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Baseball history unpacked, April 2

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the real history of baseball and other bullets

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Fields in the stream. Last episode, we related how Charlie Brown touched them all, the umpires struck back, and Sammy Sosa crossed town. Today we regard a septet of occurrences with our Cubbie Blue lenses and unpack the actual history of baseball. Please enjoy in moderation.

Today in baseball history:

  • 1874 - At the fourth meeting of the National Association in Boston, the batter’s box is officially adopted. It is also decided that expulsion will be the penalty for any player betting on his own team and any player betting on any other team will forfeit his pay. (3)
  • 1908 - After a two-year investigation, the Mills Commission, formed on the recommendation of Al Spalding and headed by the former N.L. president A. G. Mills, declares that baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. Overwhelming evidence to the contrary is ignored, but the designation makes James Fenimore Cooper’s town the most likely site for a Hall of Fame and museum when these establishments are conceived some 30 years later. (1)

A. G. Mills was made president of the National League in 1882. He had been advisor to previous president William Hulbert for five years previously. He was replaced in 1884 by Henry Lucas, who had been the founder of a rival league, though he stayed involved in baseball matters, and had a running debate with Henry Chadwick about the origin of baseball (Chadwick held that baseball had evolved from the game “rounders”).

Chadwick published an article asserting that claim in 1903, and in 1905 the Mills Commission was born, to investigate the matter. Morgan G. Bulkeley, the NL’s first president in 1876; Arthur P. Gorman, a former player and ex-president of the Washington Base Ball Club; Nicholas E. Young, the first secretary and fifth president of the NL; Alfred J. Reach and George Wright, well known sporting goods distributors and two of the most famous players of their day; and James E. Sullivan, president of the Amateur Athletic Union, were the other members of the commission.

One Abner Graves held that “Abner Doubleday Invented Base Ball,” going on to write that “Doubleday improved the local version of Town Ball being played between pupils of the Otsego Academy and Green’s Select School in Cooperstown, New York. This took place “either the spring prior to or following the ‘Log Cabin and Hard Cider’ campaign of General William H. Harrison for the presidency” (Tofel A20). Graves claimed to be present when Doubleday, drawing on a patch of dirt with a stick, outlined defensive positions on a diamond shaped baseball field. He also claimed to witness Doubleday draw this diagram on paper along with a crude memorandum of the rules for his new game that he named “Base Ball.”” (4)

This claim was not investigated despite apparent issues and the “Mills Commission Report” stood for half a century before being seriously questioned (see also). Kenesaw Mountain Landis was instrumental in the new investigation as he received a letter from Bruce Cartwright that held evidence to the contrary. (5)

Though it seems that Alexander Cartwright did indeed invent the game, the case has never officially been solved.

Richard Hershberger has a more complete unpacking of the matter of the origin of baseball. I refer you to his work for further reading.

  • 1931 - Thought by some to be a belated April Fools’ Day hoax, Chattanooga Lookouts’ pitcher Jackie Mitchell, a seventeen year-old girl, strikes out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the first inning of an exhibition game, facing the Bronx Bombers sluggers after entering the game in relief. According to legend, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis will void the teenager’s professional contract, declaring women are unfit to play baseball as the game is “too strenuous”. (1)
  • 1972 - Mets manager Gil Hodges dies of a heart attack at West Palm Beach, Florida, two days shy of his 48th birthday. Yogi Berra is named manager. (2)
  • 1982 - In an exhibition game against the Padres, A’s pitcher Steve McCatty steps to the plate wielding a 15-inch toy bat on the instructions of manager Billy Martin, who was upset that his club was not allowed to use a designated hitter in spring training games at N.L. parks. Home plate umpire Jim Quick refuses to let McCatty use the bat, and McCatty takes three called strikes. (2)
  • 1995 - Having the first 23 days of this season canceled and 252 games of the last season lost, the owners accept the players’ March 31 unconditional offer to return to work. The players’ decision to return to work is made after a U.S. District judge issues an injunction restoring terms and conditions of the expired agreement. Teams will play 144-game schedules. (1)
  • 1996 - Tiger first baseman Cecil Fielder steals the first base of his eleven-year career. The swipe of second comes in the 1,097th game ‘Big Daddy’ has played in the majors, establishing the longest duration a player has ever gone without a stolen base. (1)
  • Cubs birthdays: Jack Harper, Joe Stanley, Art Ceccarelli, Dick Radatz, Hector Cruz, Al Nipper, Jon Lieber, Hisanori Takahashi. Also notable: Hughie Jennings, Luke Appling, Don Sutton. (3)
  • (1) — The National Pastime.
  • (2) — Today in Baseball History.
  • (3) — Baseball Reference. Also, BBRef has a bigger list of events.
  • (4) — (SABR) AG Mills.
  • (5) — The man who didn’t invent baseball.

Thanks for reading. Where to get my books.