When I sat down to write this article I couldn’t help but remember a movie I saw a few years back called Flash Of Genius. It is a story of a man who had invented a form of the Intermittent Windshield Wiper that is used today. The short of it is that he spent his entire life fighting Ford Motor Company trying to get credit for his invention. It was David vs. Goliath in public relations and in available capital. The movie was excellent and it shows how individuals and corporate entities want to take credit for things, whether it is for monetary gains or for pride.
A number of years ago I went with my son to Cooperstown, NY to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It was in the middle of February and we figured it would not be too crowded, which we were right about. Unlike many kids, I never got a chance to go there as a youngster, even though I have been a lifelong New Yorker and baseball fan. When there, I had thought I was in baseball heaven and regretted not going when I was 10, 11, or 12. I had the time of my life and being there with my son made the trip all the more special. Having a love of history and baseball, I read in detail how Abner Doubleday invented the game in 1839 in Cooperstown. This was supposedly confirmed by something called the “Mills Commission” put together in 1905 by Albert Spalding. This was supposed to verify the origin of baseball, which is questioned at another part of the Hall of Fame museum.
A few years later, my oldest son had gone to Hoboken, New Jersey for a business meeting. He told me about four plaques there that are supposed to represent where the four bases stood for the first organized game of baseball. I was intrigued. The first free afternoon I had time, I took the 45 minute car ride from my house to Hoboken. Sure enough at the corners of Eleventh Street and Washington Street were the four plaques. I must have gone from corner to corner five or six times reading and rereading each of the four plaques. It is here that Alexander Cartwright wrote the first published rules of baseball. On June 3, 1953 Congress credited Alexander Cartwright with being the inventor of the game of baseball.
History tells us with bits and pieces from articles and the such that baseball may really have been started decades and even centuries before the 1900s. Many historians maintain that baseball developed from the English. Games with names like Rounders, Cricket, Goal Ball, and Stoolball all have bits and pieces of the game of baseball.
A hand written diary which was authenticated from Surrey, England mentions: “After dinner, went to Miss Jeale's to play at base ball with her the 3 Miss Whiteheads, Miss Billinghurst, Miss Molly Flutter, Mr.Chandler, Mr. Ford and H. Parsons. Drank tea and stayed til 8.”This diary has been verified by the National baseball Hall of Fame.
So if you are as confused as me, don’t worry. Let me explore a few facts, and maybe I can make it clearer. One thing is certain, there is no clear inventor of the game of baseball. I believe that baseball evolved from a combination of English games as it is stated in places. The game Rounders is popular among English and Irish children. It involves rounding a circuit of four bases after hitting a small ball. If you ever go by an inner city park on a weekend you may run into a game of Cricket. This game is made up of two teams of eleven players. Each team takes its turn at bat and in the field. Stoolball is similar to Cricket except that in Cricket, the ball reaches the batter on one bounce. In Stoolball the ball reaches the batter on the fly. This is very similar to our modern day baseball pitcher, although the distance between the player throwing the ball and the player hitting it differ.
There are more games such as Goal Ball and even one called Base Ball. From the ones mentioned it is quite apparent that American Baseball took parts of each game. I theorize that this is how the game evolved. Finally, men such as Henry Chadwick were astute enough to develop rules that were able to excite Americans to start playing and follow the game. Baseball evolved to gain such popularity in America that many in the country were dedicated to naming it an American game at all costs. It eventually became a matter of pride to convince all that baseball had only American roots, which is obviously not true.
Historians who are constantly pressing to give America credit for the game of baseball are making a mistake. It’s origins must be shared. The game of today has evolved and is still evolving. Look how we now have instant replay in baseball. Isn’t this part of the continuing evolution of baseball? Who would have thought that in Hoboken or in Cooperstown in the 1800s that we would do this today? Or that baseball is a multi billion dollar business?
There is no doubt that America perfected and popularized the game of baseball. This is where the American pride should come into play. And one thing is certain about the development of baseball, the player, Henry Chadwick who played for Cartwight’s Knickerbockers, did in fact help develop and write a lot of the rules of the game. He was prominent with numbers and statistics and is credited with establishing the distance between bases to be 90 feet as well as using the abbreviated “K” to signify a strikeout and is said to have written the first baseball guide.
I can’t help but remember the line at the end of the classic western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”This great movie line can be equated with many things. With baseball it also holds true. Baseball has always had a lot of debates and theories. The discovery of this great game is still debated.
Marty Schupak has coached youth sports for 25 years. He has written 11 books and produced 26 sports instructional videos. His is the founder of T-Ball America.
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