TODAY’S STORY TAKES US BACK TO MENDHAM, NEW JERSEY IN 1893 –
Abner Doubleday died on this date in 1893 several years before a story would surface of which he would be a central character. You know, the story that he invented baseball. That story is certainly fake news, still, I would be remiss not to tell you about Doubleday since the name is so ingrained in the National Pastime.
Abner Doubleday was an extraordinary gentleman, but not for anything having to do with baseball. He could not have been aware of such a story 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. He 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. He reportedly ordered the firing of the first shot in defense of the Fort off Charleston Harbor, South Carolina in the battle that started Civil War.
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. That story is clearly fake news.