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May 24, 2012

Wezen-Ball

A Shocking Bit of Truth

by Larry Granillo

"Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."
- Kay,
Men In Black

As the nation went to sleep on the night of May 23, 1983, everyone (save for a small number of devoted baseball historians) knew that Civil War General Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. It was a well-known piece of history that helped to explain why the Baseball Hall of Fame was in such an out of the way location. Imagine the surprise around the country then when, 29 years ago today, people around the country opened their newspapers the next morning to see this article from the Associated Press:

Not only did Abner Doubleday not invent baseball, he never even mentioned the game in his journals, and neither he nor his family were in Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1839 when the first game supposedly was played, according to American Heritage magazine.

Doubleday and Cooperstown, as the father and birthplace of baseball, "is a double-barreled historical falsehood," said author Victor Salvatore in a story titled "The Man Who Didn't Invent Baseball."

The article was published in the June/July 1983 issue of American Heritage. Other articles in that issue were "Baseball's Greatest Song", "The Old Ball Game", and "Escape from Vichy." Salvatore's original article can be found here.

The discovery of the Doubleday story as myth by Salvatore wasn't exactly groundbreaking. In fact, the AP article explicitly mentions that "several standard encyclopedias agree that a Doubleday role in creating the national pastime is at best questionable." Even so, this article nearly 30 years ago may have been the first time the mythical nature of the story was widely broadcast to the general population. Salvatore, then, was Colombus "discovering" America to the past historians' Leif Ericson.

The Doubleday myth isn't very popular these days. There are just too many facts disproving it and, anyway, the real "father of modern baseball" Alexander Cartwright is fascinating in his own right (did you know he was the fire chief of Honolulu from 1850 to 1863?). Twenty-nine years ago, however, the news must have been enough to cause a few shocked faces and coffee spit-takes over the morning paper. It was worth it.

Related Content:  Cooperstown

10 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Richard Bergstrom

Granted, I would have beena bout 7 or 8 at the time, but my family had a Encyclopedia Brittanica and didn't have any issues of American Heritage. In fact, I haven't heard much of that magazine at all. In fact, I'm not even sure if it was in many libraries but I know encyclopedias were in libraries. Isn't it more likely that, during the 80s, the mythbusting had already been widely broadcast to the general population through encyclopedias?

May 24, 2012 08:12 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Also, Congress officially credited Alexander Cartwright on June 3, 1953.

May 24, 2012 08:24 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Yeah, people clearly knew about the Doubleday myth well before 1983 (and maybe more than just "a small number of devoted baseball historians"). I'm not denying that.

This story about the American Heritage article in May 1983 was published by the Associated Press, though. And, with the AP's reach into 1,000s of newspapers across the country, it likely did more to broadcast the news than any articles published before it or any encyclopedias sitting around on library shelves. There was also an article in SI in 1969 or so, too, about it.

Whatever the case, I just think it's interesting to know that today is the anniversary of so many people learning something that we've all known for so long now...

May 24, 2012 08:48 AM
 
bobbygrace

This story serves as a nice case study of the differences in the flow of information pre- and post-internet. I was born in 1980, visited the Hall of Fame in 1987, and grew up knowing Abner Doubleday as the father of baseball. To my knowledge, I didn't learning otherwise until I was at least a teenager. My family is well-read and my dad an ardent fan of baseball and its history. Still, it was quite possible for us not to find out that the myth had been exploded, in the 1950s, the 1960s, and again in 1983. (Of course, it's also quite possible that my dad knew and told me early on, and that I wasn't listening!)

By contrast, had the myth survived until, say, January 2012, every baseball fan, even casual fans, would have learned of its explosion almost immediately.

May 24, 2012 09:29 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Eh, well, all things considered, the Obama birther myth still circulates so it isn't surprising if Doubleday is still believed in some circles.

May 24, 2012 12:53 PM
rating: 4
 
bhalpern

That's wildly different. Sure, maybe there are a few birthers hiding under rocks. But most of them have been presented with the evidence and refuse to budge. Not to mention there is an entire industry of people who know it's a complete myth but do whatever they can to perpetuate the situation for various personal and professional reasons.

May 24, 2012 13:19 PM
rating: 1
 
eighteen

Yeah, like Obama's publicists.

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/born-kenya-obama-literary-agent-misidentified-birthplace-1991-214423507.html

May 24, 2012 14:00 PM
rating: 0
 
Dodger300

It is certainly disingenuous to try and blame this willful ignorance on President Obama when the polls show how the Republican primary voters choose to think, even after he released his long form birth certificate:

"-In Tennessee only 33% of GOP primary voters think Barack Obama was born in the United States, while 45% do not.

-In Georgia 40% of Republican primary voters think Obama was born in the United States, while 38% do not.

-In Ohio 42% of Republican primary voters think Obama was born in the United States, while 37% do not."

http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2012/03/limbaugh-and-birthers.html



May 24, 2012 21:30 PM
rating: 1
 
eighteen

I'm not blaming anything on anybody. I'm just agreeing with bhalpern that there's a group of people who have, or had, their reasons for saying Obama was born in Kenya - not all of them aren't named Obama, though.

Incidentally, if Obama can't even get 60% of the vote in 4 states' Democrat primaries, it's a safe bet Democrats in those states don't think much differently about him than Republicans.

May 25, 2012 11:35 AM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Alexander Cartwright? That myth has been torn down as well - by various sources - and, I would say, officially. John Thorn is now the official historian of the Major Leagues and his recent book "Baseball in the Garden of Eden" shows Cartwright had little to do it.

The game evolved from Britain's cricket and rounders. Various parts of the U.S. and Canada had their own versions. The New York version, which, for example, did not allow runners to be put out by having the ball thrown at them, became the version that was eventually adapted by the rest of the continent. Cartwright may have written those "Knickerbocker" rules physically, but other members of his club such as Doc Adams, William Wheaton, and William Tucker, were much more the team leaders and the driving forces behind regulated baseball. If you want to credit Cartwright, you'd have to, at least, credit the entire Knickerbocker Athletic Club.

May 26, 2012 10:10 AM
rating: -1
 
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