The roots of America’s pastime
Who Invented Baseball?
Some say Abner Doubleday. Others say the New York Knickerbockers, the first organized team. Still, others say Albert Spalding or Henry Chadwick.
As we all get cabin fever while winter assaults us from all sides, why not “think warm” with a glimpse into the origins of baseball, our national pastime?
Probably no sport or activity has been the subject of so much myth and historical inaccuracy as has baseball. And in some ways, it isn’t important. Who cares if Babe Ruth “called his shot” at Wrigley Field in 1932? Who cares today if the runner was safe or out at home in the seventh game of the World Series 40 years ago? Who cares why the Cubs can’t find a way to win anything important… Oh, I digress.
But all baseball fans will probably agree that we need to get the origins of our pastime right. So here is a Sun City version of the “real story” on how the game started.
Myth: Abner Doubleday, a Civil War officer in the Union Army, invented the game. He simply figured out a way for soldiers to play ball for recreation, and made up some unique rules in the process.
Myth: Henry Chadwick invented it. Wrong. As one of the first sportswriters to chronicle games in the press, he popularized the sport.
Myth: Spalding? He was a player, manager, owner, publisher, showman, innovator, and sports businessman at the end of the 1800s that changed the game significantly, but he had nothing to do with inventing it.
Fact: No one invented the game. In many ways, everyone did.
The game evolved, over many years, from a British game called rounders, also called town ball, goal ball, stool ball, old cat, and, simply, a game of ball. When something travels from one culture to another, it is changed and adapted while retaining its basic concepts.
Actually, the one man most closely identified as influencing the beginning of American baseball from rounders was Alexander Cartwright, a mid-19th century sea captain, volunteer firefighter, and bank teller who was also a sports enthusiast. Noticing that a group of men consistently gathered to play at a park in Manhattan beginning in 1842, Cartwright encouraged them to organize into a club and establish formal rules for their games. The group did, and in 1845 moved its games to Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey. The Knickerbocker Club drew up a constitution and established the first set of formal playing rules. They have been refined and amended over the years, but their core remains – The four-base diamond, nine innings, three outs, 90-foot base paths, batting in rotation, nine-man teams, each player defending a specific area, throwing runners out, etc.
The Knickerbockers inspired the formation of other clubs and firmly established the standardizing of rules.
In a typical bit of historical hyperbole, the Cooperstown Hall of Fame credits Cartwright with “fathering” baseball, but that’s also myth. He was one of four men on the Knickerbocker rules committee. But he was important; his suggestion that the Knickerbockers form a club marks the beginning of organized baseball in America.
In the 1800s, much of what America became evolved from England, the nation that established the first colonies and initiated what was to become the greatest migration in history from Europe and Africa to America in the latter half of the 19th century. America evolved over time, as did baseball.
Men such as Cartwright, Chadwick, Spalding, and dozens of others influenced the development of the game. But the bottom line is, the thousands of “Town Ball” or “Rounders” guys who played anonymously on sandlots, city parks, and farm fields actually “invented” this game called baseball, simply by playing it, American style.
I present this, as six inches of snow falls, and I dream of spring training and the coming of the latest Cubs “next year.”