A date to remember the man who didn’t invent baseball

Seventy thousand days ago today, the man most closely associated with the National Pastime who had nothing to do with it in the slightest was born. Yup, it been 70,000 days since the birth of Civil War hero Gen. Abner Doubleday.

He was credited with inventing baseball. That fable has long since been blasted into the bits of baloney that it is, but it’s still a widely noted bit of fiction.

In the early 20th century, some baseball backers wanted to claim baseball was an entirely American game, and in no way descended from the British game rounders, as alleged by the English-born great sportswriter Henry Chadwick.

Information favored Chadwick, but a committee selected by Albert Spalding. (former pitcher turned sporting goods magnate) to “prove” the game came from America did what it was supposed to do. It relied on the fabricated testimony of a man from upstate New York, who said his old childhood buddy Abner Doubleday figured out the rules one summer and they began playing the game. Never mind the fact that in the summer in question the witness was five years old and Doubleday 20. Never mind that Doubleday was in the military at the time and nowhere near his hometown in New York. The witness said what the committee wanted to hear, and so a modern myth was born.

The story was so strong that baseball built its Hall of Fame in the town baseball wasn’t invented in: Doubleday’s old hometown of Cooperstown, N.Y. That said, Doubleday himself never won enshrinement. As the place was created, quality research showed he couldn’t possibly be the inventor. The game was descended from cricket and if anyone can be said to cause its jump from rounders to baseball, it’s Alexander Cartwright of Hoboken, N.J. He does have a plaque in Cooperstown. Just think: If the Hall had opened a few years earlier, we might have the embarrassment of a Doubleday plaque.

Chadwick died before his view gained the critical credibility it always deserved. He has one nice consolation, though. He earned what Doubleday never did: a spot in Cooperstown. To this day, Chadwick is the only sportswriter with an actual plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Other sportswriters have been honored, but not literally enshrined). There his plaque resides beside that of Cartwright—and also Al Spalding.

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Comments

  1. Jim C said...

    In 1997 and 1998, I played in a 4th of July adult baseball tournament in Cooperstown. I was already familiar with the truth and the myth, and fell in love with the beautiful little town, and had the thrill of being the winning pitcher in our game at Doubleday Field. The next year a friend of mine, also a pitcher, came with us. He was not familiar with the myth or the truth, so I told him about it on the drive up to Cooperstown from Washington DC. He was prepared to dislike the place, but was immediately charmed by the town. That year he was the winning pitcher of our fame at Doubleday, and after the game was over, he carefully removed a chunk of mound dirt from his spikes, and carefully preserved it in a plastic bag. And I have a film canister full of dirt from that mound as well. The whole Cooperstown thing may be a myth, but it was an excellent choice for the site of the Hall of Fame.

  2. Lou DiMenna said...

    Jeez, you mean we could have possibly had it in Hoboken, N.J. What a travesty that would have been. Some good actually comes out of a lie.

  3. Jim C said...

    I like the geography of various Halls of Fame. If you wanted to you could have a nice driving tour that could include basketball, baseball, hockey, rock and roll, and football, and do them all in a week and a half or so.

  4. meema said...

    who cares where it came from!? cooperstown is just as good a place as any(and better than some) what was the point in spending his whole life proving it wasn’t what is was supposed to be?

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