(b. 5 October 1824 in Exeter, England; d. 20 April 1908 in Brooklyn, New York), known as the "Father of Baseball" because he nurtured the sport in its infancy as its first serious journalist, its first statistician, its first historian, and its leading advocate and innovative rule maker.
Chadwick was the son of James Chadwick of Manchester, England, a journalist and musician, and Therese Coates of Burton-upon-Trent, England. Chadwick's older half brother was Sir Edwin Chadwick (1800–1890), the man responsible for modernizing England's sewage system and improving its drinking water. Chadwick spent the first thirteen years of his life in Plymouth, a small city in Exeter in southwestern England. Like other English children his age, Chadwick played rounders, a game with bats, bases, and a ball. American children also played rounders, which was brought over by British immigrants in the 1600s. On 23 September 1837 Chadwick, his parents, and his younger sister, Rosa, immigrated to the United States. The family took up residence in Brooklyn, where Chadwick lived for the remainder of his life.
Like his father, who was a cellist, Chadwick took up music. He played piano and guitar and throughout the 1840s earned a living as a music teacher. But teaching music was never his true passion. Though he would compose more than one hundred waltzes and sing and play piano for friends and family, he gravitated toward journalism, his father's old profession.
In 1843 Chadwick went to work for the Long Island Star, one of three local newspapers in Brooklyn. He wrote news stories but was soon drawn to the burgeoning sports scene in and around New York City. Chadwick, like many immigrants from England, had a passion for the outdoors and a love of ball games, particularly cricket. Cricket was the closest thing to a national pastime in the United States, and its sophistication and scientific approach drew Chadwick not only to play the sport but to eventually become the lead cricket writer for the New York Times in the mid-1850s.
If cricket's sophistication attracted Chadwick, baseball's simplicity in the late 1840s initially frustrated him. He had participated in an archaic form of "base ball" in September 1848, when he played shortstop in an amateur game. He found the sport "juvenile and uninspiring." He especially disliked the rule that allowed infielders to throw the ball at the base runners, the only way to put them out. "I remember getting some hard hits in the ribs, occasionally, from an accurately thrown ball," Chadwick recalled. In 1848 Chadwick married Jane Botts, the daughter of Alexander Botts, president of the Virginia State Council. Chadwick and his wife had two daughters.
Ironically, Chadwick's association with cricket led him to rediscover baseball. In 1856, after returning from a cricket match in Hoboken, New Jersey, that he was covering for the Times, he witnessed a highly skilled game between the Gotham and Eagle Clubs of New York City. Suddenly he realized baseball's potential: "At once the thought struck me that here was the game that should be the national game of America, as cricket then was and still is the national game of my birth … and there and then I decided to do all in my power to make it the national game in word and in truth." Chadwick decided to use his career in journalism as his vehicle to promote the baseball gospel.
Despite Chadwick's belief in the sport's great appeal, only one journalist, William Cauldwell of the New York Sunday Mercury, covered baseball in 1856. Believing that publicity would help baseball's growth, Caldwell tried to convince the editors of several dailies to publish the results of all "match" games in an honest effort to sell his own stories and to boost baseball's popularity. Chadwick even offered to send in results of the games for free, but he failed to arouse enthusiasm.
Finally, on 10 July 1856 the Times relented and printed Chadwick's first baseball article summary. It read: "On Tuesday a match of Base Ball was played between the first nine members of the 'Gotham' and nine members of the 'Baltic' Clubs, at their ground at the Red House [in Harlem]. Play commenced at 4 o'clock and ended at 5, the 'Gothams' beating easily, the 'Baltics' making but two aces."
The following summer Chadwick improved baseball's reputation when the weekly sporting journal, the New York Clipper, agreed to let him publish game summaries. Chadwick was quickly named baseball and cricket editor. His articles in the Clipper helped create an even greater following for the game.
Due to his baseball and cricket expertise, Chadwick was invited to join the Rules Committee of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1858. His vision of a scientific game, influenced by his own participation in and love for cricket, helped shape baseball as a sport with challenging rules requiring skill. As chairman of the committee he helped to implement the fly catch, which did away with the one-bounce accommodation, and the overhand pitch and to establish the distance between the pitching mound and home plate. Chadwick also invented most of the game's statistics. Besides the box score, which he incorporated from cricket, he invented the batting average and was the first to tabulate home runs, total bases, and hits. He also invented the scoring system.
In 1871 Chadwick created the first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. The professional association evolved into the National League in 1876. In 1881 Chadwick became the official editor of Spalding's Baseball Guide, the official guide of the National League.
During his career Chadwick focused on other sports too, writing guidebooks on chess, billiards, and cricket. He even wrote articles on ice skating and the new sport that began to grab the public's attention in the 1890s, football. Football was the favorite sport of Theodore Roosevelt, and though Chadwick disdained football for its excessive violence, he had great admiration for the president, whom he met briefly at the White House. In 1904, in celebration of his eightieth year, Chadwick received a letter from President Roosevelt, whom Chadwick referred to as my young friend Theodore. The letter said: "My Dear Chadwick: 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."
Despite his reputation as an expert on the sport and its history, Chadwick became embroiled in the controversy over the origin of baseball that raged for over twenty years. Nationalism and financial motivation led Albert Goodwill Spalding, a former baseball pitching great and a sporting goods manufacturer, to promote the false idea that baseball was created in the United States without any foreign influence or origin. In 1907 Spalding appointed the Mills commission, which determined that the game had been invented by Abner Doubleday in spite of the fact that Doubleday never mentioned baseball in his voluminous diaries and most likely never even played the sport. To his dying day Chadwick insisted correctly that the game had evolved from rounders.
Chadwick acquired a cold following his attendance at two opening-day matches in early April 1908 and grew progressively weaker as the cold turned into pneumonia. He died at age eighty-three. Several days later he was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn. His grave is marked by a monument topped by a granite sphere carved to resemble a baseball, and four corners of the lot are marked by stones etched to look like bases.
Chadwick was a visionary. He was an important voice in baseball history whose contribution to the national pastime as the game's greatest advocate cemented his place in both baseball and American history. Perhaps the most touching tribute was delivered by Spalding: "I knew Mr. Chadwick intimately for over forty years.… His aid in the upbuilding of baseball has been invaluable and the present great popularity of the game is largely due to his efforts … I voice the sentiment of every one interested in baseball and clean sports, when I say that…he will for ever be remembered as the 'Father of Baseball.'"
In 1938 Chadwick was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He is enshrined as the only sportswriter with a plaque in the players' wing of the museum.
Chadwick and his contributions to baseball are the subject of a forthcoming biography by Andrew J. Schiff. Chadwick is also discussed in Melvin Adelman, A Sporting Time: New York City and the Rise of Modern Athletics (1986); Jeffrey Richman, Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery: New York's Buried Treasure (1998); and Jules Tygiel, Past Time: Baseball as History (2000). A tribute published shortly after his death is "In Memory of Henry Chadwick, 'Father of Baseball,'" Baseball Magazine 1 (June 1908).
Andrew J. Schiff