The Origin of Baseball
The first recorded reference to "base ball" was in 1791, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Most closely resembling the English game of rounders, the game was prohibited from being played within 80 yards of the meetinghouse. The rules of the game did not follow the traditional rules of cricket but were a derivative that made sense for the boys playing the game regionally. The rules varied by location. The Boston game was very popular amongst men who played on the Boston Common and newspapers carried the accounts of those games in 1838. The Boston game, also known as "old cat" was played with four bases in a square form. A similar game was played in Philadelphia with local rules that were acceptable for the players.
In New York a more serious game was played by men who attracted crowds to watch their performance. They attempted to standardize the rules of baseball. Alexander Cartwright developed 20 rules of play, executed on a standardized field, with prescribed distances between bases and determined length of play. Throughout the country Cartwright's rules were quickly adopted as the official rules of base hail, allowing for comparison between games and player achievements.
Henry Chadwick, a journalist and historian, authored several references on record keeping and game play. Chadwick was a major contributor to DeWitt's Base Ball Guide. He developed a method of keeping a type of box score as a means of comparing one game and one player to another. Chadwick witnessed his first baseball game in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1847. He was the first and only journalist admitted to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1938. He wrote many articles for the New York papers about the great players. Professional teams were formed and admission fees to watch them play were common. These professional teams established leagues and tournaments to the excitement of the fans loyal to their local team. In 1875 the National League was formed and rules were added as the game evolved.
In 1845, Alexander Cartwright organized the Knickerbockers baseball club, playing a spinoff of rounders and townball. The first organized baseball game was played June 19, 1846 at Elysian Field in Hoboken, New Jersey, where the Knickerbockers played the New York Nine and the evolution of baseball began. Alexander Cartwright will forever be known as the father of baseball. In 1849 Cartwright followed the adventure of the gold rush and headed to California to seek his fortune and spread the lore of baseball across this country. Cartwright then traveled on to Hawaii where he became a public figure and a major contributor to the construction of hospitals and libraries. He established the first fire department on Hawaii, where he served as fire chief and was a close friend to Queen Liliuokalani. Of course, he built ball fields and taught the game to the Hawaiians who called baseball Kinipopo. The importance of Cartwright and Chadwick cannot be understated in creating a game that continues to be enjoyed today.
Albert Spalding was a pioneer team executive, an accomplished player, a sporting goods magnate, the publisher of the Spalding Guide and an ambassador of baseball. Spalding took umbrage with Chadwick's insistence that baseball was simply a refinement of rounders. Spalding insisted that baseball was an American game and its origin was in America. Spalding was so convinced, he became belligerent and animated when challenged about the origin of baseball. His sporting goods company was very successful. In an effort to promote his company and its products, he organized a world tour to introduce American baseball throughout the globe. He took his team, the Chicago White Sox, and its star players on a world tour that played in Egypt, Italy, France, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii for unknown reasons, he snubbed Cartwright in Hawaii, Most of the world played cricket and was not impressed with American baseball, but the world tour was successful in moving baseball beyond America.
Spalding's influence with Major League Baseball was substantial because of his contributions as an executive and as a player. He certainly was a squeaky wheel with regard to organization. The league presidents appointed a commission to determine the origin of baseball to appease him. Spalding had strong suggestions as to which men should be appointed and most were appointed. The committee Spalding assembled was filled with prominent baseball executives and former players. Abraham G. Mills, a Civil War veteran and past president of the National League, served as the committee chair. Other members included: former U.S. Senator Arthur Gorman, Senator Morgan Bulkeley, Nicholas Young, Albert Reach, George Wright and James Sullivan. Now known as the Mills Commission, they went about their work by first examining letters sent to Spalding in response to his request for evidence that appeared in the 1905 Spalding's Official Baseball Guide. It is not clear from my research how many letters there were, but the one most compelling, from Spalding's perspective, was from Abner Graves.
Graves claimed that Civil War General Abner Doubleday had approached a group of boys who were playing townball in a pasture in Cooperstown, New York. Graves explained that Doubleday instructed the boys on how to modify the playing field to make it more exciting and fair. Graves was not clear in his correspondence as to when exactly this game took place he thought somewhere between 1839 and 1842. Graves continued to correspond with Spalding, offering more details as be remembered them, believing these details would be helpful. It is important to note that Graves was attempting, as an adult, to recall details from his childhood, as a youth of five or eight years old, when Doubleday allegedly approached him and a group boys. These recalled memories were a stretch, but the committee, perhaps looking for a good story, were convinced. They accepted his story as to the origin of baseball and that General Abner Doubleday was the inventor.
Coincidentally, Chairman Mills knew Abner Doubleday well and had served as an honor guard at his funeral. Albert Reach and George Wright were happy with the conclusion as they were in the sporting goods business. However, it is reported that James Sullivan was not convinced and thought more study or research should be done. Mills was satisfied with the evidence they had reviewed and proclaimed that General Abner Doubleday had invented baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York. The 1908 Spalding Guide proclaimed Cooperstown as the birthplace of baseball. Much has been written about the reliability of Abner Graves and his mental stability to make such claims, but the die was cast.