You may have heard that baseball was conceived in the summer of 1839 in Cooperstown, New York, by a young man named Abner Doubleday. After that, Doubleday became a Civil War hero, and baseball became America’s favourite game.
That storey is not only false, but it is also inaccurate. Baseball’s true beginnings may be traced all the way back to the 18th century.
Abner Doubleday: Who Was He?
Doubleday, who was born in 1819 to a distinguished family in upstate New York, was still a student at West Point in 1839 and never claimed to be involved with baseball. Instead, he became a lawyer and writer after serving as a Union major general in the American Civil War.
In 1907, sixteen years after Doubleday’s death, A.J. Spalding, a sports goods entrepreneur and former major league player, established a special committee to identify the roots of baseball, specifically whether it was conceived in the United States or originated from games played in the United Kingdom. The commission came up with the origin myth based on scant evidence—the assertions of one guy, mining engineer Abner Graves, who said he went to school with Doubleday.
In the 1930s, Cooperstown businesses and major league officials capitalised on myth’s continuing influence by establishing the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
What Is Baseball’s True History?
The real history of baseball, it turns out, is a little more convoluted than the Doubleday narrative. Baseball-like games have been mentioned in the United States since the 18th century. Rounders (a children’s game brought to New England by the first colonists) and cricket appear to be its most direct progenitors.
Variations of similar games were being played on schoolyards and college campuses across the country by the time of the American Revolution. In the mid-nineteenth century, they grew even more popular in newly industrialised towns where men were looking for job.
The New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club was created in September 1845 by a group of New York City citizens. One of them, Alexander Joy Cartwright, a volunteer firefighter and bank clerk, would create a new set of regulations that would become the foundation for modern baseball, including a diamond-shaped infield, foul lines, and the three-strike rule. He also outlawed the deadly habit of tossing balls at runners to tag them.
Cartwright’s innovations made the burgeoning sport more tough and faster-paced, clearly distinguishing it from older sports like cricket. The Knickerbockers played the first formal baseball game versus a cricket team in 1846, kicking off a new, distinctly American pastime.