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Tagged as: baseball, Cincinnati (OH), Hamilton County.
”The Origins of Modern Day Baseball”
It is difficult to pinpoint the origins of modern day baseball to one specific sport, one specific moment, or one specific man. The game borrows from English games such as cricket, rounders, and stoolball, as well as early American games called cat-ball and town ball. On September 23, 1845, a New Yorker by the name of Alexander Cartwright was credited with publishing the “20 Original Rules of Baseball.” These rules became known as the Knickerbocker Rules (named after Cartwright’s New York Knickerbocker team), and Cartwright’s association with them earned him the nickname, “The Father of Baseball.” The first recorded game played under these new rules of base ball occurred on June 19, 1846. In the first few years of the Knickerbocker Rules, the game was regionalized to teams primarily from the New York and New England areas, but Cartwright reportedly introduced the game to many American towns during his “gold rush” trip to California. In 1857, sixteen clubs from New York City sent delegates to a convention in an effort to standardize the rules of the game. That same year, the first governing body for baseball, the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), was established.
The American Civil War was actually a boon for the fledgling sport of base ball (so described as two words in most publications until the change to a single word somewhere between 1910 and 1930). Although the NABBP was founded by clubs from the New York Cityarea, base ball was being played in the north and the south during the War Between the States. The movements of soldiers over great distances, as well as the exchange of prisoners, helped spread the game’s rules and style of play over a wide area of the country and among men from a variety of cultural backgrounds. The game provided soldiers with a means of escape from the hardships of war, and in so doing, a foundation was planted for the sport to become America’s pastime. The sport allowed a further kinship to be developed between the men, the importance of teamwork was accentuated, and the boosts in morale that the game afforded helped to weave the game of base ball into the lives of Civil War soldiers. A private in the 10thMassachusetts wrote:
“The parade ground has been a busy place for a week or so past, ball-playing having become a mania in camp. Officer and men forget, for a time, the differences in rank and indulge in the invigorating sport with a schoolboy’s ardor.”
Some notable Civil War era base ball contests that have been chronicled include one of the biggest sporting events in 19th century America which saw the 165th New York Infantry take on another New York Regiment’s All-Star Nine in front of 40,000 troops on Christmas Day 1862 at Hilton Head,South Carolina. In 1863, two teams of Union soldiers began a game inAlexandria,Texas, but the game was interrupted by a Confederate attack. According to Union Solider George Putnam:
“…the centerfielder was hit and was captured, left and right fielders managed to get back to our line. The attack was repelled without serious difficulty, but we had lost not only our centerfield, but the only baseball in Alexandria,Texas.”
In 1864, POWs from the 11thMississippi staged a series of contests at a Union Prison Camp in Sandusky, Ohio, billed as the Confederate Club vs. Southerners. And in 1865, soldiers from both sides played a game of base ball to pass the time following General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.
After the Civil War ended, men returned to their homes, north and south, to share their knowledge of the new game they had learned. Organized base ball grew in popularity and served as a means to unite a country that was so torn apart by the brutal five year conflict. Although the NABBP rules forbade non-amateurs from competing, some clubs paid players, either secretly or indirectly, to play the game of base ball. To discourage this underhanded behavior, the NABBP established a professional category of competition during a December 1868 meeting. As a result, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became base ball’s first all professional team with ten salaried players in 1869. When the National League was established in 1876 with eight charter teams and every player being paid a salary, the sport of base ball had not only cemented its presence as the national pastime, but it also had established a foundation that would become intertwined into the American economy.
“The Myth of Abner Doubleday”
Abner Doubleday is probably most widely associated with stories that pinpoint him as the man who invented the game of base ball in a field inCooperstown, New York, in 1839. Doubleday was born in Balston Spa, New York, in 1819, and he did eventually live in Cooperstown with his uncle and attended a private preparatory high school there. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1838, and eventually rose to the rank of Major General. He allegedly aimed the first cannon that fired the retaliatory strike against the Confederates at Fort Sumter, and at Gettysburg, Doubleday assumed command of the I Corps after the death of General John Reynolds on the first day of fighting. He was a strong supporter of President Lincoln, and he rode on the train with Lincoln that took the President back to the battlefield for the famous Gettysburg Address.
In 1905, twelve years after Doubleday’s death, a commission of baseball figures (not baseball historians) was organized by Albert Spalding, a leading sporting goods entrepreneur and sport publisher at the time. The commission, called the Mills Commission, was formed to determine the true origins of base ball, and it found that Doubleday was indeed the true inventor of base ball. But the Commission’s conclusions were based mainly on the testimony of one man, a 71 year old mining engineer from Denver, Colorado, named Abner Graves. Graves claimed to have witnessed the actual formation of the game that Doubleday called “base ball” in 1839, and he further claimed that Doubleday’s game improved on the game of town ball being played by students in Cooperstown. However, Doubleday was enrolled at West Point at this time and there is no record of his leaving the United States Military Academy for Cooperstown at any point in 1839. Further, no letters or personal accounts from Doubleday make any mention of the sport of base ball, and no evidence exists that Doubleday made any claim in conversation that he was the man who designed the first field or created the first set of base ball rules.
It is speculated that the Mills Commission had stumbled upon a convenient and compelling story to describe base ball’s origins. Even though their evidence was tenuous, at best, the Commission’s conclusion linked a small, rural town inNew Yorkwith a man who invented a pastoral game without the aid of foreign or industrial influence. Further, the game’s inventor could be described as a true American patriot who graduated fromWest Pointand served heroically in the Civil War and The Mexican War. Unfortunately, the true story regarding modern baseball’s development lies elsewhere, and Abner Doubleday is very likely not part of the factual history of the game’s origins.