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Where and when did baseball come into being?

Baseball is said to be the oldest professional sport in the United States, with Major League Baseball tracing its roots back to 1876. However, there is still an ongoing debate as to when exactly this sport was invented.

In the middle of the 18th century, England already saw players hitting a pitched ball after which they would run around some bases. There were several variations of the game, but modern baseball is believed to be most similar to the British game of rounders, where batters try to hit just one ball pitched to them and are obliged to run around four bases whether they hit the ball or not.

The English brought the bat-and-bases pastime to their North American colonies, and the earliest reference to a game called baseball in the U.S. dates back to the 1700s. By the time the 1800s rolled around, both sides of the Atlantic were playing their own respective versions of the game.

The New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club

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Unearthing the beginnings of modern baseball in the United States becomes a little more manageable beginning in September of 1845, when a group of men founded the New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club.

Some accounts credit founding member Alexander Joy Cartwright (sometimes called “the father of baseball”) for drawing up the rules for the game that would come to be known as modern baseball, but this has been disputed. According to baseball historians, the rules set by the Knickerbockers were not original, except for the one that provided for three outs per inning. However, the group did set the Knickerbocker Rules in writing, so they get some credit for their documentation.

The 1846 game that was held in New Jersey between the Gotham Base Ball Club and the Knickerbockers under these new rules is considered the first official game of baseball.

On this day in 1846, the New York Ball Club defeated the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, 23 - 1 (some sources say 21 - 1). Alexander Cartwright served as the umpire, which was curious, as Cartwright was one of the Knickerbockers' best players. pic.twitter.com/uqqQwmtikX

— Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) June 19, 2022

The Doubleday myth

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Epic History Stories

A few decades later, baseball’s origins were thrown further into confusion. In 1907, US Army officer Abner Doubleday was credited with the invention of America’s ‘national game’ by the Mills Commission, created by sporting goods tycoon A.J. Spalding to determine exactly where baseball came from.

The commission had based its findings on accounts by Abner Graves, who claimed he went to school with Doubleday. In the Mills report, they said that the war hero invented baseball (both the name and the sport) in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York. This legend, though debunked since by baseball archivists, endured long enough for Cooperstown to build the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and cement its place in the sport’s history.

Amid these conflicting claims of baseball’s origins, Major League Baseball traces its beginnings to 1876, when the National League was founded. The American League was formed a few years later in 1901, and starting in 1903, the two groups started cooperating with each other after signing the National Agreement. The leagues finally merged into a single legal entity in the year 2000.

Commissioner Manfred announced today that @MLB is officially elevating the Negro Leagues to “Major League” status. Culminating the centennial celebration of the founding of the Negro Leagues, MLB is proud to highlight the contributions of the pioneers who played from 1920-1948. pic.twitter.com/hkStF1UC0H

— MLB Communications (@MLB_PR) December 16, 2020


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