Do you know the story of the invention of baseball?
Have you grown up reading about Abner Doubleday, who sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus and invented baseball in six summer days in upstate New York? The same man, by the way, later fired the first shot on Fort Sumter.
That story was pretty far-fetched, wasn't it? But did it ever just tick you off? Did it ever strike you as a vicious fraud?
Apparently, Bud Selig is offended, because after years of defending the Doubleday creation mythology surrounding the game and feeding an unnecessary controversy, he's formed a committee whose sole purpose is to determine the true origins of the game. This according to USA Today, among others.
I have a half-dozen problems with this development, not least of which is its hypocrisy.
Selig, it seems, is just now deciding the game's history is important—after nearly two decades of stewardship in which he has treated scholars of the game like ants at a picnic. Note the public scorn with which Selig met after defending his Doubleday fundamentalism. The blatancy of his deflection is as painful as it is typical.
Forget the obvious political motivations, though. My objections to this fruitless exercise run deeper. I have real questions about what positive light this could ever shed on baseball.
On one hand, if you dig deep enough, there is just enough good history around to show us when, where, how and why sports like rounders, townball and cricket coagulated and reshaped themselves into baseball.
I study history and produced a paper on the subject for a course in American urban history two years ago. You can find it in blog form here.*
On the other hand, no one can know for sure when the first game of baseball really took place.
What's more, no one should really care.
The legend of Doubleday is thoroughly enjoyable and draws a potent and immediate connection between this nation and its pastime thanks to the (also apocryphal) account of Doubleday at Fort Sumter.
So why are the facts so important to Bud Selig? Is the objective historical truth about the Trojan War as important as Homer's Iliad? If you believe so, keep working on that DeLorean. Otherwise, Mr. Commissioner, please let the newly-appointed official MLB Historian John Thorn do something more worthwhile.
*It's no Pulitzer winner, I grant you, but I had four other classes that semester. Compare the findings to what Selig's crew digs up after months of well-paid labor, and I bet you'll agree that mine was the time more efficiently spent.
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