The Wacky Truth Behind The Creator Of Baseball

The wacky fact about the creator of baseball is that there is no creator of baseball. When in 1907, Albert Spalding, part owner of the White Sox as well as a baseball equipment baron, convened the Mills Commission to discover the roots of baseball, he, as the Toledo Blade reported in 1984, "wanted it to be the great American game. He needed this sort of American immaculate conception. They sifted through the evidence and came up with this amazing story based on no evidence except the remembrances of a cousin of [Abner Doubleday's]." This gave birth to the lie that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in 1839 while studying at West Point.

This is well known. The article quoted is about great American myths and every article touching on the origin of baseball, such as this one published by History, starts with Doubleday before quickly declaring it false. Instead, they argue, Alexander Cartwright, a founding member of the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club, was the instrumental person who codified the rules of the game and umpired the first officially recorded baseball game on June 19, 1846. Just as every article seems to need to give a fake out with the Abner Doubleday story, so too does every article, both the Toledo Blade and History'sseem determined to flip this foundational myth upon the reader. But this version is also false. After all, it is almost exactly the same as the Doubleday myth but with a different name attached. 

The evolution of baseball

Albert Spalding's need for a purely American origin, which in American fashion, needs a singular American inventor, was due to a debate raging about the origin of baseball, specifically if it was a British creation or American. The British argument held that baseball was a local evolution of rounders and other folksy stick and ball games while the American one stated that in their strict definition of baseball, you couldn't include rounders.

An article from the Society for American Baseball Research works through the evolution of the Alexander Cartwright story and the assumptions that lay behind it: "Cartwright [in a 1866 history of American sports] proposes forming the club, but implementing the idea is a collective effort. There is no suggestion that the game was new, much less that Cartwright invented it. Quite the opposite, the group had been playing it for the previous three years, and Cartwright seems to have been a later addition to them." In multiple retellings and remembrances, this truth ballooned into Cartwright single-handedly inventing baseball and forming the Knickerbockers as the vehicle to manifest his vision.

Instead of Doubleday or Cartwright, both of whom were created out of the nineteenth century's love of great inventive men, the development of baseball was an American phenomenon that independently evolved from the folk stick games imported from Britain and Europe in general, simultaneously to rounders' development in England. It's America's national sport, but, like America, has British roots.