Monday, July 29, 2013

Someone, Somewhere

I was on the road again for my birthday, although not with Melvin this year. By email I received the following photograph by my friend Heather.

What a wonderful birthday greeting for a baseball fan. And, being perverse, I love it all the more because the text on the state historic marker is untrue.

Major-General Doubleday was a fearless combat officer who fought for the Union of the Army at Fort Sumter, Antietam and Gettysburg. Not universally respected by other military leaders, he was close with President Abraham Lincoln and accompanied the Commander-in-Chief to Gettysburg for his now famous speech.

A century and a half after the Civil War, Doubleday is known more as the inventor of baseball, a declaration made in the report of the Mills Commission, chaired by Abraham G. Mills, the fourth president of the National League. The 1907 document stated, in part, "the first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, New York, in 1839."

However, there is no evidence to support the claim Doubleday was the "FOUNDER OF BASEBALL." None of the personal papers that survived Doubleday mention baseball, nor did his purported role appear in his 1873 obituary. Further, he was a cadet at West Point in 1839, the year of the alleged invention, and his family had moved from Cooperstown the year before.

To my mind, Alexander Cartwright is the father of baseball. Cartwright was a founder of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, named for a New York City fire company, and authored the first published rules of baseball in 1845. The current rules of play evolved directly from the so-called "Knickerbocker Rules."

All of this is fairly well documented, notwithstanding the historic marker in front of 28 Washington Street in Ballston Spa, New York. The first four sentences probably would have sufficed. My birthplace is roughly 125 miles due west, near the intersection of Teall and Melrose avenues, in Syracuse.  The only sign out front is for the 21 and 121 buses.

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