A Backwards Look at the History of Baseball

Baseball’s origin has been misrepresented throughout history. Where did it really come from?

Lou Gehrig, a player for the New York Yankees.


Lou Gehrig, a player for the New York Yankees.

Edward Thornburg, Staff Writer

With the World Series recently concluding on Nov. 2nd, lets take a look back and ask, where did baseball truly come from?

The most common story about the creation of baseball is referred to as the Doubleday story; however, its untrue. 

The story credits Abner Doubleday with creating the game of baseball in Cooperstown, New York. Doubleday was born into an upstate New York family in 1819 and served as a Union major general during the American Civil War and later, a lawyer and writer.

16 years after Doubleday’s death, there was a special commission by a sports company and a former major league player, A.J. Spalding, who sought to find out the true origins of baseball. Abner Graves, a man who claimed he went to school with Doubleday, told the commission Doubleday invented the game. The commission would use Graves’ flimsy evidence to make the myth stick.

In the 1930s, Cooperstown business men and other major league officials ran with the myth and established the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, using Doubleday’s name to attract audiences and to generate income. 

The actual story of baseball is a little bit more complicated than the common Doubleday story that most people believe is the true origin of baseball.

An older version of baseball dates back to the 18th century, originally a mix of both cricket and the game of rounders brought by English Colonists. Over time, variations of the game would be made, and later into the 19th century, industrialized cities began picking up on the mix of games.

The first baseball club would be founded in September 1845 by a group of New Yorkers who enjoyed playing the older version of baseball. Two key members, one of them Alexander Joy Cartwright, would later modify the game’s rules into the modern baseball we all know and love today, including the diamond-shaped field. Dangerous practices of baseball would also be abolished such as tagging players by throwing the ball directly at them. 

With Cartwright’s changes, the first game of near modern baseball would be changed to a faster-paced playstyle with clear differences between Cricket and the older variant of baseball. In 1846, the baseball club Knickerbockers played their first game of baseball against a cricket team to induct more players into the sport, beginning a new American tradition.

There is also a racial side to baseball as it was commonly seen as a white man’s sport.

African American teams also date back to the 1800s however they were unprofessional teams. Interracial games would be played between white and black teams. However, up until the 1900s, African Americans could not play for the professional leagues and teams because of segregation and Jim Crow laws. There were no leagues they could participate in, only getting in groups and playing against each other. 

Despite these obstacles, the African American league was created by Andrew “Rube” Foster and his fellow team owners that owned African American teams to create a professional league rewarding African American players who enjoyed the game and wanted to play professionally. 

As baseball touched every corner of the United States, small groups of African Americans played with their white teammates on the diamond shaped field. However, because of segregation and Jim Crow laws, these small groups of African American players began to disappear.

Foster was one of those players. He craved the game of baseball and so did other African Americans who began forming their own teams to move away from the interacial conflict within baseball and finding players alike who enjoyed the game. Foster was able to make a name for himself in the Leland Giants as one of the best pitchers in the country before these groups of African Americans playing baseball disappeared. He would also become a manager for the African American League after it’s formation.

Foster would later partner with the Chicago White Sox’s owner’s son-in-law to negotiate for his own team, the Chicago American Giants, to play at the old White Sox stadium and later create the finest African American team.

Foster saw booking agents as the villains of African American teams since they could interfere with game scheduling and also how they unfairly treated African American teams. Foster would write columns targeting booking agents and advocating for an independent African American league.

After negotiating with other owners that owned African American teams he and other owners would form the African American League. However the league wouldn’t last long. Foster would break down and retire from the league in 1926 and would later pass away in 1930.

Financial hardships from the Great Depression impacted African American teams and overall impacted the league and would be shut down. However it was also revived though with weaker operations. Up until 1947 that would all change ending the league for good.

One notable player, Jackie Robinson, would shatter the racial barrier of baseball. 

Robinson originally played for the Kansas City Monarchs, an African American team, but over time, Robinson would be inducted into the major league and would become a member of the Dodgers. When Jackie Robinson put on the Dodgers uniform in Apr. 1947 the color barrier was officially shattered.

The African American league would later fold on itself and close its doors since most of its top-tier players would be inducted into the major league teams allowing for inter-racial games to be played.

After all of the commotion with interracial leagues, baseball legends would rise and fall. Baseball would later be shaped into the modern league we all know and love today. The sport has changed tremendously through the first clubs being made, racial based leagues, and the color barriers of baseball being shattered.