Alexander Cartwright and Baseball

Alexander CartwrightIt is hard to say who invented baseball. This is partly true because, like most games, it evolved over time. But if there was a single inventor of baseball, I think the title has to go to Alexander Cartwright, who was born on this day in 1820. He was a volunteer firefighter and as a group they used to play “bat and ball” games. One day, he and some others decided to created a more complicated game that would appeal to adults. He started with the rules of rounders and altered them, although you can still see clear similarities. My favorite change: you can’t throw a ball to get a runner out. That was probably necessary, because Americans are animals and allowing that rule would probably have caused millions of spinal cord injuries by now.

Cartwright is a responsible for a number of other aspects that define the game today. These include: the diamond shape of the infield; foul balls; uniform base distances; three strikes; and nine active players. The game hasn’t changed that much since then.

Cartwright was a curious fellow. In 1849, he decided to go to California to join in the gold rush. But he never made it there. Instead, he landed in Hawaii, becoming the of Honolulu fire chief in 1850. He lived there the rest of his life, continuing to promote baseball. In this capacity, he became an adviser to the last king of Hawaii, Kalakaua.

Over the years, I have wondered why I like baseball so much. I understand that football is an extremely boring game. But much the same could be said of baseball. Certainly basketball is exciting, but its constant motion can be numbing. What I think distinguishes baseball is that it is clean. The ball is pitched, the ball is hit, the ball is fielded. There is no duplication of effort as there is in football. Everything is spread out so you can see it all. And above all, it is a civilized game: umpires are there to determine the timing of events, not to stop the players from brutalizing each other. But I will admit: I like baseball because I like baseball. It suits my temperament.

Happy birthday Alexander Cartwright!

0 thoughts on “Alexander Cartwright and Baseball

  1. Baseball. It’s got numbers. I like numbers. It’s got history. I like history. Every other sport has these two things, but baseball brings them to the forefront in a way no other American sport does.

    I think more than anything I like it because it’s a game you can enjoy on whatever level works for you. You can be a stats buff, a history buff, a minor-league buff, a pitching buff, a hitting buff, a defense buff, whatever. You can find many other buffs who enjoy the game for the same reasons you do or choose to keep your fandom to yourself. (Steve Bartman, with his earphones that let him listen to the radio broadcast while watching a playoff game, is an iconic "nerd" to people with only a passing interest in the sport, but no serious baseball fan would regard watching a game encased in one’s own manner of privately enjoying it to be strange or worthy of ridicule.)

    Most American sports have that whole "team spirit," pick-a-winner thing going on that’s such a noxious side of our culture. We tend not to root for underdogs, unless they are presented by media experts as worthy underdogs in some fashion (in some cliched fashion, with sad-sack attributes that garner majority sympathy.) The most passionate baseball fans enjoy it when their team wins, but they are just as fascinated by the details and personalities when their team is pure dogshit.

    For goodness’ sakes, we committed war crimes against Japan and they still fell in love with baseball anyway — for entirely their own reasons, which are utterly different from (and just as valid as) ours. It will probably never be the uber-macho cool game on the block again, the way football is now, and which brings out the worst conformist attributes of fandom. But I’m glad it’s still around.

  2. @JMF – That’s a good exposition. But I still come back to the fact that most things I like in baseball can be found in other games. There is something special about baseball that I can’t put my finger on. It may be as simple as the fact that when I was a kid, we went to see the Giants play a lot. But that didn’t turn me into a Giants fan; just a baseball fan.

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