It 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!