Baseball Before Becoming the National Pastime

New documents reopen the question of who invented baseball, reminding us of the colorful characters who were involved in what has become America’s national pastime – all just in time for the opening of a new season.

New documents reopen the question of who invented baseball, reminding us of the colorful characters who were involved in what has become America’s national pastime – all just in time for the opening of a new season.

The 2016 Major League Baseball season has begun, with opening day games postponed by snow, a marquee matchup of the two teams that played for the World Championship last year and a new founder.

Baseball fans revere the past as much as popcorn and beer at games, so it's “news" that Alexander Cartwright isn’t the originator of the game after all. It may actually be a guy named Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams.

Cartwright has been credited with establishing in 1860 the rules of what was then called Base Ball. He was inducted posthumously into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, where a plaque hangs to mark his founding achievement. Congress in 1953 declared Cartwright the inventor of modern baseball.

Newly uncovered documents, however, show Adams laid out the rules of baseball, which included 90-foot base paths, nine-inning games and called strikes, three years earlier in 1857. Even that may not be the whole story.

For a long time, the baseball world believed the game’s inventor was Abner Doubleday, who served as a general in the Union Army and played a pivotal role in the victory of Gettysburg. His founding role in baseball has been largely debunked. After the Civil War, Doubleday was stationed in San Francisco where he took out the patent on the cable car railway that is still operating today. Later he was listed as a New York lawyer. The closest he apparently came to the national pastime was supplying some bats and balls to his soldiers.

Some baseball historians believe Base Ball rules could date as far back as 1837. That makes sense since the “first Base Ball game” occurred in 1846.

Cartwright helped create the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in 1842. Adams played for the New York Base Ball Club as early as 1840 before joining the Knickerbockers around 1840. He was connected with the club, including stints as president, until 1860.

Preceding his baseball career, Cartwright worked as a clerk for a Wall Street broker. Baseball for him was a way to get out of a dreary office. Cartwright fled New York to pursue riches in the California gold fields and later moved to Hawaii where he became the the Honolulu fire chief and political adviser to the last Hawaiian king. Thus, the winners of the Hawaii high school baseball championship each year are given the Cartwright Cup.

Adams, who grew up in New Hampshire, graduated from Yale and earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School. When he moved to New York, Adams was involved in providing medical care and vaccinations to poor New Yorkers. He took up baseball the year after he graduated from med school. Records indicate Adams was primarily an infielder and may have originated the position we call “shortstop.” Though box scores, if they existed back then, haven’t survived, there is evidence the left-handed hitting Adams was a slugger, who occasionally plopped a homer into the river just beyond right field.

As a man of science, Adams was interested in more than just the game. He worked to perfect the baseball itself – making it livelier so it would travel farther – and he experimented with early baseball equipment, including bats. Adams also played the flute and performed public duets with Henry Ward Beecher.

The modern MLB season is long, with 30 teams each playing 162 games. Those games have grown longer, with larger gaps between pitches as batters ritualistically tug at their batting gloves. Hopefully this trek through baseball history can provide some amusement for all the down time fans will experience. Play Ball!