Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Boys of Summer

Abner Doubleday,
Major General USA
Baseball, considered America's Pastime, was invented by Abner Doubleday and first played in Cooperstown, NY on June 12, 1839.

The "America's Pastime" part is true, but the rest is mythology.

The game we like to think of as quintessentially American is a derivative of a British game called Rounders, which dates back to the time of King Henry VIII.  A German game called Town Ball also influenced the development of Baseball. An 1829 book (The Boy's Own Book) laid out rules for an American version of Rounders, variously calling it "Round Ball", "Base" and "Goal Ball".

In 1833, the Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia was the first American ball club to adopt a formal set of club structure and game rules. However, Beechville, Ontario, Canada claims the first eye-witness account of a game played on June 4, 1838. Although that game had 5 bases, "innings" were used to determine the game's length of play (previously, length of play was determined by a certain number of runs), and a team was given 3 outs per inning. The first U.S. newspaper account of a Baseball game was published Sept. 11, 1845. The first official American Baseball club, The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, was formed by Alexander Joy Cartwright on Sept. 23, 1845. The rules drawn up by this club included many features of the modern game, such as 3 strikes, 3 outs, "fair" and "foul" territory, and the use of tags and force-outs to stop a runner rather than beaning him with the ball.

Local Base Ball team, White Cottage, Ohio, abt. 1912
Standing L-R: Edward Williams, Martin Thomas, Warren S. McLean, Foster Stine, and unidentified
Sitting L-R: Willy Pace, Clyde M. McLean, and unidentified
As you can see, Abner Doubleday doesn't feature in any of this, so how did he get credited? It was all on the written word of one man, and a commission appointed in 1905 to determine who really invented the game--Brits or their American cousins. Henry Chadwick (English) and Albert Spalding (American) had different opinions. National honor was at stake, so there is little doubt that when Spalding was assigned to choose the commission members, the intent was to stack the commission with those favoring Spalding's view. The commission issued a nation-wide (American nation, that is) request for anyone "who had knowledge of the beginnings of the game" to contact the commission.

Seventy-one year old Abner Graves of Denver, Colorado answered the call and wrote to the commission. Graves claimed to have gone to school with Abner Doubleday, and to have witnessed the (mythical) game (supposedly) invented by Doubleday of June 12, 1839 in Cooperstown. Only the school part had a bit of truth to it; both men had attended school in Cooperstown. Without any member of the commission ever interviewing Graves, his story was accepted on Dec. 30, 1907 as proof that Baseball was invented by an American. It mattered not to the patriotic commission members that: 1) Graves was only 5 years old at the time of the supposed game, so he might not be depended upon to accurately recall all the details he claimed to recall; 2) Abner Doubleday, a Plebe at West Point, was at the Academy on the day in question; 3) Graves expressed strong anti-British sentiments in the account he wrote for the commission and clearly didn't want the Mother Country to get any credit; 4) Doubleday, an avid journal-keeper, never wrote about baseball, except once when he requisitioned equipment for his soldiers; he certainly never claimed to have invented the game. Graves later murdered his wife and spent the remainder of his life in an insane asylum.

By the time a Baseball Hall of Fame was being proposed for Cooperstown (1936), many critics were debunking the Mills Commission's finding, and referring to the "Doubleday Myth". Still, Cooperstown became the site of the new museum, and opened its doors on June 12, 1939, the 100th Anniversary of an event that never took place. As if acknowledging the mythology of it all, the Hall of Fame never enshrined Abner Doubleday as the founder of the sport.

If you ever want to see vintage baseball being played, check out Ohio Village Muffins Base Ball


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