In writing this piece I have solicited a lot of opinions, researched a ton, and made a list that no doubt many baseball fans will disagree with. However what you’ll see here is my opinion as to who the 10 men who most influenced the game we watch today - as well as a half dozen or so who deserve honorable mentions. Several of them have been written about here at At Home Plate, and I’ve tried to link to relevant articles (or series) when possible. Those who’ve not been written about will be topics for future articles - hopefully we can cover all of them before the year is out. I’ve tried to look past the obvious in writing this and to give kudos to a lot of men who have been behind the scenes in most of the key changes to the game. In that I hope you’ll be forgiving of the fact that only two players made the top 10 and a third only got an honorable mention.
Written by Jonathan Leshanski
Published: 28 April 2007
I have no doubt that this list will be somewhat controversial and I invite opinions, ideas and debate over this topic. Feel free to comment in our forums. 1) Alexander Joy Cartwright/Duncan Curry/Henry Chadwick/ William Tucker/ “Doc” Adams/Abner Doubleday
All of these men have claims to being the “Father” of the game of baseball. However of all of the claims the best one probably belongs to Alexander Cartwright who was a founding member of the original Knickerbockers Baseball team along with Curry, Tucker and Adams - all of whom probably had some part in forming the game. Cartwright however wrote down and codified the rules of the New York game (another variant, the Massachusetts game, existed) which became what we know as baseball today. He is credited with determining the distance between bases, base lines, fair and foul territory, the shape of the field, number of players, number of outs, and supposedly created the role of shortstop among other rules.
Henry Chadwick has also been called the “Father of Baseball” but Chadwick was a writer not a player and what he did was write about the game and spread its popularity as well as create the modern box score and scoring system. He believed and made publicly known that he believed the game evolved from an old English game known as rounders.
However the most important man in the game at the turn of the century was Albert Spaulding and Spaulding considered an English origin to the game unacceptable and he needed an American origin for the game. So with the help of a commission on the origin of the game he created one. Backed by the testimony of an old miner named Abner Graves, Spaulding created a myth that the game had been created by General Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York in 1839. There is no evidence to back that up and in 67 volumes of memoirs written by Doubleday there is not a single mention of the game.
Ironically upon Chadwick’s death in 1908 Spaulding sent a flower arrangement shaped like a baseball and spelling out the words “the Father of Baseball” to the grave. He also purchased the plot and raised money for the monument bearing those same same words which stand over Chadwick’s grave today. 2) Ban Johnson
- While Cartwright may have invented the game as we know it today without Ban Johnson there might only be the National League. Johnson transformed a minor league known as the Western League into what we know as the American League today. For more information on that see What Every Fan Should Know: The Birth of the American League
However Johnson did a lot more than that. He led a drive to clean up the game and abolish cheating and unfair practices, he gave the umpires authority and protected and backed them up which turned the game into a family game getting rid of a lot of the abuse and threats to the umps as well as cleaning up language on the field. He served as league president and was the real authority in the game up until the appointment of baseball’s first commissioner - a job Johnson wanted badly. He retired from the game in 1927. 3) Kenesaw Mountain Landis
- Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis came into the game when it was most in need of an outside influence which was beyond reproach to clean up the game. Landis was selected as the first commissioner of the game in the wake of the Black Sox Scandal (see What Every Fan Should Know: The Black Sox Scandal
) of 1919. He was one of the only commissioners allowed to rule with an iron hand and powers unprecedented in the history of the game. Following commissioners have had that power largely taken away by ownerships who realized it was not in their best interest to have a commissioner who could unilaterally override their collective decisions.
Landis is most noted for throwing out the eight members of the Black Sox who sold the World Series to gamblers and restoring integrity and the fan’s trust to the game. WIthout him as a figurehead and a leader the game might have died in the early 20s. 4) Babe Ruth
- Babe Ruth single handedly turned the game of baseball on its ear, ending the age of the dead ball and changing the nature of the game from a singles game into a power hitters game. Ruth is still considered by most the greatest player of all time. 5) US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
- During World War II baseball was considered to be important to the morale of the American people and at the request of the president it was not shut down like other sports despite the fact that most of the best athletes were taken away to fight in the war. However FDR did not want the game to impede the country’s war efforts so he requested that baseball make an effort to play at night - and they did. Leading to the creation of widespread night baseball who’s impact long outlasted the war.
The first games of night baseball were played by Negro Leaguers long before it was ever done by the Major Leagues.