December 18, 2014
In the radical new game that Alexander Cartwright and his friends devised in 1845, there were several noticeable differences from today's game... for instance, they caught the ball barehanded, fortunately the ball was a lot lighter (and slightly larger) than the one we use today and it contained a large core of india rubber which made it very bouncy... there were no called balls or strikes, the batter could just stand at home plate and wait, all day if he had to, until he got a pitch he wanted to swing at... and a ball caught on the first bounce was considered an out.
It was called the Knickerbocker game or the New York game, and yes, it differed in several respects from what we now know as baseball...but nevertheless it was definitely the basis for the game we play today.
The New York Knickerbockers (left) and the Brooklyn Excelsiors (right)
pose for a portrait in 1858. The gentleman in the middle with
the top-hat was the umpire.
Other groups of young gentlemen in the New York City area soon started playing this game Alexander Cartwright and his Knickerbockers had developed, and this led to a monumental event that took place the following year.
THE DAY BASEBALL WAS BORN
On June 19, 1846, just across the river from Manhattan, at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, the first baseball game ever played between two organized teams took place. Alexander Cartwright's Knickerbocker club took on a team called the New York Nine... the game, which was played under Cartwright's rules, lasted four innings and Cartwright's team lost by the score of 23 to 1... with Cartwright umpiring the game!
Many baseball historians point to this eventful day, as The Day Baseball Was Born. Young Alexander Cartwright and his Knickerbocker club had brought about a whole new era in baseball. In the following two and a half decades the New York Game would replace all other forms of baseball that were being played in North America.
Alexander Cartwright Jr.
ALEXANDER CARTWRIGHT - A MAN IGNORED BY HISTORY
Alexander Joy Cartwright Jr. was born on April 17, 1820 in New York City and was raised in the lower part of Manhattan Island, not far from he thriving South Street docks. He was the eldest of seven children born to Alexander Joy Cartwright Sr., a marine surveyor and former sea captain.
The New York City of the 1820's and 30's was a great spot for the young Cartwright to grow up in. It was a New York that was remarkably different than the one we know today... The whole area was basically semi-rural, consisting of a series of villages and settlements connected together by country lanes.
As Alexander Cartwright grew up he enjoyed playing the early forms of baseball with his young friends in the fields and meadows that abounded near his home. He also had a fascination with firefighters and fire fighting. As a lad he hung around his local fire house and when he became an adult he became a volunteer fireman (and later on in life even a fire chief). He named his Knickerbocker Base Ball Club after the Knickerbocker Engine Co., a local fire fighting unit that he was quite fond of.
Alexander Cartwright could be described as a large, robust, outgoing, friendly man who was also extremely modest (this failure to toot his own horn is a contributing reason as to why he was almost overlooked by history).
On September 23, 1845, Alexander Cartwright formed the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York. It was baseball's first formal organization. The club was composed of young gentlemen of Cartwright's acquaintance who felt the need to get together on a regular basis to play baseball for fun, comradeship and recreation. Cartwright wrote his new rules and regulations for baseball into the club's constitution. It was the first time baseball had a formally written out set of rules.
Knickerbocker Nine - 1864
Although Cartwright was only with the Knickerbockers for it's first four years of existence, the club itself lasted until sometime in the 1870's, when it finally died out. (And with it, it's great legacy also died out, another contributing factor as to why the story of Alexander Cartwright was lost to history for many years).
CARTWRIGHT GOES HAWAIIAN
As you will find out shortly; within the span of mere two and a half decades after Alexander Cartwright Jr. introduced baseball to the world, at Elysian Fields in Hoboken New Jersey, on June 19, 1846, the new game had spread like wildfire all across the North American continent... people had begun playing it in small towns and large cities everywhere, and the first professional league had even been formed in 1871... exactly 25 years later.
Yet Alexander Cartwright was not around to witness how popular this little game of his would become. After that historic summer of 1846, Cartwright spent a few more years in the New York City area with his Knickerbocker club, and then on March 1st 1849, after bidding goodbye to his wife Eliza and their four children, and promising to send for them, he joined up with a group of friends and set out on a journey to the California goldfields.
They traveled by land, first by rail to Pittsburgh, and then by covered wagon the rest of the way. The trip took 156 days, and Cartwright, according to his diaries, walked most of the way. He took a few balls and bats along with him on the excursion, and became kind of a baseball Johnny Appleseed, planting the seeds of the game across the land. At many of their rest stops Cartwright and his party spent their leisure time playing baseball. He is said to have taught the game to miners, storekeepers, Indians and white settlers at frontier towns and Army posts all along the way.
Upon arriving at the California goldfields in August, Cartwright decided that the place was too crowded to suit him and he immediately went to San Francisco were he met up with his brother Alfred DeForest Cartwright, who had come there by ship all the way around Cape Horn.
Honolulu in the 1850's
After spending only five days in San Francisco, Alexander decided to go even more westward and he jumped aboard a Peruvian sailing ship by the name of Pacifico which was heading for the Sandwich Islands (which were later to become Hawaii). And that's were Alexander Cartwright spent the rest of his life... in the tropical paradise of the Hawaiian Islands.
He became a successful businessman and one of Honolulu's leading citizens. Among other things, he founded the Honolulu fire department and served as it's chief for nine years. Eventually he even became a friend and financial advisor to the Hawaiian royal family.
The jolly, gregarious Cartwright spent his leisure hours teaching baseball, not only to his own sons (his family had joined him soon after he arrived), but also to the people of Hawaii... and baseball soon became the most popular pastime in Honolulu, long before it grew into the national game on the mainland.
Babe Ruth Placing Flowers on Cartwright's Grave - Honolulu, Hawaii
Alexander Cartwright died in Honolulu in 1892, at the age of 72. He is well remembered in Hawaii, as the man who brought baseball to the islands... In Honolulu there is a Cartwright Street and a small ballpark called Cartwright Field, both named in his honor, and a bronze plaque dedicated to him hung at City Hall for years*.
In 1939, when Babe Ruth was visiting Honolulu, he placed a flower leis on Cartwright's grave.
*Cartwright's Plaque now hangs in New York City.