Ken Burns’s Baseball: The First Inning

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.

 


Doc Adams and the Laws of Baseball

While I’ve heard the name Doc Adams before, though my familiarity was merely a vague one — and, really, continues to remain vague at the present time.  Clearly, however, I’m going to have to change this.  Headlines yesterday announced the sale of 1857 papers called the “Laws of Baseball” for $3.26 million at an auction.  Written by Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams in 1856 or 1857 (sources vary), the documents seem to indicate that Adams is the true father of  modern baseball, rather than Alexander Cartwright.

Adams had played for the New York Base Ball Club in 1840 and started playing for the New York Knickerbockers five years later, continuing to play into his forties.  Adams is credited with creating the shortstop position, thus named for the task of fielding short throws from outfielders.  He also determined that the bases should be 90 feet apart, the modern distance, and supported the elimination of the “bound rule,” which allowed for balls caught after one bounce to be recorded as outs.

Personally, I would love the opportunity to sit down with those papers and read them over.  I would really be curious to see someone compare them to the present-day MLB rule book and analyze the evolution of the game in that fashion.

More information about the sale can be found at:
‘Laws of Base Ball’ documents dated 1857 establish new founder of sport (ESPN)
Historic ‘Laws of Baseball’ documents sell for more than $3M (USA Today)
‘Laws of Base Ball’ sold for more than $3 million at auction (Sporting News)
Laws of Baseball documents turn a $12K investment into $3.26 million at auction (Examiner.com)

Daniel_Doc_Adams

Doc Adams (Wikipedia)


This day in baseball: Baseball’s father is born

Considered the “father of baseball” by many, Alexander Cartwright was born on April 17, 1820 in New York City.  Cartwright would go on to codify the first set of written baseball rules, known as the “Knickerbocker Rules” or the “Cartwright Rules,” for the game as we know it today.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938.

New York Times


Alexander Cartwright

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.

Photo source: Baseball-Almanac

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.

The New York Knickerbockers, circa 1847 (Photo source: Wikimedia Commons)

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.

____________________________________________

Sources:

“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


This day in baseball: The birth of the newspaper box score

On 22 October 1845, the first known box score appeared in the New York Morning News.  This was one month after Alexander Cartwright and the Knickerbockers created the first set of written rules for the game.

Photo source: ourgame.mlblogs.com


This day in baseball: Organized baseball is born

Elysian Fields in Hoboken (Photo source: 19c Base Ball)

The very first organized baseball game is said to have been played on 19 June 1846.  The contest took place between Alexander Cartwright’s New York Knickerbockers and the New York Nine.  Cartwright himself umpired the game, which was played on Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey using Cartwright’s rules for play.  The New York Nine defeated the Knickerbockers 23-1.