THREE OAKS — The love of baseball was the bond that produced an entertaining, old-fashioned afternoon of friendly competition in Three Oaks on Saturday, May 18, with the local Eddie Gaedel Society team going against the House of David Echoes, a team that has played by vintage Civil War Era rules for the past 19 years.
“It was a great afternoon,” said Garry Lange, an event organizer and founder of the recently opened Biggest Little Baseball Museum in the Three Oaks Township Library.
The event, which included a picnic lunch with choice of all-time favorites of ham, cucumber or PB & J sandwiches, potato salad or baked beans, lemonade, popcorn and boiled peanuts, was a fund-raiser for the Civil War Days in Three Oaks planned for Saturday and Sunday, July 27-28.
The Echoes is a modern-day reminder of the tradition surrounding the House of David. The Christian reform colony which got its start in the early 1900s in Benton Harbor, was renowned for its barn-storming baseball teams that toured across North America, spreading the House of David name near and far. They were among the best semi-pro teams in the country, known for playing Negro League teams and the first to use lights for nighttime games.
The May 18 game was played on the spiffy Pony League field at Watkins Park under the rules of 1858-era vintage base ball — decidedly a gentlemen’s game.
Addressing the crowd prior to the first pitch, Rick “Waterboy” Ast of the Echoes said the rules of 1858 emphasize “participation, gentlemanly behavior, decorum, courtesy, good manners … Winning is not the point, taking part is the point.”
He then quipped that the “Gaidelians have chosen for some reason to attend the game in their night clothes.”
Among the most noticeable differences from modern-day baseball was the lack of gloves and other equipment and the use of a slightly larger, “lemon peel” ball, so named because of the way it is stitched lengthwise in four sections. It was noted by Echoes player Al Ballinger that the Echoes often start a game with used lemon peel balls since they are softer and easier on the un-calloused hands of new opponents.
In a pre-game huddle with Eddie Gaidel Society players, Ast explained some of the finer points of 1858 baseball — baseman have to stand within a stride of their bag until the ball is struck (except the shortstop, who can be literally anywhere on the field) while outfielders must stay in the middle of their field, but at any depth they choose; strikes are only called if the batter swings and foul balls are not strikes (although if the ball hits in play, even right at the plate, and then goes foul it is considered fair — a rule that took some getting used to for the Eddie Gaidel Society players); the pitcher is supposed to deliver the ball (via underhand slow-pitch) where the batter likes it; balls caught without touching the ground are outs with baserunners staying where they are; a catch after one bounce is an out as well, but baserunners can advance; there is no bunting or base-stealing; After a run is scored the baserunner has to go to the official scorer and “tally their ace” before ringing a bell; baserunners going past first base can get tagged out of they don’t get back to the bag in time; and players can be fined a quarter for violating rules, using coarse language, and other miscues.
The game was close early, with the Eddie Gaidel Society squad escaping a first-inning scoring threat when third baseman Garry Lange firing a long throw to his brother Fred at first base for the final out.
It remained scoreless until the bottom of the fourth when Randy Fox drove in Steve Koth to give the Gaidelians a 1-0 lead.
The Echoes caught up in their half of the fifth frame when Mark Clayton’s run-scoring out sent Jimmy Gaytan across the plate.
The “locals” re-took the lead in the bottom of the fifth as Garry Lange was safe leading off and had reached thord base when Tony Margol’s two-out hit drove him in.
The Eddie Gaidel Society took control in the seventh stanza in a four-run surge that included Koth’s run-scoring hit, an RBI single off the bat of Dave Gumpert, Randy Fox’s run-scoring single, and an RBI single by Garry Lange.
That was more than enough of a lead for former major league pitcher Dave Gumpert (who played for the Tigers and the Cubs) and the resilient Eddie Gaidel Society defense as the 6-1 margin held up through nine innings.
After the game the teams took turns giving hats-off hip-hip-huzzaw cheers to their opponents.
Ast said the Echoes had a great time playing against a “grand bunch of fellows.”
“They picked up the game very quickly and played very well indeed,” he later said of the Eddie Gaidel Society players.
“It was a lot more fun than I expected … good group of guys,” Koth said.
Margol said the game brought back memories and he was happy to be playing at 70 years of age, adding that he happened to be in the right place at the right time when he drove in the go-ahead run.
“I like the camaraderie. No matter who wins or loses it’s a great game.”
Gumpert said once the Eddie Gaidel Society players got used to the one-hop outs and non-foul balls (along with the soft baseballs that don’t carry very far) they were OK.
“It’s a different game,” said Gumpert, who signed autographs for some of the Echoes players after the game.
The youth advantage was clearly on the side of the Locals, with many of the Echoes proudly boasting that they would soon be reaching their 70th birthday.
However, the Echoes did have the advantage of two younger ballists, both granddaughters of hurler (pitcher) Thomas “Reliable” Reybuck. Madison “Bat Girl” Melton was the slight, but quick, behind (catcher) and pinch runner for her grandfather, Echoes pitcher Tom Reybuck.
Aleisha “Bombshell” Mulcahy played second base where her skirted uniform didn’t interfere with stopping many a daisy cutter (ground ball.) In the dugout after the game, she confided she made frequent trips to Goodwill for the right team-colored clothing since they took quite a beating during a hard-fought game.
Ensuring that the game is played in a gentlemanly manner was one of the main responsibilities of Umpire Ray “Eagle Eye” Pritchett, dressed in his top hat, long-sleeved white shirt and vest and carrying his symbol of authority (which looked remarkably like a converted walking stick with gold-painted cue ball on top.)
Pritchett said he only had to impose one fine during Saturday’s game and that was for sliding into a base (Fred Lange skinned a knee while diving back to forst), which is not allowed. Other offenses include swearing, spitting, scratching or using alcohol or tobacco. He said the 25-cent fine might be considered a token penalty today but it was a considerable amount back when the rules were established.
Pritchett said it only made sense to play as gentlemen back then because when a Benton Harbor team came to Three Oaks, it was a fair distance by horse and buggy and both teams often sat down to Sunday afternoon dinner together after the game. The game was played for fun and exercise, not to win games, by skilled gentlemen who didn’t use their hands to make a living and addressed each other as “mister” and “sir.”
“Everyone was happy, it was a beautiful afternoon and they left with their tummy’s full,” said Civil War Days organizer Kathleen Avery Alton, who said she had planned for a relaxed, family oriented social event to support the Civil War Days which will take place Saturday and Sunday, July 27-28, in Dewey Canon Park. Heritage crafters and artists are still being sought for the event.
For further information, visit www.civilwardaysthreeoaks.jimdo.com.
Garry Lange shared information on a special upcoming visit to the Biggest Little Baseball Museum and the Acorn Theater in THree Oaks.
“Denny McLain has made it a point the last few summers to visit a few small towns in Michigan and share about his teammates and that special 1968 Detroit Tiger World Championship Season. He was the youngest player on that team, and feels a strong obligation to do so.
“After hearing about the Biggest Little Baseball Museum, he contacted me, and said he’d like to come to Three Oaks. The arrangements have been made, and he will be in town on Saturday, June 22.”
Lange said the legendary pitcher will do an autograph show at the Biggest Little Baseball Museum from 10 a.m. until noon before taking the stage at a ticketed event set for 12:30 p.m. at the Acorn Theater (a $10 ticket includes a hot dog, unlimited soft drinks, and a box of Cracker Jacks).
Lange said the autograph session will resume in the lobby of the Acorn after McClain’s presentation. Tickets are available at https://www.acornlive.org/events/denny-mclain-visits-three-oaks-talks-baseball/