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The Real "Father of Baseball"

Updated on July 14, 2011

Abner Doubleday

When discussing the history of baseball and who invented the game, two names emerge…Captain Abner Doubleday and Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr. There’s evidence to support maybe neither did. There's a good possibility Doubleday never even saw the game played.

It was an investigative commission in 1908 that declared the game was invented in Cooperstown, NY, by Abner Doubleday, before the Civil War. Reasons for why they came to this conclusion are unclear, because there is nothing to suggest he ever had anything to do with baseball.

This assertion appears around the late 1800s, when everybody was trying to make a clear distinction between baseball and an early English form of the game called “rounders.”

Doubleday was born at Ballston Spa, New York, in 1819. He graduated West Point in 1842. Doubleday has often been credited with inventing the game.

Alexander Cartwright

Knickerbockers Circa 1847

However, it seems very unlikely as he was not at Cooperstown during the time in question. He also never referred to the game or claimed he did. If he had, his obituary in the New York Times would most certainly have mentioned the fact…but it didn’t. Doubleday lived in Mendham, New Jersey, where he died in January 1893. He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

On the other hand, in the case of Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr., there are instances which connect him to the game. Cartwright, born April 17, 1820 in New York, is sometimes referred to as the "Father of Baseball.” It is said he was the first to draw a diamond shaped baseball field diagram and wrote the rules for the game we are familiar with today. However, interviews uncovered in recent years with former New York Knickerbocker team members, casts a shadow of doubt over the whole affair.

The rules were supposedly based on guidelines set forth by Cartwright and a committee from the Knickerbocker Baseball Club of which he was a member. Regardless of whether he was the actual inventor of the game, the 83rd United States Congress declared him as such in June of 1953.

At the age of sixteen in 1836, Cartwright began work as a clerk in a Wall Street broker's office. He later became a clerk for the Union Bank of New York. It was a common sight in New York during those days to see men playing ball in the street or vacant lots after work. Many of these men were also volunteer firemen. Cartwright had joined Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 12. Some say the baseball team’s name came from that association.

Original Type Baseball

The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club later moved across the Hudson River to Hoboken, New Jersey. The team drew up a constitution and bylaws consisting of twenty rules. The Knickerbocker rules are also sometimes referred to as the "Cartwright Rules." But, no evidence to support that claim has ever been found.

The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club played their first recorded game on October 6, 1845. Receipts have been found for dinners the ball club ate dated December 5, 1845, on which are printed with "Elysian Fields Hoboken for twenty dinners at $1.50 each for the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club."

The club’s first match game was between the Knickerbockers and the New York Club on June 19, 1846, at Elysian Fields. The New York team won 23-1. The game was played using a rule stating the first team to reach 21 runs won the game…supposedly one of Cartwright’s original rules.

Not much is known about Cartwright's whereabouts between June 1846 and March 1849, but it was about that time gold was discovered in California. March 1849, saw Alexander off to California gold fields to find his fortune.

What is alleged to an original handwritten diary of that account is in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Alexander's grandson, Bruce Cartwright Jr., typed a transcribed copy of the diary sometime in around the late 1930’s. In that copy Alexander is described leaving New York on March 1, 1849. According to this version of the journal, Alexander wrote on April 23, 1849: "During the past week we have passed the time in fixing the wagon-covers, stowing away property etc. varied by hunting and fishing, swimming and playing Base-ball. I have the ball and book of rules with me that we used back home." However, no mention of baseball is in the original handwritten version.

There are two other existing diaries; those of a Charles Gray and Cyrus Currier. But again, there is no mention of baseball, or for that matter, Cartwright himself.

So, what are people to think? Did Abner Doubleday or Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr. invent baseball? Or did either of them? Perhaps the world may never know.

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    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Didn't notice it until you pointed it out

    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 

      7 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Jy...interesting question and, now, I'm wondering, too...I'm going to call my friend, Steve, who is the quintessential baseball officienado and expert in the field (no pun intended!!). I bet he knows...for sure...or he'll find out if it is possible. But, after googling the question...I'm in the same boat as you .... with no difinitive answer. Fun, great read..I am a fan of the game...so appreciate this indepth study of "who's on first?" LOL UP Awesome Useful and Interesting (don't you love the new option?)...LK

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