Some people believe that a young man named Abner Doubleday, who lived in Cooperstown, New York, during the summer of 1839, was the inventor of the game known as baseball. After that, Doubleday went on to become a Civil War hero, and baseball went on to become America’s most beloved national pastime.
Not only is that storey untrue, but it is also completely out of context. Baseball’s true origins can be traced all the way back to the 18th century, at the very least.
Who was Abner Doubleday, and what was his storey?
A prominent family in upstate New York, Doubleday was still a student at West Point in 1839, and he never claimed to have had anything to do with the sport of baseball. His military service during the American Civil War was diverted, and he later went on to become a lawyer and writer in his own right.
After Doubleday’s death in 1897, a special commission headed by sporting goods magnate and former major league player A.J. Spalding was established to determine the origins of baseball, specifically whether it was invented in the United States or derived from games played in the United Kingdom. The commission’s findings were published in 1907. For its origin storey, the commission relied on flimsy evidence—the claims of a single man, mining engineer Abner Graves, who claimed he attended the same university as Doubleday—and it was successful in keeping it alive.
As early as the 1930s, Cooperstown businessmen and major league officials recognised the power of myth and used it to their advantage by establishing the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in the village.
What Are the Real Origins of Baseball?
However, as it turns out, the true history of baseball is a little more complicated than the legend of Doubleday suggests. In the United States, there have been references to games that are similar to baseball since the 18th century. There are two English games that appear to be its most direct ancestors: rounders (a children’s game that was brought to New England by the earliest colonists) and cricket.
The American Revolutionary War occurred during a time when variations of such games were being played on schoolyards and college campuses across the country, including in Philadelphia. In the mid-19th century, they became even more popular in newly industrialised cities, where men were looking for employment.
The New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club was established in September 1845 by a group of New York City businessmen. One of them, Alexander Joy Cartwright, a volunteer firefighter and bank clerk, would go on to codify a new set of rules that would become the foundation of modern baseball, including a diamond-shaped infield, foul lines, and the three-strike rule, among other things. He also outlawed the potentially lethal practise of tagging runners by hurling balls in their direction.
Cartwright’s modifications made the burgeoning sport faster-paced and more challenging, while also distinguishing it from older games such as cricket, which had previously existed. Against a team of cricket players in 1846, the Knickerbockers played the world’s first official baseball game, ushering in a new and uniquely American tradition.