Devon

The Englishman dubbed 'the father of baseball'

Pittsburgh Pirates v Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game Image copyright Getty Images

President Theodore Roosevelt dubbed him "the father of baseball", but the man widely credited with popularising the US national sport was actually from Devon.

He is acknowledged as the author of baseball's first rule book and remains to this day the only journalist to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

But not many people know Henry Chadwick, the man who helped oversee baseball's meteoric rise to national prominence, hailed from a county town in the south west of England.

A historian for Major League Baseball, John Thorn, explained: "No man was more important to the rise of baseball from boys' game to national pastime than Henry Chadwick, the game's great promoter."

Chadwick was born in Exeter in 1824 and grew up with a passion for cricket. When he was 12 years old, his family emigrated to the US where he continued his love affair with the sport.

Image copyright MLB
Image caption Henry Chadwick (standing second from right) is the only journalist inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame

Following in his father's footsteps, Mr Chadwick became a journalist, and by the mid-1850s, he was writing for the New York Times as a cricket reporter.

He soon turned his attention to baseball after watching a game between New York's Gotham and Eagle clubs in 1856.

He was immediately taken by the pace of the game.

Image copyright Getty Images

"Americans do not care to dawdle over a sleep-inspiring game, all through the heat of a June or July day," he said.

"What they do they want to do in a hurry. In baseball, all is lightning; every action is as swift as a seabird's flight."

Through his cricketing background, Chadwick had developed a love of statistics and he refined the 'box score', which helped supporters follow the sport from home and allowed them to compare players' records.

He quickly found a place on the Rules Committee in 1858, but his main ambition was to take baseball to the masses. He was a prolific writer who penned the first baseball guide in 1860 and took on the role of editor for Spalding's Official Base Ball Guide.

Image copyright National Baseball Hall of Fame
Image caption Henry Chadwick was named the "father of baseball" by President Theodore Roosevelt

At this time, baseball and cricket were both vying for the nation's attention, yet by 1866 the former had pre-eminence.

Thorn explains: "There were many factors here, not least the Civil War and American jingoism about Britain's role in it by continuing to buy cotton from the South, for example."

Interest in baseball was carried to other parts of the country by Union soldiers, and when the war ended there were more people playing baseball than ever before.

This helped to contribute to the creation of the first National League in 1876. As is the way with baseball, a counter-claim states the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, which operated between 1871 and 1875 was the original Major League.

Not everyone believes Chadwick's role contributed as much to the sport as he liked to claim. The suggestion he wrote the first rule book is one of many claims from the game's fledgling years that is disputed.

"Baseball is our national religion, and thus people and ideas will contend for primacy," Mr Thorn said.

"The notion that Chadwick wrote the first rule book was advanced by Chadwick himself, a relentless self-aggrandizer.

"In his later years, he was ridiculed by players and sportswriters for his overblown claims of influence. In truth, he did a great deal, and did not need to resort to hyperbole."


Image copyright National Baseball Hall of Fame
Image caption Henry Chadwick was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1938, 30 years after his death

'A family of reformers'

  • Grandfather: Andrew Chadwick was a good friend of John Wesley, the Church of England reformer who, along with his brother Charles, founded the Methodist Movement
  • Father: James Chadwick taught botany and music to the physicist and discoverer of the atomic theory, John Dalton, before becoming an outspoken journalist
  • Half-brother: Sir Edwin Chadwick is credited with being Britain's premier pioneer in public health reform with his work contributing to the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act

One thing that is unquestioned is Mr Chadwick's desire to institute moral reform, using his newspaper columns to chastise players and managers who drank and gambled.

His great-great-granddaughter, Frances Henry, who lives in Massachusetts, is proud of his lasting legacy.

"Henry Chadwick lived a life of integrity and intelligence," she said.

Image copyright MLB
Image caption Henry Chadwick's prolific writing on baseball helped turn it into a national pastime

"He embodied those qualities as he helped to develop the rules of the game. As one of his descendants, I rightly admire his lifelong enthusiasm for baseball."

Such was Chadwick's standing in American society, recognition for his work stretched as far as the White House, with President Roosevelt, who formally referred to him as the "father of baseball", sending birthday wishes in 1904.

"My Dear Chadwick," he wrote, "I congratulate you on your eightieth year and your fiftieth year in journalism . . . and you are entitled to the good wishes of all for that part you have taken in behalf of decent sport."

More on this story

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites