Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr. (April 17, 1820 – July 12, 1892) is one of several people sometimes referred to as a “father of baseball“. Cartwright is thought to be the first person to draw a diagram of a diamond shaped baseball field, and the rules of the modern game are based on the Knickerbocker Rules developed by Cartwright and a committee from his club, the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. With the myth of Abner Doubleday inventing baseball debunked, Cartwright was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as an executive 46 years after his death. Cartwright was officially declared the inventor of the modern game of baseball by the 83rd United States Congress on June 3, 1953.
Cartwright was born in 1820 to Alexander Carwright, Sr., a merchant sea captain, and Esther Burlock Cartwright. He first worked at the age of 16 in 1836 as a clerk for a Wall Street broker, later clerking at Union Bank of New York. After hours, he played bat-and-ball games in the streets of Manhattan with volunteer firefighters. Cartwright himself was a volunteer, first with Oceana Hose Company No. 36, and then Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 12. Cartwright married Eliza Van Wie, from Albany, on June 2, 1842. A fire destroyed Union Bank in 1845, forcing Cartwright to find other work. He became a bookseller with his brother, Alfred.
Cartwright led the establishment of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club (after the Knickerbocker Fire Engine Company) in 1842. The Knickerbockers played a brand of bat-and-ball game called town ball on a field at 4th Avenue and 27th Streets. In 1845 Cartwright and a committee from his club drew up rules converting this playground game into a more elaborate and interesting sport to be played by adults.
The original 14 rules were somewhat similar to but not identical to the English sport of rounders. Three exceptions devised by Cartwright included the stipulations that the playing field had to be laid out in a diamond-shape rather than a square used in rounders, foul territories were to be introduced for the first time, and the practice of retiring a runner by hitting him with a thrown ball was forbidden. Cartwright is also credited for introducing flat bases at uniform distances, three strikes per batter, and nine players in the outfield.
The first clearly documented match between two baseball clubs under these rules took place on June 19, 1846, at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey. In this match, the Knickerbockers lost to the “New York Nine” by a score of 23 to 1. Some authors have also questioned the supposed “first game” under the new rules. The Knickerbockers’ score-book shows games during 1845 also. Those who have studied the score-book have concluded that the differences in the games of 1845 and 1846, compared with the specifications of the Knickerbocker rules, are minimal, such as fielding teams of seven players instead of nine.
In 1849, Cartwright headed to California for the gold rush, but ended up in the Hawaiian Islands instead. His family came to join him in 1851: wife Eliza Van Wie, son DeWitt (1843–1870), daughter Mary (1845–1869), and daughter Catherine (Kate) Lee (1849–1851). In Hawaii sons Bruce Cartwright (1853–1919) and Alexander Joy Cartwright III (1855–1921) were born. He set up a baseball field on the island of Oahu at Makiki Field.
Cartwright served as fire chief of Honolulu from 1850 through June 30, 1863. As advisor to King David Kalākaua and Queen Emma he encouraged the growth of baseball on the islands until his death on July 12, 1892, a year before the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. One of the leaders of the overthrow movement was Lorrin A. Thurston who played baseball with classmate Alexander Cartwright III at Punahou School. He was buried in Oahu Cemetery.