The history of Baseball is riddled with stories about the origins of the game of baseball and its place in American history. Myths have been uncovered and historical facts corrected as the game itself grew into what is now called, America’s past time.
John Thorn, heralded baseball writer and historian, writes;
"The history of baseball is a lie from beginning to end, from its creation myth to its rosy models of commerce, community and fair play. The conventional tale of the game's birth is substantially incorrect-not just the Doubleday fable, pointless to attack, but even the scarcely less legendary development of the Knickrbocker game, ostensibly sired by Alexander Cartwright".
Here l will expose the story behind two of these historical myths and share the real story behind what happened during that time in the history of baseball.
Abner Doubleday himself never claimed to have invented or even played the game baseball. Moreover he never mentions baseball in any of his diaries, letters or papers. In spite of those facts Abner Doubleday was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and credited with being the inventor of the game of baseball.
Abner Doubleday’s name was, for all practical purposes, magically pulled out of the hat. His induction into the Hall of Fame was the byproduct of one man’s (A.G. Spalding) quest to discredit any European claim of influence in the development of the game of baseball (More about Spalding later).
The British games of Rounder and Cat were being played along with Baseball but Rounder held the distinction of being played on a diamond shaped field which closely resembled that of baseball. Both games having their roots in Europe, provided fuel to an American quest to claim ownership of the game of baseball.
This myth is a product of half truths and the omission of previously documented data. What is true about Alexander Cartwright is that he was one of the four original officials of the “Knickerbocker Baseball Club". Cartwright, along with Duncan Curry (President), William Wheaton (Vice President) and William Tucker (Secretary/Treasurer) were all founding members of the club which was officially formed on September 23, 1845.
Cartwright’s induction into the Hall of Fame and subsequent Hall of Fame plaque were due, in part, to the tireless efforts of his grandson’s (Bruce) pursuit to glorify his grandfather’s legacy through “typescript” of his grandfather’s Gold Rush journal, which has survived but contains no remarks about baseball. Much of what he memorialized was grouse embellishments and others were pure fabrication.
Cartwright did not author the Original 20 rules; rather it was a much more collaborative effort involving several club officials with Cartwright receiving full credit.
One of the most misleading tributes to Cartwright's contribution to the history of baseball is in the wording on the Hall of Fame Plaque. Along with declaring Cartwright as "The Father of Modern Baseball" the plaque gave Cartwright credit for three rules that simply are not accurate.The plaque credits Cartwright for setting the bases 90ft apart, establishing a 9 inning game and a 9 player team.
The real story lies in the contributions made to the history of baseball by Daniel Lucius Adams.
The New York Knickerbockers were one of the first organized baseball teams which played under a set of rules similar to the game today. The team was founded by Alexander Cartwright, considered one of the original developers of modern baseball.
Duncan Curry (left, front row), Daniel “Doc” Adams (center, front row), Henry Tiebout Anthony (right, front row), Alfred Cartwright (left, back row), Alexander Cartwright (center, back row), William Wheaton (right, back row),
In 1846 Daniel “Doc” Adams was elected President of the Knickerbocker Club and two years later he headed the Committee to revise the clubs Constitution and By-Laws with Cartwright serving under him. Along with Adams and Wheaton, Louis Fenn Wadsworth also served on that committee but baseball history has been virtually silent about their contributions to the history of baseball.
Daniel “Doc” Adam’s influence to the history of baseball was his invention of the shortstop position. That position became necessary because the first baseballs were light and could not be thrown much over 200 feet. The shortstop would assist in relaying the ball back to the pitcher.
It was, in fact, Doc Adams who set the distance between bases at 90 feet, lobbied tirelessly to eliminate the bouncing-ball-out rule, (A rule he called Sissy) set the pitching distance at 45 feet, established the 9 inning game and the 9 player team, not Cartwright.
Under Adams’ presidency the Knickerbockers became the organizational model for all of the early clubs. The Knickerbockers team and their style of play (New York Style) would dominate baseball from 1840 through the 1850s.
Albert Goodwin Spalding, born September 2, 1850, bears the responsible for the proliferation of these two historical myths.
Albert Spalding gained prominence when playing baseball for a Junior Nine team in Rockford, IL,. form 1863 to 1866. His influences on the history of baseball were so significant that it affected how the history of baseball was written.
As a player Spalding amassed personal player records that would ultimately lead him into the Hall of Fame. His real influence, however, was made, after his playing days, through the massive wealth he accumulated as a sporting goods manufacturer.
After leaving baseball as a player and devoting his time to his off field business, Spalding ventured into the print media and published a league book containing the baseball constitution, season statics and current playing rules.
Spalding used this forum as a promotional tool for spreading the word about the game of baseball but his hidden agenda was to show off the vast array of baseball related produced his company produced and sold. By 1877 Spalding Sporting Goods Company was supplying all the official Game Balls for both amateur and professional baseball.
Spalding companies supplied;
In some cases they were the exclusive supplier as Spalding would buy up the competition and continue selling under their old name to give the impression of competition.
Albert Spalding’s baseball Hall of Fame performance coupled with his ownership of the wildly successful Spalding Sporting Goods Company, made him a baseball Icon. With tons of money and a huge ego Spalding fashioned himself the ambassador of baseball and his influences to the history of baseball cannot be overstated.
By the 19th century Albert Spalding was literally the governing body of the National League.
Spalding’s lifelong ambition was to discredit any European claim of ownership to the game of Baseball. In his eyes Baseball was born in the United States and was American made.
At odds with an article written by Henry Chadwick decreeing baseball as the evolutionary cousin of the British game of rounder, Albert Spalding commissioned a group of long-time baseball men and high-profile governors to explore Chadwick’s assertion.
This group (The Mills Commission) had one purpose, find evidence that would establish that the game of baseball was an American invention.
In April of 1905, 71 year old Abner Graves, columnist for The Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio, fabricated a story claiming to have seen Abner Doubleday drawing a baseball field in the dirt from a drawing he had on paper.
That story was later published in the Beacon Journal and titled “Abner Doubleday Invented Baseball”. That was all the evidence the Commission needed and Doubleday would soon be inducted into the Hall of Fame and officially named the Father of Baseball.
The game of baseball has touched the very fabric of humankind and has spread across our planet like a virus. This magical game is played on almost every continent on our planet.
Our love of the game of baseball in America started as America was struggling for independence. Everything that we did was fueled by our desire for independence, (Doing things our own way). Making the game of baseball a different game than its European variations was clearly our ultimate goal.
Historian will continue to uncover new truths and provide a much clearer picture of the history of baseball , the game we find so infectious. As Baseball Fans we deserve the absolute truth about the History of Baseball but clearly it is hard to find.
I applaud the tireless work being done by baseball puristic, on both sides of the ocean, in uncovering the real Truth.
The answer to the question of "Who invented Baseball", may take a little more time to fully unfold.
It may be a question that is so complicated that it will be impossible to answer.
Eighty-year-old Henry Chadwick may have said it best,.......“Like Topsy, “Baseball had no ‘fadder’; it jest growed.”