Off Beat: Bring grit; you can’t use a mitt in old-timey baseball

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter

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Most elements of our national pastime will be recognizable Saturday at 6 p.m. at Fort Vancouver, even though the two teams will play according to the 1867 rulebook.

But plenty of aspects have changed since 1867, when fielders could catch the ball on one bounce for an out, batters could specify where they wanted the pitch and fielders didn’t wear gloves.

Some terminology has also evolved. “Base ball” is now baseball.

And one particular three-word phrase has different meanings in different eras. In 2014, “The Big Hurt” referred to Frank Thomas, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound Chicago White Sox slugger who was going into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

For at least two Fort Vancouver ballists who have played according to 1867 rules, The Big Hurt is what happens when you catch the ball barehanded.

Bob Cromwell, the chief of interpretation at Fort Vancouver, said that he chipped a bone in his hand a few years ago while pitching.

“Someone hit a line drive and I caught it,” Cromwell said Thursday. “I did get him out and I paid the price for it.”

Greg Shine, formerly the chief ranger at the national park, told a similar story after dislocating a finger a few years ago.

Shine, who played first base, told The Columbian back then that “I went to catch a fly ball. I didn’t, and the tip of my right ring finger was pointed in another direction. I was in shock a little. I realized something was wrong, but I tried to stay in character.”

Players aren’t the only ones at risk in these contests, according to Shine, who had to barehand some hard throws from infielders.

“They throw some heat my way,” Shine said. “I tell the folks behind first base: ‘I’m a historian, not an athlete.'”


Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.