Often considered a founding father of America’s most beloved sport, Alexander Cartwright remains a legend of the baseball scene.
The New York native was a major influence on the direction of baseball in the 1800s, and a pivotal part of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of NYC. He was also caught up in Gold Fever, much like many Americans in the 1850s, and made his home in Hawaii back when Hawaii was a kingdom.
Here we’ve rounded up 10 amazing facts about the baseball legend’s journey to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Alexander Cartwright: 10 Fascinating Facts about the American Baseball Legend
1. He had six siblings.
Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr. was born in 1820. He came from a large family—he was one of seven children—and his dad was a NYC sea merchant. Alexander Cartwright Sr. and Esther Rebecca Cartwright raised their children in the city.
2. He played ball games to unwind.
As a teenager, he worked a bank clerk. In his downtime, he played bat and ball games in the streets and at local parks. His friends, who volunteered as firefighters—many alongside him at Oceana Hose Company No.36—initially formed a social club to unwind after long days.
He and his team of local volunteer firefighters formed their own baseball club—the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York City—by the early 40s. It was named after Manhattan’s Knickerbocker Engine Co.
3. He moved the club to play on better grounds.
The Knickerbockers crossed the Hudson river to play at Elysian Fields in New Jersey, in 1845. Historians and sports fans speculate that this is where the Knickerbockers got their start as a driving force behind baseball.
Cartwright served as the club secretary, and then as vice president, and served on the club’s board in 1848.
4. He caught the Gold Rush bug.
As many people did on the approach of 1850, Cartwright left the city to head for the western territories in search of gold. The Gold Rush didn’t make Cartwright rich, and he continued on to Hawaii, an interesting fact about Alexander Cartwright.
5. He made Hawaii his home.
After settling there following his Gold Rush adventure, Cartwright sent for his family to join him. In 1851, his wife Eliza and his children DeWitt, Mary, and Catherine arrived. He and Eliza had two more sons, Bruce and Alexander III, in Hawaii.
6. He served his new home well.
He lived an active and involved life in Honolulu—where he served as fire chief (1850 – 1863) and advisor to King David and Queen Emma of Hawaii, and helped found the Honolulu Library. He also spent a great deal of time advocating for women to have library access.
7. He helped create the rules of baseball.
As chairman of a club committee, Cartwright helped draft a set of baseball rules. The club adopted these rules in 1845, and they were used in the first baseball game between the Knickerbockers and the Nine’s in Hoboken in 1846, a fascinating fact about Alexander Cartwright.
The rules were used as part of Robin Carver’s almanac—Book of Sports—in 1834, and most were maintained in their original form. Cartwright is generally credited with an innovative rule that legitimized tagging a base runner—rather than throwing a ball at him, which had been the previous rule.
Some other rules credited to Cartwright and the Knickerbockers club were the use of nine innings, nine players on the field, and the 90-foot line between bases. Some historians query Cartwright’s involvement in part of the rule development, as several were written under Daniel ‘Doc’ Adams in 1857—long after Cartwright had moved to Hawaii.
8. His induction into the Hall of Fame was disputed.
20 years of controversy followed the campaign to induct Cartwright into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Although Alexander Cartwright had passed away decades earlier, baseball historians and sports personalities were divided on Cartwright’s legitimacy as a founding father of the sport. Abner Doubleday, for example, was acknowledged by the Mills Commission as the inventor of baseball.
A newspaper article discovered in 2004 revived the debate again. The article, with Knickerbocker co-founded William R. Wheaton, demonstrated that the rules attributed to their club were actually rules they had carried over from their time with the Gotham Club.
Similarly, John Thorn released what could be considered an expose into baseball’s infancy: Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game. The book outlines why—and how—early baseball influences like Cartwright may not have earned a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Whatever the truth behind the controversy, many baseball fans and sports commentators called for Alexander Cartwright’s inclusion.
In 1938, Cartwright joined the prestigious ranks of baseball greats, a great fact about Alexander Cartwright.
9. He is a popular subject.
New York City librarian Robert Henderson documented the Hall of Famer’s achievements in his book. In 1973, Harold Peterson wrote a biography of Cartwright’s life—The Man Who Invented Baseball.
He was also the subject of two biographies in 2009. Honolulu’s most well-known stadium—Makiki Field—was renamed Cartwright Field in 1938, and the annual Cartwright Cup is awarded in Hawaii for state school baseball champions.
10. He had a visit from a baseball legend.
Six months before the Hawaiian royal family were overthrown, Cartwright passed away. A former baseball teammate of Cartwright’s, Lorrin A. Thurston, helped lead the revolution to oust the monarchy.
Alexander Cartwright’s death on July 12, 1892, was honored by many officials and influential community members, and he was buried at Oahu Cemetery.
His grave became a touchstone for baseball legends like Babe Ruth, who visited in 1934. To this day, many fans leave baseballs, caps, and gloves at Cartwright’s grave, instead of traditional flowers.
Whichever side of the argument you land on, regarding Alexander Cartwright’s induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame—his life remains fascination for fans around the world. Although he’s been gone for over a century, sports fans still visit his Oahu grave to pay their respects for a baseball legend.
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