Is baseball really an American invention?

By: Gerlinda Grimes

Although it's beloved by Americans, baseball may not have originated in the U.S. See more sports pictures.
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Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet: Above all else, these are the things we revere as quintessentially American. Yet hot dogs have their roots in Germany and Austria, and apple pie dates back to Chaucer's England. Chevrolet undisputedly comes from the good ole USA, but no one really knows for sure where baseball originated.

In 1908, a special commission headed by sporting-goods magnate Albert Spaulding proclaimed that Abner Doubleday of Cooperstown, N.Y., invented baseball. Spaulding Commission critics immediately counter-claimed that it was actually Alexander Cartwright, founder of the New York Knickerbockers, who fathered the game. In 1953, Congress agreed, officially naming Alexander Cartwright the inventor of the modern game of baseball [source: NPR].

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Today, however, baseball historians like John Thorne dismiss the idea that Cartwright invented baseball. Thorne points out that people had been playing baseball, or closely related variations, for more than a century before either Doubleday or Cartwright ever picked up a ball. References to a game called "Base Ball" appear in multiple sources, from a 1744 English book of children's verse called "A Little Pretty Pocket-Book" to Jane Austen's novel "Northanger Abbey," penned in 1798.

Some say that these early references may actually refer to an English game called Rounders. As in baseball, Rounders players hit pitches with bats and run around four posts (bases) to score points. Unlike baseball, players don't wear ball gloves, and batters run whether they manage to strike the ball or not. Still, the two games share an undeniably common root, and that root appears to originate in England -- not America.

In 2008, baseball's English roots made headlines when a diary by William Bray was unearthed in Surrey. On March 31, 1755, young Mr. Bray recounted that he spent the day playing "at Base Ball" with a mixed group of young men and women. The Surrey County Council's History Center crowed that the manuscript provided "proof that the game the Americans gave to the world came from England" [source: Associated Press].

In his blog "Dear Abner," baseball historian John Thorn paraphrases Topsy from Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel "Uncle Tom's cabin" to explain how baseball originated: "Baseball never had no 'fadder'" he says, "It jest grow'd" [source: Thorn].

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  • The Associated Press. "America's Pastime Really English? Earliest Reference Discovered." Sept. 11, 2008. (July 17, 2012) http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=3582726
  • Miller, Mark J. "GM Renews Commitment to Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet." Brandchannel.com. July 13, 2011. (July 17, 2012) http://www.brandchannel.com/home/post/2011/07/13/GM-Renews-Commitment-to-Baseball-Hot-Dogs-Apple-Pie-and-Chevrolet.aspx
  • Pennington, Bill. "Baseball's Origins Ain't Found Till They're Found." The New York Times. Sept. 12, 2004. (July 17, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/12/sports/baseball/12origins.html/
  • National Public Radio. "The 'Secret History' of Baseball's Earliest Days." March 16, 2011. (July 17, 2012) http://www.npr.org/2011/03/16/134570236/the-secret-history-of-baseballs-earliest-days
  • Thorn, John. "Debate Over Baseball's Origins Spills Into Another Century." The New York Times. March 12, 2011. (July 17, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/sports/baseball/13thorn.html
  • Thorn, John. "Who Invented Baseball?" Dear Abner Blog. April 9, 2008. (July 17, 2012) http://dearabner.blogspot.com/2008/04/who-invented-baseball.html

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