Baseball, like the United States, evolved out of a British precedent into a unique and independent institution. The origin of American baseball lies in an informal offshoot of the English sport of cricket called “rounders,” which was played in the Colonies as early as the mid-18th century. The game was already called “baseball” in a 1744 children’s book. Essentially, a batter had to hit a pitched ball and then run the bases (from one to five of them) without being tagged or “plugged” – hit by a ball thrown by one of the fielders.
A special Commission of 1907 concluded that baseball had been “invented” by the Civil War hero Abner Doubleday (1819-1893) in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. But it was actually Alexander Joy Cartwright (1820-1892) of New York who established the modern baseball field in 1845. In Cartwright’s rules of play, however, plugging was allowed. Additionally, a ball fielded on one bounce was an out, pitching was underhand, and the game was won by the first team to score 21 “aces” (runs), in however many innings.
By this time, baseball had become a leisure activity for wealthy young men. But later, after Civil War soldiers who had played baseball behind the lines brought the game back to their hometowns, baseball was both watched and played by Americans of every social status.
Baseball was institutionalized and further developed by the National Association in 1858. The Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first all-professional team in 1869. The rival National League (formed in 1876) and American League (formed in 1903) competed in the first World Series in 1903 and the first All-Star Game in 1933. In 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson, removing the color barrier that had consigned black players to the “Negro Leagues.”
Since then, baseball has continued to embrace ever more players and fans – of all ages, both sexes, and various backgrounds – here and worldwide (especially in Central America and Japan). Today, despite the disillusioning Major League strike of 1994 to 1995, baseball remains unchallenged as the quintessential American pastime.
Alexander Cartwright was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938.