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You may have heard that a young man named Abner Doubleday invented the game known as baseball in Cooperstown, New York, during the summer of 1839. Doubleday then went on to become a Civil War hero, while baseball became America’s beloved national pastime.
Not only is that story untrue, it’s not even in the ballpark.
Doubleday was still at West Point in 1839, and he never claimed to have anything to do with baseball. In 1907, a special commission created by the sporting goods magnate and former major league player A.J. Spalding used flimsy evidence—namely the claims of one man, mining engineer Abner Graves—to come up with the Doubleday origin story. Cooperstown businessmen and major league officials would rely on the myth’s enduring power in the 1930s, when they established the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in the village.
As it turns out, the real history of baseball is a little more complicated than the Doubleday legend. References to games resembling baseball in the United States date back to the 18th century. Its most direct ancestors appear to be two English games: rounders (a children’s game brought to New England by the earliest colonists) and cricket.
By the time of the American Revolution, variations of such games were being played on schoolyards and college campuses across the country. They became even more popular in newly industrialized cities where men sought work in the mid-19th century.
READ MORE: Oval Office Athletes and the Sports They Played
In September 1845, a group of New York City men founded the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club. One of them—volunteer firefighter and bank clerk Alexander Joy Cartwright—would codify a new set of rules that would form the basis for modern baseball, calling for a diamond-shaped infield, foul lines and the three-strike rule. He also abolished the dangerous practice of tagging runners by throwing balls at them.
Cartwright’s changes made the burgeoning pastime faster-paced and more challenging while clearly differentiating it from older games like cricket. In 1846, the Knickerbockers played the first official game of baseball against a team of cricket players, beginning a new, uniquely American tradition.
Baseball was based on the English game of rounders. Rounders become popular in the United States in the early 19th century, where the game was called "town ball", "base", or "baseball". Alexander Cartwright formalized the modern rules of baseball. Yes, others were making their own versions of the game at the time, however, the Knickerbockers style of the game was the one that became the most popular.
The first recorded baseball game was held in 1846 when Alexander Cartwright's Knickerbockers lost to the New York Baseball Club. The game was held at the Elysian Fields, in Hoboken, New Jersey.
In 1858, the National Association of Base Ball Players, the first organized baseball league was formed.
In 1845, according to baseball legend, Alexander J. Cartwright, an amateur player in New York City, organized the New York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, which formulated a set of rules for baseball, many of which still remain. The rules were much like those for rounders, but with a significant change in that the runner was put out not by being hit with the thrown ball but by being tagged with it. This change no doubt led to the substitution of a harder ball, which made possible a larger-scale game.
The adoption of these rules by the Knickerbockers and other amateur club teams in the New York City area led to an increased popularity of the game. The old game with the soft ball continued to be popular in and around Boston a Philadelphia club that had played the old game since 1833 did not adopt the Knickerbocker or New York version of the game until 1860. Until the American Civil War (1861–65), the two versions of the game were called the Massachusetts game (using the soft ball) and the New York game (using the hard ball). During the Civil War, soldiers from New York and New Jersey taught their game to others, and after the war the New York game became predominant.
In 1854 a revision of the rules prescribed the weight and size of the ball, along with the dimensions of the infield, specifications that have not been significantly altered since that time. The National Association of Base Ball Players was organized in 1857, comprising clubs from New York City and vicinity. In 1859 Washington, D.C., organized a club, and in the next year clubs were formed in Lowell, Massachusetts Allegheny, Pennsylvania and Hartford, Connecticut. The game continued to spread after the Civil War—to Maine, Kentucky, and Oregon. Baseball was on its way to becoming the national pastime. It was widely played outside the cities, but the big-city clubs were the dominant force. In 1865 a convention was called to confirm the rules and the amateur status of baseball and brought together 91 amateur teams from such cities as St. Louis Chattanooga, Tennessee Louisville, Kentucky Washington, D.C. Boston and Philadelphia.
Who Invented Baseball? - HISTORY
For the first half of the 20th century, the origin of baseball was clear enough: A man named Abner Doubleday invented America’s pastime in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York, the present home of the Hall of Fame. It was a good story, especially since Doubleday went on to fight in the Civil War and was instrumental in the defense of Gettysburg as an acting Union Commander.
Unfortunately it wasn’t remotely true. The Doubleday as baseball’s inventor story was popularized by Al Spalding, a former major league player turned sporting goods magnate. In 1905 Spalding, a patriotic type, wanted to prove that baseball was invented by an American. So he formed a group, The Mill’s Commission, to look into baseball’s beginning.
As they gathered evidence, the commission received a letter from an elderly man named Albert Graves who claimed he was there when Doubleday invented baseball on that fateful Cooperstown field. Well, that was enough for Spaulding. He had his American and a war hero to boot!
The only problem is that Graves was crazy. Legitimately nuts, and declared legally insane by a court not long after he wrote his letter to the Commission. (He was on trial because he murdered his wife.) Of course that doesn’t mean he was making up what he saw in Cooperstown. However, years later, when subsequent investigators looked into Doubleday they found that he couldn’t have possibly been in Cooperstown when baseball was supposedly invented because there were clear records of him being at West Point during that time period, getting ready for his military career.
Furthermore, Doubleday was a man who kept detailed records and diaries. Yet he suspiciously never mentioned that he invented — or had anything to do with — the game that had started to become quite popular during his lifetime.
In the story of baseball, Doubleday was sort of the Christopher Columbus figure — the guy who had long been celebrated as being first, but that nobody still thinks was really first. However, Columbus did at least really cross the Atlantic and land in the New World, whereas there is no evidence Doubleday ever even touched a baseball!
So if not Doubleday, who invented baseball? Kind of like who discovered America, nobody knows for sure.
For many years Alexander Cartwright was thought to be the inventor of baseball. And no doubt Cartwright was a big figure in the game’s early development as a co-founder in 1845 of the Knickerbocker Club, which came up with modern baseball rules such as nine on a side, nine innings a game and 90 feet between the bases. (We think we can guess what the Knickerbocker’s club’s favorite number was.)
But, again, subsequent research shows that Cartwright couldn’t have thought up baseball all by himself because he was out West suffering from dysentery, and not back home in New York with his Knickerbocker club brothers, when many of the key rules of modern baseball were first implemented.
So while Cartwright surely had a hand in molding the modern game, so did other club members like William Tucker, Daniel Adams, Duncan Curry, and William Wheaton. Yet none of these men have a plaque in Cooperstown, like Cartwright does. Nor were any of these pioneers officially recognized as baseball’s inventor by the United States’ Congress, as Cartwright was in 1953.
Ayway, developing the modern game isn’t the same as inventing baseball, whether it was done by one man or a group of men. And there is evidence of the word “base ball” used in reference to a baseball-like stick and ball going back to America’s colonial times, a hundred years before even Doubleday was said to have come up with the game.
Most scholars believe that baseball evolved from two English games: rounders and cricket. (Which wouldn’t have made Old Spalding happy.) Like with many things that evolve slowly over time, it’s just about impossible to pin down when baseball was “invented,” let alone who did it.
And that is your admittedly unsatisfactory answer to the question of “who invented baseball?”
How was Baseball Originated?
The question of the origins of Baseball is a matter of debate and controversies for more than a century. Baseball is the modern version of the bat, ball and running games like cricket and rounders which were developed from the folk games in early Britain and Continental Europe.
Baseball was known with the number of names including “Baseball”, “Goalball”, “Roundball”, “Stoolball”, “Fetch-catch”, and only “Base”. The game was evolved from the series of European stickball games, and rules changed over time to create Baseball as we know it today.
In the 1700s, the game was also known as Rounders in Tudor England. In 1744, rounders were referenced in the children’s book “A little pretty pocketbook” where it was called Baseball. By the mid of 18th century, the game had appeared in the south of England which involved striking a pitched ball and then, running the bases to make a circuit.
Then, the English colonists took this game to America as their pastimes with other games. In the early 1800s, the game was played on both sides of the ocean. In the middle of the 19th century, it was a heavily revised sport that became modern Baseball.
The first professional league named the National Association of Professional Baseball Players was founded. Five years later, in 1901, the National League was created and followed by the American League. The first world series was held in 1903 between the champions of two major leagues, and in 1905 it became an annual event.
Albert Catwright is known as the “Father of Baseball” because in 1845 he drafted the set of rules that became the basis for the modern game. The first baseball game played was recorded on June 19, 1846, at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, where Cartwright’s New York Knickerbockers defeated the New York Nine by the score of 23-1.
Who invented baseball?
The 19th Century American soldier Abner Doubleday is famous for only two reasons. The first, is his lackluster performance at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. The second, for the supposed invention of American baseball while he was a cadet at the US Military Academy.
It is now generally regarded as a myth that Doubleday invented baseball (in fact, most books that mention the general make a point of stating that he actually didn't invent the sport - not inventing it seems to be his new claim-to-fame).
So, do we know when and where this sport originated? Recently I saw another member of this forum state that Jane Austen mentioned baseball in one of her novels. Was baseball invented in the UK, then?
Rounders (UK), the origin of Baseball (US).
Rounders is a popular sport for school girls and boys in the U.K. with six million pupils playing the game each year.
Baseball Discovered: Rules of the Game: Rounders | MLB.com: Media Center
[ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rounders"]Rounders - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]
Boy am I glad the game changed. Rounders doesn't seem as much fun as Baseball. I have read that sometime in the 13th century the French noted a game similar to baseball.
For American baseball I would nominate Alexander Cartwright with setting the rules in place and solidifying the game.
Rounders is a popular sport for school girls and boys in the U.K. with six million pupils playing the game each year.
Baseball Discovered: Rules of the Game: Rounders | MLB.com: Media Center
According to Ken Burns' "Baseball" the sport was not truly invented. It sort of evolved out of a host of different ball games, including both Rounders and Cricket. The sports that Baseball evolved from all had English origin, but the evolution occurred entirely in America. And because it "evolved" there is no way to say if any individual invented the sport. One could point to records of the Knickerbockers one of the first baseball clubs, but even with that, I don't think anyone can be sure the game was invented by that club's founder.
It's doubtful that Jane Austin mentioned baseball in any of her novels, as the American version of the game never caught on outside the US prior to the Twentieth Century. More than likely what Austin mentioned was rounders, one of the sports from which baseball evolved and was still played in England, as all of Austin's novels take place in England during the end of George III's reign and the beginning of George IV's reign.
As baseball became more organized in the 1850s, meetings periodically took place between teams and governing bodies to decide on the best weight, dimension and construction of the baseball. Rules were changed, then changed again. In 1854, three New York teams decided they would use balls that weighed 5½ to 6 ounces. The weight changed to between 6 and 6¼ ounces three years later. In 1858, it was decided that the center be made of India rubber. In 1860, everything changed again. The official weight of a baseball was reduced back to 5¾ ounces, then to 5 ½ ounces in 1861, and to 5¼ ounces in 1867. In 1871, it was decided that the weight of the rubber inside should be no more than 1 ounce. This seemed to satisfy everyone, because the baseball did not change again throughout the remainder of the 19th century. As of 2011, MLB rules specify that the center can be made of any rubber or cork and the ball must weigh between 5 and 5¼ ounces.
Through most of the 1800s, a few companies dominated the manufacturing of baseballs as the sport progressed and players gave up on making their own. H.P. Harwood and Sons produced the first commercially made baseballs in 1858. John Van Horn, who also played second base for the Baltic Club in New York, was the leading producer of baseballs in the 1860s. Albert Spalding’s company took over in 1878 and continued to supply the National League until 1977 when MLB switched to Rawlings. In 1998, MLB purchased more than 600,000 baseballs from Rawlings, according to the American Chemical Society.
Who Invented Baseball?
Baseball today is one of the most popular sports in the United States.
The Origins of Baseball
The origin of baseball is unclear, and the subject sparks a controversial debate of whether the sport began in Europe or America. It is undoubted that sports similar to modern day baseball was developed in Europe and played in Britain, France, and Germany. The sports had different names depending on the region including base ball, stool ball, round ball, and base. Some key aspects of the past sport are still practiced to date including players running around the bases and the dismissal of the batter after three strikes.
Folk Games in Europe
Various folk games in Europe portrayed several characteristics that can be seen in modern day baseball, rounders, and cricket. These sports involved throwing a ball a target and an opposition batter protected the target by hitting the ball away from the target and scored points by running around the bases. The games developed in different places and each evolved differently from the other leading to a similar sport with variant forms. Most did not have documented rules, and the players would agree on specific rules before playing. Apart from the names, the games also differed in the tools used. The ball was the standard unifying factor but the way it was used in the game differed.
Evolution of the Term Baseball
The term "baseball" appeared in the early 18th century when religious leader Thomas Wilson disapproved cricket, cudgel-playing, and Morris-dancing from being performed on Sunday. Another model reported by David Block in his book “Baseball Before We Knew It” describes that the term “baseball” evolved from "stoolball" in the early third quarter of the 17 th century. The early form of modern baseball was played by the close relatives and family members of the Prince of Wales in mid-1748. The royal family called the game "Bass-Ball." Several written accounts of famous people in Britain contain the name "baseball" to refer to a sport they engaged in between 1740 and 1770. In 1768 the term was included as an English word in the General Dictionary of the English Language.
The Development of Baseball in America
Records of baseball in America before 1845 are rare and uncertain. Some English historians theorize that baseball evolved from a similar game played in Britain. American historians disregard the version and claim baseball is a purely an American game that was developed in 1839 at Cooperstown in New York State. However, both accounts proved to be wrong as a sport referred to as "base ball," had been played in the country as early as the 1750s. In 1791 Pittsfield, Massachusetts banned all sports involving bats and wickets from within 80 yards of building to prevent of glass hardware in houses. On July 13, 1825, the Delhi Paper of New York published an advertisement undersigning the residents to turn up and compete against the residents of County of Delaware. By the end of 1825 baseball clubs had begun playing the game regularly in Rochester, New York. Although New York was an industries place, the citizens engaged in the sport regularly for recreation and health purposes. Clubs of up to fifty members met daily during the baseball season to practice and engage in competitions. In 1838 the first officially recorded baseball game the continent was played in Beachville, Ontario.
Meanwhile, Black Americans had their own major leagues from 1885-1951, and over the years history has shown it was practically an equal of the major leagues, with its own history and such stars as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and "Cool Papa" Bell. Latin American players also played in the Negro Leagues, and the league played in many of the same stadiums as the majors and had a devoted following.
Finally, in 1946, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey defied the unwritten rule barring Blacks from the major leagues and signed Jackie Robinson to a contract. After a year in the minors, Robinson endured racial bigotry to become a star player for the Dodgers. Because of Robinson's success, other Black players were signed throughout the major leagues, and Robinson became a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement in the United States.
Today in Baseball History: A lie about how baseball was invented is born
Until not too terribly long ago, if you asked most people about the origins of baseball, they’d say “a man named Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, New York in 1839.” They’d say that because, until not too long ago, there was a sign there, right next to the Hall of Fame, saying so. Somewhere around here I have a photo of my brother and I posing next to it from, like, 1983 or something.
That sign — and the underlying belief it espouses — is the product of one baseball’s bigger lies. “The Doubleday Myth,” as it has finally come to be known, about the game’s origin. A myth that was officially put out into the world on this date in 1908 when something called the Mills Commission released a report to that effect, erroneously establishing a baseball creation story that would stick in the public’s consciousness for nearly a century. A report the Mills Commission knew to be false to begin with.
To understand how such a report could be released, one has to understand the ethnic/racial dynamics of the sport in its infancy.
Baseball had been played pretty widely from the 1840s on, became semi-professionalized and then professionalized in the 1860s and 1870s, and was truly becoming the national pastime in the two decades after that. As the game grew in popularity, so too did the number of immigrants playing it. Irish immigrants, mostly. At the same time there was considerable — and quite accurate — sentiment that baseball had evolved from the English game rounders, which is primarily played by school-aged children.
Then, as now, there was a large segment of the population who simply could not tolerate the idea that something they considered truly American to be tainted by the influence of [shudder] foreigners, so they did what people who think that way do, then as now: they simply lied about it.
The first widely-accepted lie about baseball being a truly American sport revolved around Alexander Cartwright, who helped found and led the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in New York and who, in 1845, was credited with writing down the first rules of baseball. And to be sure, he did write down some rules and his club played some very famous early baseball games, but those facts were stretched into the erroneous idea that his rules were derived from the wholly novel — and wholly American — game of “town ball.”
Cartwright was certainly a baseball pioneer, but what he and his club were doing was not novel and did not come from some single, American-born game. Many people involved with baseball would cite Cartwright as its inventor, but the notion that it truly evolved from rounders and some other bat-and-ball games from the British Isles continued to hold currency. Especially after prominent sportswriter Henry Chadwick — a native of England — cited rounders as the progenitor of baseball.
Chicago Cubs president Albert Spalding and National League president Abraham G. Mills didn’t care for that idea. For ideological reasons they truly wanted — truly needed — baseball to be an American game. In 1889, Mills gave a speech in New York declaring that baseball was American based on “patriotism and research.” The audience to whom he spoke lapped it up and began chanting “No rounders! No rounders!” Clearly something other than facts and logic were animating the sentiment. The dispute would continue to boil for some time.
In 1905 Spalding called for an official investigation into how the sport was invented and he totally rigged the investigation in his own favor. The commission consisted of seven men, including Mills and six other men who he already knew to support his theory of baseball being a distinctly American game. He specifically excluded Chadwick and anyone else who had cited rounders as the source.
To give the appearance of rigorous research the committee solicited feedback from the public and received a number of letters from people who had played the game in the middle of the 19th century who offered their recollections. Most of the responses supported the rounders theory, so Spalding and Mills kept asking people until they found an answer they liked. They finally got one from a man named Albert Graves.
Graves wrote a letter in which he claimed that he had seen a man named Abner Doubleday create a diagram of a baseball field and then set up the first baseball game in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. Graves said that Doubleday had invented the game as a modified version of town ball, with four bases on the field and batters who attempted to hit balls thrown by a pitcher standing in a ring with a six-foot diameter. Spalding later pressed Graves for more information and, according to Spalding, Graves supplied him with all manner of information establishing that Doubleday had invented, and even named, baseball.
There were some problems with this, of course. A non-conclusive list:
- Graves was only five years-old in 1839, so the specificity of his memory about whatever it was he said Doubleday was doing was pretty questionable
- Doubleday was a cadet at West Point in 1839 and there was no record of him making the 140 mile trip to Cooperstown, which would’ve entailed many days or possibly weeks away at that time
- Doubleday was a notable man — he attained the rank of major general in the Union Army during the Civil War — whose correspondence and personal records were well-preserved, yet none of that correspondence and none of those records ever mentioned baseball
- Mills was actually close friends with Doubleday but, prior to the Graves letter, never once mentioned a connection between his profession — remember, he was the president of the National League — and his friend Abner
- Is it also worth noting that Albert Graves was later convicted of murdering his wife and spent his final days in an asylum for the criminally insane? Maybe! Maybe not! Just thought I’d add it here!
Doubleday died in 1893, long after baseball had become a professional sport of national scope, so if he had invented it, you figure he or someone who knew him would’ve said at least something about it, but no one did before Graves. Of course, Doubleday dying in 1893 also made it pretty convenient for Spalding and Mills to ascribe traits to him with no one being around to push back.
The Mills Commission accepted Graves story and issued The Mills Commission Report on April 2, 1908, proclaiming Doubleday the inventor of baseball. Not because it had any evidence to back it but because it provided the kind of mythical beginning to a sport they wanted to promote as fundamentally American. A pastoral game, created by a true Yankee who would become a notable American general, not some bastardized English game popularized by Irish immigrants in the grimy city. Heaven forfend.
The Mills report was almost immediately refuted by a number of baseball historians, but it remained the authoritative document on the creation for baseball for decades. Over time, however, more and more people poked holes in the story and then, eventually, began to blast holes in it. By the middle of the 20th century no actual baseball historian of any stature gave credence to the Doubleday myth.
Perhaps the most prominent historian to lambaste the Doubleday myth was John Thorn, who long wrote about its apocryphal nature. Here’s Thorn, writing many years ago in a biography of Doc Adams, who played for the New York Knickerbockers in the 1840s:
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 Knickerbocker game, ostensibly sired by Alexander Cartwright . . . The truth of the paternity question? Eighty-year-old Henry Chadwick had it right when he said in 1904, only one year before the formation of the Mills Commission, “Like Topsy, baseball never had no ‘fadder’ it jest growed.”
I know Thorn and I can tell you, he’s a funny guy, but I suspect he allowed himself to be even more freewheeling than usual with that passage simply because of how well-accepted it was by his peers by that time that the Doubleday story was bunk. It was a subject so thoroughly settled that he didn’t need to lay out a concrete case against Doubleday. It had already been done. It’d be like if an astronaut was talking about flat-earthers. He wouldn’t waste his time establishing the actual shape of the Earth. He’d probably make jokes. Like Thorn did the time he said “Abner Doubleday, Santa Claus, and Dracula, are equally mythic figures.”
All of which made it so shocking when, in October of 2010, then-Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig said this in response to a letter he received from a baseball fan:
As a student of history, I know there is great debate whether Abner Doubleday or Alexander Cartwright really founded the game of Baseball. From all of the historians I have spoken with, I really believe that Abner Doubleday is the “Father of Baseball.” I know there are some historians who would dispute this though.
Selig’s letter was leaked to the press. My personal view at the time was that Selig actually knew better but was offering his version of the “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” thing and was trying to bolster a myth that had, at least for a time, served baseball’s interests. If that was what he was doing it didn’t come through and, in the event, Selig was roundly mocked.
In what I suspect was a response to that mocking, the following spring Selig announced the formation of a committee tasked with studying the origins of the game of baseball. On the committee: John Thorn, who had been named baseball’s official historian two weeks before.
I can’t immediately recall if the committee ever released some official document a la The Mills Report, but I do know that Thorn has written and spoken extensively about baseball’s origins, both on his own and in his capacity as MLB’s official historian, and at no time has he claimed that Abner Doubleday was the “Father of Baseball.” Indeed, if he ever did that, I’d suggest that he had actually been kidnapped and that was a code phrase he was using to alert his friends that he was in peril.
I also know that if there were any official baseball institution or figure who would be a final holdout for Doubleday it’d be someone associated with the Hall of Fame, what with its existence in Cooperstown being premised on the Doubleday myth to begin with.
Former Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson once said “There’s no way of pinpointing where the game was first played. Baseball wasn’t really born anywhere . . . the evolution of the game was long and continuous and has no clear, identifiable single origin.”
He said that over six years before Selig’s letter.
Also today in baseball history:
1931: Chattanooga Lookouts’ relief pitcher Jackie Mitchell, a 17 year-old girl, strikes out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the first inning of an exhibition game. Some claim it was a belated April Fool’s day stunt, accomplished with Ruth and Gehrig’s complicity. Others claim Ruth and Gehrig didn’t take Mitchell seriously and were caught flat-footed.
1972: Mets manager Gil Hodges dies of a heart attack at West Palm Beach, Florida, two days shy of his 48th birthday. Yogi Berra is named manager.
1976: The A’s trade prospective free agents Reggie Jackson and Ken Holtzman, together with a minor league pitcher, to the Orioles for outfielder Don Baylor and pitchers Mike Torrez and Paul Mitchell.
1996: On Opening Day, rookie Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter hits a home run off Dennis Martinez in New York’s 7-1 victory over the Indians at Jacobs Field.
2001: Roger Clemens becomes the all-time AL career strikeout leader, moving ahead of Walter Johnson when he punches out Joe Randa of the Royals, notching his 3,509 AL K.