Did Abner Doubleday Invent Baseball?

Not only did Abner Doubleday not invent baseball, it wasn’t even invented in Cooperstown (the site of the Baseball Hall of Fame). Put away your hankies, Buzzkillers, America will survive this revelation.

According to legend, a young man named Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, New York in the summer of 1839. But Doubleday was still a cadet at West Point in 1839 and he never made any reference to baseball or having invented it. He had lived in Cooperstown as a young man, but went on to West Point and a prominent career as an Army general in the Civil War.

In 1905, baseball’s National League established a commission to determine the origins of baseball. Based on one letter from one man, a mining engineer named Abner Graves who claimed to have seen Doubleday invent the game in Cooperstown in 1839, based on a traditional game called “town ball.” 

The commission hurriedly wrote its report based on this single memory from more than 60 years before, and the legend started. Since it had the official stamp of the National League on it, the report was rarely questioned.

In truth, as with almost all sports, baseball wasn’t invented. It evolved over a long time from games such as rounders and cricket. But, as it turns out, there was a kind of inventor of modern baseball. At least he was a codifier. 

His name was Alexander Cartwright and in 1845 he formed the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club with a number of friends. Cartwright, a bank clerk and volunteer fire-fighter, designed the diamond-shaped infield and specified its dimensions, established foul lines, created the three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule, and many other standard rules. He also banned the common method of “tagging” runners by hitting them with thrown balls. 

Cartwright’s rules and designs made the game faster and more exciting. It soon became known as “the lightning game” when compared to cricket (the other most popular game in New York at the time). 

By these standards, we should revere Cartwright (and not Doubleday) and the Hall of Fame should be in Manhattan, not Cooperstown. Oh well, Buzzkillers. Cooperstown is indeed a lovely place to go in the summer for the annual induction of new members of the Hall of Fame. So I guess a little mythology is ok sometimes.

Buzzkill Bookshelf

Thomas W. Gilbert, How Baseball Happened: Outrageous Lies Exposed! The True Story Revealed

You may have heard that Abner Doubleday or Alexander Cartwright invented baseball. Neither did. You may have been told that a club called the Knickerbockers played the first baseball game in 1846. They didn’t. Perhaps you’ve read that baseball’s color line was first crossed by Jackie Robinson in 1947. Nope.

Baseball’s true founders don’t have plaques in Cooperstown. They were hundreds of uncredited, ordinary people who played without gloves, facemasks, or performance incentives. Unlike today’s pro athletes, they lived full lives outside of sports. They worked, built businesses, and fought against the South in the Civil War.

In this myth-busting history, Thomas W. Gilbert reveals the true beginnings of baseball. Through newspaper accounts, diaries, and other accounts, he explains how it evolved through the mid-nineteenth century into a modern sport of championships, media coverage, and famous stars—all before the first professional league was formed in 1871.

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