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
Comments

What, did they invent it onboard a nuclear wessel?

Posted by: mike earl at September 11, 2004 10:32 PM

I remember that, but they never could find a pitcher who could get the ball over the plate consitently.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 11, 2004 10:58 PM

They also claimed that radio and television were Russian inventions.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 12, 2004 3:13 AM

And the aeroplane.

Posted by: Uncle Bill at September 12, 2004 9:13 AM

When I was in college in the 80s I had a Russian expatriate math professor who always told us which Russian had supposedly come up with each theorem. "In Russia everything is invented by Russians," he said. I always loved his accent, especially the way he said "is pieze ov cake."

Posted by: David Reynolds at September 13, 2004 6:16 PM

When I was in college in the 80s I had a Russian expatriate math professor who always told us which Russian had supposedly come up with each theorem. "In Russia everything is invented by Russians," he said. I always loved his accent, especially the way he said "is pieze ov cake."

Posted by: David Reynolds at September 13, 2004 6:21 PM

And the bicycle.

I don't know if they claimed the knout, though

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 13, 2004 9:34 PM
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