THE DOUBLEDAY MYTH

JANUARY 26, 1893 | MENDHAM, NEW JERSEY  Abner Doubleday died today in baseball history. You know, the guy who didn’t invent baseball. His name is so tied to the game however, it would be remiss not to tell the story on this baseball website.

Doubleday was rather extraordinary, but not for anything having to do with baseball. He could not have been aware such a story was circulating since he died before it surfaced.

Doubleday never claimed, wrote or uttered that he invented baseball.

Doubleday was born near Albany in upstate New York, spent more than thirty years in the military, achieving the rank of general for the Union in the Civil War. He was second in command at Fort Sumter, reportedly ordered the firing of the first shot in defense of the Fort off Charleston Harbor, South Carolina in the battle that started the War between the States.

The story goes that Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, NY in 1839. The only evidence to support this is the word of a man named Abner Graves who was described as being of questionable integrity.

On the other hand, there is ample evidence that Doubleday did not invent the game. For example, while Cooperstown was home at one time, he was a cadet at West Point in 1839. If he was drawing up rules for how to play “base-ball” he was doing it while AWOL. Also, Doubleday never claimed, wrote or uttered that he invented baseball.

So how did the story come about? Baseball historian Harold Seymour wrote in Baseball: The Early Years that around the turn of the 19th century A. G. Mills, the fourth president of the National League, “wanted it distinctly understood that patriotism and research had established that the game of baseball was American in its origin,” and not a descendant of the English game rounders. A committee Mills chaired officially “concluded” as much in 1907. This conclusion was almost immediately debunked, but, being a good story, the facts never got in the way.

The story was promulgated to such an extent that a shrine to the game of baseball was built in Cooperstown, NY in the 1930’s – The Baseball Hall of Fame. A ballpark adjacent to the Hall is called Doubleday Field.

General Abner Doubleday accomplished a lot in his life, none of which appeared to have had anything to do with baseball.

More information:
“Baseball: The Early Years,” by Harold Seymour
MLB Historian John Thorn
The Doubleday Myth, The New York Times