoring affairs. In 1986 they had a 17-3-1 record that included a 2-0 win over Columbus's Ascension Lutheran Church, the game that featured that rare triple play.
The memory of that play now has a special life of its own. Move over DiMaggio and Mantle, Koufax, and Wright and make room for Lieb, Wildman and Burley—and the rest of the Ohio Village Muffins.