by Mary Jane Schmitt, Roosters Founder & General Manager
Evidence of games with stick and ball go back thousands of years. The American game of Base Ball has its origins in the English games of rounders and cricket. Clubs were formed to play base ball, but the rules varied quite a bit and most retained the rounders technique of getting a player out by throwing the ball at him. In 1845, Alexander Cartwright wrote down what became known as the New York Rules, which included the innovation of a player being out when touched by the ball while in the hand of the adversary. This set of rules was first used by The Knickerbocker Club, who played at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, across the river from New York City. In 1849, Mr. Cartwright became a “49er” and taught the game of base ball to those he encountered along the route to California.
From 1854 to 1857, a number of base ball clubs were formed in New York City and New Jersey with the first Convention of Base Ball Players taking place in New York City in 1857. The result of this convention was a progression toward the formation of the National Association of Base Ball Players and the adoption of The Rules and Regulations of Base Ball in 1860.
A New York journalist, Henry Chadwick, wrote the Beadle’s Dime Base Ball Player: A Compendium of the Game in 1860. Besides the 1860 rules, he included information and advice on how to set up a field, play each position, and perform the duties of umpire and scorer. He also offered the opinion that “Base ball, to be played thoroughly requires the possession of muscular strength, great agility, quickness of eye, readiness of hand, and many other faculties of mind and body that mark the man of nerve.”
In Civil War camps, both Massachusetts Ball and New York Ball were played, but New York ball gained favor. Men and boys returning from war spread base ball across the land.
The first all professional team was the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869. Only two years later the first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Clubs was formed.
In 1907, an historical commission concluded that the rules of modern base ball were invented in 1839 at Cooperstown, New York by Abner Doubleday, a Civil War general of distinction. Scholars long ago proved this story to be false, but the myth lives on. Cooperstown is the home of the National Base Ball Hall of Fame.
Base ball evolved through the years as rules were changed, equipment was added, playing strategies and defenses were enacted and stadiums were built. Today’s professional base ball has had its problems and shortcomings, but throughout America the local ball fields still beckon young and old alike to come out and play or cheer on the home team. Base ball is our national pastime. Sometimes it’s base ball as we now know it, and sometimes it’s “base ball as it was meant to be played”.