Ask any baseball fan who invented baseball and the answer you’ll most likely get is Abner Doubleday, great grand father of Nelson Doubleday (co-owner of the New York Mets). In 1907 baseball commissioner A G Spalding investigated the origin of the game. According to Ken Burns’ 1994 baseball documentary, Spalding was hoping to find a distinctly American origin for the game. Spalding’s commission was led to Doubleday by Amber Graves, an 84-year-old mining engineer who claimed to have known Doubleday as a young man in Cooperstown, and said he remembered watching Doubleday concoct the rules of the game. The baseball Hall of Fame was established in Cooperstown in honor of it being the origins of the sport, and the field is called Doubleday Field. Current Commissioner Bud Selig even laid a wreath at Doubleday’s grave.
But is that the real origin of baseball?
Baseball is not the first game to involve hitting a ball with a stick. The closest forerunner to baseball is a game called townball, in which the primary way of throwing out a runner was to hit him with a thrown ball, similar to dodgeball. In 1842, Alexander Cartwright and Daniel Adams began drawing up rules for a new game that they had been practicing, to be called “base ball.” In 1845, they formed the first-ever baseball club, adopting 20 rules not previously included in earlier editions of the game: three strikes to a batter, three outs to an inning, tags and force-outs in lieu of throwing at batters, and the addition of an umpire. Cartwright and Adams named their team the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club.
On June 19, 1846 the Knickerbockers played the first organized, pre-planned game under those rules against another team called the New York Nine, losing by a score of 23-1 in four innings in front of a small crowd, on Elysian Fields in Hoboken. These are well documented facts, but the more important question is was it the first ever organized baseball game? According to a 2000 article in National Review, Doubleday was not in Cooperstown in 1839, and in his many diaries, he makes no mention of baseball, and some say he never even was in Cooperstown.
What it comes down to is that no one person invented baseball. People took an existing game and gave it a twist. The question is who and when. According to this site, there were variations of the game being played in many eastern cities in the 1820’s and 1830’s. Many used rules other then what we find in the game today. So can you really claim credit for inventing a game simply because you added one or two specific rules such as 3 outs and 3 strikes? Or if you changed the rules from hitting the runner, to throwing it the first baseman? It all depends on how you define “invent”. The debate is unlikely to be settled now or ever.