Jane Austen and Base-Ball

Tonight watching Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey" on PBS and in the opening scene I was fascinated to see a game of "base ball" being played by English kids in 1797. So I Googled "Northanger Abbey" and found this paragraph:

"It was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, base-ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books."

This was not the first time I had heard the game of base ball mentioned during the colonial years in UK and US.

Years ago, i'd also read that President John Adams once wrote to a friend about playing a form of base ball when he was child growing up in Massachusetts in the 1740-50s:

"Mornings, noon and nights, making and sailing boats, in swimming, in skating, flying kites and shooting, in marbles, ninepins, BAT AND BALL, football, quoits, and wrestling."

At the time of Adams' youth the game may have been called "ONE OLD CAT" in his neighborhood.

So, I did some additional poking this evening and it turns out the story of Abner Doubleday as inventor and Cooperstown as the site are both unsubstantiated. A double-edged fairy tale. I am attaching a 1983 article from American Heritage magazine in the comments below which explains the reason we got railroaded with this hoax by three men with personal agendas.

According to the article:

"The blame can be placed primarily on three men: Albert Goodwill Spalding, the sporting goods magnate; Stephen C. Clark, an extremely wealthy resident whose chief goal in life was the promotion of tourism in Cooperstown; and Abner Graves, a ne’er-do-well who liked seeing his name in the paper. The three men never knew one another."

The three men hyped a fundraising campaign to build a museum in their town and hoodwinked both Ford Frick (National League President) and Judge Keensaw Mountain Landis (Commissioner of MLB) to endorse it, despite more cogent evidence pointing to other historical origins of the game.




Categories: History, Baseball

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