Depending on how you define your terms — more on that later — baseball in America goes back 200 years or more.
Over that period, plenty of myths and legends have emerged from the sepia-toned mists of baseball history. More than any other American sport, baseball lends itself to mythmaking, with its rich history and larger-than-life heroes.
But in terms of the actual historical record, just how accurate are those myths and legends? We take a look at five famous baseball myths, and the real history behind them.
1. Baseball’s Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown, New York, where legend holds that baseball was invented virtually from scratch by 20-year-old Abner Doubleday in 1839. Alas, as with so many other things in this American life, the Doubleday story is largely a matter of marketing.
At the turn of the century, baseball’s popularity was rapidly expanding. Entrepreneur Al Spalding — a former star pitcher turned sporting goods mogul — sought to brand the game as wholly American and patriotic. In 1907, he convened a panel of baseball executives and U.S. lawmakers to establish the Doubleday narrative as baseball’s official origin story.
The truth is that no written records have ever surfaced to verify the panel’s conclusions, while plenty of evidence contradicts the story. (For one thing, Doubleday wasn’t even in Cooperstown in 1839 — he was enrolled at West Point.) Doubleday himself never made any claims to the invention, and baseball historians have roundly debunked the myth, concluding that baseball evolved from different sources going back to the late 1700s.
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