Cricket is a gentle pastime. Base Ball is War! Cricket is an Athletic Sociable, played and applauded in a conventional, decorous and English manner. Base Ball is an Athletic Turmoil, played and applauded in an unconventional, enthusiastic and American manner.
Adrian Constantine “Cap” Anson was born on April 17, 1852 in a log cabin in Marshalltown, Iowa. He was the youngest son of Henry and Jeannette Rice Anson. Henry and Jeannette Anson had moved westward to the area from New York state with their oldest son, Sturgis, in a covered wagon, and young Adrian was the first pioneer child born in Marshalltown. Jeannette Anson died when Adrian was merely seven years old.
Henry Anson enrolled his sons in a preparatory course at the College of Notre Dame, and then later again at the state college in Iowa City (now the University of Iowa), but Adrian Anson was more interested in baseball and skating than in his studies. As a teenager, Adrian earned a place on the town baseball team, the Marshalltown Stars. With Henry Anson playing third base, Adrian’s brother Sturgis in centerfield, and Adrian at second base, the Stars went on to win the Iowa state championship in 1868.
In 1870, the Rockford Forest City baseball club and its star pitcher, Al Spalding, came to Marshalltown for a pair of games. The Forest City team won both games, but the Anson men played so well that Rockford management sent contract offers to all three of the Ansons. Henry and Sturgis turned the offer down, but Adrian accepted and joined the Forest City team in the spring of 1871.
Adrian Anson batted .325 for Rockford while playing third base, but the team disbanded at the end of the season. He was then signed by the Philadelphia Athletics, where he batted .415 in 1872, third best in the National Association. In 1874, Cincinnati Red Stockings manager Harry Wright and pitcher Al Spalding organized a three-week trip to England. Both the Athletics and the Red Stockings sailed across the Atlantic to play both baseball and cricket in front of British crowds. Anson led both teams in hitting throughout the tour, and he and Spalding developed a friendship during this trip, as well.
Anson’s numbers declined slightly in 1874 and 1875, but he still captured the attention Chicago White Stockings president William Hulbert. Anson signed with Chicago, and he went on to be named captain-manager of the club in 1879, moving across the diamond to play first base. His new role as captain-manager led to his nickname, “Cap,” short for “Captain Anson.” Under Anson’s leadership, the White Stockings won five pennants between 1880 and 1886. Anson introduced new tactics to the game, including the use of a third-base coach, having fielders back up one another, signaling batters, and the pitching rotation.
Anson played twenty-two seasons for Chicago, hitting at least .300 in twenty of those years. He led the league in RBIs eight times between 1880 and 1891, winning batting titles in 1881 and 1888. He retired after the 1897 season at the age of forty-five, having collected big league records for games, hits, at-bats, doubles and runs. He also finished with 3,081 hits, making him the first player ever to cross the 3,000-hit line.
After leaving Chicago, Anson managed the New York Giants for 22 games in 1898 before his big league career came to an end. He died on April 14, 1922 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.
Yesterday, I took part in the Library of Congress’s online webinar entitled “Batter Up! Baseball at the Library of Congress.” Hosted by Peter Armenti of the LoC, the webinar covered the early years of the game, sharing a variety of slides from the LoC’s collection.
Bat and ball games have been around in a variety of forms for a long, long time. What I didn’t realize was that versions of bat and ball games went back as far as ancient Egypt (though, the concept of hitting a ball with some form of club is honestly very elementary, so I don’t know why this surprised me).
The webinar debunks the Abner Doubleday myth, which claimed Doubleday invented the game in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York, pointing out that early incarnations of baseball existed well ahead of the time of Doubleday’s supposed founding of the game. For example, a game known as “Base Ball” was referred to in The Pretty Little Pocket Book in 1787, though the images of the game in said book look nothing like today’s pastime.
Base Ball gets referenced in a number of sources after that, including this 1823 article:
Industrialization and urbanization in the nineteenth century contributed to the rapid growth of the game. Other sports, including horse racing and boxing, were popular at the time, but the appeal for these did not match the appeal of baseball. Over time, the separation between work and play grew more pronounced in America, and baseball became a popular form of leisure in the off hours of industrial workers. Over time, the rules of the game evolved, and in the mid-nineteenth century, the New York Knickerbockers were founded, leading to a greater standardization of baseball rules.
The webinar goes into the development and codification of rules, including the establishment the 90-foot distance between bases, nine players per side, the elimination of “soaking,” and so on. There were two versions of the game at first, the Massachusetts and the New York games, but in the end, the New York version of baseball won out.
In the meantime, baseball spread rapidly, including a club in San Francisco in the mid-1800s that became California’s first (known) ball club. The outbreak of the Civil War also contributed to the spread of baseball’s popularity.
Baseball was also being played within the black population in the late-nineteenth century, and women also participated in the game as well. The webinar did not go into a lot of detail regarding these, but it did at least touch on them.
In 1868, it became allowed (publicly) for players to get played (some players had been receiving under-the-table compensation prior to this). In September of that year, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first all-professional ball team, bringing an end to the amateur baseball era. The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players then became established in 1871, then today’s NL was established in 1876.
The Doubleday myth, as we know now, was the brainchild of Albert Spalding and the Mills Commission at the turn of the century. Spalding despised the idea that baseball evolved from the English game of rounders, as was argued by Henry Chadwick, and thus he set out to prove its American origins. Spalding released the commission’s findings of baseball’s origins in 1905. The results were deemed official by the end of 1907, then published in Spalding’s Base Ball Guide in 1908.
The webinar picks apart the arguments of the Mills Commission, pointing out that it is not possible that Doubleday could have invented baseball. Doubleday’s own lack of mentioning the game aside, the events outlined by the commission regarding baseball’s findings did not match up with the events of Doubleday’s life.
The webinar concluded with a brief question-and-answer session. The bit about ancient Egypt aside, I can’t say I learned much new from the session, which naturally is going to happen when you attend a webinar about something you like to study anyhow. However, it’s always nice to get a refresher on things, and the Library of Congress did a great job with this.
In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing base, a certain game of ball…Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms…the game of ball is glorious. ~Walt Whitman
Thus begins the first disc of Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns. This is a series that I’ve checked out from the library and started watching multiple times, yet never managed to finish. In an effort to change this, I’ve decided to commit myself to writing about each “Inning” of the series here. This way, I have a form of accountability to encourage me to get through the whole thing.
Approximately the first twenty minutes of the first disc serve as kind of a nostalgic, feel-good introduction to the series and the game. Images of Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, and several others flash across the screen to a background of melodic music and various speakers ruminating about what an incredible game baseball is.
The First Inning then begins with the myth of baseball’s founding by Abner Doubleday. Burns describes the story behind Doubleday’s supposed invention of the game, then immediately refutes it, asserting that Doubleday likely never even saw a professional game. Baseball, rather, is most likely a direct descendant of two British sports: rounders and cricket. The game went through multiple variations until the founding of the New York Knickerbockers and the codification of rules by Alexander Cartwright. Henry Chadwick soon appears on the scene and becomes instantly enamored with baseball. Chadwick went on to invent the box score, using statistics to track players’ performances. The National Association of Base Ball Players was then formed to help maintain control over the sport and further codify the rules.
The outbreak of the American Civil War presented a disruption to organized baseball. On the other hand, it also served to help spread the game’s popularity as soldiers returning home at the end of the war took knowledge of the sport with them. In spite of the end of slavery, black teams found themselves banned from organized leagues. Women and girls, also, struggled for the right to play ball, as it was deemed too violent and dangerous for the fairer sex.
Burns chronicles the evolution of baseball from its status as an amateur pastime to a professional sport — a business. It is evident from his focus on the establishment of the reserve clause that Burns intends to delve into the subject further. It only makes sense to do so, of course, given the impact that this clause would have on the occurrence of so many events throughout the game’s history. Burns also puts some attention on gambling, which, as we know, would also impact baseball’s timeline of events.
The First Inning covers the development of the NL, the AA, the Players’ League, and the rise of Albert Spalding. A number of players are introduced, including Cy Young, Cap Anson, King Kelly, and John McGraw. We also meet Moses Fleetwood Walker and the bigotry he faced in the big leagues as a black player. This, followed closely by a discussion of Branch Rickey’s early life, present a foreshadowing recognizable by anyone familiar with the game’s history.
Most histories I have seen covering this period in baseball seem to treat the game with a kind of veneration. Personally, this is perhaps my favorite period in the game’s history to learn about, possibly in part due to this sense of awe that it brings out about baseball. So much of what happens next has already been established, yet there is still something pure and clean about baseball during the 19th century.
On May 18, 1875, writer Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) attended a game between the Boston Red Stockings and the Hartford Dark Blues. A record crowd of 10,000 fans attended the match-up between the two teams, both undefeated up to this point in the season. The visiting Red Stockings defeated the Dark Blues, 10-5, led by captain and pitcher, Albert Goodwill “Al” Spalding.
During the game, a young boy snagged an umbrella belonging to Clemens when he stood up to root for the home team. A couple days later, Clemens published the following notice in the Hartford Courant newspaper:
To the Public
TWO HUNDRED & FIVE DOLLARS REWARD–At the great baseball match on Tuesday, while I was engaged in hurrahing, a small boy walked off with an English-made brown silk UMBRELLA belonging to me, & forgot to bring it back. I will pay $5 for the return of that umbrella in good condition to my house on Farmington avenue. I do not want the boy (in an active state) but will pay two hundred dollars for his remains. Samuel L. Clemens.
Spending $800 to start, former baseball player Albert Spalding founded a sporting goods company on February 3, 1886. Spalding became the manufacturer of the first official baseball, and would also become the first manufacturer of the official tennis ball, basketball, golf ball, and football.
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.
The first baseballs were hand-made. One of the first styles of baseball used in the mid-nineteenth century is known today as the “Lemon Peel” or “Rose Petal” baseball, due to the way it was stitched: a single piece of leather with four “petals” that were stitched around to cover the middle. Inside the leather, a solid core was wound up in string or yarn. The core itself could be any solid material, and sometimes, the baseball would also be stuffed with some other substance. The leather used to make the ball was dark, since dark leather was readily available and it was easier for a player to spot a dark ball against a clear sky. White baseballs were not used until 1861, when it was agreed that white would be easier to see against a backdrop of wooded surroundings.
Since they were typically made by players or local vendors, the first baseballs did not have a standard size or weight. Until 1845, baseballs were also significantly lighter and softer than they are today. One of the early rules of the game allowed that runners could be “soaked,” or hit with the ball, in order to be put out. In 1857, the first baseball convention was held in New York, where fifteen New York teams voted on standard dimensions for the ball: it was to be 10 to 10.25 inches in circumference and to weigh 6 to 6.25 ounces.
“Figure Eight” stitched balls, which resembled the baseballs of today, were first created in the 1840s, though their use did not become popular until the 1870s. These baseballs were not hand-stitched, but rather, professionally manufactured. They were typically made to weigh 5.75 to 6 ounces and measured 9.75 to 10 inches in circumference. By comparison, today’s regulation baseballs are required to weigh 5 ounces, measure 9 inches in circumference, and possess 108 stitches. At the second baseball convention in 1858, it was determined that a baseball’s core was to consist of India-rubber, be wrapped in yarn, then covered in leather.
In 1878, the Spalding baseball became the official baseball of the National League. In 1883, Albert Spalding purchased Reach Sporting Goods, which had been supplying the official baseball of the American Association, thus giving Spalding a monopoly over the supply of major league baseballs. The Rawlings baseball replaced Spalding’s in 1977.
Today, the core of a baseball consists of a cork nucleus, weighing half-an-ounce, which is encased in two rubber layers and then machine wound in nearly a mile’s worth of yarn. This yarn-ball center is then coated in rubber cement and covered by two figure eight-shaped pieces of cowhide, which are sewn together with 108 cotton red stitches.
Thanks to the 1992 comedy-drama, A League of Their Own, how many of us have not heard this classic line? The movie dramatizes for us the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. When World War II broke out, and many of the men in Major League baseball were called to away to serve, the prosperity of professional baseball was threatened. In order to keep the sport alive (and to salvage some lost profits), baseball owners created the AAGPBL, scouted women players across the country, dressed them in skirts, and sent them out to play ball.
However, women’s involvement in baseball existed long before World War II. In New York and New England, baseball was being played in women’s colleges as early as the mid-nineteenth century. In 1867, Philadelphia played host to an African-American women’s team, the Dolly Vardens. One great story you might have heard involves Jackie Mitchell of the Chattanooga Lookouts. As a pitcher during an exhibition game in the 1930s, Mitchell struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Unfortunately, this event was quickly promoted as a mere publicity stunt, rather than a serious effort on the parts of Ruth and Gehrig.
Today, there persists a distinction between baseball as a male’s game and softball as a female’s game, but this separation did not exist until the 1890s when softball was invented. For three decades prior to this, however, women played baseball, even as baseball leaders like Albert Spalding promoted it as a “manly” or “gentleman’s” game. No doubt they looked ridiculous, as the uniforms of college women ballplayers consisted of baseball caps and full-length dresses, but women loved playing the game and they proved themselves to be just as competitive and physical as their male counterparts. Unfortunately, society considered it too strenuous and unhealthy for women to engage in too much travel or competition, and as a result, women’s college baseball was confined to existing as an intramural sport, rather than an intercollegiate one. As a result of the sexism of the period, from males and females alike, women’s attempts to establish themselves in baseball were doomed to failure.
As fans, however, the presence of women at baseball games was often encouraged. It was believed that the presence of women would help to discourage the fighting and cat-calling that sometimes happened at the ballpark. In the late-nineteenth century, Ladies’ Day promotions came into being, in an attempt to attract women fans to games. By 1900, middle-class women were attending ballgames throughout the country. In 1909, the National League, convinced that women had become sufficiently interested in the game to start paying for admission, brought an end to the Ladies’ Day promotion.
While the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was certainly a breakthrough for women in the sport, baseball owners made it clear that the league was only temporary, and there was to be no question that those who played were women first and baseball players second. From the short skirts and team names to the mandatory chaperones and strict rules on the women’s behavior, every measure was taken to reassure the public and the girls’ families that their femininity would remain intact.
The sport of softball continues to flourish today, but questions continue to circulate about its impact in perpetuating sexist stereotypes. The common belief is that due to the physical differences between men and women, confining them to separate sports helps to maintain a fair playing field and protects women from needless injuries. But when you think about it, baseball is a game that requires coordination, timing, knowledge of the game, control, and competitiveness — all characteristics that are not exclusively male. Sure, perhaps strength and size can be useful assets, but even male players like Ichiro Suzuki have proven that they are not absolute essentials to being successful ballplayers. And I know from personal experience that, out of the playing field, girls can be just as brutal and ruthless as the guys, if not more so. After all, baseball is considered to be “America’s Pastime,” and as the AAGPBL Victory song points out, “we’re All-Americans” too.