Whatever Happened To The Hall of Fame Game?
Lou has stirred perhaps the smallest pot in existence. Here is the quote that is causing this tempest in a teapot:
"It's something we really didn't need."
What is “it?” It is the Hall of Fame Game, a meaningless exhibition where the Cubs try to avoid injuring players who they need to compete for the pennant. Kristian Connolly disagrees, however:
"It is disappointing to read the recent comments made by Cubs manager Lou Piniella regarding the upcoming celebration of the national pastime in the sport's celebrated home," said savethefamegame.com creator Kristian Connolly. "The Hall of Fame Game is about something much bigger than the 2008 Chicago Cubs, and I hope that they understand and respect that on Monday. …
"All baseball fans -- especially those who are true Cubs fans who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to see their beloved team play if not for the 2008 Hall of Fame Game -- want the Cubs to please respect the game and enjoy the event for what it is meant to be: a celebration of baseball on baseball's home field in baseball's hometown."
Okay. First of all – anyone who presumes to determine who is a “baseball fan” or a “true Cubs fan” has a lot of nerve.
Second, either Kristian Connolly is lying or blindly and obliviously passing on a long-ago discredited lie. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to decide which it is. But Cooperstown is not baseball’s hometown, and it never was.
I have two baseball histories on hand – “Past Time: Baseball As History,” by Jules Tygiel, and Baseball: A History of America’s Game, by Benjamin G. Rader. “Cooperstown” does not appear in the index of either book. Abner Doubleday, the so-called “Father of Baseball,” is mentioned in the index of both books just four times between them. Only one of the entries is so long as a paragraph.
So what is Cooperstown’s claim to be “baseball’s hometown?”
Albert Spalding (creator of the Spalding sporting goods company, as well as a former Cubs player and owner, back when the team was called the White Stockings), and created a commission in 1905 to resolve the question of the origins of baseball. National League president Abraham Mills chaired the commission, which included two members of the Senate as well as other dignitaries.
They settled upon Civil War General Abner Doubleday, based on the testimony of Abner Graves, who claimed that Doubleday first came up with the sport in the spring of 1839. Cooperstown became known as the birthplace of baseball, and Doubleday Field was built (and is where the Cubs will play in the last Hall of Fame Game) to commemorate the spot where the sport was invented.
The question is, why even have such a commission? And why come to such a definitive conclusion based upon the testimony of one man? The answer:
Many of the game’s historians, from Henry Chadwick to the present day, have postulated that baseball descended from the old English game of rounders. Chadwick, who was born in 1824 in the town of Exeter in western England, recalled playing rounders as a child. Because baseball reminded him of his childhood pastime, he naturally concluded that rounders was the ancestor of the American game. Beginning in 1860, Chadwick included his baseball-from-rounders theory in virtually every one of the innumerable writings on baseball he produced over the next 40 years.
Of course, it was this “un-American” theory that provoked Albert Spalding into convening the Mills Commission, which ultimately saddled us with the Doubleday myth.
The Mills Commission was rather overeager to prove the American origins of baseball, and thus got a little sloppy in their research:
The commission, through a series of nationally distributed articles in newspapers and sporting publications, asked all Americans who had any knowledge about the formation of the game of baseball to come forward. … Graves happened to pick up a copy of the Akron Beacon Journal and read with interest one such article written by Albert Spalding. He went back to his hotel room and typed a letter to the Beacon Journal on his personal stationery. Graves' letter ran the very next day under the headline "Abner Doubleday Invented Base Ball."
According to Graves, Doubleday improved the local version of Town Ball being played between pupils of the Otsego Academy and Green's Select School in Cooperstown, New York. This took place "either the spring prior to or following the 'Log Cabin and Hard Cider' campaign of General William H. Harrison for the presidency" (Tofel A20). Graves claimed to be present when Doubleday, drawing on a patch of dirt with a stick, outlined defensive positions on a diamond shaped baseball field. He also claimed to witness Doubleday draw this diagram on paper along with a crude memorandum of the rules for his new game that he named "Base Ball."
Spalding, Mills, and the rest of the committee were thrilled when they received a copy of the Beacon Journal article. This was exactly what they were looking for. Not only was Doubleday an American, but he was a heroic General in the Civil War. In addition, quaint, picturesque Cooperstown was the absolute perfect setting to represent the country.
The Mills Commission did not investigate the Graves claim. Nobody in the committee ever met or corresponded with Graves. Many glaring facts were overlooked: Graves was only 5 years old at the time of baseball's "invention." Doubleday was away at West Point and never set foot in Cooperstown in 1839. Mills himself was friends with Doubleday for over 30 years-so close he was chosen to command the military escort which served as Doubleday's guard of honor when his body lay in state in 1893-yet never previously mentioned Doubleday's role in the invention of baseball.
So why the lie? Baseball was desperate to prove that it was an indigenous sport, wholly American, without foreign origin. The Doubleday story was a convenient fig leaf for the origin of baseball as a game originally created by British children. It was utter nonsense, of course; Jane Austen mentions the sport in her Gothic satire novel Northanger Abbey:
Mrs. Morland was a very good woman, and wished to see her children everything they ought to be; but her time was so much occupied in lying-in and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughters were inevitably left to shift for themselves; and it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—or at least books of information—for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all. But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.
The book was published in 1803, well before Doubleday’s supposed invention of the sport.
It’s a double sin that the Doubleday myth is still perpetuated to this day, despite having been disproved decades ago - Robert W. Henderson published his opus on the subject in 1947.
The first sin is that baseball continues to associate itself with an essential whitewash of its earliest history; given baseball’s later problems with racism, it seems rather uncouth to essentially sweep under the carpet the xenophobia of the titans of the early days of the National League.
But more importantly, it overshadows the achievements of people who really did do much to create the sport, like Alexander Cartwright, who published the early Knickerbocker Rules and was influental in spreading the sport in New York, or Henry Chadwick, who did much to popularize the sport, including creating the box score.
Of course, the greatest testament to baseball’s history is baseball’s present – a hugely popular sport, entertaining millions accross the globe, not only in the United States, but increasing parts of Central America, Asia, even Europe – where the game began, let us not forget. The Hall of Fame Game does little for those fans or for baseball’s history.
And as for us true Cubs fans – I think I’m not too presumptuous when I say all true Cubs fans, even ones in the vicinity of Cooperstown, think that the most important thing is seeing our boys in the World Series. And watching your team compete for the highest honor in the sport – that, sir, is the central meaning of baseball. To say that the Hall of Fame Game is more important than that is to mistake the sport as a marketing vehicle for Cooperstown’s tourism board. You should be ashamed.