Although no knows for sure how baseball started, the origins of baseball most likely has roots in the British game called rounders. In the earliest days, the American version of rounders was known as 'Town Ball'. Rules varied from town to town and there was no widely accepted way to play. The slow evolution of rounders to today’s game of baseball, as we know it now, became evident in 1845 when Alexander Cartwright published the first set of rules. Several of these rules are still used in baseball today.
Town ball slowly evolved into the game of baseball, as we now know it. Town ball is a direct descendent of the British game 'rounders' which is a descendent of English cricket.
During the early 1800's the game of town ball was played everywhere in America. Town ball started as a schoolyard game for children that eventually grew into a sport for adults as well. The rules of town ball were made up by the locals of each town and varied widely from one location to another. In formal town ball play, wooden pegs were used for bases. In informal play, rocks or anything that was available were used for bases.
Although rules varied depending upon the location in the country, the following describes a general overview of how the game was played. The batter was allowed unlimited swings until he hit the ball. If the batter did not like the way the pitcher was throwing the ball, he could request a new pitcher. There was no foul territory and foul tips were considered in play. Once the batter made contact with the ball, the batter would run around the wooden pegs. The wooden pegs (or rocks) were considered safe areas as bases are in modern baseball. An out was scored when the fielder caught the ball in the air or on the first bounce. A runner could also make an out if the fielder hit the runner with the ball (ouch!). Outs were known as ‘stingers’ for obvious reason. Once the runner had traversed all the way around the bases without being hit, a score was credited to his/her team. The last base was not at the same location as where the runner originally hit.
In 1845, Alexander Cartwright, a New York bank teller and fire fighter, organized a baseball club called the 'Knickerbockers'. He established for the first time the rules of baseball. The game he established was broadly based upon town ball. His modifications made the distances between the bases equal, three strikes and a batter is out, three outs to an inning, the addition of an umpire, and the creation of fair and foul territory.
The first organized baseball game was played on June 19, 1846 at Elysian Field in Hoboken, New Jersey between the Knickerbockers and the New York Nine club. Cartwright’s team, the Knickerbockers, lost 23 to 1 to the New York Nine baseball club.
In the early 1900’s America was in love with the game of baseball but no one knew for sure who invented it or where it started.
Al Spalding, founder of the Spalding Sports Equipment Company, got into a disagreement with his British born employee, Henry Chadwick. Chadwick was the editor of the Spalding Baseball Guide and wrote in the guide that the game of baseball had evolved from the British game rounders. Mr. Spalding was upset at his employee’s writings because he felt certain that an American had invented the game.
To prove his theory of American invention, Spalding started a commission in 1905 to investigate its origins. After three years of research, the commission found only one person that could give testimony to the origins of the game. Abner Graves said in a letter to the commission that his long time friend, Abner Doubleday, invented the game in 1839. History shows that Doubleday was a military cadet at West Point Academy at the time of supposedly inventing the game. Lacking any other findings and while having evidence to the contrary, the commission reported to Congress on December 30, 1907 that it was Abner Doubleday that invented the game in Cooperstown.
Doubleday remained credited with inventing baseball until 1947 when Robert Henderson, a New York librarian, revealed the truth in his book “Bat, Ball and Bishop”. Henderson's research credited Alexander Cartwright for first establishing the rules of the game. On June 3rd, 1953 the United States Congress formally acknowledged 'American' Alexander Cartwright as the inventor of the game of baseball.
In retrospect, Chadwick was correct in his assumption that baseball was a descendent of English rounders.