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.
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)
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
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.
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.