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What Exactly were Alexander Cartwright's Contibutions?

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  • What Exactly were Alexander Cartwright's Contibutions?

    Did he have anything significant to do with baseball or is this just another Doubleday-ish falacy perpetrated by his grandson?

    http://bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?...d=727&pid=2205

  • #2
    There is no question but that he was an early member of the Knickerbockers. He appears regularly in their game books, which recorded their twice-weekly intramural games as well as their (much rarer) match games.

    As early as 1864 there was a published account of the history of the Knickerbockers, which identified Cartwright as having suggested that the informal group organize a formal club. This 1864 account was the basis of (or at least shared a common source with) the 1866 Peverelly account. Alfred Spink's _The National Game_, published in 1910, included a letter purportedly written by Duncan Curry, the first president of the Knickerbockers, in 1877. It gives a similar account of Cartwright suggesting the formal organization of the club, and includes some additional material about Cartwright proposing rules.

    On the other hand, the Knickerbockers' rules committee did not include Cartwright. As the bioproject piece notes, the Wheaton interview of 1887 gives a different account, placing the major innovations to a different club founded several years earlier. (Contra the bioproject account, Wheaton did not "lay claim" to these. He only claimed that he was called upon to draft the rules, since he was a lawyer and therefore trained in such things. He did not claim to have invented them. Wheaton, by the way, was an original Knickerbocker and in fact was on the committee that drafted their rules.)

    The Daniel Adams interview of 1884 (IIRC) does not address the origins of the Knickerbockers. He joined them a few weeks later. But he does say that he had been playing baseball before then with a group of medical men. He does not discuss any differences in rules. Ordinarily I wouldn't give much weight to such absence of evidence, but Adams for many years was deeply involved in rules discussions and the NABBP rules committee, where he was a strong proponent of the fly game. So we might expect that had he found drastically different rules when he joined the Knickerbockers, he would have noted this.

    So putting this together, there is no reason to question that Cartwright was an early force behind organizing the Knickerbockers (which were not, however, the first baseball club). The evidence for his involvement with the rules of baseball is much weaker, and contradicted by other evidence at least as good. (I personally give great weight to the Wheaton interview, as includes details not generally known at that time.) All the stuff from 1849 onwards, with Cartwright as the Johnny Appleseed of baseball, is pure fantasy.

    The main significance of the Knickerbockers, once you strip away the layers of mythologizing, is that they kept the flame lit. The New York game with its distinctive features was a creation of formal club (as contrasted with schoolyard) play. It enjoyed a burst of popularity in the early and mid 1840s, then nearly died out. It slowly recovered in the early 1850s and spread in the mid 1850s. There is no record of its being played in the late 1840s except by the Knickerbockers. It is perfectly plausible to speculate that had they faltered, baseball would have taken a different path, with quiet obscurity being as likely a path as any. Anyone for cricket?

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    • #3
      As a follow-up, regarding the Curry 1877 letter, see also
      http://thornpricks.blogspot.com/2005...-baseball.html.

      In case it isn't obvious, the 1877 discussion of Cartwright and the diagram and the discussion of Wadsworth and the diagram are the same discussion. The Cartwright version is what made it into the Spink book. If Thorn is right, the story is a garbled account of events of 1857, not of 1845. I am not wholly convinced, but I am persuaded that the 1877 letter is not to be taken at face value.

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      • #4
        Don't share your credence for the Wheaton interview. He claims
        that the Gothams were formed in the 1830s, the Eagles in the 1840s
        and that the game became so popular with New Yorkers at that time
        he went off to join the Knicks. Absolutely no evidence for these claims;
        no newspaper or journal reports about baseball's popularity during that
        time. Another important point is that baseball nearly died out in the
        late 1840s. Why was that? Seems to raise some doubts about the
        games inherent appeal to Americans. And when the game revived in
        the 1850s was it because of the Knicks? Somewhat questionable.
        There seems to have been an across-the-board revival in bat and ball
        sports in the 1850s with cricket just as popular as baseball. In fact,
        I'll go out on a limb and claim this may have come about from the
        US-Canada cricket match that was discontinued in 1846 but revived
        in 1853 to great fanfare and public attention. Yes, if things had
        gone a little differently Americans could, today, be playing cricket
        rather than baseball. And we wouldn't at all feel this as an
        injustice or perversion.

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        • #5
          "All the stuff from 1849 onwards, with Cartwright as the Johnny Appleseed of baseball, is pure fantasy."

          Were there any credible baseball historians back in the olde days? They had living witnesses, several newspapers per city to talk to, and physical memorabilia of all types to look through. As my professor used to say..."The Masses Are Asses"
          "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
          "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

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          • #6
            Originally posted by timmyj51 View Post
            Don't share your credence for the Wheaton interview. He claims
            that the Gothams were formed in the 1830s, the Eagles in the 1840s
            and that the game became so popular with New Yorkers at that time
            he went off to join the Knicks. Absolutely no evidence for these claims;
            no newspaper or journal reports about baseball's popularity during that
            time. Another important point is that baseball nearly died out in the
            late 1840s. Why was that? Seems to raise some doubts about the
            games inherent appeal to Americans. And when the game revived in
            the 1850s was it because of the Knicks? Somewhat questionable.
            There seems to have been an across-the-board revival in bat and ball
            sports in the 1850s with cricket just as popular as baseball. In fact,
            I'll go out on a limb and claim this may have come about from the
            US-Canada cricket match that was discontinued in 1846 but revived
            in 1853 to great fanfare and public attention. Yes, if things had
            gone a little differently Americans could, today, be playing cricket
            rather than baseball. And we wouldn't at all feel this as an
            injustice or perversion.
            Wheaton didn't mention the Eagles. The Eagles constitution of 1852 claims they were founded in 1840. This could be true, in the sense that the 1852 organization claimed continuity with a defunct organization, but there is no additional evidence for the club's earlier incarnation.

            As for baseball's popularity in the mid-1840s, there is indeed newspaper evidence of just this. There are various discussions of baseball games, including two box scores from 1845. The Walt Whitman blurb about baseball that Ken Burns used is from this era. Search for anything similar from the early or the late 1840s and it simply isn't there. Nowadays we take for granted a much higher level of newspaper coverage of this sort of thing, but it was a novelty back then. The significant fact is that baseball was mentioned at all.

            Those two box scores, by the way, are almost certainly the game and return Wheaton mentions. They match up, including some of the names. Note also that these two games were not generally known at the time of Wheaton's interview. This is strong evidence in support of his account.

            Baseball did not nearly die out in the late 1840s. Baseball in its various forms was played across the country. What nearly died out was a specific form of baseball as played for a few clubs in New York. Yes, there was a general rise in interest in bat-and-ball games (and team sports in general: there were at least two football clubs in Baltimore in 1860).

            Had the specific form of the New York game died out, it is not clear that any one form would have acquired the prestige to displace the others, leaving us with competing regional associations. It is plausible to speculate that cricket might have filled the wider niche. And no, I don't think this would have been a terrible thing. I enjoy cricket, and I think that American sports in general might have developed along less parochial lines had cricket achieved widespread popularity.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by TonyK View Post
              "All the stuff from 1849 onwards, with Cartwright as the Johnny Appleseed of baseball, is pure fantasy."

              Were there any credible baseball historians back in the olde days? They had living witnesses, several newspapers per city to talk to, and physical memorabilia of all types to look through. As my professor used to say..."The Masses Are Asses"
              The earliest credible baseball historian was Robert Henderson, who was pointing out the flaws with the Doubleday story about the same time as the Hall of Fame was being set up in Cooperstown. You can imagine how popular he was with the baseball establishment. The next credible historian was Harold Seymour. His volume on Early Baseball was published, IIRC, in or around 1960. Everything since has been more or less based on this, with "based on" including using it as a starting point for disagreement.

              The problem is that Seymour's work was based on an earlier tradition of baseball history that gelled in the early 20th century, with books by journalists such as Al Spink, Francis Richter, and above all, by Al Spalding. These books by journalists are fairly reliable for chronology of the later 19th century, but not for explanations or analysis. Spalding was happy to provide this analysis, but he was not a disinterested party. Quite the opposite, he was something of a propagandist. None of these people were active in baseball before the late 1860s, and most quite a bit later than that, so any earlier material is strictly second-hand. There were some earlier historical works by journalists that run heavily toward club histories: dates of founding, lists of officers, dates and results of match games.

              So the reason why even recent works on early baseball history are often confused is that there has never been a thorough housecleaning of the collected flotsam and jetsam that has accumulated. Individual works can be very good, but they don't quite fit together.

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              • #8
                Has anyone posted the FULL Wheaton interview on the web?

                Comment

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