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Alexander Cartwright

"The Father of Baseball"

Alexander Cartwright

Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr. was born in New York City on April 17, 1820, to Alexander Joy Cartwright, a merchant sea captain, and Esther Burlock Cartwright; he was one of seven children. He began his working career at the age of 16, as a clerk in a Wall Street broker's office, later became a bank clerk, and, after the bank for which he worked was destroyed by fire, eventually went into the book-selling business with one of his brothers. He also served as a volunteer firefighter. He married Eliza Van Wie on June 2, 1842; the couple ultimately had five children.

Like many young men of his day, Cartwright often spent his after-work hours playing a variation of an old English stick and ball game called rounders. Most "base ball" games were played by groups of men who just happened to be available and were played according to a very loose set of rules that frequently varied from region to region and even from neighborhood to neighborhood. One of the first "formal" teams was organized by a group of volunteer firemen on September 23, 1845. According to the story accepted by the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cartwright was not only one of the founding members of the Knickerbockers he was also the one responsible for most of the 20 rules the team adopted. Those rules included: a runner must be touched with a ball, rather than hit with it, to be considered out; a ball is considered foul if outside the range of first or third base; and, the distance between the bases (which are to be set in a diamond shape) is to be forty-two paces from home to second base and from first to third base. The Knickerbockers played their first recorded match game against the New York Nine on October 6, 1845, at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey; the New York Nine won the game by a score of 23-1.

the Knickerbockers (Cartwright is in the middle of the top row)
the Knickerbockers (Cartwright is in the middle of the top row)

Cartwright headed for the California gold fields in March of 1849, and, according to family legend, taught the "Knickerbocker Rules" version of baseball along the way. Unsuccessful in California, he sailed for Hawaii in August of 1849 and ultimately settled in Honolulu; his wife and children joined him there sometime in 1851. In Honolulu, Cartwright was one of the founding members of the first Freemasonry orders in Hawaii, served as Chief Engineer of the Honolulu Fire Department, served as an advisor to King Kamehameha IV and his family, and helped found the Honolulu Library and Reading Room. He is also believed by many to have been responsible for introducing baseball to the island. He died of a blood infection on July 12, 1892.

How much of the story surrounding Cartwright's contributions to the formalization of baseball is true remains open to speculation, but the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted him as the "Father of Baseball" in 1938.

WEB SOURCES
Notorious Names DataBase http://www.nndb.com/people/410/000172891/
The Official Site of Alexander Cartwright http://www.cmgww.com/baseball/cartwright/
Society for American Baseball Research http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/09ed3dd4

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The Robinson Library >> Recreation >> Baseball >> Biography

This page was last updated on June 02, 2017.