Who Really Invented Baseball?
Newly auctioned historical documents suggest the true origins America's pastime may be lost to the mists of time.
Earlier this week, a set of historical documents called "The Laws of Base Ball" sold at auction for $3.26 million, becoming one the most valuable of sports memorabilia artifacts ever discovered.
The sale also opened up a new round of discussion about the origins of baseball in America. The story most people know – that Abner Doubleday invented the game in Cooperstown, New York – is a popular myth, but has been conclusively dismissed by historians.
The auctioned documents throw new light on the actual origins of baseball. Written by medical doctor and baseball league organizer Daniel "Doc" Adams in 1857, "Laws" establishes rules familiar to fans of the modern game – nine innings, 90 feet between bases, and nine players to a team.
The documents are the earliest comprehensive rules in writing. But they're also very specific. The 12-page collection is essentially a written record of an official meeting, convened by 14 New York sports clubs, to establish rules for a local league - just one of several operating on the East Coast at that time.
Which raises the question: Is it even possible to trace the origin of baseball to one person, place or bright idea?
"In a word, no" says David Vaught, author of "The Farmers' Game: Baseball in Rural America" and head of the department of history at Texas A&M.
"To quote the pioneering baseball historian Harold Seymour ... 'To ascertain who invented baseball would be equivalent to trying to locate to discoverer of fire.'"
Vaught notes that determining the origin of baseball as it is played today depends largely on how you define your terms.
"Just how far back baseball's history extends depends on how much one wants to stretch its definition," he says. "Various bat and ball games were played in France in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, in England following the Norman invasion of 1066, in Central America by Mayan tribes in the 900s A.D., and in ancient Egypt as far back as 1500 B.C., as depicted on wall inscriptions in tombs excavated by archaeologists."
Still, "The Laws of Base Ball" do provide some interesting insights into the development of the modern game. For example, the rules established in the auctioned documents were designed for men in 19th-century New York social clubs.
"The New York game of baseball was developed by professionals looking for leisurely fun and to create a game that they - older men, not athletes - could play," says Villanova law professor Mitch Nathanson, author of the book "A People's History of Baseball."
Who Really Invented Baseball? Page 2
Often referred to as the "Knickerbocker Rules," this style of play was different than others in use at the time. One oft-cited example is that, in earlier variations of the game, fielders were allowed to throw the ball directly at runners on the basepaths to record an out. This was called "plugging" or "soaking" the runner.
The Knickerbocker Rules did away with this tradition. "These were not kids playing the game, these were older men," Natherson says. "As such, they didn't want to engage in an activity where they might be hit with a thrown ball while running the bases."
The documents sold at auction this week provide a critical written record of early baseball, as it was played in one particular region at one particular time. The rules established gradually merged with other traditions as the game grew in popularity.
As for the popular Cooperstown story, it turns out that narrative was largely a matter of marketing. In 1907, sporting goods manufacturer Al Spalding – sound familiar? – convened a panel of executives and lawmakers to establish the "official" origins of baseball in America. In order to lend the game an air of patriotism, Civil War general Abner Doubleday was anointed the inventor of America's pastime.
The Cooperstown legend has been largely discredited by scholars, but it still holds an important place in history.
"We know that Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball in 1839, and that in fact the game has roots in earlier practices and cultures," says Jerald Podair, professor of history at Lawrence University. "We will probably never ascertain the origins of the game with certainty. But the larger question is: Why do we need to?"
"The answer is that Americans need a creation myth for our national pastime in the same way we need one for the American nation itself. Just as we need the Declaration of Independence to have a specific date, place, and author, so do we also need baseball to have them as well."
Time to make up for December's bad habits by doing better in 2012. Here are the best tech tools to help you shape up and keep healthy. Who knows? You might actually keep your new year's resolution this time around. Sure, Basis can tell you time, but if you want to know your blood flow, motion, temperature, heart rate, sweat level and blood oxygen level, it'll tell you those too. With a plethora of sensors, the monitoring watch keeps an eye on your vitals, giving you an overview of health, sleep and exercise habits. Basis is an honoree for the upcoming CES Best of Innovations Design and Engineering Awards in the health and wellness category. Available for pre-order for $199. This article is part of a series about getting fit in the new year. Check out the entire Man up! feature here.
MotoActv Heart-rate Monitor
The MotoActv wants to be your personal trainer. This tiny device tells when you reach or leave your target pace, heart rate or PowerZone based on your programmed profile and goals. And to keep you going, it creates a performance playlist, pulling songs that you burned the most calories to. It also takes on a few personal assistant duties, including fetching your incoming calls and displaying on-screen text messages. Begins at $249.99.
Withings WiFi scale
For better or worse, scales don't lie. In fact, the Withings WiFi scale tells you the cold hard truth: weight, body fat percentage, and BMI. Each time you step on, it registers these stats and sends them over your home wireless network to a private Web interface. The dashboard keeps tabs on your progress with static and interactive charts. You can share this information with your doctors, personal trainers, friends and family. If you feel so inclined, you can even tweet your progress to the entire world. Available from ThinkGeek for $164.99.
BitGym Fitness Games
The average American household has 1.15 cardio machines according to the San Francisco-based health startup BitGym. But overwhelmingly, they're left to collect dust. Get ready to use the treadmill again because BitGym's iOS games are designed to keep you going. One of them, Trail Runner, shows inspiring landscapes as you're on an exercise machine, speeding up or slowing down based on your real-life workout performance. Game prices vary, but lite versions are available for free.
If you prefer to run outdoors, Runtastic is an app that tracks your location, distance, time, pace and calorie consumption. It has charts that show your speed, altitude, pulse and training history. The pro version includes voice feedback, live tracking, cheering, pulse-reading, geotagging, workouts, competitions, and an integrated music player. Its iOS and Android apps have the most functionality, but Runtastic is also available on BlackBerry, Windows, and bada phones. Prices vary by device.
JayBird Freedom Earphones
The JayBird Freedom was designed for the gym rat. It uses Bluetooth connectivity, so there aren't long cords to trip over. The sound is big -- great motivation when your power track comes on. Plus, it's got enough variety of ear cushions, tips, and hooks to make sure you find the right fit; one that stays on when you're on the go.
Fitness Technologies Underwater MP3 Player
Music can motivate runners to go longer distances, why not apply the same principle to swimmers? Generally electronics and water don't mix very well, but Fitness Technologies' UWaterK7 was built for just that. The compact waterproof MP3 player debuted in the fall and will be making an appearance at CES in January. Also expected to make an appearance: the company's line of HD waterproof action cameras and waterproof stereo Bluetooth headsets. Available for $100.
Mophie Outdoor Battery Extender and Maps
Grab your iPhone. You're going for a hike. Not only does the mophie juice pack plus outdoor give you extended battery life (about 2,000 mAh, or eight hours of talk time on 3G), a corresponding app gives you access to 5 million square miles of high-resolution maps covering the continental U.S. and Hawaii. Once you download them, you no longer have to worry about losing reception. Plus the app records your progress, speed, distance, elevation, and geo-tagged photos. Available for $119.95.
Drift HD Video Camera
A good workout doesn't always mean hitting the gym. Head somewhere beautiful and find a fun activity, like biking or snowboarding. Action cams such as the Drift HD can be a good motivator to go outside. They capture amazing moments in 1080p HD video, which, upon watching, will make you want to go right back outside again. The small, light camera can be mounted to helmets or strapped on wrists and can also be controlled remotely. A night mode also means you can record in dusty or dark conditions. Feeling motivated to get your workout on? Visit our Man up! feature, chock full of info that will get your heart pumping.