In The Big Inning

Instead of actually making a decision on something that matters, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has decided to form a committee to study the origins of the game of baseball.

Selig made headlines for the wrong reasons this winter when he wrote a letter to autograph expert Ron Keurajian in which he claimed, “I really believe that Abner Doubleday is the ‘Father of Baseball.”  As every serious baseball fan knows, Doubleday had nothing to do with the game of baseball until fourteen years after his death, when Al Spalding’s own committee basically hand picked the former Civil War general as the fictitious inventor of the game as a means of reinforcing the myth that baseball is uniquely American.

As Baseball Reference describes:

Spalding’s summary concluded that baseball had been invented by Doubleday in Cooperstown, NY in 1839; that Doubleday had invented the word baseball, designed the diamond, indicated fielder positions, wrote down the rules and the field regulations. However, no written records from 1839 or the 1840s have ever been found to corroborate these claims; nor could Doubleday be questioned, because he had died in 1893. The primary source for the panel’s conclusions was the 1907 testimony of Abner Graves, a five-year-old resident of Cooperstown in 1839. Graves, however, never mentioned a diamond, positions or the writing of rules. Graves’ reliability as a witness is questionable as he was later convicted of murdering his wife and spent his final days in an asylum for the criminally insane. To further cloud the panel’s findings, Doubleday was not in Cooperstown in 1839. He was enrolled in West Point and there are no records of any leave time. A.G. Mills, a lifelong friend of Doubleday’s, had never heard Doubleday mention inventing baseball.

At his death, Doubleday left a considerable supply of letters and papers, none of which describe baseball, or give any suggestion that Doubleday considered himself a prominent person in the evolution of the game. An encyclopedia article about Doubleday published in 1911 makes no mention of the game.

As noted elsewhere in the text, versions of baseball rules have since been found in publications that significantly predate the alleged invention in 1839.

Jeff Idelson of the Baseball Hall of Fame has stated, “Baseball wasn’t really born anywhere,” meaning that the evolution of the game was long and continuous and has no clear, identifiable single origin.”

Selig’s committee will be comprised of Baseball historian John Thorn, American Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

While Goodwin may be an admitted plagiarist, Thorn worked with Burns in the past as the senior creative consultant for his epic documentary, Baseball, wherein the Doubleday myth is dismissed on multiple occasions.  Thorn also wrote the following in his biography of Doc Adams:

The history of baseball is a lie from beginning to end, from its creation myth to its rosy models of commerce, community, and fair play. The conventional tale of the game’s birth is substantially incorrect-not just the Doubleday fable, pointless to attack, but even the scarcely less legendary development of the Knickerbocker game, ostensibly sired by Alexander Cartwright.

The truth of the paternity question? Eighty-year-old Henry Chadwick had it right when he said in 1904, only one year before the formation of the Mills Commission, “Like Topsy, baseball never had no ‘fadder’; it jest growed.”

With Thorn and Burns, it’s safe to assume that the committee will be more than a mere extension of Selig’s own opinions, but it remains a committee, and as such, will in most likelihood invoke all the power of a sleeping toddler.  Given the studies and research already in existence, the whole endeavour seems like an extreme waste of resources being done only as a means of making up for Selig’s mistaken enthusiasm for the Doubleday myth last year.

It’s an unfortunate part of baseball’s bureaucracy.