The Father of Baseball: A Biography of Henry Chadwick
The Father of Baseball:
A Biography of Henry Chadwick
By Adam J. Schiff
Published by McFarland & Co., Inc.
“Get your pencils and scorecards ready. Here are the starting lineups for today’s game,” said Chicago Cubs public address announcer Pat Peiper, before every home game. I remember, because as a young boy I went to many Cubs’ games at Wrigley Field and went home disappointed because the Cubs lost. For so many years.
Author Adam J. Schiff notes that Henry Chadwick died on April 20, 1908, in his biography of Henry Chadwick. As many baseball fans know by now, 1908 was the last year the Cubs won the World Series. Baseball has existed for over 100 years, and Schiff writes a meticulously researched and highly informative book on a man who shepherded the game from its infancy.
Schiff uses archival correspondence between Chadwick and his contemporaries to illuminate Chadwick’s growing passion of the sport and his desire to see it as the national pastime in America. It’s ironic that Chadwick was English, born in Exeter, and was an avid follower of Cricket. And that he became enamored of an American game, and in the process, became its highly respected advocate.
Schiff notes that “Chadwick was the man responsible for helping baseball grow with his work at a journalist, statistician, and as a proponent of health and recreation, a genius and a visionary who believed, when no one else believed, it could become the national game.” Chadwick wrote early in his career for the New York Times covering cricket and baseball. He saw an early game of baseball at the pristine Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ in 1856. He came away a changed man. He saw a game that defined the American spirit.
At this time, baseball was a somewhat gentlemanly game. Some 40 years later, the game would be played at a Championship level, with thousands of spectators, “cranks” as they were called, cheering on their favorite team.
Schiff notes the history of the day, and specifically, the importance of the Industrial Revolution giving a boost to baseball. Workers had a structure and had their leisure time as well. And, men gravitated towards sport as a way of unwinding from the work day and getting physical exercise.
In 1860, Chadwick wrote baseball’s first digest, its first guide, called “Beadles’s Dime Base Ball Player.” This was a national publication and was read among the game’s early followers. He also wrote for the New York Clipper, another nationally read publication.
Here Chadwick could espouse his views and put forth his commentary on the game. He published his early version of the scorecard, which evolved over the years. He came up with the letter “K” to mean strikeout and this still stands today.
Chadwick was on the scene to write about the game as it became a professional sport and then America’s game, toward the end of his life.
He wrote about the game’s first star, James Creighton, a 19-year-old phenom who could hit and pitch with the best of them. He took a big swing during an at-bat, and aggravated a bladder injury that first occurred in a cricket game. He died of his injuries and the game paused and mourned his loss. His grave is in Brooklyn, and has a monument to him.
Baseball expanded into the Midwest as another young phenom named A.G. Spalding headed a Rockford, Illinois team. Spalding was to become a top pitcher, manager, sporting goods magnate, and promoter of the game.
Baseball would be dogged by rowdy cranks, lack of good fielding by teams, and gambling. Players did not make a lot of money back in the early days and some saw throwing games as easy money. It would plague the game for years to come.
When the National League formed in 1876, it did so without courting Chadwick’s blessing. Actually he was against the founding of the league, but later, would become its spokesman on the Rules and Regulations Committee. Some twenty years passed and Chadwick was offered an annual stipend of $600 a year for life for his years of meritorious service.
The game saw its first world series in 1903 and then the great debate on the origins of baseball culminating in the appointment of the Mills Commission. Chadwick thought that baseball had originated from an English game called “rounders” while Spalding and other leading figures of the game felt it was invented by Abner Doubleday. The arguments went back and forth and at times, were heated. Chadwick always felt that it was America’s game. “Baseball was indigenous to America because it was in the country that the game was organized and standardized even though it had originated as an English ball game.” When Chadwick passed away in 1908, Spalding eulogized him to the press. Schiff notes that the “father of Baseball” was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1938.#