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Alexander Cartwright

The Life behind the Baseball Legend

Monica Nucciarone

Publication Year: 2009

Alexander Joy Cartwright Jr. (1820–92) was present during the organization of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York in the mid-1800s. That much is certain. Since that time, and especially with his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938, Cartwright has been celebrated as the founder of our national pastime, much like Abner Doubleday. As with Doubleday, Cartwright’s claim to fame has caused all sorts of conjecture and controversy. His complex life, not just the mythography surrounding him, comes clearly into focus in Monica Nucciarone’s biography of the incomparable Cartwright.
Through journal entries, letters, and newspaper clippings, Nucciarone traces Cartwright’s path from Elysian Fields in New Jersey to a gold-rush adventure in California, and on to Honolulu, where he became involved in the movement to annex Hawaii to the United States. Beginning with the widely held notion that Cartwright created the game of baseball as we know it today, then spread it across North America to Hawaii like a Johnny Appleseed, Nucciarone’s book separates fact from speculation. Although the picture that emerges may not be the Alexander Cartwright of legend, it shows us a man as colorful, complicated, and immense in character—and as worthy of the history books—as any legend he inspired.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

Abner Cartwright, Alexander Doubleday . . . these composite names stand for an exceedingly odd couple whose identities have been stolen, accomplishments merged, and stories intertwined...

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pp. xvii-xx

My gratitude extends to a great many people for help in researching and writing this book. From those who provided small pieces of the puzzle to those who added the many larger pieces, this book would not be what it is without the help of so many...

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Introduction: A Baseball Diamond at Madison Square

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pp. xxi

Staring into the intersection of Twenty-seventh Street and Park Avenue in New York City, I hope to see an ethereal image of men in their early twenties sporting muttonchop whiskers and wearing...

Part 1: A Legendary Life

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1. Alexander Joy Cartwright Jr. and Nineteenth-Century New York

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pp. 3-11

Originally named "New Amsterdam" by the Dutch colonists who settled in North America in the seventeenth century, New York only gradually developed into one of America's, and then the world's, largest and most important cities. In the early nineteenth...

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2. The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York

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pp. 12-22

In 1866 Charles Peverelly published American Pastimes, which covered the history of baseball, cricket, rowing, and yachting clubs in the United States. Peverelly's description of Alexander Cartwright's involvement with the Knickerbocker Base Ball...

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3. The Rush for Gold

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pp. 23-43

Excitement fi lled the banquet room at the City Hotel in Newark, New Jersey, on February 19, 1849.1 Nearly a year before, in January 1848, gold had been discovered in California. The country— already in the throes of Manifest Destiny—now shook with...

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4. The Allure of Paradise

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pp. 44-54

Less than two months after arriving in California, in half the time it took him to reach the West Coast, Alexander Cartwright departed. Landing by ship in Honolulu, Cartwright would have...

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5. An American in Kamehameha’s Kingdom

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pp. 55-72

In the 1850s Alexander Cartwright firmly established himself in Honolulu's social, business, and government circles. There was hardly a club or organization of any influence of which he was not a member, oftentimes serving one or more terms as a club officer. As a prominent Honolulu resident, he attracted public...

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6. America’s National Pastime in Hawaii

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pp. 73-80

When the Civil War began in 1861, the reverberations were felt across the continent and even in Hawaii, where Americans such as Cartwright anxiously followed the course of the confl ict. In addition to the politics of the times, research has shown that...

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7. Cartwright and the Monarchy in the 1860s and 1870s

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pp. 81-100

Over the course of the 1860s and 1870s, Alexander Cartwright became, if anything, an even more prominent and important member of Honolulu society. His business relationships expanded, and his relationship with Hawaii's rulers grew more intimate and involved. His two Hawaiian-born sons, as we saw...

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8. Annexation and the Hawaiian League

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pp. 101-123

James Munroe Stuart Comly, a former Civil War general, was appointed as U.S. Minister to the Hawaiian Islands in 1877 by his close friend from the war, President Rutherford B. Hayes.1 After the Civil War, Comly had become editor and part proprietor of the Ohio State Journal in Columbus, Ohio. Through his...

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9. Spalding Comes to Hawaii

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pp. 124-131

From the beginning, baseball has always functioned as a delightful distraction from the problems and confl icts of everyday life, and this was certainly true in Honolulu in November 1888. For a day, Hawaii residents could put aside politics and give themselves...

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10. The Death of Cartwright, a King, and a Kingdom

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pp. 132-140

The 1887 Bayonet Constitution reduced King Kalakaua to nothing more than a fi gurehead, in addition to which the Reform government declared the king bankrupt and ordered him to pay his personal debts. As a result, King Kalakaua closed the palace and moved to his summer home at Kailua-Kona on the...

Part 2: The Mythography of a Man

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11. “Dear Old Knickerbockers”

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pp. 143-160

Alexander Cartwright spent most of his life in Hawaii, and it could be argued that he had as significant an impact on the islands as he had on baseball, but that's not how he's most remembered. Instead, he is the "Father of Modern Baseball," and...

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12. “Baseball on Murray Hill”

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pp. 161-178

Who came up with the rules of baseball? This simple question doesn't have a simple answer. It would be ideal to be able to credit one man and one moment, but the game that became baseball, as is the case with most sports, evolved over time (and it still sometimes changes). The question is really: Can the creation...

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13. “On Mountain and Prairie”

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pp. 179-192

What began as a sixteen-page article in the April 14, 1969, edition of Sports Illustrated magazine—entitled "Baseball's Johnny Appleseed"—culminated in a 1973 book by the same author, The Man Who Invented Baseball. In the article and the book,...

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14. “On the Sunny Plains of Hawaii nei”

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pp. 193-208

In January 1923, three years before Sanford B. Dole died, he attended a graveside tribute to his late friend Alexander Joy Cartwright. The occasion was the arrival of Herb Hunter and his American All-Stars, who stopped in Honolulu while on a tour....

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15. Baseball and the “Family Lare”

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pp. 209-224

If Alexander Cartwright didn't seem to pursue the title of "father of modern baseball," and if the evidence for giving him the honorifi c now seems rather slim and contradictory, then why was he so anointed half a century after his death? To answer...

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Conclusion: Alexander Cartwright, Father of Modern Baseball*

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pp. 225-232

In baseball, the asterisk is the symbol of a disputed achievement. For example, some still think Roger Maris's single-season home run record doesn't count because he achieved it over more games than Babe Ruth played; and some will always think Barry Bonds's home run records don't count because of the suspicion...


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pp. 233-250


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pp. 251-256


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pp. 257-267

E-ISBN-13: 9780803224605
E-ISBN-10: 0803224605

Illustrations: 28
Publication Year: 2009