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Origin and Early History of Baseball Explained

Oct 31, 2007
Henry Chadwick, called the father of baseball, its first writer and the inventor of the box score, claimed that American baseball was positively descended from the British game of rounders, which became "town ball" in this country, then baseball. He was an eyewitness to the evolution, having seen rounders played as a boy in England, and rounders, town ball and baseball in this country.

A. G. Spalding, founder of the famous sporting goods house, a fine pitcher himself, and publisher of the "Baseball Guide," claimed that such a theory was nonsense and that baseball was purely an American invention. A committee was appointed to investigate the matter. The findings of the committee - that baseball had been invented in 1839 by Abner Doubleday, a distinguished Civil War General, in Cooperstown, New York - were based wholly upon evidence submitted in a letter written by a man who stated that he had observed the actual invention when he was a schoolboy in Cooperstown.

Many accepted the findings of the committee even though there seemed to be much more evidence to support Chadwick's claim than that of Spalding. To this day, even though numerous baseball authorities have repeatedly poked holes in the Doubleday theory, there are many who still believe this old story. It should be noted that Abner Doubleday himself never made any claims whatever to having had any influence on baseball. He had died years before the findings were published.

By the early 1840s, the baseball games played in this country had been pretty well standardized into "Town Ball," played East of New York, and "the New York Game," played, naturally, in New York. They were alike in many respects but Town Ball was patterned more after the ancient rounders, while the New York Game seems to have been largely taken from cricket. In 1842, the New Yorkers drew up the first diagram of a baseball field and grown men began to take this boys' game seriously and to see in it possibilities for a great sport.

In 1845, the Knickerbocker Baseball Club of New York was formed, the first such organization in history. It was an amateur group with duly elected officers. No professional organization was to appear for twenty-five more years. The Club immediately began drawing up a set of standard rules and making plans for a more satisfactory playing field. Draftsman and surveyor Alexander Cart-wright was given the task of preparing a diagram for a new type of field.

By the following year, Cartwright had prepared the diamond diagram which, except for minor changes, is the baseball field used to this day wherever baseball is played. The Knickerbockers also established uniform rules which set the pattern for present-day ball.

The First Game. - The Knickerbockers then issued challenges to take on all comers and the first baseball game ever played under organized rules took place on June 19, 1846, at Elysian Fields (near Hoboken), New Jersey. "The New York Nine" was the opposing team and they beat the Knicks 23-1 in four innings.

So depressed were the Knickerbockers that they played no more inter-city games until 1851, but limited their play to practice games. After five years of practice, they evidently believed they were ready for another go at the game and took on the "Washington Baseball Club of New York" on June 3, 1851 on the same Elysian Fields.

Both teams were tied at the end of the ninth, but the Knicks got two runs in the tenth to win the game 22-20.

From this small beginning, the great game of baseball has developed into the huge game it is today.
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