May 15, 2004

Doubting Doubleday

It's been reasonably well established that Abner Doubleday did not, in fact, invent baseball at Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. There are earlier references to the game, to begin with -- this one notes that,

The July 13, 1825 edition of the "Delhi (N.Y.) Gazette" (on microfilm) has a notice listing the names of nine men challenging any group in Delaware County to a game of baseball at the home of Edward B. Chace for $1 per game. (The notice came from Hamden, New Jersey.)

Now, via the North Adams Transcript (circulation -- around 8,500), comes news of a 1791 ordnance in Pittsfield, Mass., banning the playing of certain games near the town hall:

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Before the newest birthplace of baseball could be verified, Kate Duffy had quite a bit of work to do.

Duffy, a department head of analytical services at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, spent about two weeks backtracking through time in order to authenticate a 1791 Pittsfield bylaw that banned playing baseball near its meeting house....

The mention of America's pastime in the bylaw makes it the first known document recognizing the sport in the country.

Previously, the earliest known mention of baseball was in two newspapers that stated the game was played in Manhattan, New York in 1832, according to the Associated Press. ...

And this bylaw -- aimed at preventing broken windows in the meeting house -- forbid anyone to play several games, including baseball, within 80 yards of the building, did just that.

Handwriting, the materials used in the paper, and other authenticators were all used to help determine exactly where the document belonged in history. And all signs pointed to 1791, Duffy said.

The paper's watermark linked the type of paper to that which was produced by Taylor Clement Jr. in Kent, England from 1774 to 1791. Taylor Clement Sr. also produced paper with the same watermark but he made paper from 1741 to 1762, according to the analytical report on the document written by Duffy.

Fascinating to think they may have been playing baseball during Washington's first term. Meanwhile, my team, the Phillies, has slowly crawled its way back to respectability...

Posted by Ideofact at May 15, 2004 10:21 PM

It's funny you bring this up about Doubleday. Just a few weeks ago this subject came up for me.

I've always remembered Abner Doubleday from my grade school days. In fact, I think I even wrote a paper (probably more like a paragraph or two) in 3rd or 4th grade on him.

Lately I've become a bit of a Civil War junkie, and while watching Gettysburg for the umpteenth time, I realized that on the DVD, one of the extras was an old Gettysburg film clip done in the sixties, something we may have seen in 3rd or 4th grade on film day in the auditorium.

They mentioned Doubleday in the older short film (not the Turner movie). He was a Major General, and took command of Reynold's troops after he was shot. They mentioned his credit for "inventing" baseball. This caught my attention not about the baseball, but because I never realized he was in the Civil War. Michael Sharra's book I don't think even mentions Doubleday, nor does he show up in the movie.

So I started to research him on the Internet, and sure enough, I learn that he wasn't even in Cooperstown when he was supposed to have invented baseball, and to top it off, it is now believed he never even mentioned baseball.

So what does this say for the sorry state of 1970's gradeschool textbooks and historical inaccuracies?

Posted by: Duane at May 17, 2004 10:21 PM