Origins of Baseball

The game of baseball as we know it evolved from the rules that were written down at the New York Knickerbocker Club between 1845 and 1857, when 17 clubs attended the convention that gave birth to the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP).

Alexander J. Cartwright, a bookseller and a founder of the Knickerbocker Club, is credited with 14 rules, which include the three outs to close an at bat, the concept of foul ball, the use of the verb 'to pitch', as opposed to the terminology of the day, that used the verb 'to throw'. William Wheaton, another founder of the Knickerbocker Club, was probably amongst the father of those rules. During the 1857 convention the clubs also established the 90-feet distance between the bases, 9-man teams and 9-inning games.

In the Knickerbockers' view, pitchers were supposed to deliver the ball underhand. It wouldn't be until 1884, under the influence of the way the game was played in the State of Massachussets, that the overhand pitch was introduced.

The Corona neighbourhood of Queens, New York, hosted in 1858 the first games to charge admission.

The Massachussets Game and the version of game played in Philadelphia, named Town Ball, remained pastimes. The Knickerbockers game, aided by the Civil War, expanded to over 100 clubs by 1865.


The NABBP permitted professional play beginning in 1869. The Boston Red Stockings and the Boston Baseball Club were founded in 1871. The NABBP split into two groups. The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players eventually developed into the National League.

Other competitive professional leagues formed and were disbanded regularly, until the American League declared in 1901 the intent to operate as a Major League.

The National League and the American League agreed about playing the World Series between the two champions starting 1903.

Albert Spalding

Albert Goodwill Spalding had started playing professional baseball for the NABBP Boston Red Stockings in 1871. He had joined the National League Chicago White Stockings in 1876. He was one of the first pitchers to use a glove to protect his catching hand. He retired as a player at the age of 27, after the 1877 season and became the President of the White Stockings.

Spalding was a wealthy man. He had started a sporting good stores with his brother Walter in 1874 in Chicago and the business had grown rapidly. The Spaldings expanded into manufacturers and distributors of all kinds of sporting equipment.

After publishing the first official rules guide, in 1888 Spalding put together a group of professional players to promote the game of baseball and the Spalding sporting goods around the world. The tour began across the western United States, stopped in Hawaii, without playing games, and then reached New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon, Egypt, Italy, France and England. By the time Spalding embarked on his tour, baseball had already reached Cuba (1868), Australia (1869) and Japan (1872).

One of the players who participated in the tour was John Montgomery Ward. He convinced Spalding that the game of baseball originated in the American Continent.

In 1874 Spalding had written a letter to the Daily News to support the idea by Henry Chadwik, a Briton who had emigrated to the US at the age of 13, that the game of baseball had originated from the British game know as rounders.

Spalding supported Chadwik to negate what A.H Sedgwik had published on The Nation in 1869: baseball had originated from cricket.

Spalding wrote an article in the Cosmopolitan stating that baseball differed too much from both rounders and cricket. He founded similarity in the French game called tecque, but tended to believe that the origin of baseball was in the cat games (cat is another way to name a ball).

"An ingenious american lad," according to Spalding, had the idea to move "the thrower" in the middle of the action.

In 1904 Spalding reinforced his idea stating that Town Ball derived from the cat games.

Abner Doubleday

In 1905 the Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio, published a letter by Abner Graves stating that the game of baseball was invented in 1839 by a war hero named Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown.

The letter offered an intriguing story. Cooperstown was founded by William Cooper, the father of famed author James Fenimore Cooper, and had become the first town of the Union inhabited by natives of European descent.

A Commission chaired by Abraham Gilbert Mills, the former President of the National League, started verification on the letter in 1905. By 1908 the Commission confirmed the version of Abner Graves.

The year after, Will Irwin found out that in 1839 Doubleday was not in Cooperstown. He was actually based at the Military Academy in West Point. Irwin published his findings on Collier's.

This was not enough to stop Spalding. He gave more credit to Graves, spreading in 1912 more details about those days of 1839. Graves said he had witnessed as a College students Doubleday draw the rules of baseball in the dirt

Graves died in 1926 at the age of 92. Back in 1839 he was not older than 11, so he couldn't have been a College student. In 1924 Graves had killed his wife. One of the last things he said was: "I'd rather have Uncle Sam declare war to England, rather than admitting that one of his citizens invented baseball."

Spalding died in 1915, aged 66. The Graves version stood until 1939.

Other References

Before the celebrations of the centenary of Doubleday's invention of baseball, the New York Times interviewed historian Robert W. Henderson. His studies showed that the game of baseball was played in Manhattan as early as 1823, some 16 years before Doubleday invented it. A game was also played in Ontario, Canada, in 1838.

Bat and ball games had been popular in Europe since the Middle Ages. Cricket probably originated from stoolball, that evolved later in what is today known as Welsh Baseball.

During the XVIII century a game called balle empoisonnée was popular in France. The Germans played ballspiel. Mary Lepell wrote in 1748 that "Base-Ball" is "a play all who are or have been school boys are acquainted with."

In 1796 Johann Cristoph Friedrich Gustmuths, one of the pioneers of Physical Education, published the rules of a game he called English Baseball in German.

Jane Austen mentioned the game of base-ball in her novel Northanger Abbey, published after her death in 1817, but completed by 1803.

The origin of baseball may be even older. Statistician Corrado Gini reported in 1937 about the game named Takurt Om El Mahag he had descovered in a Berber community. Gini believed the game had originated thousand of years before.

German Historian Erwin Mehl published in 1948 a book titled Baseball in the Stone Age. His point is that games of bat and ball were common during the stone age.

Ball games were played by Native Americans as early as the Mayan age, but recent research by the Cambridge University confirmed that they are not related to bat and ball games. The story of young Lucy Ford, who learned a game of bat and ball from Native Americans, is narrated in a work of fiction: the novel Female Robinson Crusoe, by an unknown author, published in 1837.

In Summary

We will never know the true origin of baseball. What we know is that the game we know as baseball developed in the United States of America after 1845. Various bat and ball games were imported from Europe to North America in the early decades of 1800.

Americans may not have invented baseball, but as a matter of fact, Americans spread all over the world the game that is their National Pastime since the early years of 1900.