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April 2003

How Baseball Became The National Pastime
Almost forty years before Major League Baseball's first World Series, the city of Detroit hosted the "World's Tournament of Base Ball."


MORE: How Baseball Became The National Pastime

Trade catalog, “Black band” Spalding bat
On July 14, 1867, The Detroit Free Press carried an announcement of the tournament, which was held at the grounds of the Detroit Base Ball Club from August 14th to August 21st. The international tournament attracted teams from Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ontario. When Detroit hosted the World’s Tournament in 1867, it announced it would abide by the rules as published in Henry Chadwick’s book, Haney’s Base Ball Players Book of Reference. Chadwick, along with Albert G. Spalding, were the two individuals who helped baseball achieve national prominence.

Chadwick, a New York sportswriter, immigrated to the United States from England as a boy. He reported on baseball games, and created a system for scoring games that continues to appear in sports pages today as the box score. Chadwick also authored a number of instructional books on how to play the “national game.” Books, such as Chadwick’s, helped create a uniform game, and promote baseball as acceptable recreation for men, and appropriate for men, women, and children to watch. Chadwick also authored the annual publication, Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide, until his death in 1908.

Player with Spalding bat

Round Oak Club, Dowagiac, Michigan

Albert G. Spalding started his baseball career as a player, and later became a manager and president of the Chicago White Sox, which at the time was part of the National League. Spalding also created a popular sporting goods company, specializing in baseball equipment. The popularity of Spalding equipment is represented in these photographic images from the late 1800s. The individual player has a Spalding bat, and Spalding bats may be seen in this team photograph of the Round Oak Club of Dowagiac, Michigan.

In the early 20th century, Spalding and Chadwick put forth different versions of the origins of the game of baseball. Chadwick had long asserted that baseball developed based on British bat and ball games, such as “rounder." In an era of American nationalism, Albert Spalding hoped to find an American source for the game. He cajoled professional baseball to appoint a commission in 1905 to investigate the origins of the game. Chaired by A.G. Mills, the commission received a letter from a Denver, Colorado engineer by the name of Abner Graves asserting that he was present when Abner Doubleday developed the game in Cooperstown, New York in 1839. Chadwick responded with evidence detailing the history of English bat and ball games without avail. Spalding’s zeal to establish baseball as a purely American game, and his connections within the commission, compelled the group to recognize the circumstantial evidence and acknowledge Doubleday as baseball’s founder.

If only someone had bothered to research Doubleday’s life, it would have revealed that he was at West Point in 1839, and could not have devised baseball in Cooperstown, as many now believe. In actuality, games of baseball, or “base ball” as it was spelled into the early twentieth century, were reported in newspapers in the 1820s. The Knickerbocker Club of New York is credited with formulating the nine-player team format that eventually led to the formation of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1858. Pitching was underhanded and balls caught on the fly or the first bound were outs. The rules continued to evolve into the game that is now America’s pastime.

You can see games played by 1867 rules in Greenfield Village every weekend this summer or attend The World’s Tournament of Vintage Base Ball on August 9th and 10th in Greenfield Village. The Henry Ford recently acquired a copy of the rare Haney’s Base Ball Player’s Book of Reference from 1867. The Greenfield Village Lah-de-dahs and their opponents will abide by these rules, just as the 1867 tournament did.

print version

-- Leo Landis, Curator



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