Abner Doubleday Invents Baseball

Discussion by David Nevard, Larry McCray, & Gene Carney

David Nevard:

As I turn the page... of my Cooperstown Collection 2000 Calendar, bearing the name and logo of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I notice that the text for February claims that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in a cow pasture in upstate New York.

It mentions a "debate" on the subject, but assures us the issue was settled by the Mills Commission in 1903.

Good Lord!

The "publisher" is Ronnie Sellers Enterprises of KenneBUNK, Maine. Maybe they should check Ronnie's work a little closer next year. (Or hire a historian?)

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and former New York Yankee Jerry Coleman joined the military's top officer Wednesday in laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in memory of those lost in the Korean War...

``It is a profound honor to be at this hallowed resting place to so many American heroes, including baseball's own Abner Doubleday,'' Selig said. Doubleday, popularly crediting with inventing the game, fought in the Civil War, rose to the rank of major general, and was buried in Arlington in 1893. -- AP Wire [sic]

OK, OK, I admit it. Abner Doubleday *did* invent baseball in a cow pasture in upstate New York. I apologize for my skepticism over the last 30 years. I don't know how I could have been so wrong. Obviously if Abner is popularly credited with the invention, and Abner is credited in the HOF calendar, and the Commissioner himself has verified the miracle, then I must bow to the popular will. -- David Nevard

Larry McCray:

Guys --

[1] . . . and DN didn't even list the very existence of the Auburn Doubledays, whom I visited on the fourth leg of my NY-P West bicycle tour last year. I wheeled in from Batavia, only to see a prominent "No Bicycles" sign on the gate [we're so rowdy, us cyclists, and so numerous]. But the GM personally let me in.

[2] The thing is, Selig could have chosen to honor his predecessor, Gen. Eckert, who is also interred here in Arlington.

[3] The HOF's reluctance to confront the squalid Abner myth makes one a little sad. However, if I were a smalltown city father, I wouldn't say much about it; for the myth is the only tie between baseball and Cooperstown, right? That and the Short Stop Grill, of course.

[4] Actually, there is a Creation Issue worth a little thought. My pitiable little project on the embryology of baseball leaves me with no sensible explanation why cricket -- or, more aptly, some 3-hour variation of cricket -- isn't the national game. In about 1850, cricket was evidently far more popular than the townball variants. Then, something happened that the historians don't nail down, and [except in Philadelphia -- go figure] cricket pretty much bit the dust in the US. So . . . instead of just adapting cricket to our needs, we went and decided to adapt a game that was long played by children here and abroad, to invent a whole new ball, and to watch it slowly grow over decades.

[5] Trivium: wouldn't you have guessed that by now someone would have located, bought, developed and promoted some likely pastureland on the actual ancient Doubleday farm? Hey, mebbe I'll do it myself, and there post a less inaccurate account of baseball's origins. I'll let bicyclists enter for free, and I'll hope that some city father doesn't shoot me dead.

[6] June 19 is, or ought to be, National Baseball Day. That's the date of the Cartwright game in NJ -- which was only about 3 years after the New York Base Ball Club is now known to have organized itself. Happy National Baseball Day! Heck, Happy International Baseball Day.


Larry, Arlington Va.

Gene Carney:

Just now getting around to replying to this. On the "why baseball" vs cricket , I'm reading Jules Tygiel's new book Past Time: Baseball as History , and it does a very nice job of describing the various forces at work in those early years when the game was evolving. Especially nice at detailing Chadwick's contribution -- recommend it.

The Doubleday myth WAS the only tie between baseball & Cooperstown -- till they built the Hall and some genius started a library for all things baseball. The museum is major league, and while there is a lot o

f griping every year about not being able to fly into Cooperstown (or even take a major highway there), most visitors (pilgrims) have a great time once they are there -- even without McDonald's & malls (or maybe because the town has resisted much of modern times.)

Entrepreneurs (did I get that right) HAVE noticed Cooperstown's magnetism, and have cluttered some of main street with awful collectibles stores and of course, sportswear (NBA, NFL, NHL included.) A wax museum, too. As for fields nearby, somebody runs a camp for Little League age kids just outside C'town, charging big bucks.

But what can I say? I've written so much about Cooperstown the last ten years (more fiction than anything else, I think) that I have a book proposal out there (somewhere) ... not to mention my newsletter "Notes from the Shadows of Cooperstown " ... I guess I feel it's like Yogi Berra, if there wasn't a Cooperstown, somebody should invent one. And it is an invented village -- thankfully not on the scale of Disneyworld. (Mudville, on the other hand, a town we all thgought was pure fiction, turns out to have historical roots. An interesting comparison, maybe an English class assignment?)

Gotta go,

Two Finger Carney

(c) 2000 BHS

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Quote From Total Baseball Online:

Deeply embedded in the folklore of American sports is the story of baseball's supposed invention by a young West Point cadet, Abner Doubleday, in the summer of 1839 at the village of Cooperstown, New York. The yarn originated in 1907, in the final report of a committee commissioned by major league executives to inquire into the origins of "America's National Game."

The claim that the game was invented by the late Doubleday, who also won enduring fame as a Union general in the Civil War, was based on the dubious testimony of Abner Graves, a retired mining engineer. Indeed, Graves claimed to have actually witnessed the long-ago event. The Graves account appealed to committeeman Albert G. Spalding, a former star player and club owner, and concurrently a famous sporting goods tycoon and a fervently patriotic American.

He persuaded his colleagues to accept the Doubleday invention account without further ado. With the release of the final version of the committee's report, the legend of baseball's immaculate conception began to worm its way into American mythology. Ever since then, sports historians have repeatedly and futilely assailed the Doubleday account, arguing that Abner Doubleday never visited Cooperstown in 1839, that his diaries contain no reference to the game, and that the form of baseball he supposedly invented far too closely resembled the game as it was played in the early 1900s.

Indeed, sports historians have marshaled impressive evidence showing that American baseball, far from being an independent invention, evolved out of various ball-and-stick games that had been played in many areas of the world since the beginnings of recorded history. Among many suggested precursors of baseball, a Russian ball-and-stick game called lapta was recently advanced by propagandists in the last years of the Soviet empire. But in early America, precursors of baseball included informal games of English origin such as paddleball, trap ball, one-old-cat, rounders, and town ball. The latter was a popular game in colonial New England and was played by adults and children with a bat and ball on an open field. -- David Voigt


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