Baseball has long been touted as America’s favorite pastime. While similar games exist worldwide, only the United States has the claim on the game as we know it today. But do you know how it came to be? Chances are you’ve heard some things, believed some others, but let’s take a closer look at the origins of the game. You might be surprised.
The Abner Doubleday Myth
You may or may not have heard of Abner Doubleday, the supposed “inventor” of American baseball. His lore has spread far and wide, long believed to have been the originator of the game in the late 1830’s. Sadly, this is a myth. The myth gained traction a few years after Doubleday’s death by a man who claimed to know him “back in the day” a Mr. Abner Graves. Graves claimed he and Doubleday had gone to school together, and that Doubleday imagined the game in 1839. Somehow his story stuck, fooling even baseball great A.J. Spalding.
Needless to say, no one bothered to look into Graves’ claims about Doubleday until much later, which shocked more than a few who had taken his erroneous witness as hard fact. Even the National Baseball Hall of Fame got on the Doubleday bandwagon in the 1930’s, praising his name as a way to market the newly opened museum. The truth of the matter is that Doubleday had nothing to do with the origins of baseball. Who knows if he ever actually played the game? He is better served to be remembered as a Civil War hero.
Baseball’s True Origin
Instead of having a cut-and-dried history that the Doubleday myth gave to the game, baseball’s history is much more muddied. By now, you’ve probably guessed it is a sort of hybrid between cricket and a children’s stick game called rounders, both of which were imported from England. Evidence suggests a form of baseball was played in the 18th century, as early as the Revolutionary War, but it wasn’t until 1845 when a man named Alexander Joy Cartwright employed new rules to the game.
Cartwright, who with a group of friends founded the Knickerbocker Baseball Club of New York City, decided to give the gamefield a diamond rather than a rectangle, a three-strike rule, and foul lines. He also did away with the more dangerous rule of tagging runners by throwing the ball to hit them. These rules made the game smoother, safer, and more fun. In 1846, the first “official” game of American baseball was played by the Knickerbockers against a cricket team, and thus the game as we know it today was born.
While baseball has borrowed elements from English bat-and-ball games, the United States has claimed the sport as her own. No other “stickball” game has risen to the height as baseball, with teams around the country and a highly anticipated World Series, which crowns that year’s championship team.
Why not enjoy America’s favorite pastime yourself by going to the game, ordering an armful of American hot dogs, and indulging in some popcorn and cotton candy? Take me out to the ballgame!