Chrowback Churzday

Corner of Chaplain Lane and Fort Street in downtown Honolulu, where Alexander Joy Cartwright reportedly settled with his family around 1852.

176 years ago today: Alexander Joy Cartwright ‘invents’ (?) baseball

“Legend” has it that on this day 176 years ago, Sept. 23, 1845, a bookseller and volunteer fireman named Alexander Joy Cartwright suggested organizing the Knickerbockers baseball club and drew up basic rules that established the game as we know it today:

According to “The Baseball Chronology” (James Charlton, 1991), Cartwright “formulate(d) rules to distinguish his brand of baseball from other forms played throughout the country,” such as “townball,” “rounders,” “old cat,” etc.

Although many others in the 20th century also gave credit to Cartwright for this “invention,” in recent years his actual contribution to the game’s rules has been disputed and his status as a “founding father” somewhat diminished.

What is NOT disputed, however, is Cartwright’s contributions to what was then known as the Kingdom of Hawai’i as a businessman, aide to members of the royal family and Honolulu’s first Fire Chief.

So if modern baseball’s origins are even loosely tied to Cartwright, then through Cartwright, they also are tied to us here in Hawai’i.

One undisputed 20th century baseball pioneer, Branch Rickey, happened to be one of those who gave much credit to Cartwright. In his 1965 book, “The American Diamond,” Rickey goes so far as to list Cartwright as baseball’s “number one immortal”:

“Cartwright is the man,” Rickey wrote. “(His) claim to baseball immortality can easily be substantiated by listing a few of his contributions to the game:

He established baseline measurements.

He created foul-line rules.

He created the foul-strike rule.

He established the team as composed of nine men to a side.

He created the dead ball by limiting the number of bases to be advanced when a ball bounds out of play.

He ruled that a batter can run when the catcher drops the third strike.

He established the rule preventing interference by the runner with a fielding play.”

Now … before anyone loads their comment slingshot with ammunition, let me be clear that the above assertions are Rickey’s, not mine. I’m just repeating them.

And not for the purpose of spreading misinformation, but rather to show how one of baseball’s true immortals regarded Cartwright as “the game’s number one immortal.” That alone is not without significance, and at the very least makes Cartwright worthy of discussion.

In fact, Cartwright is such a prominent historical figure — both in the sports world, and here in Hawai’i — discussion about him cannot be limited to one blog post. So this is the first of many to come.

In the meantime, I thought it fitting to start Hawai’i Sports Mo’olelo and the first “Chrowback Churzday” on this day, the 176th anniversary of a legendary baseball story with a future adopted kama’aina as the central figure.

Mahalo to Alexander Joy Cartwright!