Who Invented Baseball?
Often referred to as ‘America’s National Pastime,’ baseball is a game that is played, watched, and loved by people of all ages across America. The game is very much a part of American culture and tradition, passed down from one generation to the next. But was it an American who invented baseball? The story is an interesting one which you may find surprising.
Did Abner Doubleday invent baseball?
It was long believed, and so you may have heard, that a man named Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball. This, however, is entirely untrue. Abner Doubleday had been dead for fifteen years before he became the inventor of baseball. With this information being false, it would have come as a total surprise to him had he known of his alleged achievement.
The myth that Abner Doubleday invented baseball was the outcome of a three-year investigation into the matter. British sportswriter, Henry Chadwick, published an article in 1903 which speculated that baseball was a derivative of the British game of rounders. The British game of rounders was traditionally played by children and is similar to baseball in that it involved a bat, ball, and bases.
Baseball executive Albert Spalding took issue with Chadwick’s claim. Spalding insisted that baseball was absolutely an American sport, invented on American soil.
To settle this issue, a commission was appointed by the two men. The commission was led by the fourth president of the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, Abraham Mills. Six additional sports executives were also involved.
Interestingly, it was a Colorado mining engineer, Abner Graves, that provided Doubleday’s legend of inventing baseball. Graves wrote a letter to Spalding’s secretary, claiming to have witnessed the moment Doubleday invented the game. He stated that it had come about as a schoolboy game, at which he was present.
Graves claimed that using a stick to draw in the dust, Doubleday created a diagram for an entirely new ballgame that would come to be known as baseball. The man continued to embellish his tale, corresponding with his local newspaper to detail how he had played a ‘rollicking’ game with Doubleday.
It is not known why Abner Graves took it upon himself to create the Doubleday myth, but the tale proved to be the determining evidence for the Mills Commission. As we know, the commission went on to declare Doubleday as the founding father of baseball, claiming that he had invented the game in 1839.
But how do we know Doubleday didn’t invent baseball?
There are several reasons why the Mills Commission’s findings have been determined to be inaccurate. Some of the claims don’t stand up to scrutiny. Firstly, there was no mention of baseball in any of the sixty-seven diaries left behind by Doubleday after his death.
Secondly, Doubleday was not a resident in Cooperstown, where he supposedly invented the game, in the year 1839. Instead, he was a cadet at West Point and had been there since September of 1838. Here, he spent four years, and his only leave of absence was from June 1840 until August of the same year.
Doubleday’s family were not even in Cooperstown in 1839 since they had left the area two years previously. Also, Mills himself had been a friend of Doubleday’s for thirty years, yet the first he learned of the man’s supposed great invention was from Graves’ statement some twelve years after his friend’s death. Surely Doubleday might have mentioned the story himself, had it been true?
So, who really invented baseball?
The real inventor of baseball is unknown. It is thought that the game has its origins in the early 19th century. As with most of today’s most popular sports, baseball likely came about as an adaptation of centuries-old stick and ball games.
The most likely contenders for baseball’s inspiration are two British games involving bats and balls: rounders (as was speculated by Henry Chadwick) and cricket. However, there are historical accounts of similar games in various parts of the world, including ancient Mayan cultures, ancient Egypt, and France. However, the British story seems the most plausible since these games were brought to America by early English colonists.
Early accounts of baseball in American History
The earliest accounts of baseball’s codification can be traced back to the early 1800s in New York. At this time, groups of men began drafting their own rules for the game, which has evolved into what we know today as baseball.
Credit for the first official effort goes to the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York. The club comprised a group of men who formed a rules committee that came up with the so-called Knickerbocker Rules.
The committee outlined twenty rules which dictated foul lines, a three outs limit, and the paces between bases. In a safety-conscious move, the men outlawed the rule that allowed runners to be hit with a thrown ball to get them out. The Knickerbocker rules were used in a baseball game between the Knickerbockers and the New York Nines in June of 1846. This game has come to be known as the first official baseball game.
Another contender for the ‘Founding Father of Baseball’?
Medical doctor, Daniel Adams, was a key member of the Knickerbocker club who quickly rose to club president’s rank. He is credited with playing a pivotal role in championing the fledgling game in the early days, assisting with forming new teams and finding equipment.
Adams was responsible for expanding on the Knickerbocker Rules. In 1857, he presided over creating a more formal version of the rules during the first convention of all baseball players. The more formalized rules are known as the Laws of Base Ball.
Due to his early and significant influence in the game, Adams is often credited as the ‘Father of Baseball.’ However, he nor any person can accurately be said to have invented baseball. The formation of the game – at least in the organized way we know it today – can be said to have been a communal effort. It is clear, however, that New York’s Knickerbocker Club played a significant role.
Doubleday had gone on in his life to become a Civil War hero, but we can confidently say he did not invent the great game of baseball. The very American game most likely had its roots in the British games of cricket and rounders. However, while we cannot say one person invented the game as we know it today, it was undoubtedly a communal, American effort.