Baseball – a game like no other. It’s America’s pastime but has fans from all over the globe. It’s a peculiar game, filled with oddities and complexities, so it’s no surprise that its origin story is of a similar nature. The invention of baseball isn’t as cut and dry as, say, basketball (it is a well-known fact that John Naismith invented the game on the 21st of December, 1891, in Springfield, Massachusetts). With baseball, it is far more difficult to pinpoint the exact moment of its invention.
The Doubleday myth
In the early years of the 20th Century, former Major League player A.J. Spalding (commonly known in relation to the massive Spalding sporting goods company) created a commission to determine whether baseball was invented in the United States or derived from other games in the United Kingdom. Using the claims of one man, a mining engineer named Abner Graves, who claimed he went to school with the inventor of baseball, the commission determined that Abner Doubleday invented the sport in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839.
Doubleday was an American Civil War veteran, born in 1819, who was still in military school at West Point in 1839. What’s more, he had been dead for sixteen years by the time he was credited with inventing baseball. In his life, there is no proof of Doubleday claiming to have anything to do with the sport.
This origin myth, the legend of Abner Doubleday, became a commonly cited explanation for baseball’s creation, but the reality is a lot more complicated than that.
In truth, baseball’s origins aren’t particularly clear, but it wasn’t created by just one person. From what researchers have gathered, it probably came from a culmination of two English games, rounders and cricket. Rounders was brought to New England by the earliest English colonists. These games, and variations of them, were played in the United States all the way back in the 18th century.
A century later, baseball would begin to resemble the game as we know it today.
The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club
Founded by a group of men in New York in 1845, The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York is credited with being the first organised group to establish their own set of formal rules for baseball. These rules helped to form the basis of the modern game. The rules established foul lines, the distance between bases, a diamond-shaped infield and a limit of three outs. The Knickerbocker rules also eliminated a previous dodgeball-style practice of throwing the ball at a runner to tag him out.
The first official baseball game to use these rules was played in June 1846 between the Knickerbockers and the New York Nines cricket team.
The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club president, Daniel “Doc” Adams, created a more formal set of rules in 1857, dubbed “The Laws of Base Ball”. Adams is also credited with creating the position of shortstop. Moreover, he played a pivotal role in creating rules and establishing nine-player teams and nine-games. Adams, along with others in the Knickerbockers organisation, is credited as one of the “Fathers of Baseball”.
The major leagues
By the 1860s, the first baseball governing body was established. This was the National Association of Base Ball Players or NABBP. By 1867, the NABBP boasted over 400 amateur clubs. The first professional baseball club, the Cincinnati Red Stocking, was established in 1869. As professional clubs began to establish themselves, the need for a new, non-amateur baseball organisation arose.
Major League Baseball, commonly abbreviated to MLB, is the oldest major sports league in the world. It is made up of 30 teams which are divided into two leagues: the National League and the American League. The National League was founded in 1876, with the American League following 25 years later in 1901.
MLB’s early years were tumultuous, with a heated rivalry between the NL and AL. The first modern World Series, the annual MLB championship between the NL and AL champions, took place in 1903. Until 2000, the two leagues were separate legal entities. Now, there is only one league, MLB, which is split into two 15-team “leagues”.
Baseball’s history may be complex and difficult to trace, but it has led to the game that is loved by millions of fans today. It has expanded exponentially from its fledgling days as a combination of other ball-and-stick games. Now, there are professional baseball leagues and fans across the globe.