Star-Bulletin Sports

Monday, July 26, 1999

M A J O R _ L E A G U E _ B A S E B A L L

Associated Press
Robin Yount, Orlando Cepeda, Bob Chylak
(son of Nestor Chylak) Nolan Ryan and George
Brett, left to right, at yesterday's ceremonies.

Who made the game?

The debate over whether
Doubleday or Cartwright invented
baseball has never been settled

By Jerry Campany
Special to the Star-Bulletin


"The closest man has ever come to perfection is 90 feet between basepaths." - Red Smith

In a museum packed with legends, Alexander Joy Cartwright stands out because he devised the distance between base paths - along with many of the game's first rules.

I had visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and museum a number of times, but never on induction day. And this one was special, as the largest crowd in the history of the museum turned out to see Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, Orlando Cepeda, Smokey Joe Williams, Nestor Chylak and Frank Selee be inducted into their rightful place in the Hall with Cartwright.

But in his own little corner of the museum, the subject of Cartwright vs. Abner Doubleday dominated conversations, rather than Ryan vs. Brett or Williams vs. Cepeda.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame came to Cooperstown because the best evidence of the time suggested that the game was devised by Abner Doubleday in the area, and his name dominates both the town and the museum. The annual Hall of Fame game is played on Doubleday Field and it is a foregone conclusion among area residents and casual baseball fans that Doubleday was the genius behind the national pastime - until they visit the museum for the first time.

After reading the plaques of Cartwright and Roberto Clemente in the Hall of Fame gallery, I immediately went again to the museum's display on the origins of baseball. After visiting Cartwright's grave in Nuuanu Cemetery regularly when I lived in Hawaii, I was drawn immediately to his bronze plaque and display on my first visit to the Hall since leaving the islands.

The display is situated with Doubleday's contribution first, followed by those of Cartwright. The first and most impressive display is that of the "Doubleday ball" - the oldest baseball found to date, and used by Doubleday in Cooperstown.

"The first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1839," reads a quote from the Mills Commission report in 1907.

But hardcore baseball fans are not so easily swayed, as I learned by judging reactions to Cartwright's display by a number of onlookers.

"Here is the real Abner Doubleday," 17-year-old fan Max Manos said as he stood in front of the Cartwright display. "Doubleday may have played baseball, but Cartwright invented it."

Manos' opinion captured the tone of nearly every fan who elected to voice an opinion on the matter, but the most powerful voice was that of retired sportswriter Bob Stevens, who thanked Doubleday in his acceptance speech at his induction into the writers' wing later in the day.

"Abner, thanks one hell of a lot for inventing this game," Stevens said and touched off another small debate among the crowd that will probably live forever, or at least until people stop loving their game so dearly.

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