Corkball: The History and Rules of a Baseball Variation

The game of Corkball is a variation of baseball in which the ball used is made with cork and rubber. It was invented by Major William Joseph Hinchliffe, who would go on to become an officer in both the British Army and The Salvation Army during his lifetime.
The first recorded instance took place at 19th Street Park as part of Civil War reenactment festivities between Unionists and Confederates

The “how do you play cork ball” is a game that was invented in the early 1800s. The game has its own history and rules, which are different from baseball.

With a flinty expression, the hitter tightens his hold on the bat and looks down the pitcher.

The pitcher tightens his grip on the ball and hurls it as hard as he can.

WOOSH

PLOP!

The struck-out hitter dejectedly walks away from the plate as the golf-ball-sized ball drops in the catcher’s glove, leaving his broomstick-width bat behind.

What’s going on here? Why have the ball and bat been shrunk so much?

What seems to be a baseball game is not, in fact, America’s favorite sport. Rather, it’s a regional specialty that dates back to the early twentieth century’s bars, workplaces, and schoolyards.

Welcome to corkball, a bizarre baseball game originating in St. Louis that you may want to bring to your own area. 

The History of Corkball

 

In the 1840s, Irish and German immigrants flocked to St. Louis in droves. Many of the latter imported German beer formulas and established breweries that mass-produced German lagers for the country’s increasing population. While brewing companies like Anheuser-Busch innovated beer-making with pasteurization and refrigeration, employees at these breweries innovated American baseball by creating a version of the game that allowed them to play with a small number of players, in a small space, and without the usual regulation equipment. 

Corkball is said to have originated at a pub in east St. Louis about 1900. Some bored, slightly inebriated guy removed the cork bung from a beer barrel and wrapped it with tape. He then threw it to a drinking companion, who attempted to smack it with a broomstick. 

Boom!

Corkball was created. 

The most notable distinction between corkball and baseball was that corkball had no runners and hence no bases. Men didn’t need a lot of area or a lot of people to play corkball since there were no bases or runners. They could theoretically start a corkball game with only four players – two each side. 

Pitching and hitting are clearly the most important aspects of corkball. The game’s little ball and bat, on the other hand, make the latter annoyingly difficult. While corkball could be played with only a broom and a handmade ball manufactured from a taped-up cork bung, a few sports goods companies, such as Spalding and Louisville Slugger, began producing “official” corkball equipment. At its widest point, a legal corkball bat has a narrow 1.5′′ barrel, roughly the width of a broomstick. A regulation corkball resembles a regular baseball but is smaller. It’s tiny 6.5 inches in diameter and weighs only 1.5 ounces (a regulation baseball is 9 inches in diameter and weighs 5 ounces). Because the corkball is so light, it’s much simpler to throw modified pitches like curves and sliders than it is with a standard baseball.

Corkball became somewhat more complex in the decades after its turn-of-the-century start, but not much. There were certain general regulations, but each bar, business, or playground had its own set of laws. Many taverns in St. Louis erected “corkball cages” in the alleyways behind their premises because the game was so popular. According to legend, a few abandoned corkball cages may still be seen strewn throughout the city.

 

Due to WWII, the game of corkball grew beyond the Gateway to the West. GIs from St. Louis taught the game to their bored comrades in arms, and the troops carried the concept home after the war. Although a few southern states, such as Georgia, have embraced corkball, St. Louis remains the world’s corkball capital.  

Over the years, a few other varieties of corkball have sprouted in the city. “Indian Ball” is the title of the first. There are no baserunners in Indian Ball, as in corkball, although you do use a regulation-sized baseball and bat. 

There’s also “fuzzball.” There are no baserunners, and you hit with a broomstick-width bat, but instead of a corkball, you hit with a tennis ball that has had its fuzz burnt off with a lighter.

There’s also a corkball variant that uses bottle caps instead of corks. Those are for St. Louis’ masochists.

While corkball is mainly a social game, formal corkball leagues have operated in St. Louis since the early twentieth century and are still active today. While the rivalry might become intense at times, it’s usually friendly competition. The vibe is comparable to that of a softball beer league; it’s simply a bunch of guys coming together after a hard day at work to let off steam and have a good time.

The city’s history is strong: 75-year-old men are still playing the strange game they began as youths. In St. Louis, you may encounter corkball games involving three generations of men from the same family. 

Corkball games look and feel similar to how I believe the early baseball games looked and felt. It’s sort of pleasant to learn that a group of mature guys in St. Louis get together to play a game simply for the fun of it. Amateurism is alive and well. 

Rules of Corkball

Do you want to try your hand at corkball, a St. Louis tradition? Here’s how to get started. 

Equipment

  • Corkball is an official sport.
  • A corkball bat or a wooden dowel with a diameter of no more than 1.5″ and a length of no more than 38″
  • Gloves for baseball

Field of Play

Corkball may be played almost anywhere: parks, parking lots, and baseball fields. 

The distance between the pitching rubber and home plate must be 55 feet. 

Unlike baseball, corkball does not have a diamond-shaped playing field with foul lines running at right angles to the left and right of home plate. Instead, there is just one foul line that runs parallel to and behind home plate. The width of a corkball field might be… infinite since this foul line does not connect to other lines. If you’d want. You may also define the limits of your field. It’s all up to you.

Corkball is another a sport that may be played in a corkball cage. A typical corkball cage is 20 feet wide by 75 feet long. 

Amount of Players

 

For corkball, you’ll need at least four players: two per team. 

A pitcher and catcher are required for each squad. 

You may bring in more players and use them as fielders on the field of play. Teams usually have a maximum of five players.

Taking Part in the Game

  • The game is five innings long, with three outs for each team.
  • A single is a hit that goes at least 15 feet on the ground or in the air.
  • A stroll is defined as five balls.
  • One run may be scored by any combination of four hits and walks. 
  • One of the following scenarios may result in an out:
    • A foul ball is struck by the hitter.
    • The hitter swings and misses, but the ball is caught by the catcher. It is neither a strike or a ball if the catcher does not catch the ball. It’s a stalemate.
    • The hitter hits the ball, which is caught by an opposition fielder before it touches the ground.
    • If the catcher catches both balls, the hitter accepts two called strikes without swinging.
    • The batsman hits the ball with a bunt. (Bunting?! In corkball, there is no bunting!)
    • While swinging, the batter is struck by the corkball.
  • At the completion of five innings, the side with the most runs wins.

That is the basic premise of the game. Provide zones for home runs, triples, doubles, and singles to add variety to how you score the game.

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The distance between home plate and the home run line should be 250 feet. A run is scored when a hit ball crosses the home run line in the air.

At 150 and 200 feet from home plate, further lines may be drawn. 

A single is any ball that falls before the 150 line (but travels at least 15 feet).

A double is any ball that falls between the 150 and 200 yard lines.

A triple is any ball that falls between the 200 and 250-foot lines. 

Because there are no baserunners in corkball, you’ll have to keep track of “ghost runners” on phantom bases in your brain if you’re going to employ singles, doubles, and triples. 

Let’s pretend the first hitter gets a hit. On imaginary first base, there is an imagined runner. 

A double is hit by the second batter. A runner on second advances two bases to third, while a ghost runner on first moves two bases to third (this is the batter that hit the double).  

A triple is hit by the third batter. The ghost runner on third base advances home, and the ghost runner on second base also advances home, leaving just one runner on third base. 

The fourth hitter is hit by a pitch and advances to first base. The third-base ghost runner does not advance. 

That’s all there is to it. You are free to modify these criteria as needed. As previously stated, each team has its own set of homefield regulations. Before you start playing, make sure everyone is on the same page. 

You can play fuzzball if you don’t have an official corkball or corkball bat. Use a broomstick as a bat and a tennis ball with the fuzz burnt off as the ball. The same rules apply as before. 

 

So the next time you’re bored on a spring or summer evening, call up some friends, locate an empty park, and play the fun, quirky game of corkball instead of watching Netflix.

Check out the suitably called website Corkball if you want to learn more about the history and culture of corkball.

 

 

Korfball is a variation on the sport of baseball. It was created in Denmark, and is now played by teams around the world. The history and rules of korfball are detailed here. Reference: what is korfball.

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