Formed First Recognized Baseball Team
Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr., was born on April 17, 1820, in New York City. The son of a marine surveyor
and former sea captain, Cartwright grew up in lower Manhattan, where as a boy he played the common children's game known alternately as rounders, base ball, or town ball. He attended school until age 16, when he left to become a bank clerk, and later, a volunteer firefighter. In 1842 he married Eliza Ann Gerrits Van Wie, who hailed from an old Dutch family near Albany.
A strapping, unusually tall man for his day, at 6 feet 2 inches, Cartwright was popular among a crowd of young New York bankers, lawyers, and businessmen, who on fair days after work gathered to play rounders at Parade Ground meadow or at Madison Square. In 1845, 25-year-old Cartwright—known to his friends as Alick—proposed that the group create an organized club. Thus was born the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, named after a disbanded firefighter company where Cartwright had once volunteered. Cartwright was named secretary and vice-president when the club formed in September of that year.
Perhaps more important than Cartwright's creation of the club was the Knickerbockers' official organization of the game with a constitution and bylaws. The bylaws—some 14 written rules created by Cartwright and his club mates—transformed baseball from a folk sport, with rules passed down orally over the centuries, to a formal, structured sport. The rules also made the game less rough-and-tumble and more genteel, since they abolished the common practice of soaking or plugging—that is, hitting the runner with the ball to make an out. This change made it safer for players to use a harder ball, which led to a faster, more exciting game. Other bylaws Cartwright instituted included the diamond-shaped field, the rules of fair and foul territories, and the 90-foot distance between each of the four bases.
Cartwright is often credited with establishing the rule that nine players compose a baseball team; however, the Knickerbockers were not consistent with their number of players, which, in a given game, ranged from 8 to 12. The position of shortstop—a player between the second and third bases, whose job was mainly to relay throws from the outfield to the infield—was not instituted until 1849. Nor was it Cartwright who established the nine-inning game length, which was created by a convention of players in 1857. In the early days of the sport, the game would end when the first team scored a winning 21 runs.
The first organized baseball team needed an opponent, so the Knickerbockers advertised for games. Stepping up to the challenge was a team called the New York Nine. Since lower Manhattan had become increasingly more urban and there was little space for a baseball diamond, the players had sought out new territory across the Hudson River in then-rural Hoboken, New Jersey. To get there, both clubs crossed the river by ferry, then walked to Elysian Fields, a picturesque park and a popular holiday destination. It is Elysian Fields that takes credit for hosting the first recognized modern baseball game, between the Knickerbockers and the New York Nine, on June 19, 1846.