Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr. was born April 17, 1820 in New York City.
While working as a bank clerk and volunteer firefighter in New York City, Cartwright started playing a popular game known as “town ball,” or “rounders.”
At the time it was simply a bat and ball played by locals with an informal set of rules that got passed along by word of mouth.
Town Ball evolved from older bat-and-ball games such as stoolball and tut-ball that were being played in England by the mid-eighteenth century and brought by immigrants to North America.
The earliest known reference is in a 1744 British publication, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, by John Newbery. It contained a description that showed a triangle field set-up and with posts as bases.
Rounders was also brought to America by both British and Irish immigrants.
The first known American reference to this “base-ball” game appeared in a 1791 Pittsfield, Massachusetts town bylaw prohibiting the playing of the game near the town’s new meeting house.
By 1796, a version of the game was well-known enough to earn a mention in a German scholar’s book on popular pastimes. As described by Johann Gutsmuths, “englische Base-ball” involved a contest between two teams, in which “the batter has three attempts to hit the ball while at the home plate.” Only one out was required to retire a side.
By the early 1830s, there were reports of a variety of bat-and-ball games recognizable as early forms of baseball being played around North America.
These games were often referred to locally as “town ball”, though other names such as “round-ball” and “base-ball” were also used.
This is the game Alexander Cartwright grew up playing in New York City.
Cartwright’s intense passion for this game led him to become a founding member of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club on September 23, 1845. The club was named after the Knickerbocker Fire Engine Company.
The Knickerbockers played their first game of town ball on a field at 4th Avenue and 27th Streets October 6, 1845.
Under Cartwright’s direction the Club drafted and adopted the first formalized set of rules for the developing game of base ball.
These “Knickerbocker Rules” became the foundation for the modern game of baseball.
Among the rules established by Cartwright were the way teams recorded an out, the diamond shaped layout of the field, and the designation of fair and foul areas. Cartwright is also credited for introducing flat bases at uniform distances, three strikes per batter, and nine players in the field.
Then on June 19, 1846, the first officially recorded baseball game in America took place at Elysian Field in Hoboken, New Jersey when the New York Nine defeated the Knickerbockers 23 – 1 in four innings. Cartwright served as umpire in the game.
Nevertheless, the Knickerbocker Rules were rapidly adopted by teams in the New York area and their version of baseball became known as the “New York Game.”
This was just the beginning of many games played, and the beginning of a pastime that would soon begin to sweep America.
In 1857, sixteen New York area clubs, including the Knickerbockers, formed the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP).
The NABBP was the first organization to govern the sport and to establish a championship.
Cartwright remained in New York until 1849, when he left for the sunny coast of California to seek his fortune during the Gold Rush. His journey to California helped spread the game of base ball throughout America. He continued to promote the game he created, teaching it to people in the towns he passed along the way.
Upon arriving in San Francisco, Cartwright had very little luck claiming his fortune, and soon left for the island of Hawaii.
Cartwright set up a baseball field on the island at Maliki Field.
During his time in Hawaii, Cartwright continued to teach the game he loved so dearly, but his influence went well beyond base ball.
Cartwright became actively involved in political and social matters as well by serving as chief of the fire department and helping establish the Honolulu Library and Reading Room.
He also served as a trusted adviser to the Royal Family of Hawaii.
Alexander Cartwright continued to live in Hawaii until his death on July 12, 1892 at the age of 72.
Today he rests in Nuuanu Valley Cemetary in Honolulu, where he has been visited by baseball greats such as Babe Ruth.
While Cartwright’s exact role in the history of baseball has been debated, it is clear he was one of the most important figures in the development of modern baseball. So much so that Congress has officially recognized him as the inventor of the modern game of baseball.
In 1938 Cartwright was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY as a pioneer of the game. His enshrinement plaque reads “Father of the Modern Game of Base Ball.”
Alexander Cartwright was officially declared the inventor of the modern game of baseball by the 83rd United States Congress on June 3, 1953.
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