Who really was the inventor of modern baseball?

In 1971, the NHA received a letter from Harold Peterson of Sports Illustrated, who wrote: “I am writing a history involving the Nantucket Cartwrights. If I could ask your help in finding out more about these particular Cartwrights while they lived on the island, that would be a great kindness on your part. As you may know, Alexander Joy Cartwright Jr. was to a considerable degree the inventor of modern baseball.”

Edouard Stackpole responded, writing, “I can understand why the Cartwrights appeal to you as they are a most interesting family. There is little known about Alexander Cartwright on the island, although his part in developing the game of baseball is well known to the older generation.”

Perhaps. But, as Hobson Woodward wrote in an article for the 1998 Early Summer edition of Nantucket Magazine:

“Any fan will tell you that Abner Doubleday was the inventor of baseball. But few know that if it hadn’t been for the son of a Nantucketer, America’s ball game would not be what it is today. Alexander Joy Cartwright Jr.—the son of a Nantucket mariner—was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in 1938. There, his portrait is captioned with the words ‘Father of Baseball.’ A more fitting tribute is not possible for a man who literally created the game as we know it.”

Hobson cites Peterson’s book, The Man Who Invented Baseball, in which he states that turn-of-the-century baseball owners wanted to mask the game’s origin as an English sport, so they created a story saying that Abner Doubleday invented the game in a Cooperstown field. The story is wholly false, and, according to Peterson, “one of the most amusingly fraudulent pieces of manufactured history extant.”

The issue of Nantucket Magazine that includes Hobson’s article is available in the NHA Research Library.

Excerpt from “Credit where credit is due . . .” by Elizabeth Oldham, Historic Nantucket, Summer 2008, Vol. 58, No. 3

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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