Alexander Cartwright is often referred to today as The Father of Modern Baseball. Unlike Abner Doubleday, whose involvement in the beginnings of baseball is virtually a proven myth, Cartwright’s role in the establishment of this great game is more soundly documented. In 1845, Cartwright and the members of the New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club codified the first set of rules and regulations for the game as we recognize it today. The rules were widely adopted and eventually evolved into the modern game.
Variations of rules for early baseball existed before Cartwright, but it was the Knickerbockers who first committed a set of regulations to paper. Cartwright is credited with publishing the idea of foul territory, for eliminating the practice of “soaking” (that is, throwing the ball at the runner as a method for getting him out), and for setting the distance between bases (though, at the time, was still a vague definition, described as “forty-two paces” from first base to third and from home plate to second base). For a list of the Knickerbocker Rules, click here.
Born April 17, 1820 in New York, New York, Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr. was the son of a merchant sea captain. In 1836, at the age of sixteen, Cartwright began working as a clerk in a broker’s office on Wall Street, Coit & Cochrane. He later worked as a clerk for Union Bank of New York. After working hours, Cartwright could usually be found on the streets playing games of ball with other New York men. When the Union Bank burned down in a fire in 1845, Cartwright joined his brother, Alfred, as a bookseller.
Naturally, Cartwright had a life outside of work and playing ball. On June 2, 1842, he married Eliza Van Wie, and the couple went on to have three children: DeWitt, Mary, and Catherine Lee. Additionally, Cartwright served as a volunteer fireman. At one point, he served at the Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 12, which, it is believed, may be how the young men who played ball with Cartwright named their club.
In September of 1845, Cartwright and the rest of the Knickerbockers traveled across the Hudson River to Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey. Here they drew up the constitution and bylaws which became known as the “Knickerbocker Rules” or the “Cartwright Rules.” They played their first recorded game on October 6, 1845 and recorded their first game against another team on June 19, 1846 against the New York Club. The New York Club won the game 23-1.
Details about Cartwright’s life from 1846 to 1849 remain vague. After gold was discovered in California in 1848, Cartwright decided to head west in March 1849. Some claim that, on his way to California, Cartwright played and taught baseball all across the plains, but these claims remain unsubstantiated. Shortly after arriving in California, Cartwright sailed to Hawaii in August 1849. Here he became a bookkeeper in a ship chandler’s business. He also served as fire chief of Honolulu from 1850 to 1863. He and Eliza had two more children in Honolulu, Bruce and Alexander III.
In 1875, King Kalakaua, for whom Cartwright served as financial advisor, became the first Hawaiian monarch to attend a baseball game. The game was played between the Athletes and the Pensacolas. Whether Cartwright had a role in introducing baseball to Hawaii, however, remains unclear. Nor is he mentioned in playing a role in the 1888-89 World Tour of Albert Spalding’s Chicago White Stockings, which included a trip to Honolulu.
Alexander Cartwright died on July 12, 1892. His obituary, published in the Hawaiian Gazette and the Pacific Commercial Advertiser stated, “To publish more than an epitome of the eventful life of A. J. Cartwright is not practicable in a work of this character. He was one of the early argonauts of California, and his biography would, if exhaustively written, be extremely interesting. It would indeed fill a volume, and be an invaluable text book [sic] to place in the hands of the rising generation to reflect upon and emulate.”
Cartwright was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938.
“Alexander Cartwright.” Baseball Reference, 2011. Sports Reference, LLC, 2000-2013. Web. Accessed 20 December 2013. http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Alexander_Cartwright
Cartwright, Alexander. “The Knickerbocker Rules.” 23 September 1845. The Baseball Almanac. Baseball-Almanac. Web. Accessed 20 December 2013. http://www.baseball-almanac.com/rule11.shtml
“Cartwright, Alexander.” National Baseball Hall of Fame. Web. Accessed 18 December 2013. http://baseballhall.org/hof/cartwright-alexander
Nucciarone, Monica. “Alexander Cartwright.” SABR Baseball Biography Project. Society for American Baseball Research, 2013. Web. Accessed 19 December 2013. http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/09ed3dd4