Who Really Invented Baseball?

So you think Abner Doubleday invented baseball? You heard the big event happened during 1839 in Cooperstown, New York? Nope, not even close.

It seems that a former major league player and sporting goods businessman, A.J. Spalding, claimed Doubleday was the man, using flimsy evidence provided by a single source: mining engineer Abner Graves, who said he remembered Doubleday making a diagram of a baseball field in 1839 before starting a game in Cooperstown. Keep in mind, though, that Graves ended up in an insane asylum, according to Baseball Monkey, so maybe he's not the most credible witness. 

Spalding had wanted to dispute an article famed British sportswriter Henry Chadwick wrote that hypothesized that baseball evolved from a British game he played as a child, called rounders. Baseball, said Spalding, "was fundamentally an American sport and began on American soil," NPR reported. Spalding felt adamant that baseball was born in the United States. To prove his point, Spaulding helped form a commission in 1905, presided over by Abraham Mills, the fourth president of the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, to investigate the matter. After three years, Doubleday was anointed as baseball's inventor, to Spalding's delight.

Cricket and other games become baseball

Doubleday, who became a Civil War hero, was actually still attending West Point as a cadet the summer America's pastime allegedly started and, according to NPR, "never knew that he had invented baseball." But 15 years after his death in 1893, "he was anointed as the father of the game."

The fake story, "The Doubleday Myth," stuck, and became part of the sport's backstory. But, as the History Channel points out, "the real history of baseball is a little more complicated than the Doubleday legend." 

Historical references point out several games similar to baseball, all the way back to the 18th century, including English games like cricket and, yes, rounders. Variations of such sports were played around the time of the American Revolution. Britannica points out that the game is probably a "mash-up of a variety of different stick and ball games," including some possibly played in ancient Egypt or by Mayan tribes, "although the England story is the most plausible." 

The truth about baseball

The New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club started in 1845, and it was here that bank clerk and volunteer firefighter Alexander Joy Cartwright wrote new rules for the sport, shaping what some say became modern baseball. He suggested a diamond-shaped infield, a three-strike rule, foul lines, the distance between bases, and insisted players stop tagging runners out by pitching balls at them ...  something future players would be ever grateful for. Called the "Knickerbocker Rules," the new guidelines were used in June 1846 when the Knickerbockers played their first game of traditional American baseball against cricket's New York Nines.

Although Cartwright did found and lead the Club, and certainly wrote new rules, NBC Sports points out that "what he and his club were doing was not novel and did not come from some single, American-born game." 

Club president Daniel "Doc" Adams — a medical doctor — added to the rules, such as making the game nine innings, and made procedures more formal during the first convention for baseball players. Sometimes people call him the "Father of Baseball" because of this, but the truth is baseball is really a product of time, created by several influencers until it evolved into the game we all know and love today.