Archive for the ‘Inventing Baseball’ Category

"Inventing Baseball": Henry Chadwick

March 11, 2009
One of the first box scores ever. This is the man you have to thank.

Henry Chadwick was born on October 5, 1824. Although he would not play a single game of baseball, he would become one of the game’s most important early figures. He was born in Exeter, England, but at the age of 13, he and his family moved to New York. When he first moved to Brooklyn, he became an avid player of cricket and rounders, two popular sports at the time. Aside from cricket (he would give up rounders when he got older), Chadwick was a talented piano player, but instead of teaching or playing piano, Chadwick would become a reporter just like his father had been in England.

As a young cricket reporter, Chadwick ran across a game between the New York Eagles and New York Gothams in 1856 while reporting for the New York Times. He frequented the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, but although he was there to report on cricket, he began to love baseball. He joined the Clipper in 1847 and became a journalist covering baseball. Because of his passion for the game, Chadwick would be an important person for the public’s view of baseball. As an amateur statistician, he reworked box scores for cricket into ones for baseball. Furthermore, he was the editor for The Beadle Baseball Player, the first guide to baseball, and it was here that he created the in-game scoring system, among them the K for strikeout. He would often frequent rules committee meetings in addition to his promotion of the game.

He took it a step further by following the National Base Ball Club of Washington, D.C. around the country as scorekeeper, and he would even help promote a tour of England. Baseball, however, did not always bring pleasant feelings for Chadwick. Chadwick feared the growing enthusiasm for alcohol and gambling among the sport’s players. He worked for the banning of such activities from baseball, but his biggest battle was yet to come.

He was a strong friend of Albert Spalding, but when the Mills Commission (of which Spalding was part) decided to “find” the “inventor” of baseball, he took exception. Chadwick argued that baseball evolved from rounders and cricket, two sports with which he was familiar, and that no one could have invented the game. When Abner Doubleday was named the founder, Chadwick was the first to admonish the decision. Most of baseball called Chadwick a liar, but Chadwick refused to give. Regardless, he was still a strong voice for the game, and he respected the intention to make baseball the “national pastime”.

In 1908, he caught a cold while attending a double-header, but it soon evolved into pneumonia. The disease weakened him for the next few weeks until he died in April of 1908. On his gravestone, it said “Father of Base Ball”, and it had a sphere on top in the shape of a baseball and a square face with small squares etched in the corners to look like bases. Thirty years later, the Veterans Committee would elect him to the Hall of Fame.

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"Inventing Baseball": Daniel Adams

January 23, 2009
Who’s next?

Out of the muck that brought us Abner Doubleday and Alexander Cartwright comes Daniel Adams. Adams was born on November 1, 1814 in Mont Vernon, New Hampshire to a fairly well-known medical doctor also named Daniel Adams (I think the younger’s middle name of Lucius keeps them from being Senior and Junior). The younger Adams followed in his father’s footsteps and began to practice medicine, first in Mont Vernon, then Boston, and finally New York. He took special care of the poor. By the 1840’s, he was a well-respected doctor.

While in New York, Adams discovered baseball. He started out playing with the unorganized New York Base Ball Club (remember how I told you that there was “evidence” of baseball before Cartwright’s rules of 1845; well, here it is), which did not exactly use the same rules Cartwright would later establish (ie. they didn’t use nine men until later), in 1839, but the group quickly dissolved. Some of the younger members decided to found the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in 1845, and Adams was the first president and helped Cartwright with the rules.

One of the crucial breaks with rounders Adams is credited with is the use of a shortstop. Previously, the teams usually had a catcher, pitcher, 3 infielders, and 3 outfielders, but as the game became more popular, which allowed for more players, Adams became the first person to occupy a space other than a base.

Another addition Adams helped bring was the baseball, itself. At the beginning, outfielders had a hard time throwing the ball very far (one reason Adams became shortstop was to add another relay man to get the ball in — the first double-cut! I’m too excited about that) because the ball was too light. A saddler showed him how to use horsehide, so Adams used some rubber pieces, wound them with yarn, and put the horsehide on the outside. The ball wasn’t very hard, but it was a start.

Adams would continue for awhile as Knickerbocker President, adding and refining rules, but he retired sometime around 1862 after marrying. He would also retire from the medical profession around the same time. His last game was an old-timer’s game, but he would continue to teach his children the game.

Adams is another “father” of baseball, but that’s not to be confused with the actual inventor. Like Cartwright, however, he should be credited with the organization and popularization of the game. Despite the influence Adams had on the game, he has not been elected to the Hall of Fame, which is odd but Adams’ contributions haven’t been as well publicized and the Hall of Fame may be tired of awarding plaques to “inventors”. Maybe we can exchange Jim Rice for Adams?

"Inventing" Baseball: Alexander Cartwright

January 17, 2009
The inventor of baseball? Will this question ever be answered?

After debunking the Doubleday Myth, it leads one to wonder how baseball came and spread to become what it is today. The simple answer is Alexander Cartwright.

Alexander Joy Cartwright II was born on April 17, 1820 in New York City, New York as one of six children. A bookseller and volunteer fireman in Manhattan, Cartwright founded the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in 1842. He named the club after the Knickerbocker Fire Engine Company. Originally, they played a version of “townball”, believed to be a descendent of the English game of “rounders”, but Cartwright and the other members thought the game too childish. In 1845, Cartwright sat down and created a more elaborate game for adults as well as writing down the rules to be used for the game. These rules would be the basis for baseball going forward.

There were twenty in the original plan. Several of them remain intact, such as three outs, not being able to throw at runners, and foul balls (among a few others), but some of them have been changed, such as being able to “throw” when one pitches and a strikeout still counting as an out if the ball bounces once into the catcher on the third strike. Townball was already popular in the Northeast, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to see this sport spread as well.

As for how the rules changed from townball, the bases were extended to around 90 feet (“42 paces”), foul areas were added which narrowed the hitting area and alleviated the need for so many players (9 players wasn’t official at first, but the first game used 9 a side and stuck), and runners could not be thrown at (called “soaking” — I have no idea why) which allowed for harder balls to be used.

The first game would be played on June 19, 1846 at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey between the Knickerbockers and the New York Nine, with the Nine winning 23-1 (how do you lose a game you created, especially so badly?). Cartwright didn’t stick around to see how the game spread in the area as he set out for California in 1849 in the Gold Rush. Cartwright, however, brought the game with him and spread it to every city he encountered, using the same rules he set up in New York.

While in California, he came down with dysentery and feared the coming cholera epidemic due to the unsanitary conditions in California. To avoid becoming sicker, he left for Hawaii. He organized some teams on the Hawaiian islands. In 1857, a convention of teams came together to form the National Association of Base Ball Players and became the first organized league. Baseball was thriving.

Unfortunately, history rarely gives us simple answers. Robert Henderson’s 1947 book Bat, Ball, and Bishop gives a lot of credit to Cartwright, and journalists supported that when they looked at Cartwright’s journals in the 1930’s. Others, however, are more skeptical. Some think that giving Cartwright credit just makes him Doubleday’s replacement, still keeping baseball created by one American. Others question the beginning of baseball, saying games were played earlier with essentially the same rules except for minor details such as playing with 7 on a side. Some now believe Daniel Lucius Adams will discredit Cartwright as Cartwright discredited Abner Doubleday.

Still, Cartwright did come up with a set of rules remarkably similar to those of today. He died in Hawaii on July 12, 1892, but it wasn’t until the 1930’s that he received any major credit for setting up and spreading the game. He would be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1938 as a pioneer of the game.

"Inventing" Baseball: The Abner Doubleday Myth

January 14, 2009
Here’s the man. Below is the myth.

I’m kind of starting from scratch in this blog. I don’t want to assume things about myself or my audience. Even though I think most have heard of Abner Doubleday and the truth about the beginnings of baseball, I still want to go back and re-visit baseball’s beginnings. Therefore, this is the first in a series talking about various important people, events, etc. in the making of baseball. This won’t necessarily be as regular as the “This Day in Baseball History” or mini-bios, but they should come up at least once or twice a week for a while when I have some time. Today, we start with uncovering the truth about Mr. Doubleday.

Abner Doubleday was born on June 26, 1819 in Ballton Spa, New York. The son of a Congressman, Abner began practicing as a surveyor and civil engineer before enlisting in the United States Military Academy. He started out in coastal garrisons, fighting in the Mexican-American War, fighting in the Seminole Wars, and eventually ended up at Fort Sumter, where he shot the cannon that started the Civil War. Doubleday was even a hero at the Battle of Gettysburg.

But that isn’t what made him famous. Baseball made him famous. But did he really “invent” the game?

In 1905, Abraham G. Mills started the Mills Commission to look into the invention of baseball. Why would he call such a commission? Well, it started over an argument between Henry Chadwick, a Brit, and Al Spalding, an American. Chadwrick argued that baseball came from a British game called rounders, but Spalding believed baseball to be a purely American sport.

Chadwick, a journalist, was not against baseball in any way. He actually promoted the sport, but when drinking and gambling threatened to ruin it, he railed against the behavior and helped instill a sense of fair play throughout the sport. Spalding, on the other hand, was a powerful and ruthless mogul. He had been a pitcher in his playing days, but he was rich from his sporting goods company (I wonder which one that is). He campaigned to make it “America’s Game”, which obviously would have helped his bottom-line. This is not to say one man was right and the other wrong or one good and the other evil. Chadwick may have seen it his way because he was British and saw America as Britain’s child, inheriting its characteristics, and Spalding, in a fit of trying to make America its own entity (much like a child rebels against his parents to be its own individual), tried to force the issue. Who’s right? We may never know, and we still argue over it. In my experience, Brits think they invented the game and Americans think they invented it, as they both try to take credit for what has become a popular and profitable sport.

Back to Doubleday and the Mills Commission, Mills set out to discover the truth about the beginnings of baseball. A committee was set up to search through the evidence, and the winning story came from a man named Abner Graves. Graves claimed to be a friend of Doubleday at school in Cooperstown in 1839. There, he saw Doubleday scribbling a diamond on a piece of paper. His story was sent in and became the official story.

Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of counter-evidence. First, Doubleday never mentioned baseball in his diaries (while that isn’t exactly conclusive, you would like to think he would say something while alive, he died in 1891, about the sport that was becoming popular if he had invented it). Second, Graves’ story and reputation was sketchy. Later in his life, he killed his wife and went to an insane asylum (not exactly a sterling reputation). Third, there is no evidence Doubleday spent that year in Cooperstown (his parents had moved away, and he was in West Point and had not taken leave). Fourth, there is evidence of rules and pictures of fields that pre-date 1839.

But Mills had found his story. A young man from a small, rural town who attended West Point and had fought in several wars. Later, he found his “evidence”. A small, rotted ball had been found in Graves’ personal effects, and it was sent to and remains in the Hall of Fame as the “Doubleday Ball” because he may have touched it once.

So who really invented baseball? That’s an ongoing argument.

Did the English? There has been a reference in a diary from Lade Hervey in 1748 that stated “baseball”, but without any evidence as to what she is talking about, no one can be sure what she meant. Words change meaning, and someone could have come up with the word thinking they were being creative (I thought about God’s fart being the “Big Bang” before I saw it on Monty Python). As for rounders or cricket, there are a lot of differences between the sports. Cricket and baseball (I’ve seen games of both) have little in common other than a bat and outs. The way they play is significantly different. However, the fact that they do share similarities and that it is a British game does make one believe baseball could at least be an adaptation or improvement of the British game.

Did the Americans? The chances of it being a completely new game is doubtful. The similarities are there (few though they actually are), but someone may have taken some basics and included it in an idea they had for a game. It is plausible, though, that the game was completely new, and any similarities are coincidential. Chances are, someone had an idea for a new game, and they used a sport they liked, rounders, as a guide. Due to spatial concerns or limited number of players, they had to make due.

I guess we may never know. The historian in me cares, but the realist in me doesn’t.