Alexander Joy Cartwright

The precise origins of baseball are probably forever impossible to determine. The likelihood is that it evolved gradually from several different games that had only one common element: They all utilized a ball and an object with which to strike it. Thus, we cannot credit the invention of baseball to any one person. What can be unequivocally stated, however, is that Alexander Joy Cartwright -- Alick, to his friends -- had a large hand in the development of the game as we now know it.

Cartwright was responsible for baseball's development.
Cartwright was responsible
for baseball's development.

Curiously, Cartwright's contribution for years remained buried and might still be unrecognized were it not for the creation of the Hall of Fame. In 1907, Al Spalding established a commission to unearth the origins of baseball. The man named to head it was former National League president A.G. Mills. After undergoing a perfunctory investigation, Mills attributed the game's invention to his old friend General Abner Doubleday, who purportedly staged the first contest one afternoon in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York, while still a West Point cadet.

Mills's findings were accepted as gospel despite an alarming absence of supporting evidence, and the Baseball Hall of Fame was accordingly placed in Cooperstown, with a centennial celebration of the game's birth planned for 1939.

About a year before the gala event, however, Bruce Cartwright, grandson of Alexander, wrote a letter when the hoopla reached all the way to Hawaii, where Bruce resided. With his letter, Cartwright produced his grandfather's diaries. The diaries, which charted Alexander Cartwright's early baseball experiences, touched off an investigation that seemed to establish that the Mills Commission's findings were fallacious and Cartwright was the true originator of baseball. The Hall of Fame officials, after due deliberation, decided to revise their position.

As a result, Abner Doubleday, the man responsible for the shrine being placed in Cooperstown, has himself never been enshrined. Cartwright was inducted in 1938.

Cartwright (1820-1892) helped form the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club on September 23, 1845, and drafted a set of 20 rules that were intended to set baseball apart from other bat-and-ball games. The following spring, on June 19 at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, the Knickerbocker Club played a game for the first time against another team. With Cartwright umpiring, the Knickerbockers were drubbed by the New York Nine, 23-1.

Cartwright remained in New York until March 1, 1849, and then, lured by the Gold Rush, went to the West Coast. After a short, disillusioning time there, he set sail for Hawaii and made the islands his home until his death on July 12, 1892.

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