The History of Baseball

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History of Baseball


UnknownThe question of the origins of baseball has been the subject of debate and controversy for more than a century. Baseball and the other modern bat, ball and running games, cricket and rounders, were developed from earlier folk games in England.

Early forms of baseball had a number of names, including “Base Ball”, “Goal Ball”, “Round Ball”, “fetch-catch”, stool ball”, and, simply, “Base”. In at least one version of the game, teams pitched to themselves, runners went around the bases in the opposite direction of today’s game, and players could be put out by being hit with the ball. Then as now, a batter was called out after three strikes.

Few details of how the modern game developed from earlier folk games are known. These folk games resulted in a game called town ball in which baseball is to have had its start, while others believe that town ball, a game similar to rounders, was independent from baseball.  Many of these early games involved a ball that was thrown at a target while an opposing player defended the target by attempting to hit the ball away. If the batter was successful in hitting the ball, he could score points by running between bases while fielders would attempt to catch the ball and put the runner out in some way.   Since they were just folk games with no documented rules, things tended to change over time.   If there were rules they were simple and not written down, different locations had similar games but with their own name for the same game.

Aside from obvious differences in terminology, the games differed in the equipment used (ball, bat, club, target, etc., usually just whatever was available), the way in which the ball is thrown, the method of scoring, the method of making outs, the layout of the field and the number of players involved.


An old English game called “base,” was not much like baseball. There was no bat and no ball involved. The game was more like a fancy game of “tag,” although it did share the concept of places of safety (i.e. bases) with modern baseball.  In stoolball, a batter stood before a target, perhaps an upturned stool, while another player pitched a ball to the batter. If the batter hit the ball (with a bat or his/her hand) and it was caught by a fielder, the batter was out. If the pitched ball hit a stool leg, the batter was out. Traditionally it was played by milkmaids who used their milking stools as a “wicket,” according to one belief while waiting for their husbands to return from working in the fields.  It has been reported that stoolball was a primitive version of baseball and dates back to 1672.

In 1748, the family of Frederick, Prince of Wales, partook in the playing of a baseball-like game. By 1796 the rules of this English game were well enough established to earn a mention in Johann Gutsmuths’ book on popular pastimes. In it he described “Englische Base-ball” as a contest between two teams in which “the batter has three attempts to hit the ball while at the home plate”; only one out was required to retire a side. The book also predates the rules laid out by the New York Knickerbockers by nearly fifty years.  The French book Les Jeux des Jeunes Garçons is the first known book to contain printed rules of a bat/base/running game. It was printed in Paris in 1810 and lays out the rules for “poison ball,” in which there were two teams of eight to ten players, four bases (one called home), a pitcher, a batter, and fly ball outs.

779544-MIn 1828, William Clarke of London published a second edition of The Boy’s Own Book, including rounders rules, and contains the first printed description in English of a bat and ball base-running game, played on a diamond. Similar rules were published in Boston in “The Book of Sports,” written by Robin Carver in 1834, except the Boston version called the game “Base” or “Goal ball.” The rules were similar but also added fair and foul balls and strike-outs.

The account of the first English cricket tour to Canada and the United States in 1859 refers to the “base-ball game being somewhat similar to the English and Irish game of ’rounders.'” A day’s play was lost during a cricket match in New York due to snow, but a game of baseball was arranged about a mile away between “the players of that game and a portion of the English party”  can be found in The English Cricketers’ trip to Canada and the United States, by Fred Lilliwhite.  The history of cricket prior to 1650 is something of a mystery.  References to a game actually called “cricket” appeared around 1550. It is believed that the word cricket is based either on the word cric, meaning a crooked stick possibly a shepherd’s crook (early forms of cricket used a curved bat somewhat like a hockey stick), or on the Flemish word “krickstoel,” which refers to a stool upon which one kneels in church.   The Toronto Cricket Club was established in that city by 1827 and the St. George’s Cricket Club was formed in 1838 in New York City. Teams from the two clubs faced off in the first international cricket game in 1844 which old_fashioned_cricket_8Toronto won by 23 runs.

A unique British sport, known as British Baseball, it is still played in parts of Wales and England.  Confined mainly to the cities of Cardiff, Newport and Liverpool, the sport boasts an annual international game between teams from both countries.

Another early folk game was “dog and cat” originated in Scotland. In cat and dog a piece of wood called a cat is thrown at a hole in the ground while another player defends the hole with a stick (a dog). In some cases there were two holes and, after hitting the cat, the batter would run between them while fielders would try to put the runner out by putting the ball in the hole before the runner got to it. Dog and cat thus resembled cricket.   The game of “cat” (or “cat-ball“) had many variations but usually there was a pitcher, a catcher, a batter and fielders, but there were no sides (and often no bases to run). A feature of some versions of cat that would later become a feature of baseball was that a batter would be out if he swung and missed three times.

A game popular in colonial America was “one hole catapult,” which used a catapult like the one used in trap-ball, as well as “one ol’ cat,” a contraction of one hole catapult. In one ol’ cat, when a batter is put out, the catcher goes to bat, the pitcher catches, a fielder becomes the pitcher, and other fielders move up in rotation. One ol’ cat was often played when there weren’t enough players to choose up sides and play townball. Sometimes running to a base and back was involved. “Two ol’ cat” was the same game as one ol’ cat, except that there were two batters.


There is a myth that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in 1839 was once widely promoted and widely believed. There is no evidence for this claim except for the testimony of one man decades later, and there is persuasive counter-evidence. Doubleday himself never made such a claim; he left many letters and papers, but they contain no reference to baseball or any suggestion that he considered himself prominent in the game’s history. His obituary in the New York Times obituary makes no mention of baseball, nor does a 1911 Encyclopedia article about Doubleday. Doubleday was never inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, although there was a large oil portrait of him on display at the Hall.    Debate on baseball’s origins had raged for decades, heating up in the first years of the 20th century, due to a 1903 essay baseball historian Henry Chadwick wrote in an Official Baseball Guide and stated that baseball gradually evolved from English game of “rounders”.   The Mills Commission, organized in 1905, found an appealing story: baseball was invented in a quaint rural town without foreigners or industry, by a young man who later graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served heroically in the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, as well as wars against Indians.

The Mills Commission concluded that Doubleday had invented baseball in Cooperstown, New York in 1839; that Doubleday had invented the word “baseball,” designed the diamond, indicated fielders’ positions, and written the rules.   Between 1839 and 1849 there were no written records found to corroborate these claims.  The principal source for the story was one letter from an elderly gentleman (Abner Graves) who was a five-year-old resident of Cooperstown in 1839. Graves never mentioned a diamond, positions or the writing of rules. Doubleday could not have been in Cooperstown in 1839 and is unlikely to have visited as he was a cadet at West Point at the time and Mills never heard him mention baseball.

Although the Baseball Hall of Fame eventually was built in Cooperstown, Doubleday was never inducted into it. Versions of baseball rules and descriptions of similar games have been found in publications that significantly predate his alleged invention in 1839 even so the ballpark few blocks down from the Hall of Fame bears the name “Doubleday Field”.

knicker0Rules were written in 1845 for a New York City “base ball” club called the Knickerbockers.   The author of these rules, a gentleman named Alexander Cartwright is the person referred to as “the father of baseball”.  One important rule, the 13th, stipulated that the player need not be physically hit by the ball to be put out; this permitted the subsequent use of a farther-travelling hard ball. Evolution from the “Knickerbocker Rules” to the current rules is fairly well documented.   On June 3, 1953, Congress officially credited Cartwright with inventing the modern game of baseball, and he is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cartwright, a New York bookseller, umpired the first-ever recorded U.S. baseball game with codified rules in Hoboken, New Jersey on June 19, 1846. He also founded the older of the two teams that played that day, the New York Knickerbockers. The game ended, and the other team (The New York Nines) won, 22-1. One point undisputed by historians is that the modern professional major leagues, which began in the 1870s, developed directly from amateur urban clubs of the 1840s and 1850s, not from the pastures of small towns such as Cooperstown.   Prior to 1945 evolution of modern baseball is unknown.  There were once two camps. One, mostly English, asserted that baseball evolved from a game of English origin (rounders); the other, almost entirely American, said that baseball was an American invention (one-ol’-cat). Apparently they saw their positions as mutually exclusive. Some of their points seem more national loyalty than evidence: Americans tended to reject any suggestion that baseball evolved from an English game, while some English observers concluded that baseball was little more than their rounders without the round.   That baseball is based on English and Gaelic games such as cat, cricket and rounders is difficult to dispute. On the flip side baseball has many elements that are uniquely American.  There is a suspicion that rounders is the direct ancestor of baseball yet baseball evolved separately from town-ball (rounders).

_40683127_kallis_getty300Certainly baseball is related to cricket and rounders, but exactly how, or how closely, has never been firmly established. The only certain thing is that modern cricket is much older than modern baseball.   Games played with bat and ball together may all be distant cousins; the same goes for base-and-ball games. Bat, base, and ball games for two teams that alternate in and out, such as baseball, cricket, and rounders, are close cousins. They all involve throwing a ball to a batsman who attempts to “bat” it away and run safely to a base, while the opponent tries to put the batter-runner out when possible.

In 1845, New York’s Knickerbocker Club played at Elysian Fields in Hoboken (New Jersey) due to the lack of soft grounds in Manhattan.   In 1846, the Knickerbockers played the New York Nine on these grounds in the first organized game between two clubs. A plaque and baseball diamond street pavings at 11th and Washington Streets commemorate the event. By the 1850s, several Manhattan-based members of the National Association of Base Ball Players were using the grounds as their home field.   In 1865 the grounds hosted a championship match between the New York Mutual Club and Brooklyn’s Atlantic Club was attended by an estimated 20,000 fans and captured in a Currier & Ives lithograph titled “The American National Game of Base Ball.”1870_ny_mutual

With the construction of two significant baseball parks enclosed by fences in Brooklyn, enabling promoters there to charge admission to games; the prominence of Elysian Fields began to diminish. In 1868 the leading Manhattan Club, Mutual, shifted its home games to the Union Grounds in Brooklyn.  In 1880, the founders of the New York Metropolitans and New York Giants finally succeeded in getting a ballpark in Manhattan known as the Polo Grounds.

In 1851, the game of baseball was already well-established enough that a newspaper report of a game played by a group of teamsters on Christmas Day referred to the game as, “a good old-fashioned game of baseball.”

In 1857, sixteen clubs from modern New York City sent delegates to a convention that standardized the rules, essentially by agreeing to revise the Knickerbocker rules. In 1858, twenty-five including one from New Jersey founded a going concern, but the National Association of Base Ball Players is conventionally dated from 1857. It governed through 1870 but it scheduled and sanctioned no games.   In 1858, clubs from the association played a cross-town, all-star series pitting Brooklyn clubs against clubs from New York and Hoboken.    On July 20, 1858, an estimated crowd of about 4,000 spectators watched New York and Hoboken defeat Brooklyn by a score of 22-18. The New York team included players from the Union, Empire, Eagle, Knickerbocker and Gotham clubs. The Brooklyn team included players from the clubs Excelsior, Eckford, Atlantic and Putnam. In a return match held August 17, 1858, and played at the Fashion Course in the Corona neighborhood of Queens, a slightly smaller crowd cheered Brooklyn to a win over New York and Hoboken by a score of 29-8. New York won a third game in the series, also played at the Fashion Course, on September 10, 1858.   By 1862 some NABBP member clubs offered games to the general public in enclosed ballparks with admission fees.  During and after the American Civil War, the movements of soldiers and exchanges of prisoners helped spread the game.  Today hundreds of clubs in the U.S. play “vintage base ball” according to the 1845, 1858, or later rules usually in vintage uniforms. Some of them have supporting casts that recreate period dress and manner, especially those associated with living history museums.

The origins of baseball were summarized in a documentary produced by Major League Baseball in 2009 entitled Base Ball Discovered.

The popular game that gained fame as being ‘America’s favorite pastime’ is none other than the brisk game of baseball. There are many controversies and debate that go with the origin of baseball. Cricket, Baseball, softball running games and rounders are believed to have taken shape from primitive type of community games. Even though the name has no clear relation many games were popularly played that somewhat resemble modern day baseball. There were different ball games that were known by amusing names like stool ball, goal ball and even poison ball.

In 1888, the Chicago Baseball club introduced the game to Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, North Africa and Egypt by playing the game for a large audience. There has been a myth is that Abner Doubleday set up the basic rules of baseball way back in 1839 but never believed.  A book called Baseball by Alexander Cartwright and a documentary based upon it by filmmaker Ken Burns suggests that it was Alexander who first codified the game rules.

Recorded in the world of baseball as significant events date back to 1869 that saw these major serious debuts:

The Cincinnati Red Stockings first appearance as the all-professional team. It defeated the Great Westerns in a game of 45-9.   The Red Stockings had a fabulous indomitable season with their 60th victory. They defeated the visiting Mutual Green Stockings of New York 17-8 before an audience of 7,000 spectators.

sheast70However, the first recorded baseball game in 1846 is credited to Alexander Cartwright’s Knickerbockers. The Knickerbockers lost to the New York Baseball Club at the Elysian Fields in New Jersey. With the establishment of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1858, the world witnessed the first systematic baseball league.

Many professional and amateur players contribute to the vast baseball history. Every chapter in baseball history leads to interesting event that helped with development of modern-day systematic baseball. By any name, baseball has been a game that sets stars in the eyes of sport lovers for decades.

From 1943 thru 1954 women played professional baseball and whose exploits inspired the feature film, “A League of Their Own.”   This league was formed as a result of America’s entry into World War II, several major league baseball executives started a new professional league with women players in order to maintain baseball in the public eye while the majority of able men were away. Initial tryouts were held at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Growing up on Long Island, my brother and I were always involved in extra-curricular activities such as drama, music, theatre, and of course sports, in what I would call an eclectic education. This was at a time when it was a rarity for a girl/female to have an interest in a boys sport.  Girls were generally relegated to playing softball.   One of the sports being baseball, and we continue to follow The New York Mets to this day.  We always were at Shea Stadium to watch the METS play and just have a good time. I have yet to get to a game at Citifield, the Mets new ballpark.  I still get to MET games now, when they come to Washington, DC to play the Nationals.    I’ve come home with next to no voice on many occasions.

Kathy Kiefer


10 thoughts on “The History of Baseball

    snoopygwtw said:
    April 17, 2013 at 3:00 am

    just one little change dear The second paragraph that starts with Early forms of baseball,   fletch-catch   should be fetch-catch

      otherwise it’s perfect


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