Baseball’s history can be traced back to a young man named Abner Doubleday, who founded the game in Cooperstown, New York, during the summer of 1839, according to folklore. Baseball would eventually become America’s national game, and Doubleday would become a Civil War hero.
It’s a charming narrative, but it’s absolutely false. Doubleday was a student at West Point in 1839. In reality, he never claimed to have any form of connection to the sport throughout his life. This widespread mythology dates back to the twentieth century, when a special committee set up by a sporting goods company exploited shaky, secondhand evidence to construct the Doubleday legend. When the National Baseball Hall of Fame was founded in Cooperstown in the 1930s, league officials and local businessmen worked together to keep this lovely little legend alive.
Baseball’s real history is a little more difficult, and its true origins are still unknown.
Since ancient Egypt, bats have been used to hit balls. Bat and ball games were popular in many European communities. One popular hypothesis claims that American baseball evolved from the British game of rounders, while it is more likely that both rounders and baseball have roots in cricket. Although there are allusions to a British game named baseball dating back to the 18th century, the sport bears no resemblance to the American pastime.
Baseball would take off in America during the nineteenth century, but the origins of the game are still a source of discussion and speculation. For a long time, the New York Knickerbockers were thought to be the first club to play baseball under current rules. In 1845, team founder Alexander Cartwright and a committee drafted the Knickerbocker Rules, which addressed both organisational issues and game rules. Many of these regulations, however, appear to have been drafted for the Gotham Club in 1837, the team from which the Knickerbockers had broken away.
On June 19th, 1846, at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, the first documented competitive baseball game between two teams following these “Knickerbocker Rules” was played. Despite the fact that the New York Nine defeated the Knickerbockers 23 to 1, the new regulations would be implemented throughout the New York area.
Baseball is a professional sport.
The National Association of Base Ball Players was founded in 1857 by sixteen teams from the New York region (NABBP). This was the first governing body for the sport, as well as the first to create a championship. While the competitors were meant to be amateurs, it was quickly revealed that some of them were paid. Clubs were allowed to declare themselves professional by the 1869 season.
When professional and amateur baseball players clashed in 1870, the NABBP divided into two groups: an amateur league and the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, which only existed from 1871 to 1875. The National League, founded by William Hulbert in 1876, took its place. Around this time, clubs agreed that non-white players would be prohibited from playing professional baseball, a ban that would last until 1947, when Jackie Robinson became the first African-American player in the big leagues.
In the early days of the National League, things did not go so well. Other leagues would challenge it, and players were frequently disgruntled with their playing rights. Meanwhile, in the Midwest, a new league was forming.