Special to the Journal Argus
Chip Martin’s recent book, “Baseball’s Creation Myth,” is intriguing. The well-known London Free Press reporter investigates the stories — factual and fabricated — that have been told about the origins of the great game of baseball.
On Thursday evening, Sept. 19, as part of the St. Marys Museum’s current seminar series, Martin will describe the trail he followed as he tracked down the sources of these stories.
His book explains why the famous account that led to the establishment of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, was dismissed as impossible by historians almost as soon as it was first published in 1905. Research shows that Civil War hero, Abner Doubleday, could not have been in Cooperstown in 1839 — the date he supposedly saw some boys playing a haphazard game with bats and balls and so devised and set down rules to show them how to play baseball. In fact, Doubleday never lived in Cooperstown at all.
But Martin is fascinated by the way this myth persisted for decades in spite of being consistently discredited. The story was just too satisfying on various levels. It showed that baseball was a pure American game, its homegrown origins fostering patriotism and pride. Any suggestion that the national game might have had roots elsewhere was out of the question.
Martin shows how campaigns, most notably by sporting goods magnate and baseball promoter A.G. Spalding, worked to entrench the myth. When the Blue Jays won the World Series in 1993, Martin remembers famous documentary-maker Ken Burns stating that at last baseball was becoming an international sport, extending beyond the US borders.
Martin knew this statement was wrong. He knew that baseball had always been engrained in Canadian culture — especially in rural Canada. He knew that small towns and crossroads villages might not have a nearby hockey arena but they always did have a vacant lot with a backstop for ballgames. He set out to research Canada’s baseball history and encountered the name, Dr. Adam Enoch Ford.
In 1886, Ford (1831-1906) wrote an article for the magazine, Sporting Life, describing a game of organized baseball he had seen played in 1838 in his hometown, Beachville. Ford’s family later moved to St. Marys. His connection to this town (he was mayor in 1877) and Beachville’s proximity were factors that helped St. Marys become the home of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.
In 1905, a man named Abner Graves wrote a strangely similar account of the first baseball game; this was the story that so appealed to the American imagination. His account was set in 1839 in his hometown, Cooperstown, New York. At the time, Graves lived in Denver, Colorado. And for several decades before he died, so did former Beachville and St. Marys resident, Dr. Ford. Martin learned that both Graves and Ford were great storytellers, not above improving a good yarn with extemporaneous embellishment.
Did Graves and Ford ever meet? Did they drink in the same taverns? Attend the same ballgames? Did they ever swap stories?
To find out Chip Martin’s conclusions, attend the seminar at the Museum on Sept. 19 or buy Baseball’s Creation Myth (McFarland & Company, 2013, available at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame gift shop). Even better, do both! The author will be happy to sign books at the seminar.
Please note that admission to the seminar is $12, or $10 for Museum members. The seminar series is a fundraiser for the St. Marys Museum. Books sales at this event support the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
The St. Marys Museum is located at 177 Church Street South, in Cadzow Park. Pre-registration is necessary. Phone 519-284-3556 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.