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The Roots of Baseball

American baseball developed from sports of similar rules to become an American mainstay.  However, it was not always a sport that was synonymous with the country.  It began as an urban game that was played in the streets by poor immigrant children and workers.  In New York in the 1840’s, immigrants’ lives literally revolved around baseball.   The first established team, the New York Knickerbockers was organized in 1845 by a man named Alexander Cartwright.  While this team was in fact regarded as a “baseball” team, it could be more properly described at the time as townball, as many of the modern day rules that are integral to the sport were not yet in effect.  Cartwright, who was himself a baseball fanatic, soon developed some of these important rules, such as the infield diamond, foul balls, three strikes per at bat, and having to be thrown or tagged out, rather than hit with the ball.  These rules help transform the game, and by the 1850’s the city of New York was totally obsessed with baseball.  As other rules such as the regulation of 9 players per team and 90 feet between bases, the sport quickly established its own identity.  Cartwright began to travel westward to California and Hawaii, and spread the sport everywhere he went.  In 1856, Henry Chadwick wrote, “Birth Year of Evolution of Baseball.”  Chadwick had seen a Knickerbocker game a year earlier and instantly fell in love with the sport.  He developed the box score, which helped fans of the game to be able to follow the performances of the players and teams.  This was the beginning of the eternal relationship between baseball and statistics, which help serve as a time defying bridge between the past, present, and future.  By 1858, there was 50 baseball clubs in New York, and around this time was when the umpires were given the authority to call strikes.  As the 1860’s began, the Civil War captured the interest of all Americans, and it may have seemed at the time that baseball may die before it ever came to fruition.  Baseball fans introduced the sport to those soldiers who had not heard of the game, and baseball spread throughout the country.  By the end of the Civil War, baseball had become America’s Pastime.  Other innovations such as the curveball in 1867 introduced the sport to the curveball, which began the notion of the pitcher trying to fool the batter rather than to simply serve him.  In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings were formed, and became the world’s first professional baseball team.  The rest, they say, is history.

There have been many myths that are commonly associated with the creation of baseball.  Among these, many of them revolve around the belief that America is the birthplace of the game; therefore all of the qualities of baseball are American.  It is the common belief that the game itself was created by one of the great American Civil War heroes, Abner Doubleday, in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York.  However, Doubleday himself claimed that not only had he not created the game, he had never even been to Cooperstown.  Furthermore, it has never been verified that Doubleday ever even played a game of baseball.  Perhaps the desire for baseball to be American in nature came from the sport being so largely associated with New York, the home for so many baseball-loving immigrants searching for a new American identity.  This attachment of these young Americans and the new found sport that they loved may have been all that was required for the marriage of the two identities.  At a time when America was still young and attempting to assert and prove itself, the acquirement of a national sport may have been a great achievement.

While we now know that baseball is not really of American origin, the legacy of it being America’s game lives on.  Due to the association of American baseball as “America’s pastime,” we are often led to believe that it was created specifically in American origin.  However,  the roots of baseball are found almost entirely within two sports which are anything but American: rounders and cricket.  Viewing a rounders game, it could be extremely easy to confuse it as a game of baseball.  The aspect of hitting the ball and running to stations, or bases, owes its lineage to rounders.  The sport of cricket, while having many fundamental differences to baseball, also shares many similarities, perhaps most notably the battle between the pitcher, or bowler, and the hitter.

Baseball became symbolic of America through the misled belief that it was truly America’s game, through and through.  This belief creates and implies a great amount of pride and superiority due to the rapid ascension in popularity and fortune.  While the sport’s roots are not as wholly American as many may think, its current form has come to be the National Pastime, and the association between baseball and America symbolizes the sense of pride baseball fans and players have in their sport as one to call their own.  Perhaps the sport is American because of its roots in the melting pot of mid-19th century New York: a city that has always encapsulated the diversity of our great nation. That is to say, baseball is American because both the sport and the country were borne out of ingenuity, variety, passion, and perseverance.  What started as a basic schoolyard game has become one the biggest sports in the world.

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