Was the first baseball game in North America played in Canada?
A new book by London Free Press reporter Chip Martin argues Canadians had a pivotal role in the creation of baseball, the game widely regarded as America's past-time.
The story that military officer Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839 is a particularly pernicious bit of American myth-making. Many baseball historians admit the story is patently false since Doubleday was at West Point when he would've been playing that legendary first game.
Martin explains that Abner Graves, the man who helped create the Doubleday/Cooperstown myth may have been inspired by an 1838 baseball game in Beachville, Ontario. That story was later passed on to sporting goods tycoon Albert Spalding who was running a prominent commission to determine the origins of baseball.
The Doubleday story is a compelling one: American war hero and gentleman invents a game in a stroke of genius in an idyllic small town. And this essay on baseball's origins in the Pacific Standard explains why many would've latched on to it.:
Part of it may have been that people like Spalding, facing waves of new immigrants and a changing culture, were anxious to declare that baseball was uniquely American, invented in a wholesome town in upstate New York, free from foreign influences, and the work of a war hero and a gentleman.
But of course the Beachville story throws a wrench in that myth. “I believe it might be quite controversial especially south of the border because it illustrates that the roots of Americana are actually on this side of the border,” Martin told the Toronto Sun.
Beachville even celebrated the 175th anniversary of that game earlier this year.
Martin and many others pointed out that baseball wasn't really invented by any one person and likely evolved from any number of bat and ball games brought over from the British Isles.
“It was brought to this side of the Atlantic by settlers and they modified it, so there was a New York style of the game, a Massachusetts style of the game and various ways it was played,” Martin told the London Free Press.
Beachville's claim will probably be hotly disputed by Hoboken, New Jersey, which claims that Alexander Cartwright organized a game in Elysian Fields in 1845.
Historian and author John Thorn would likely dispute both the Doubleday and Cartwright claims, arguing for a number of other unsung heroes who helped shape the game of baseball.
Oh, and Thorn happens to be the official historian for Major League Baseball, so his word probably carries some weight.
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