Alexander “Alick” Cartwright worked as a clerk for a broker and later for a bank, and, weather permitting, played variations of cricket and rounders in the vacant lots of New York City after the bank closed each day.
Rounders, like baseball, is a striking and fielding team game that involves hitting a ball with a bat; players score by running around the four bases on the field (the earliest reference to the game was in 1744.)
“In New York City in the 1830s and ’40s, young Alick Cartwright grew up playing all kinds of games that used bats, balls and bases — but none of them were called baseball, for that game had not yet been created.”
“In his teens, Alick and his friends ventured into other neighborhoods to play various ball games, including at the grassy squares at Madison Square and Murray Hill, and he earns a reputation as one of the best players in the city …”
“… whatever the game, be it cricket, rounders, barn ball, burn ball, stick ball, soak ball, goal ball, town ball or several “old cat” games — one old cat (one base), two old cat (two bases), etc.”
“But one thing drove Alick crazy – every area played by different rules, sometimes using two bases, sometimes five, and the number of players on the field varied from just a few to more than 20.”
“Sometimes a base was a tall wooden stick in the ground, sometimes a rock, sometimes a barrel top or just an old hat. Plus, the distances between bases were always different.”
“Worse, because the rules were always different, they spent as much time arguing about the rules as playing the game. Alick played for one reason, to have fun, and arguing was not fun.”
“After a particularly contentious argument that nearly comes to blows until Alick intervenes, he sits down with pencil, paper and ruler to create a more perfect game.”
“After his best pal nearly dies after getting hit in the head by a thrown ball during a game of town ball, Alick writes down the rules of modern baseball.” (Chapman; Amazon)
Baseball was based on the English game of rounders. Rounders become popular in the United States in the early 19th century, where the game was called “townball”, “base” or “baseball”.
In 1845, Cartwright organized the New York Knickerbockers team with a constitution and bylaws, and suggested that they could arrange more games and the sport would be more widely-played if it had a single set of agreed-upon rules.
Many of these ball-playing young men, including Cartwright, were also volunteer firemen. They named their team after a volunteer fire department in which Alexander Cartwright and several other players belonged to.
One of these wrote in his notes, “We were all men who were at liberty after 3 o’clock in the afternoon and played only for health and recreation… and merely wanted to join a club to set up new uniform rules”.
Cartwright played a key role in formalizing the first published rules of the game, including the concept of foul territory, the distance between bases, three-out innings and the elimination of retiring base runners by throwing batted baseballs at them.
The man who really invented baseball spent the last forty-four years of his long life in Hawai‘i and laid out Hawai‘i’s first baseball diamond, now called Cartwright Field, in Makiki.
When he left Manhattan, Cartwright took with him a bat, ball and a copy of the old manuscript rule book, that he helped to draft. Fifteen years later, he sent a letter from Honolulu …
“Dear old Knickerbockers, I hope the club is still kept up, and that I shall some day meet again with them on the pleasant fields of Hoboken. I have in my possession the original ball with which we used to play on Murray Hill. “
“Many is the pleasant chase I have had after it on Mountain and Prairie and many an equally pleasant one on the sunny plains of Hawaii … Sometimes I have thought of sending it home to be played for by the clubs, but I cannot bear to part with it, so linked in it, is it with cherished home memories.”
Cartwright went on to teach people in Hawai‘i how to play the game; and, he did a lot more when he was here.
In Hawaiʻi, he continued the volunteer fire fighting activities he had learned as a member of the Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 12 in New York City – and, he was part of Honolulu’s first Volunteer Fire Brigade.
Shortly thereafter, the Honolulu Fire was established on December 27, 1850, by signature of King Kamehameha III, and was the first of its kind in the Hawaiian Islands, and the only Fire Department in the United States established by a ruling monarch.
Then, on December 27, 1850, King Kamehameha III passed an act in the Privy Council that appointed Cartwright Chief Engineer of the Fire Department of the City of Honolulu. Shortly thereafter, he became Fire Chief.
Aside from his duties at the Honolulu Fire Department, Cartwright also served as advisor to the Queen. Cartwright was the executor of Queen Emma’s Last Will & Testament, in which she left the bulk of her estate to the Queen’s Hospital when she died in 1885.
Cartwright also served as the executor of the estate of King Kalākaua.
As part of its customs and traditions, cornerstone ceremonies were held for the construction of new Hospital buildings. Cartwright participated in the first public Masonic ceremony on the islands at the laying of the Queen’s Hospital cornerstone in 1860.
He also was appointed Consul to Peru, and was on the financial committee for Honolulu’s Centennial Celebration of American Independence held on July 4, 1876.
A group of men, Cartwright among them, founded the Honolulu Library and Reading Room in 1879. In the local newspaper, the Commercial Pacific Advertiser, editor J. H. Black wrote, “The library is not intended to be run for the benefit of any class, party, nationality, or sect.”
Some of the founders wanted to exclude women from membership, but Cartwright disagreed, writing to his brother Alfred: “The idea keeps the blessed ladies out and the children. What makes us old geezers think we are the only ones to be spiritually and morally uplifted by a public library in this city?” It wasn’t long before the committee changed the wording of the constitution to make women eligible for membership.
Born in New York City on April 17, 1820, Mr. Baseball, Alexander Cartwright died at the age of 72 in Honolulu on July 12th, 1892. A large, pink granite monument in Oʻahu Cemetery marks the final resting-place of Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr.
Many baseball greats, such as Babe Ruth, have visited this spot to pay tribute. Today, baseballs and notes can regularly be found lying at the foot of his large grave marker.