Dierker: Honoring Cartwright's creation

Dierker: Honoring Cartwright's creation

HONOLULU -- I just touched down in Honolulu, and spent my time on the flight rereading "The Man Who Invented Baseball," by Harold Peterson. It's a great story.

On Aug. 28, 1849, Alexander Joy Cartwright, or "Alick," as he was called, disembarked from the Peruvian brig Pacifico in this tropical paradise. He got violently seasick on the voyage from San Francisco, and he never sailed again. But boy, did he ever accomplish a lot between his first real game of baseball and his landing in the Islands. For that matter, he did quite a bit after he got here.

Alick was a tall, strapping lad. He came from a family of adventurers, mostly sea captains and traders. His father was a marine surveyor, but young Alick did his surveying on land -- as a hobby. He organized a sporting club, the Knickerbockers, and drafted the first diagram of a baseball field. Then he wrote the first rule book. On Oct. 6, 1845, the Knickerbockers squared off in an intrasquad game at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, N.J.

Alick was working as a bank teller and fireman at the time. Coincidentally, his boss at the bank was Daniel Ebbets, the father of Charles, who later became the owner of the Brooklyn Trolleydodgers. The sporting-club games continued through the fall and resumed in the summer of 1846, when the Knickerbockers played the first recorded game against another sporting club, which went simply by the name of "New York," on June 19, in Hoboken. Several prominent gentlemen from the early days of the sport, Albert Spalding and John Montgomery Ward, also took part in the action.

But in 1849, at the age of 29, Alick got the wanderlust. He'd heard about the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill on the American River in Northern California, and he headed west. It wasn't so much for the gold that he left New York -- he had enough money. But the spirit of adventure called out to him, and he joined a wagon train on the Oregon Trail.

As he traveled from Hoboken to Hangtown and, eventually, Hawaii, he spread the gospel of baseball. Fortunately for historians, Alick kept a diary of his journey. At every rest stop, in frontier towns and Army outposts, if there were 18 able-bodied men around, he organized a ballgame.

When Alick finally got to San Francisco in August 1849, he hooked up with his brother Alfred, who had made the trip from New York in the manner of his ancestors, by sea, around Cape Horn. Alick fell deathly ill with dysentery in California and was unimpressed with gold-mining opportunities. He had heard about the salubrious climate in Hawaii and decided to go there in search of health and business, with the idea that if it didn't work out, he would return to New York by way of China.

Despite the dysentery and seasickness, things worked out quite nicely for Alick when he realized that he didn't have to take to the high seas to make a living in the maritime business. He became a whaling agent and parlayed that business into a mercantile store, a hotel and even a bowling alley. When petroleum replaced sperm oil for lighting, he branched off into shipping provisions, real estate, insurance and banking. He built a nice bungalow on the beach for his family in 1852 and never left the islands again.

Why would he?

Alick became one of Honolulu's most prominent figures, a friend and advisor to royalty from King Kamehameha to Queen Liliuokalani. He also set up Bishop and Company, which eventually became Bishop First National Bank -- ultimately one of the most powerful businesses in the Islands.

In 1852, while walking in Makiki Park with his son, Alick stopped to step on a baseball diamond. With an energetic spirit that had become legendary, he organized the first baseball league in Honolulu, and it spread throughout the Islands. The sport was actually introduced to the South Pacific before it reached the southern U.S. Indeed, hardball was being played (although the ball was not very hard) in Honolulu before it was played in Detroit and Chicago.

Alick's son, Alexander Joy Cartwright III, remembered his father breaking out a small black book with "Knickerbockers" printed in gold on the cover. Between the covers were the rules and bylaws of the game. One of those rules had to be quite popular with the players: In the informal game of rounders, from which baseball was derived, a runner could be put out by hitting him between bases with a thrown ball. Alick's rule dictated that the runner must be tagged out.

In 1888, the White Sox went on a world tour and played the Cubs in Honolulu, never knowing that the founder of the sport was living there. Until that time, the inventor of baseball was thought to be Abner Doubleday, a Civil War hero who hailed from Cooperstown, N.Y. That version of the origins of the sport was based largely on the eyewitness testimony of Abner Graves, a friend of Doubleday's, who was also from Cooperstown.

Doubleday was proclaimed the father of baseball by the Mills Commission in the early years of the 20th century. This austere committee was motivated to establish the sport as a truly American game, not an antecedent of cricket, Rounders or any other game that had origins outside the U.S. The commission spoke with Graves in Denver, shortly before he died in an insane asylum.

It wasn't until Alick's grandson furnished historic documents later in the century that baseball historians got the real story, which was, ironically, all-American. In 1939, Babe Ruth paid a visit to Hawaii and placed leis on Alick's gravesite in Nuuanu Cemetery.

It's hard to imagine that Doubleday was a more colorful character than Cartwright. But it is serendipitous that the Hall of Fame was built in the picturesque hamlet of Cooperstown rather than the industrial shipping center of Hoboken, where the Elysian Fields are now a distant memory.

Today I am just passing through Honolulu on my way to Hanalei Bay, on the island of Kauai. But I will be retracing my steps 10 days hence, and when I do, if I can establish that Alick's grave is still there, I will likely allow enough time to stop by and place a lei on it myself.

Larry Dierker played 14 seasons for the Houston Colt .45s/Astros and the St. Louis Cardinals. He guided the Astros to four National League Central titles in five seasons as manager from 1997-2001. The two-time All-Star pitcher writes a weekly column for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.