Tag Archives: Abner Doubleday

JUNE 19-America’s game takes shape

1846 | HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY – It’s unlikely anyone will ever figure out when the first game of baseball was played because, in all likelihood, there was no first game. Baseball evolved. Some version of the game dates back to pre-Revolutionary War days, and is based on “ball games” played for centuries. However, a significant contest in that evolution occurred on this date in 1846 in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The Knickerbocker Club of New York organized a game at Elysian Field using rules documented in 1845 by member Alexander Cartwright (Abner Doubleday was nowhere to be found). Cartwright, a surveyor by trade, laid out the dimensions of the field. Club members tinkered with the rules and practiced among themselves before the June 1846 game. Historian Leonard Koppett, author of Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, says the Cartwright rules “formalized” many of the rules that remain intact today.

Among the 20 rules laid down by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in the 1840’s:

  1. There would be four bases in a diamond configuration.
  2. The “batter” placed at “home plate” at the bottom of the diamond, if looking from above.
  3. The game consists of 21 outs.
  4. Three outs made up a half inning.
  5. Runner no longer out by having ball thrown at him
  6. Foul and fair territory established
  7. The bases shall be from “home” to second base, 42 paces; from 1st base to 3rd base, 42 paces, equidistant.
  8. The ball must be pitched, and not thrown, for the bat.
  9. A ball knocked out of the field, or outside the range of first or third base, is foul.
  10. Three balls being struck at and missed and the last one caught is a hand out; if not caught is considered fair, and a striker is bound to run.
  11. A ball being struck or tipped and caught either flying or on the first bound is a hand out.
  12. A player running the base shall be out, if the ball is in the hands of an adversary on the base, or the runner is touched with it before he makes his base; it being understood, however, that in no instance is a ball to be thrown at him.
  13. A player running who shall prevent an adversary from catching or getting the ball before making his base is a hand out.
  14. No ace or base can be made on a foul strike.
  15. A runner cannot be put out in making one base, when a balk is made by the pitcher.
  16. But one base allowed when a ball bounds out of the field when struck.

Reportedly, a team called the New York Nine beat the Knickerbockers 23-1 on that June day in 1846. They played four innings.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, 2004, Leonard Koppett
Knickerbocker Rules
Baseball in the Garden of Eden, by John Thorn, Simon & Schuster, 2011
LISTEN: John Thorn NPR interview

April 2nd in baseball history-FAKE NEWS NOT NEW!

1908 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – On this date in 1908 Major League Baseball declared the game was invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York in 1839. A commission came to this conclusion after studying the issue for two years. The evidence was overwhelming. Too bad it wasn’t true. The evidence was overwhelming… to the contrary.

Doubleday, a civil war General, and Cooperstown, named for poet James Fenimore Cooper, had as much to do with inventing baseball as Babe Ruth had with inventing the hot dog. No matter, a man named Spalding was on a mission-he would later go on to build a sporting goods empire. Cooperstown would become a baseball mecca.

Here’s what happened; In 1905 Albert Spalding recommended that former National League President A.G. Mills head up a commission to study the origins of the baseball. Someone uncovered a letter describing Doubleday as being the first to set down “base ball” rules derived from a game called “town ball.” A myth was born, except the rules weren’t new, neither was “base ball” (see September 23, 1845).

This much apparently was true, Abner Doubleday once lived in Cooperstown. And the myth Spalding helped create was strong enough to make this sleepy town in the hills of western New York named after a poet, the site for the Baseball Hall of Fame in the 1930s.

Contributing Sources:
Spaldings World Tour, by Mark Lamster, 2006, Published by Public Affairs
Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) www.sabr.org

THE DOUBLEDAY MYTH

JANUARY 26, 1893 | MENDHAM, NEW JERSEY  Abner Doubleday died today in baseball history. You know, the guy who didn’t invent baseball. His name is so tied to the game however, it would be remiss not to tell the story on this baseball website.

Doubleday was rather extraordinary, but not for anything having to do with baseball. He could not have been aware such a story was circulating since he died before it surfaced.

Doubleday never claimed, wrote or uttered that he invented baseball.

Doubleday was born near Albany in upstate New York, spent more than thirty years in the military, achieving the rank of general for the Union in the Civil War. He was second in command at Fort Sumter, reportedly ordered the firing of the first shot in defense of the Fort off Charleston Harbor, South Carolina in the battle that started the War between the States.

The story goes that Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, NY in 1839. The only evidence to support this is the word of a man named Abner Graves who was described as being of questionable integrity.

On the other hand, there is ample evidence that Doubleday did not invent the game. For example, while Cooperstown was home at one time, he was a cadet at West Point in 1839. If he was drawing up rules for how to play “base-ball” he was doing it while AWOL. Also, Doubleday never claimed, wrote or uttered that he invented baseball.

So how did the story come about? Baseball historian Harold Seymour wrote in Baseball: The Early Years that around the turn of the 19th century A. G. Mills, the fourth president of the National League, “wanted it distinctly understood that patriotism and research had established that the game of baseball was American in its origin,” and not a descendant of the English game rounders. A committee Mills chaired officially “concluded” as much in 1907. This conclusion was almost immediately debunked, but, being a good story, the facts never got in the way.

The story was promulgated to such an extent that a shrine to the game of baseball was built in Cooperstown, NY in the 1930’s – The Baseball Hall of Fame. A ballpark adjacent to the Hall is called Doubleday Field.

General Abner Doubleday accomplished a lot in his life, none of which appeared to have had anything to do with baseball.

More information:
“Baseball: The Early Years,” by Harold Seymour
MLB Historian John Thorn
The Doubleday Myth, The New York Times