According to legend, the history of baseball can be traced back to a young man named Abner Doubleday, who invented the game during the summer of 1839 in Cooperstown, New York. Doubleday would eventually become a Civil War hero, and baseball would gradually become America’s national pastime.
It’s a nice story, but completely untrue. In 1839, Doubleday was studying at West Point. In fact, throughout his life, never once did he claim to have any sort of relationship with the sport. This popular legend actually derives from the 20th century, when a special commission created by a sporting goods business used unreliable, second hand evidence to develop the Doubleday myth. When the National Baseball Hall of Fame was established in Cooperstown during the 1930s, league officials and local businessman would work to perpetuate this nice little fable.
So what is the real history of baseball?
The History of Baseball
The real history of baseball is actually a bit complicated, and the true origins remain uncertain.
People have used bats to hit balls since ancient Egypt. In many societies throughout Europe, bat and ball games were common. One common theory is that American baseball has its origins in the British game of rounders, though it is more likely that both rounders and baseball have at least some origins in the sport of cricket. There are 18th century references to a British game called baseball, but the sport bears little resemblance to the American pastime.
Baseball in America would really take off during the 19th century, but there remains debate and speculation about how it was invented. For a long time, the first team to play baseball under modern rules was believed to be the New York Knickerbockers. Team founder Alexander Cartwright and a committee would create the Knickerbocker Rules in 1845, dealing with organizational matters but also outlining rules of the game. However, it seems that many of these rules were actually originally written for the Gotham Club in 1837, the team the Knickerbockers had broken away from.
The first known competitive baseball game between two teams using these “Knickerbocker Rules” was played at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, on June 19th, 1846. The New York nine defeated the Knickerbockers 23 to 1, but the new rules would nonetheless be adopted across the New York area.
In 1857, sixteen teams around the New York area would form the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP). This was the first organization to govern the sport and establish a championship. While competitors were supposed to be amatures, it soon became evident that some players were being paid. By the 1869 season, clubs were allowed to declare themselves as professional.
In 1870, conflict between professional and amature ballplayers would arise, and the NABBP woud split into two groups, an amature league and the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, which lasted only from 1871 to 1875. William Hulbert’s National League was formed in 1876, and took its place. Around this time, it was agreed amongst clubs that non-white players would be excluded from professional baseball, a rule that would stay in effect until 1947 when Jackie Robinson became the first African-American major league baseball player.
Things did not go so well in the early days of the National League. Other leagues would rival it, and players were often dissatisfied with their rights as players. Meanwhile, another league was slowly growing in the midwest.
The Western League was a struggling minor league based around the Great Lake states. In 1894, Ban Johnson became president of the league, which was renamed the American League, and he set off on a course to give it major league status.
In 1903, the first modern World Series in Major League Baseball would take place. The Boston Americans of the American League defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League in a best-of-nine series.
The 20th Century and Beyond
The game of baseball would continue to evolve and grow throughout the 20th century, cementing itself as America’s pastime. The popularity of the sport would also spread elsewhere throughout the world, like Asia and Latin America. Baseball continues to have a broad impact on popular culture, both in the United States and elsewhere.
Interesting Baseball Facts
- The base that is most stolen is second.
- During a typical game, about 70 baseballs are used.
- “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, baseball’s unofficial anthem, is traditionally sung during the middle of the 7th inning.
- While baseball was started in the US, it is now played worldwide. More than 100 countries play baseball.
- Japan has the largest pro baseball league outside of the States.
- The first World Series (1903) was won by the Boston Americans.
- The New York Yankees hold the most wins at 27.
- The New York Yankees were the first to wear numbers on their backs, they started it in 1912.
- Baseball fans ate 21,357,316 hot dogs and 5,508,887 sausages during the 2014 major league season.