Baseball’s Cooperstown Myth

tags: baseball, Cooperstown

For 75 years, baseball fans have pilgrimaged to Cooperstown, New York to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, which is celebrating its diamond anniversary this week. The Hall of Fame was erected in the small village of Cooperstown because it was held up as the birthplace of baseball, but in reality the shrine to baseball’s gods was built on top of an elaborate creation myth.

On June 12, 1939, a constellation of baseball’s brightest stars and a crowd of 10,000 fans thronged a pastoral village of only 2,800 people nestled in the rolling hills of upstate New York. They had come to Cooperstown to celebrate the 100th birthday of the national pastime as well as the official dedication of the sport’s newly erected shrine. The fans packed into Main Street watched as the living members of the first classes of immortals inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, such as Babe Ruth and Cy Young, strode up the front steps of the new one-room museum as a band played “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The heads of the American, National and minor leagues then severed the red, white and blue ribbons that stretched across the building’s entrance, and the Hall of Fame officially opened its doors to the public.

That afternoon, baseball’s legends from the past played an exhibition game against a team of future Hall of Famers at nearby Doubleday Field, built on the precise spot where the game was supposedly invented a century before. On that June day, Cooperstown’s baseball diamond was a true field of dreams, but it turns out that the idea of the village being the “birthplace of baseball” was the stuff of dreams as well...

Baseball arguments are as old as the sport itself, and at the turn of the 20th century a dispute about the game’s origins raged between sporting goods magnate and former baseball great Albert Goodwill Spalding, who argued that baseball was invented in the United States, and English-born Henry Chadwick, the grizzled baseball journalist who originated baseball’s modern scoring system, who claimed that the sport evolved from the English game of rounders. To settle the debate between the creationists and evolutionists, Spalding in 1905 formed a seven-man commission of ballplayers and politicians headed by former National League President Abraham G. Mills to study the origins of baseball.

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