Baseball: Loved by All. Invented by No one in particular.
Posted by athomeatfenway on August 8, 2011
It’s amazing how the Doubleday myth lingers. I was watching an episode of PBS’ Antique Road Show on which an expert mentioned in passing that Abner Doubleday invented Base Ball.
My mouth dropped open. My cheesy hot pocket hit the floor.
How can anyone living in post-1913 America credit Doubleday ?
Abner was named the pastime’s inventor in 1903. He was roundly discredited within a decade.
One thing John Thorn acknowledges in his new book, BASEBALL IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN”, is that the Doubleday myth has been hard to kill.
Doubleday, a West Point grad and the hero of the siege of Fort Sumter during the Civil War, was credited with creating our game in Cooperstown in 1839. The “evidence” was the detailed memory of a 73 year old man, Abner Graves, who was 5 years old in 1839. Graves later endured emotional challenges to put it politely, murdered his wife and spent his last years in an Asylum.
When Abner Graves came out of nowhere in 1903 to spin his yarn it didn’t take long for historians to present evidence to the contrary. Doubleday was at West Point, not Cooperstown, in 1839. Doubleday never spoke of any involvement in the creation of the sport. Doubleday was never spoken of by early practitioners of the game, e.g., the Knickerbockers. One of the Knicks, Alexander Cartwright, never spoke of Doubleday and that is significant given that Cartwright codified the game.
Still, the origins of Base Ball are unclear. What do we know?
We know Base Ball resembles Rounders and Cricket. We know that Cartwright codified it and that the Knicks and others played it as an intramural exercise in the 1840’s. But we don’t really know how it started.
GARDEN OF EDEN goes deep in an effort to trace Base Ball’s origins.
Citing newspapers, magazines, and books dating back 250 years, Thorn pieces together a history that obligingly recognizes that the full story may never be known.
Thorn achieves great clarity and depth through research he began 28 years ago.
He traces Base Ball back to the 1700’s and then moves forward, showing that a colonial girl’s game evolved into one played by adult male-only exercise clubs in the 1830’s, into an extramural team game competed by amateurs in the 1850’s, into a professional team game in the 1860’s, into a professional game with organized leagues in the 1870’s, into a mania that gripped everyone in the 1880’s, into a corrupt monopoly in the 1890’s, and into a ship made right in the early 1900’s.
The names could fill a Pantheon. Cartwright. Spalding. Wright. Kelly. Mills.
Speaking of Pantheons and other uncommon words Thorn sent me to the dictionary regularly. I have a pretty good vocabulary but I wouldn’t pass a quiz on some of the words in his vocabulary including aver, theosophy, repine, nugatory and faux-naif.
Faux-naif is pronounced foh-nah-eef, which by the way means “marked by a pretense of simplicity or innocence”.
So in modern times, Alex Rodriguez was tres foh-nah-eef in his appearance on 60 Minutes in 2009. (“I’ve never used steroids.”)
And George Steinbrenner was UBER faux-naif when posing as a hands-off owner upon purchasing the Yankees in ’73. (“ I will stick to building ships.”)
OK. Got it.
John Thorn, delicious vobacularian, gives us much to appreciate in the way of anecdotes so I’d like to share some of the golden nuggets and one-liners with you, in no particular order:
The Brooklyn Bridegrooms were named as such because of the several newlywed players on the roster. Didn’t know that.
William C. Temple, industrial baron who was part owner of the Pirates was the first to come up with the idea of the Designated Hitter back in 1891. The NL killed his idea by a 7-5 vote.
Lou Criger, catcher on the 1903 Red Sox, was offered $12,000 to throw the World Series. Criger, whose salary was $4,000 that year, reported the would-be fixer. The Beantowner was rewarded by the owners with a lifetime pension after baseball, a benefit that no other player would be offered for decades.
Sunday Base Ball remained illegal in New York City until 1919, in Boston until 1929, and in Philly until 1934.
The early famous baseball teams, The Mutuals, Atlantics, Excelsiors and Knicks played only intramural games. They would get together in the late afternoon, warm up, and divide into two squads and play themselves. This went on for years before they began to play the occasional game against another team.
A notable game was played in 1883 Philly in which the Snorkey Club played the Hoppers. The Snorkeys were all one armed while the Hoppers were all one legged. All of the players on both clubs were the former employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.
Chowder was served regularly at Knickerbocker games in the 1840’s and 50’s. Ingredients included fish, shellfish, sausage and potatoes. A little Ball, a little brew, and a mug of chowder. Mmm Mmm good. It all gets back to food for some of us.
Don’t miss this important book. Thorn is the MLB’s Official Historian and a scholar. You may not fly through this book because it thick with detail but it will all pull together and reward you in the end if you stick with it.