Cartwright's middle name says it all
WE stood there, we were told, on sacred ground. The Babe stood here. And Gehrig. Paul Derringer. Jimmie Fox.
"Casey Stengel walked up here," former Star-Bulletin sportswriter Lyle Nelson said.
"The Japanese guy, the home-run hitter!" someone said.
They'd all come to this sacred place.
They'd all come here, to Oahu Cemetery, on Nuuanu Street, up the hill. Here, because he is ours, Honolulu's -- that stern old picture, the man in the fireman's hat.
We stood there again yesterday, at the grave of Alexander Joy Cartwright Jr., inventor of baseball. We sang "Happy Birthday" to the man on what would have been his 186th.
White-haired men showed up in boys' caps, carrying baseball gloves like kids.
"It's so much fun to watch them playing, throw the ball around," Cartwright's great-great granddaughter, Mokihana Meyers, said.
"Reminiscing," she said.
That's what everyone does when they come here. Something special about this game, that way.
Something that keeps drawing people to this spot, to thank him for this magical game, all it gave them.
It was Cartwright who determined that the bases would be 90 feet apart, that a game would have nine innings, nine players to a team. He was a founding member of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. It was he who codified the rules.
That famous day at Elysian Fields?
"He chose to be the umpire of that game," longtime sportswriter Ferd Borsch said.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1938.
They placed leis on the shrine, yesterday. There were baseballs already there. "Thank you, Mr. Cartwright," read the writing on one. Another had a tribute written in Japanese. One had half its cover off. Another, unwound down to the string.
A piece of candy. A couple old, fading caps. Not fancy stuff; sentimental stuff. The stuff of childhood, of baseball. The stuff of summer and dreams.
It was amazing what he gave us, when he and his friends came up with this game.
"Our father," Borsch called Cartwright.
So what do you do when you've done something impossible to top? When you've created what would become one of the cornerstones of American culture, how can you follow that up?
You move to Hawaii and become the fire chief.
Cartwright did just that, of course. Our very first. That's the picture we've all seen, the man in the fire helmet with the long white beard, the long dark coat. He invented baseball? He did, but then he moved to Honolulu, where he was friend and advisor to kings. Introduced the Masons. Helped found the library. "He created the reading room in the library," Nelson said.
Was Consul to Peru.
Hawaii's first fire chief did all of these things, and his funeral reflected it, in 1892.
"Forty-six horses and carriages came up this hill," Nelson said. The first of so many pilgrims to make this trip, to stand here, at this sacred spot.
Ah, but it wasn't sacred yet. They hadn't come for baseball. In the next day's paper, there wasn't any mention of the game.
Cartwright had enjoyed how his brainchild had blossomed, took in nine innings when he could. But it seems that when he came here, when it came to baseball, he never bragged. Growing up, his great-great granddaughter said, she remembered no grand stories told of Elysian Fields.
"It was only later we found out about it," Meyers said yesterday, basking in the seamheads' joy.
But yesterday she celebrated it, we all did, in the same place where Gehrig and Stengel and Ruth came. There was baseball poetry. And talking to the tombstone -- about which Gonzalez plays first base and which plays short; about the genius of Charlie Finley; about Barry Bonds. After it was over people talked, and argued, and smiled. Some took pictures of themselves next to the shrine.
As I left, the sun shone brightly. It was a great day for baseball. Here, most every day is.