September 11, 2004
RATHER BELIEVED ABNER:
Baseball's Origins: They Ain't Found Till They're Found (BILL PENNINGTON, 9/12/04, NY Times)
Textbooks once unequivocally stated that baseball was invented in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1839, and provided as proof the picture of a dusty, ripped old ball pulled from an attic trunk. It turned out to be a hoax, baseball's first hidden-ball trick.
The next official version put the origin in Hoboken, N.J., in 1846. That story stood until 2001, when a librarian found two 1823 newspaper references to "base ball" games in Lower Manhattan. Then in May, a clerk walked out of a library vault in Pittsfield, Mass., waving a faded ordinance from 1791 that banned the playing of baseball within 80 yards of the big church in the town square.
Baseball history had a new king in the eternal run home.
Until the next discovery usurps Pittsfield, moving baseball's birthplace to another state or era, or both. Which raises the question: How come history can say what John Adams had for lunch on Jan. 24, 1776 (wild goose on a spit), but baseball cannot pinpoint its genesis within hundreds of years or thousands of miles?
When it comes to baseball, there is no agreement on which century the first game was played. It could have been the 18th century; it could have been the 13th century. There is some record of each.
There is no agreement on which continent baseball was invented either. Was it North America, Europe or Africa? There is some evidence for all three.
Historians know more, for sure, about games played in 776 B.C. than they do about the first time someone hit a ball back, back, back, then broke into a preening trot.
They know more about how Roman gladiators decided who would be first in line marching into the Colosseum than they do about the first time someone made up a baseball lineup, thereby entering the first arena of grandstand second-guessing.
Anyone old enough to remember when the Soviets claimed it was a Russian invention? Posted by Orrin Judd at September 11, 2004 8:35 PM