Though many believe it was Abner Doubleday who invented the game of baseball, that tale is more or less a myth. The game began long before Doubleday, but it was not played in exactly the same way, and there is debate over exactly how it evolved into what it is today. There is a chance the game spans all the way back to the mid-14th century when the French played a game known as la soule. Others believe that baseball derived from the English game known as rounders. There might have been other games that influenced modern baseball including cricket stoolball and tut-ball, but rounders is most commonly credited as the early version of today’s modern baseball game.
Rounders came to the United States around the end of the 18th century. It was played by both British and Irish immigrants. References to the game began around this time, but there were obvious differences in the rules of the early games. By the mid-1800s, people all over North America were playing town ball, base-ball, and round-ball. A reference in the magazine Sporting Life talked of a game that included five bases and an out when a ball was caught after one bounce.
Doubleday’s Mythical Legacy
For a long time it was believed that Abner Doubleday had invented the game in Cooperstown, New York. Aside from a story from a single man, who
was not Doubleday, there was no proof of the widely accepted myth. When Doubleday died in 1911, no mention of his supposed accomplishment was mentioned in his obituary and Doubleday never received induction into the baseball Hall of Fame. However, the town of Cooperstown is filled with references to Doubleday and many embrace the myth as part of the game’s history.
Organized baseball began to develop in the mid-1800s when Alexander Cartwright put the early rules of the game into writing. These were known as the Knickerbocker rules and included the elimination of hitting the runner with a thrown ball. The size of the ball was reduced and it was harder than what was originally used. The rules still counted a ball caught after a single bounce as an out. The first official game played by the Knickerbockers occurred on June 19, 1846, in Hoboken, New Jersey against the New York Nine. Cartwright was an umpire in this first game. It included four innings of play and launched the development of today’s modern game. Cartwright traveled west like many Americans in pursuit of the gold rush, but managed to spread the game across the country along the way. Many years later in 1953, Congress officially credited Cartwright with the invention of the modern game. Cartwright has since been inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Though many who travel to Cooperstown envision the game played in green fields and slowly making its way to the city centers, it was actually in the cities that the game began. There were many amateur urban clubs in the mid-1800s and the modern game came directly from these city games.