Saturday, August 16, 2008


Despite the recent events of the first week of the 2008 Bejing Summer Olympics that include the incredibly naive misstep by the Spanish Men's Basketball Team, the babies on the Chinese Ladies Gymnastic Team, the ongoing supression by the Chinese government of the world media and much more I had the oportunity to wax eloquent on a variety of topics. I have chosen a more mundane, discreet path that will keep me out of the politics of the aforementioned situations save a sincere, "Shame on you" admonition.

Towards that end I just received another response to my October 7, 2007 post Proud To Be a Canadian??? where I had originally responded to what were the ramblings of an egomaniacal Canadian intent to “up” the Canadian experience and “down” America by spouting some gibberish about Canadian inventions. One of those was the certainty that Canadians had invented baseball. Let it be said now and forever, I frankly don’t care who invented the game whether it be Canadian, Russian, Chinese, Scottish or for that matter, any other nationality. It’s just nice to embrace the truth.

Admittedly, since my youth I have been cursed with stories of iconic and apparently mythological import that Abner Doubleday of Cooperstown, NY had invented that most American of pastimes, baseball. I initially offered that Doubleday or the equally iconic Alexander Cartwright of Hoboken, NJ were the Americans attributed with the invention of the modern game. Along with Ken Burns I was wrong about Doubleday who has now been discredited.

This respectful Canadian (whose privacy I will protect) accurately opined to the contrary though ignoring the Cartwright connection. She offered the opportunity to further my research into this subject. Her e-mail and my most recent response follow.

“I just came across your blog. While I have to agree with most of what you write, my quibble would be with 4. The oldest verifiable use of the word baseball comes from an Ontario newspaper in 1838.

Just as you believe that ice hockey is derived from the Scottish game shinty, there are those that believe that baseball is derived from an English (Irish?) game called rounders.

As far as Abner Doubleday being the inventor of baseball, I would submit his 37 volume daily journal as proof to the contrary. Not once is the game or the idea of baseball mentioned, which would be impossible if he had actually invented the game.

A Canadian...”

Here is my response.

Thanks for your welcome response. The origins of baseball have been the subject of much debate and my opinions also continue to evolve. The observations in my Blog related directly to the modern game as we know it today though I now emphatically concede that Doubleday was not involved in the invention of baseball at all. With one American myth dispelled let's reflect further on the reality of the origins of the game.

Most now agree that Alexander Cartwright (1820–1892) of Hoboken, NJ (photo above) who founded the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York (named after the Knickerbocker Fire Engine Company where Cartwright was a volunteer firefighter) was the “Father of Modern Baseball.” The Knickerbockers had played a recreational bat and ball game among themselves called the Town Game. When the Knickerbockers lost their free playing field in 1845 and had to start paying for the privilege, they founded a paying league whereupon Cartwright and a committee first drew up rules that eventually became known as the Knickerbocker Rules. These 20 rules are believed to be the basis for and evolution of the Town Game into the modern game of baseball. Cartwright is credited for the concepts of: fair and foul territory; three strikes per out; three outs per inning; nine players per side; and ninety feet between bases. We need note that while others have also been credited, Cartwright is thought to be one of the first to draw a diagram of a diamond shaped field. In recognition of his contributions, Cartwright was officially credited by the United States Congress on June 3, 1953, with inventing the modern game of baseball and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cartwright then and for the rest of his life took baseball to the next level.

I do disagree that your 1838 Ontario newspaper reference to "baseball" is proof positive that the game was invented in Canada. In short, your claim that the first use of the word “baseball” comes from an Ontario newspaper in 1838 bears scrutiny. Actually this supposed first recorded account of a baseball game, which allegedly occurred in Beechville, Ontario on June 4, 1838, was actually a letter apparently written by Dr. Adam E. Ford, and then recounted in a letter by Ontario resident Dr. Matthew Harris that was published 38 years later on May 5, 1886, in a magazine called Sporting Life.

In this letter, many of the elements of what was evolving into baseball were described including bases/byes (5), base lines, distance from the pitcher to the home bye, Innings, types of pitches and three outs, among others.

There is no doubt that some of the elements of modern baseball were coming together. This letter is recognized by many as perhaps first documented evidence of a baseball game in Canada not the first game of baseball

There were much earlier references to baseball. I would draw your attention to a 1791 bylaw in Pittsfield, MA which only four years after the US Constitution was ratified, "banned the playing of baseball within 80 yards of the town meeting house." The statute also mentions other prohibited games to include wicket, cricket, batball, football, cats and fives. I have seen a woodcutting depicting an American bat and ball game dated in 1833 reflects in its very comprehensive history of baseball that The Boy's Own Book first published in Boston in 1829, referred to a game called "Round Ball," "Base" and "Goal Ball" and the first documentation of a game more closely related to modern baseball. The article included a field diagram with locations noted for bases all arranged in a diamond. Other early 19th century American newspapers regularly mentioned games such as "Bass-Ball," "Base," "Base Ball," "Base-Ball," "Goal Ball" and "Town Ball." Hmm, I wonder if Dr. Ford or Alexander Cartwright saw this article? continues reflecting that “The first town ball club to adopt a constitution was the Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia, founded in 1833. It was formed by combining two associations of Town Ball players. One of the Town Ball associations may have begun play in the spring of 1831, in Camden, NJ on Market Street.” And so it goes on…

Please note that my remarks in that original post were more a reaction to the mostly ridiculous rantings of someone trying to up the Canadian image, no matter the truth. Canadians don't need to cop to some false sense of accomplishment when they have so many legitimate and laudable achievements.

I absolutely agree that the modern game of baseball is based in part on earlier versions of rounders, a similar English (Irish) bat and ball game and the more formal game of cricket. But that's recent history. The Scots also had their version of a bat and ball game. As my anthropology DNA kicks in we need note that there is also evidence that the Romans played a similar game and in more recent history (the 14th century) the Russians had a bat and ball game they called Lapta.

According to highly respected Wikipedia, "Americans played a version of the English game rounders in the early 1800s which they called "Town Ball". In fact, early forms of baseball had a number of names, including "Base Ball", "Goal Ball", "Round Ball", "Fletch-catch", and simply "Base". In at least one version of the game, teams pitched to themselves, runners went around the bases in the opposite direction of today's game, and players could be put out by being hit with the ball like in Schlagball. Like today, however, it was three strikes and you're out."

It is almost amusing that the Americans at one point during the early development of baseball wanted to do everything they could to draw a distinction between rounders and baseball.

There is no doubt that whoever invented the game probably borrowed from many different versions of previous "bat and ball" games and that appropriately reflects both the Canadian and American distinguished pool of émigrés from all over the world. If the basis for the modern game was invented by someone other than those cited herein then they were obviously not well served by a lethargic media proving again that it always comes down to who timely writes the history.

When it comes to ice hockey we could give the ultimate credit to our First Nation Brothers and Sisters in present day Canada though we cannot be assured that other native peoples (like lacrosse) were not playing a similar game in other northern latitudes. Again, the Scots looking to busy themselves during the dark days of winter may have gotten the nod because of their proximity to someone who could write.

But, back to baseball. Frank Ceresi in The Origins of Baseball (Baseball Almanac, 07-2004) stated, "In truth, the game evolved over many decades, if not centuries, and its roots are, in reality, a tangled web of bat and ball games brought to this country by immigrants." It would be nice to think that there was some interaction, however subtle, between, those who were playing a similar game.

I also want to note that since Canada didn’t become a country until July 1, 1867 - well after the invention of the game - can the claim be made that a Canadian…………
well, you get my drift…

We can agree on one thing- that the history of baseball can parallel the history of America. Baseball has evolved into a uniquely American pastime where according to Ken Burns, “Nothing in our daily life offers more of the comfort of continuity, the generational connection of belonging to a vast and complicated American family, the powerful sense of home, the freedom from time's constraints, and the great gift of accumulated memory than does our National Pastime.”

Even though other nations have embraced and in some cases surpassed our ability on the diamond, it’s still American. As Walt Whitman stated in a different time, “Well — it's our game; that's the chief fact in connection with it; America's game; it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions; fits into them as significantly as our Constitution's laws; is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.”

Thanks for your input and note that I have already corrected my post.

All the Best, Aye

Ned Buxton

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