Baseball: An Early History: Background information when reading The Art of Fielding

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The Art of Fielding

A Novel

by Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2011, 528 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2012, 544 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Baseball: An Early History

Print Review

Though The Art of Fielding is not about baseball per se, there are still large segments of the book devoted to the game. It is used as a metaphor for the human condition and is the frame around which the story is built.

Baseball has been referred to as the "national pastime" of the United States since the mid-1800s, though it is difficult to trace the exact origins of the sport. There are written references to the game that go back to the 1700s - most famously in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (1796) - although a French illustration dating from the 14th century depicts a similar ball and bat game. Most sources agree that baseball was imported to the U.S. by English and Irish immigrants as a game called "rounders" (also called "townball," "base" and "baseball"), and is related to the British sport cricket.

Elysian Fields 1866 The invention of baseball in its modern form was originally credited to Abner Doubleday, a Civil War hero who, in 1839, allegedly wrote the rules for the game. However, after much research and a decided lack of evidence, this notion has been discredited by historians as an urban myth.

Alexander Cartwright of the New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club is generally recognized as the "father of baseball," having formalized the rules of the game and standardized the playing field in 1845. By 1869, the first open-salaried group of players formed, and so the Cincinnati Red Stockings became known as the first professional baseball team.

Knickerbockers Base Ball Club c.1847 Leagues of teams then began to form: the National League (NL) on the East Coast in 1876, and the American Association (AA) in the Midwest in 1882 (which incidentally became known as the Beer and Whiskey League because they offered cheaper ticket prices, were backed by breweries and distilleries, and sold alcohol at games - something the NL rules prohibited.)

Cy YoungThe AA eventually evolved into the American League (AL) in 1901, and after two years of bitter competition and player raiding, the AL and NL decided to "bury the hatchet" and played a series of interleague exhibition games at the end of the 1903 season. The two pennant winners, the NL Pittsburgh Pirates and the AL's Boston Americans (later known as the Red Sox), met as part of this exhibition in what is now considered the first World Series. Boston won 5 games to 3, with the infamous Cy Young pitching. The AL win added legitimacy to the league, and the NL and AL have faced off annually since 1905.


Top image: game at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ, c.1866
Middle image: the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club c.1847 (Alexander Cartwright, top middle)
Bottom image: Cy Young

Article by Kim Kovacs

This article was originally published in October 2011, and has been updated for the May 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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