Anniversary Post: Baseball

Alexander CartwrightOn this day in 1846, first baseball game was played using Alexander Cartwright’s rules. But that’s the thing about baseball: it wasn’t really invented; it evolved. I’m sure you’ve heard about Abner Doubleday inventing baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York. But that’s just nationalistic hogwash. The idea was to make baseball a distinctly American game, instead of what it is: a variation on rounders — a game that dates back to 16th century England and that was referred to as base-ball in A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, which was published in 1744.

Cartwright did systematize the game, set up the diamond shape of the playing field and got rid of the rule allowing players to get runners out by hitting them with the ball. Cartwright was a fireman — eventually becoming fire chief of Honolulu. But he was a huge booster for baseball and spread its play far and wide. But again: he didn’t invent baseball. This is a fact that Americans especially hate to acknowledge. The history of humanity is not a story of “great men” who we would be lost without. It is a story of various people — usually without even knowing each other — working collectively.

This isn’t to take away from anything that individuals do. But they don’t exist in a vacuum. Was Cartwright’s game with the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club really the first baseball game? Or was the first baseball game something played by a bunch of kids while Henry VIII ruled England? Or was it some much later time, since baseball continues to change? It is all of these and none of them. But clearly Alexander Cartwright made major contributions to the modern game of baseball. And that’s cool. But he didn’t do it so that there would be a plaque featuring him at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (hilariously located in Cooperstown). He did it because he loved the game. And rightly so. Baseball is a wonderful game.

But what the hell: happy anniversary baseball!

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