“Where Were You When I Laid the Foundations…”

“…of the Earth?”–Job 39:4

Baseball is one of those sports that seems not to have a defining creation moment. A lot of places, a lot of people, and lot of organizations take credit for the invention of the game. One of the better candidates for the role of founder is Duncan F. Curry.

Duncan Fraser Curry was born in 1812 in New York. He was an insurance man by trade, working for the City Fire Insurance Company and later becoming one of the founders of the Republic Fire Insurance Company (their certificate is shown below).

Republic Fire Insurance Co. certificate (note Curry listed as the Secretary)

For fun and exercise Curry joined a number of other businessmen at the corner of 27th Street and 4th Avenue where they played a game with a stick and ball that resembled baseball. As far as I know there is no plaque at the site commemorating the gatherings. By 1845 a number of members of the group decided they wished to create a more formal organization that would promote both good fellowship and exercise. Curry was one of the men chosen to draft a set of organization rules for the “club”.  On 23 September 1845 the group met at McCarty’s Hotel at Hudson and 12th Street in New York and formed the Knickerbockers Base Ball Club. Curry was elected the first President of the club, serving a one year term (Daniel “Doc” Adams replaced him).

As President of the club, Curry recognized the need to formalize the rules of the game they were playing. He served, along with Alexander Cartwright, William Wheaton, and William Tucker, on a committee that drafted a set of rules for “base ball” that have since become known as the “Knickerbocker Rules”. Some consider them the foundation of modern baseball while others see them as merely another step toward creating the current game. Whichever you prefer, Curry was instrumental in forming those rules (although only Wheaton’s and Tucker’s names appear at the foot of the oldest copy of the rules) . After giving up the Knickerbocker Presidency he remained a member of the rules committee into the 1850s. In 1854 the Knickerbockers and another New York team (the Eagles) formed a joint committee to refine rules for play among city teams. This differed from the Knickerbocker Rules in that it was meant for a more general audience and included input from other teams. Curry was a member of the committee.

By the 1860s the Knickerbockers were in decline, Curry was no longer a prominent member of the local baseball community. He moved to Brooklyn in 1884 and died there in 1894. He is buried in Brooklyn under a headstone that calls him “The Father of Baseball.”

Curry’s grave

So what do we make of the claim of Duncan Curry as the “father of baseball”? He certainly was there when the foundations of the sport were laid. He is unquestionably one of the people who deserve credit for advancing the game by creating a formalized club and a formal, written set of rules. I’m inclined to give him his due as one of the “fathers” of baseball but not as the “father” of baseball.

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One Response to ““Where Were You When I Laid the Foundations…””

  1. William Miller Says:

    Like you, I don’t think any one person can be considered the Father of Baseball. The game evolved one step at a time over several decades. In a way, it is still evolving today. There’s room for lots of credit here. Thanks for bringing this important “Founding Father” to our attention.

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