In the first-ever
World Series, in 1903, the Boston Pilgrims (Red Sox) defeated the
Pittsburgh Pirates five games to three. The Series was originally a
This year is also the
100th anniversary of the event that started the great debate over
who "invented" baseball. In this story, we try to find out who
invented baseball. There are two competing stories, and they involve
two men who were born within a year of each other and died within a
year of each other. In fact, both men had died by the time the great
debate began. It was either bank clerk Alexander Cartwright or Civil
War veteran Abner Doubleday, whose great-great-grand-nephew is the
co-owner of the New York Mets.
How the debate began
The debate began when
baseball writer and historian Henry Chadwick, who wrote baseball's
first rule book in 1858, declared in Albert Spalding's "Baseball
Guide" of 1903 that baseball had been derived from an English
game called "rounders."
Al Spalding was a
former major league pitcher and manager for the Chicago Cubs
(originally known as the Chicago White Stockings). Since he didn't
want to accept that the game he loved could have come from the
British, he commissioned a panel in 1904 to determine the game's
origins. The panel, which included two U.S. senators and was chaired
by a former National League president who probably never heard of
Alexander Cartwright, also didn't want to accept the possibility
that baseball might have British roots. Their choice as the inventor
of baseball was a Civil War general named Abner Doubleday.
Doubleday, by the way, has the distinction of being the soldier who
fired the first shot in defense for the Union during the Civil War,
at Fort Sumter.
The only evidence
that the panel had in support of Doubleday was a letter they
received from an elderly man who claimed that he was a boyhood
friend of Doubleday's. In his letter, he claimed that he saw
Doubleday invent baseball in Cooperstown in 1939 when he organized
two teams in a game which included bases and a ball. Most of the
other research for this panel was done by an employee of the
publishing company that Spalding owned.
There was plenty of
evidence to suggest that Doubleday did not invent baseball, though.
For example, Doubleday kept diaries and was a skilled public
speaker, but there was never any mention of baseball in his writings
or his speeches. You would think that a person who invents a new
sport would mention it somewhere along the way.
[to top of
second column in this article]
on the other hand, established many of baseball's basic rules. He
established that the distance between bases is to be 90 feet, that
the game is to be played by nine-person teams for nine innings, and
that each team gets three outs per inning. In addition to adding the
position of shortstop, he eliminated the rule that allowed the
defense to get a runner out by throwing the ball at him! He also
divided the field into fair and foul territory. Many believe that
September of 1845 is when Cartwright invented the game, at age 25,
and his Knickerbocker baseball club played their first game the
following year in Hoboken, N.J.
To further complicate
matters, there were claims that there was a second man named Abner
Doubleday and that the game Doubleday's childhood friend had claimed
to see him invent was actually a form of the British-based rounders
game mentioned earlier, called "town ball." Years later, a baseball
with the cover nearly completely torn off was found in this man's
attic; it became known as the "Doubleday" baseball, and it sits in
the Hall of Fame.
Which man is in the Hall of Fame?
Where can you find
most of this information about Cartwright's contributions to the
On his Hall of Fame
plaque, which also lists him as the "father of modern baseball." His
plaque doesn't claim that he invented the game, while Doubleday is
not in the Hall of Fame.
So who did invent
baseball -- Alexander Cartwright or Abner Doubleday?
You have to decide
for yourself. Even though the evidence favors Cartwright over
Doubleday, no one knows for sure because there wasn't enough proof
at the time -- more than 150 years ago. Plus, there were accounts of
"baseball" being played as early as the 1820s and 1830s in the
Northeast, although those games may or may not have resembled
Personally, I believe
that Al Spalding -- whose company, named Spalding, manufactures
sports equipment -- established his panel for one purpose only: to
manufacture an American origin for baseball.
Paul Niemann never
fulfilled his dream of playing major league baseball, but his dad
and one of his brothers played minor league baseball. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright Paul Niemann
Last week's column in LDN:
"A hunter's dream:
a story about fishing reels,
bows and arrows, and guns"