It is difficult to pinpoint when baseball was first played in America.
The early development of baseball is chronicled more in myth and legend
rather than in facts and history. The first and earliest written
evidence of baseball in America is a bylaw written in 1791 in
The document, discovered by Society for Baseball Research member John
Thorn in 2004, offers strong evidence that baseball is a unique American
game, and it casts doubt on the long held belief that baseball was
derived from rounders, a British game. It also raises the question of
the origins of cricket, as it has been widely thought that baseball
followed cricket, which was developed from a folk game known as stool
ball (1085 A.D).
As far back as 2000 B.C. ball and stick type games have been played.
Hieroglyphics depict ancient Egyptians playing a game similar to
baseball in 1500 B.C., although there exists some major differences
between its depiction and the modern game.
Massachusetts by-law banned the playing of the game within 80 yards
of the town meeting house. The first documented formal organization
to play baseball in America was the NY Knickerbockers established on
September 23, 1845. The first rules were written by Alexander
Cartwright, considered to be the Father of modern baseball. However,
long before this time ball playing of one sort or another was noted
by many authors and in many documents.
A May 8, 1844 city Ordinance in New York City prohibits "ball" playing
of any sort. Abner Doubleday was said to have "invented" the game of
baseball in 1839, although a later inquiry proved this to be a myth.
Cartwright’s role in baseball has also been questioned. Most experts and
historians now agree that he was simply the first to write down the
rules that had existed for quite some time. In addition, there is strong
evidence that rule changes were one of the reasons Cartwright wrote them
There has been a lot written about the sport after the founding of the
Knickerbockers, such as articles about the popularity and evolvement of
the "New York Game" rules into the mainstream of baseball. The original
Knickerbocker rules addressed foul lines and deleted the "plug out,"
which involved hitting the runner with the ball to gain an out.
They also delineated the tag-out and the force-out. Strangely, they
don’t provide a pitching distance or a baseline length. Forty-two paces
was the actual written distance from home to second base, and from first
to third. "Innings" were also not mentioned. Instead, the first team to
twenty-one was declared the winner, given both teams are allowed an
equal number of at-bats. The pitching method was also described as
underhand, perhaps similar to town ball, another early game with English
The rules may have first been written by Cartwright, but there is a long
and involved history of earlier games with similar rules. Many American
and opposing English claims of inventing baseball have tried to argue
their positions by presenting evidence to back their claims. Despite all
of this, the origin of modern baseball still remains a mystery.
After 1845, the history of baseball in America starts to be fairly
clear. The rules were standardized in 1857. In 1858, the first baseball
league, the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), emerged.
They were not considered professional players, as they received no money
for their participation. However, the games were public and admission
was charged to witness the games. The first documented college baseball
game was played in 1859 as Amherst defeated Williams 73-32 in 26 innings
in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
In 1860, the "New York Game" was commonly referred to as "the National
pastime" in many written works. Baseball gained momentum in popularity
and slowly spread throughout the Country during the Civil War. Over 100
clubs were in existence when the war ended and in 1869, the world's
first professional baseball team was established. The Cincinnati Red
Stockings ended their first season undefeated. The NABBP split into two
groups, one for the amateurs and one for the professionals. The amateur
leg of the association dissolved after only a few years.
The National League, which still exists, was established in 1875 after
the NABBP proved ineffective on several levels. The power shifted to the
club organizations and baseball entered into an age full of conflict,
remembered mostly for the dreaded player reserve clause that oppressed
players and held them as "slaves" to their contracts.
Blacks and Hispanics or any other non-white players were repeatedly
forced out, left out, or sent to the minor leagues. This was a shameful
practice that didn’t end until 1947. The Western League of Baseball
Players, a minor league of the Great Lakes States area became the
American League in 1899.
A new era in baseball began in 1901. It was known as the "Dead Ball
Era", because of a sharp decrease in offense produced in both leagues.
This era continued until the emergence of Babe Ruth in 1919.