Did Abner Doubleday

Invent Baseball?


Pre-1845 Baseball:
Was Abner Doubleday Really the Originator?

Tom Helgesen

It seems that controversy still rages over the origins of
baseball. In 1991 the Baseball Hall of Fame was delighted to hear
about a baseball notice that is the earliest known printed
reference to organized baseball in America. The July 13, 1825
edition of the "Delhi (N.Y.) Gazette" (on microfilm) has a notice
listing the names of nine men challenging any group in Delaware
County to a game of baseball at the home of Edward B. Chace for
$1 per game. (The notice came from Hamden, New Jersey.) The
Baseball Hall of Fame hopes to send a student to search the
microfilm records of the "Delhi Gazette" to see what else might
be contained in its pages to shed light on Mr. Chase and his nine
ball players.

Abner Doubleday was the first to be officially recognized as the
creator of baseball. A turn-of-the-century national baseball
panel awarded the honor to Doubleday on the strength of a letter
from an old schoolmate claiming Abner devised the rules for the
game in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York. Although his name has
stuck with the public, Doubleday was long ago shorn of this honor
by historians who examined the evidence.

Tom Heitz of the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, New
York, said in a phone interview recently that the Hall of Fame
recognizes September, 1845 as the time when the rules of the game
we know as baseball were first set down. They were adopted by the
New York Knickerbockers, led by a bank clerk named Alexander
Cartwright. The following June in Hoboken, New Jersey, the
Knickerbockers played the first organized baseball game between
two teams using the new rules. The controversy as it turns out is
actually more a rivalry between cities vying for the distinction
as the birthplace of baseball.

What is still not well understood, however, is the origins of the
game before 1845 -- the period referred to by the Hall as early
baseball. Historians have found references to early forms of
baseball in the New York cities such as Rochester and Geneso in
the 1820's. Organized clubs played in Philadelphia and the New
York City area in the 1830's. Evidence has been found of early
baseball in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and other
northeastern states. Although called baseball, most of the games
were experiments with different rules and methods of play that
may or may not resemble the game we know today.

Mr. Heitz said the Hall of Fame would be very interested in
hearing of any baseball references prior to September, 1846
unearthed by NCSA members. The Hall knows what happened after
that date but would like to know more about the precursors of
baseball before that date -- what rules were used, who played
earlier forms and where and when.

There's also an interesting twist for our English friends to look
into. In 1748 a Lady Hervey wrote a letter in which she describes
family activities of Frederick, Prince of Wales. She refers to
family members "diverting themselves in baseball, a play all who
are or have been schoolboys are well acquainted with." Was this
game like the baseball we know today? If it was a common school
yard game as she implies, would there be references to it
elsewhere? Perhaps in newspapers? There have been some scant
references to baseball as far back as the American Revolution and
England in the early 1700's.

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