The first ever Baseball World Cup in 1938 was won by the host nation, England. Yet, the history of Baseball in Britain goes back much further than this to the 18th Century. In honor of our friends at GB Baseball and their upcoming Baseball World Championships here in New York, we look at the ‘Doubleday Myth’ and the mounting evidence of the British roots of this traditionally American sport.
According to legend, Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York (hence the reason Cooperstown serves as home to the Baseball Hall of Fame). However, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, a dispute arose about the origins and many historians have considered the Doubleday story faulty, not least because Doubleday was never in Cooperstown in 1839.
The ‘Doubleday myth’ was backed by Chicago Clubs President Albert Spalding (the man with his name on the baseballs) and in 1905 he called for an investigation into how the sport was invented. Spalding chose the committee’s members, picking men who supported his theory and in 1908 it named Doubleday as the creator of baseball.
Upon his death in 1893, Doubleday left behind a number of documents and letters, none of which mentioned baseball. Furthermore, references to games resembling the sport existed long before Doubleday was even born. Jane Austen for example, mentions baseball in her work Northanger Abbey written in 1798, over forty years before the Doubleday game, describing her heroine as preferring “cricket, base-ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books.”
The oldest known reference to baseball, discovered in 2008 in a shed in Surrey, was a handwritten diary by local lawyer William Bray. On Easter Monday 1755 Bray writes “Went to stoke church this morn. After dinner, went to Miss Jeale’s to play at base ball with her three Miss Whiteheads…”
So why the myth? In the wake of the Civil War, America experienced a surge of nationalism, not an uncommon occurrence following times of great calamity. The growing sport of Base Ball, which was becoming popular throughout all socioeconomic classes, seemed an obvious solution to help heal the division between North and South and hence Spalding’s efforts to build up and promote the idea of baseball as “America’s game.”
The first official verified game of baseball in the U.S. was held in 1846 at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey; 57 years before the first world series. Since that time, baseball has grown into a truly American pastime, with 11.5 million people playing across the US and 6 Major and Minor Leagues.
Competition within international baseball is also fierce. Baseball featured as an Olympic sport from 1992-2008 and has been confirmed as a feature for the 2020 Games in Tokyo. This September, for the first time since 2012, Great Britain will be represented in the World Baseball Championships at MCU Park in Brooklyn. To find out more and to buy tickets click on the image below: