Baseball most likely was as evolution from other stick and ball games. Rounders is where baseball origins probably come and many other games like it. Throughout the early part of the 19th century, stick and ball games were played in many places in the United States. Baseball thus can trace it roots to these games of the past. When we hear the story of baseball’s origins today and someone mentions Abner Doubleday it is easy to laugh. Surely no baseball historian or even the well-informed baseball fan believes that story. In fact, it is hard to believe that anyone really took that story seriously, even Albert Spalding, the man really behind the story. So why and where did it come from?
The origins of baseball were sought after, even as early as the late 19th century. People often wondered where their great national pastime came from. Then, in 1889, Albert Spalding took a group of baseball all-stars on a world tour. He took them to places such as, Australia, Sri Lanka, and parts of Asia and to Europe. In Australia, it
was a big success with thousands watching the games being played. Other stops were not as successful for the tour. In England, things did not go well for Spalding and company. Then, the English had the nerve to say that baseball came from their game called “rounders”. Rounders was not only an English game, but a game for girls and children. This obviously angered Spalding and the players.
Then came the big dinner a few weeks later in the states. A dinner where President of the National league, A.G. Mills attended, as did Mark Twain. It was here that the fury of the rounders comment, burned brighter. Mills stated in a speech that there was no way baseball came from rounders and that baseball was an American original.
As the years went by the “rounders question” continued. Spalding now insisted that baseball had American roots and he stated that he was tired of hearing about rounders. In fact, though, he had written about baseball’s origins in his baseball guides during the 1870s. His opinion in those days was that baseball did come from rounders. He was of the same opinion as Henry Chadwick, the well known “Father of Baseball” who had written numerous books and articles during the 19th century and who had always stated that baseball came from rounders and other such games.
So as the 20th century began, Spalding and Chadwick debated this question, although good-naturedly. Both of these men respected one another and had been good friends for years. Spalding though was against the rounders origin, while Chadwick continued to support it.
But, Spalding wasn't done. In 1905, he decided to take the mystery a step further. He set up a commission with his good friend; A.G. Mills in the chair, and assisting Mills were two senators. It was there job to find out the answers to the baseball origin question. For two years they searched and not much was found. But suddenly came the name; Abner Doubleday. A mining engineer named Abner Graves entered the story into the baseball world. Graves had sent a letter and in it, he proclaimed that in 1839 he witnessed Abner Doubleday setting up the rules of baseball for some children in Cooperstown. Doubleday had set up the diamond-shaped field, the players fixed positions and even called the game baseball. Spalding had his answer.
What is funny, is that if Doubleday had invented the game, one must wonder why he didn’t tell his good friend about it all those years. That friend was A.G. Mills. But the fact remains that the letter is absurd in reality. Especially considering that the source of the story, Graves, ended up in a mental institution years later.
But Spalding wanted his story, especially considering it had nothing to do with rounders and that it was very appealing at the time, in 1907. The fact that baseball was founded by a celebrated General of the Civil War. A general who showed heroism at Gettysburg and a man, who set up the first cable car system in the United States, made the story all the more enticing. Baseball then, was American and in 1911, Spalding published his book, Baseball America’s Game and it was much the success. How many people really accepted the story cannot be known, but baseball would accept it, as well. In 1939, the Baseball Hall of Fame was founded and what better way to celebrate than with the game’s 100th anniversary. So baseball took the story and even inducted Doubleday into the Hall of Fame.
No matter what though, the story is engrossing and historic. A teenager in a small town invents a game, which would become a country’s National Pastime. Even though it’s fiction the story is marvelous and one that will live in baseball forever.