A Convenient Truth About The Baseball Hall Of Fame

by Wes Armstrong | Posted on Friday, January 2nd, 2015
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Cooperstown, New York is an idyllic town. It’s a gorgeous upstate New York town that lies in the foothills of the Catskills and Adirondack Mountains and it really couldn’t be any nicer if it tried. It’s situated on the gorgeous Otsego Lake, has a beautiful golf course, and a main drag that’s architecture and ambiance harken back to a time almost forgotten by the hustle and bustle that governs our current day-to-day activities. A town this beautiful, so blessed by its natural geographic gifts was also home to some influential American names like The Last of the Mohicans writer, James Fenimore Cooper (the town is named after his father, William), and Abner Doubleday (commonly known as the creator of baseball). It’s amazing that of all the towns and cities that dot the earth, one this beautiful could also be the place where the world’s greatest game began. It’s even more incredible when one considers that games with balls and bats date back to the Egyptians. It’s almost too good to be true, isn’t it?

In fact, it is too good to be true. The research that centres baseball’s creation in Cooperstown is shoddy at best. The tale that baseball was created in a Cooperstown cow pasture by a Westpoint-trained military man named Abner Doubleday in 1839 is based on little more than the recollection of a 71-year-old man named Abner Graves. The story goes, that as a five-year-old boy, Graves witnessed baseball’s birth when a 20-year-old Abner Doubleday traced a diamond on a cow pasture with a walking stick and made rules for a game he called, “baseball”. There are several problems with this story for it to be taken at its word. First, Mr. Doubleday had already been dead for 12 years at the time Graves’ letter was published in the Akron Beacon Journal, and therefore, there is no comment from Doubleday as to whether or not he actually had created baseball. Second, the research team that used this story was devised and funded under the watchful eye of Albert Goodwill Spalding (a former baseball player), whose mandate was to prove that baseball was not invented in a country other than America rather than to earnestly seek out and discover where baseball had actually been born. This is why the Graves story gained some traction. Clearly, under no circumstances would it be prudent for any researcher worth their weight to take the childhood recollections of a 71-year-old man as they are without some attempt to corroborate them.

So, how did baseball’s creation come to be synonymous with a beautiful upstate New York town? Well, the Great Depression would help to connect the two. A philanthropist by the name of Stephen C. Clark saw the baseball story as a way of stimulating Cooperstown’s economy. He purchased a beaten-up, stitched ball from the trunk of a farmer in Fly Creek, New York and claimed the ball as proof of baseball’s birth in Cooperstown. With the help of his business acumen, he was able to convince the powers-that-be to build a baseball museum in Cooperstown in time to honour the “100th anniversary” of the birth of the game. And there you have it. From 1939 on, everyone came to know that baseball was born in Cooperstown.

Due to the convenient nature of its own creation story, it is comical that baseball prides itself on “getting things right” when it comes to whom should be enshrined in its Hall of Fame and who should not. We have all come to know, or accept, that for moralistic reasons, the man who amassed the largest hit total of any player to ever play the game (Pete Rose) is not worthy of the hallowed hall, but a man of questionable morals (Ty Cobb) is. Many writers also agree that baseball’s greatest home run hitter (Barry Bonds) is not worthy of the Hall of Fame unless (some argue) an asterisk is placed beside his totals, and yet no asterisk needs to be placed beside the statistics of Babe Ruth— who never played against anyone who was not caucasian!

Maybe one day we will be lucky enough to discover a code of rules discarded in a farmer’s trunk someplace that will clarify, once and for all, what it means to be a “Hall of Famer”. Maybe someone should fund a “What is a Hall of Famer?” research committee so that we can find our own septuagenarian with a vivid recollection of what someone told him a “Hall of Famer” is. Until that day, we will have to put up with, and participate in, the endless harangue, banter and bar conversations about who is worthy and who is not. For some, haranguing is the fun part. For myself, and other children of the 90s, we are fed up with being told that some of the greatest players of our time are unworthy cheaters.

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Wes Armstrong
About the Author

Wes Armstrong is an avid baseball fan who currently lives and works in Japan. He has written for MLB Daily Dish and Sportsnet Fan Fuel, and currently writes for the Kyoto Journal. In addition, Wes is an Ontario-trained teacher who teaches English at Kyoto Seika University. Follow Wes on Twitter @WesOnSports.

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