The beginning of April brings the start of baseball season. Where did the “great American pastime” come from?
Contrary to popular lore, Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball in Cooperstown, New York. Doubleday never claimed to be the inventor, and there is no reliable record connecting him to the game.
Who did invent baseball, then? Lots of people, over many years. It apparently developed from an old English game called rounders, which New Englanders played in colonial days. In rounders, players hit the ball with a bat and ran around bases. Fielders threw the ball at runners, and if it hit a runner who was off base, he was out (a custom known as “soaking” or “plugging” the runner).
In the early days of the republic, Americans gradually transformed rounders into a game sometimes called “town ball” (because it was played on town greens in New England), “barn ball,” “base ball,” and several other names. Exactly how the game was played varied from place to place.
New York City businessman Alexander Cartwright (pictured above) is often called the father of organized baseball. In 1845 he founded the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York and wrote a set of rules for the game. Some of those rules were very different from the ones we know today. Pitchers had to throw underhanded. Catching a ball on the first bounce got the batter out. And a team had to score 21 runs (called “aces”) to win a game.
Soldiers in Northern and Southern armies played baseball during the Civil War. Afterward they took the sport home with them, and Americans went crazy for it. Soon baseball clubs were forming all over the country, and the game quickly became the national pastime.