Ohio History Journal

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Chairman of the Department of History and Dean of the

Graduate School, Western Reserve University


In 1939 Americans celebrated the centenary of their national

pastime because a baseball commission created in 1907 to settle

the hotly disputed question of who originated the modern game,

awarded the honor to Abner Doubleday. A number of writers con-

tinue to insist that Alexander Cartwright of New York City drew

up the first "baseball square," or diamond, and that it was used

for the first time in a game played at Hoboken on June 19, 1846.

Whatever the merits of these and other conflicting claims, or-

ganized baseball, in recognition of the man it had officially recog-

nized as its founding father, established its Hall of Fame at Coopers-

town, where Doubleday is believed to have laid out a modern

diamond and promulgated his set of rules.

There is a voluminous and still growing literature on the

antecedents of the great American game, and about the civil en-

gineer from Cooperstown who rose to high rank in the Union army

during the Civil War. History is a seamless web. The ancients un-

doubtedly played ball, and the Romans had "ball rooms" in their

bath houses to keep them in good physical trim. There is a ball

in the British Museum covered with leather and stuffed with

papyrus which swarthy princes and princesses may have tossed

around centuries ago in the valley of the Nile. For our present

purpose, however, it will suffice to go no further back than English

cricket and various forms of "rounders," "town ball," "barn ball,"

and "o-cat" played early in the nineteenth century on the Atlantic


In 1842 a group of silk-stockinged, bearded, and handle-bar

mustached New Yorkers, passionately devoted to the pleasures of

knife and fork as well as those of bat and ball, organized the

Knickerbocker Club, adopted rules similar to Doubleday's, and

began playing in New York and its environs. By 1858 interest in