This article was written by John Thorn
This article was published in Summer 2010 Baseball Research Journal
In November 2009, SABR established the Henry Chadwick Award, intended to honor the game’s great researchers—historians, statisticians, analysts, and archivists—for their invaluable contributions to making baseball the game that links America’s present with its past. Apart from honoring individuals for the length and breadth of their contribution to the study and enjoyment of baseball, the Chadwick Award will educate SABR members and the greater baseball community about sometimes little-known but vastly important contributions from the game’s past and thus encourage the next generation of researchers.
On March 1, 2010, SABR announced the first nine honorees to universal acclaim. With this award, SABR has established a way to honor the men and women who have best done what SABR has always done: bring the history of baseball to life. What follows are profiles of the nine honorees, along with Chadwick himself. Look for more honorees in this space next year, and for many years to come.
Having played cricket and rounders in his native England, Chadwick (1837–1908) came to America with his family in 1837 at age 12. When in 1856 he first saw baseball played between skilled clubs, he recognized its potential to become America’s national game. Chadwick began his reporting career with the Long Island Star in 1843. In the late 1850s, he began covering baseball games as a reporter for several newspapers, notably the New York Clipper and the New York Times; in later years he would join the staff of the Brooklyn Eagle and write for seemingly every publication at all concerned with sports. He developed the box score and devised a system of scoring that is little changed today (although he borrowed many aspects of the system from fellow sportswriter M. J. Kelly). In his devotion to making baseball a “scientific” game, he devised new measures of player performance, championed those invented by others (such as batting average), and created the statistical underpinnings that bind the game’s present to its past while providing a roadmap for understanding how teams succeed or fail.
Indeed, it would be not too much to say that sabermetrics began with Father Chadwick. “Many a dashing general player who carries off a great deal of éclat in prominent matches, has all ‘the gilt taken off the gingerbread,’ as the saying is, by these matter-of-fact figures,” he wrote in 1864. “And we are frequently surprised to find that the modest but efficient worker, who has played earnestly and steadily through the season, apparently unnoticed, has come in, at the close of the race, the real victor.”
Chadwick continued to write and comment on baseball for more than fifty years. He originated the first guide, Beadle’s Dime Base Ball Player, in 1860, and edited DeWitt’s Guide through the 1870s and Spalding’s Base Ball Guide from 1882 to 1908. His Game of Base Ball (1868) was the first hardcover book published on the subject.
Chadwick did not win all his battles. He opposed professionalism among players and opposed creation of the National League, writing that the latter was “a sad blunder.” But he took on owners and players with equal gusto. In his most enduring squabble, he traced baseball’s origins to the English game of rounders, rejecting the jingoistic notion that it sprang into life fully formed on native soil. A long-standing friendly argument with nativist Albert G. Spalding over baseball’s origins prompted Spalding to form a commission to look into the matter. Its conclusion was that the game had been invented in Cooperstown by Civil War hero Abner Doubleday.
Chadwick—more the “Father of Baseball” than Doubleday and as much as any man—died from pneumonia in 1908, in the month of that published finding, in the last Spalding Guide he edited. Flags around the league flew at half-staff in his honor. In 1938 he was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame; he remains the only writer honored not in a separate exhibit but with his own plaque. Now he is honored further by the naming of a new award for historians, statisticians, and researchers of the game he did so much to build.