Possibly the most revered baseball historian of all time, Harold Seymour, stated very clearly: “To ascertain who invented baseball would be equivalent to trying to locate the discoverer of fire.”
Still, there is curiosity and the desire to know. We all have interest in our origin. Is evolution itself true, or perhaps there is a wondrous creator, or both?
As to the invention of baseball: I have this image in mind of Raquel Welch from the movie One Million Years BC. This cave guy definitely is interested in her, but moping around, kicking some rocks, not sure if “Arrhgh ugghh and bah” is a suitable way to introduce himself. He randomly picks up a stick, pushes a good sized round rock with it, when another (and notably jealous) cave dude suddenly throws a sizable rock at him. Our hero reacts with great agility, and swats that rock pretty well with his stick. They look at each other, and have a truly incredible moment: The first pitch ever in recorded history was just thrown, and the first grounder was hit! (Cue the music from Space Odyssey 2001).
Now… go run the bases buddy!
(As an aside; if you feel the mention of Raquel Welch is too dated, that’s fine, Mrs. Jason Verlander could be the cave woman, fine).
Just please do not tell me Abner Doubleday invented baseball, let alone that he did so in Cooperstown in 1839. Yes, the Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown, but ol’ Abner is not the inventor of our beloved past time.
Instead, in 2016 a rather remarkable event happened:
“Documents laying out some of the original “Laws of Base Ball” sold for $3.26 million early Sunday morning, setting a new record for the highest-priced baseball document. The documents relate to the foundation of the American game and include a document that first defined how the game was played in 1856. The original rules, written by Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, stipulated that the ball can’t weigh less than 5¾ ounces and the bat could be of any length but no more than 2½ inches at its widest part. It also stated that there would be four bases, 30 yards apart, with each base being one square foot.”
What I understand about this baseball version of the dead sea scrolls is that our illustrious game was developed for professional men looking for a little leisurely fun. It was for older men, not athletes.
In truth, however, there were folk games well back in early Britain and Continental Europe that have features we can find in modern baseball, as well as other, earlier sport activities like cricket and rounders. Of course, you probably have read the 1838 book The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England by Joseph Strutt. He states that baseball-like games can readily be traced to the 14th century, and to a specific English game known as stoolball. To add even more zest to this intrepid investigation of the origins of our true, national past time, there is reference in a 1330 poem by one William Pagula who recommended to priests that the game of stoolball be forbidden within churchyards.
Wait a second… Stoolball?
My team of reporters, having dug deep into this — ok, I have no team of reporters and digging is better done in gardens — it can now be revealed that many believe the earliest appearance of the actual word “baseball” is in 1700. There an Anglican bishop, Thomas Wilson, expressed some negativity about “Morris-dancing, cudgel-playing, baseball and cricket” occurring on Sundays. (Footnote: I did not look into whether Thomas Wilson is a distant relative of Zack Wilson, sorry).
Then in 1744 a children’s book entitled A Little Pretty Pocket-Book contains a woodcut of a game similar to three-base stoolball or rounds, and of all things a rhyme named “Base-Ball”.
Returning finally to our shores, there have been two sides about the invention of baseball: The English who submit it is “quite obvious chaps that our game of rounders became your purported game of baseball”, versus those who are quite firm in their conviction that this wonderful American sport, this uniquely American game, grew from our soil, from our sweat, from our farms, towns, taverns, and cities. There is in fact a reference in March 1786 from the diary of a Princeton student, John Rhea Smith, who wrote: “A fine day, play baste ball in the campus but am beaten for I miss both catching and striking the ball”. And, in 1791 a bylaw in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, banned the playing of “any game of wicket, cricket, baseball, batball….. or any other game play with ball” within 80 years of the town meeting house, so as to prevent damage to its windows.
Finally, then we get to the earliest known published rules of baseball in the United States: 1845 for a New York City baseball club known as the Knickerbockers. Alexander Cartwright, reported organizer of the club, is referred to by many as “the father of baseball”.
One rule of interest is that putting a runner out by hitting him with a thrown ball was verboten; tagging with the ball was ok instead. Significantly, the 15th rule specified three outs to an inning rather than “one out, all out” or “all out, all out”. A problem, however, is that the Knickerbocker Rules did not address basics of the game with which we have grown accustomed, such as actual positions, or the number of players per side, pitching distance, and even the direction of base running. Nonetheless, the United States Congress on June 3, 1953, officially credited Alexander Cartwright with inventing the modern game of baseball. With that, what else could we possibly require?
To wrap this up, there is a philosophy that is hard to refute: What has occurred, what has come to be, was always in the making. Overly cosmic it may be, but from the very, very beginning of time, to the point when in 1845 the Knickerbocker Club began utilizing Elysian Fields in Hoboken to play baseball, a series of random and at times sequential circumstances gave rise to the creation and birth of baseball. So, when we sit in a ball park, watching, cheering, groaning, musing, chatting or any combination thereof, just remember that you are witnessing an activity that was invented over billions and billions of years, so you might as well as well enjoy it. I mean, anything that took that long to come to fruition is pretty darn amazing..
And this whole thing that baseball games are too long. I mean, give me a break! We’re talking billions and billions of years to even get here! And you’re worried about how hard it will be to get out of the parking lot after the game!