Wow! I think we all knew the Abner Doubleday thing was a myth (I thought Cecil had written a column on this, but can’t find it now), but the general consensus seemed to be that the game was invented sometime around the 1840s, right?
Apparently not; according to the article, in 2001 a librarian discovered a reference to “base ball” being played in Manhattan in 1823, and now this one takes it back another 30 years.
Of course, there’s still the question of whether this game was recognizably baseball, since “base ball” evolved from a few other games, but it’s still pretty cool that the game, or at least a presumably similar game with that name, was being played so long ago.
According to the Ken Burns’ documentary on Lewis and Clark, the expedition during one stay with a native tribe in the Northwest showed them how to play a ball game called “base”. So baseball was played west of the Rockies by summer of 1805. I don’t think Abner Doubleday was in the Corps of Discovery.
I always thought of Washington as more of an outfielder. A third in the order, hits for power and average, left fielder. Jefferson’s the leadoff center fielder that walks a lot and can steal. Paul Revere and Nathan Hale platoon in right.
Franklin is clearly a hard-slugging catcher, though he doesn’t have a great pickoff arm.
Washington was known for his imposing physical size and rather austere, stoic demeanor. He’s GOT to be playing first base. I see Jefferson as a little more of a flake - I think he’d be a pitcher. Madison was small, so I’d put him in the infield, with Monroe. Franklin as catcher is right on the money. Adams was also short, stout, and had trouble getting along with people - a bit of a smart aleck and a loudmouth. Maybe put Monroe on third and have Madison and Adams cover the infield.
In the first Baseball Hall of Shame book, Nash and Zullo assert that Albert Spalding’s committee, which “found” that Doubleday had invented baseball, was concerned with proving that baseball had an American origin, in order to sell more sporting goods (Spalding and two others on the committee were in fact sporting-goods magnates; no member of the committe qualified as a researcher or a historian.)
Commissioner Landis–who should certainly have known better (and in fact I think he DID know better, not that it would have mattered) ignored the clear evidence that baseball was derived from Rounders, and instead sided with the Doubleday myth–which paints the weird picture of the adult Doubleday deserting West Point (where the records show he was in 1839, not at Cooperstown) and playing baseball with a 5-year-old boy, Abner Graves, who was about 80 at the time Spalding organized his committee. (Graves died in an insane asylum.)
If it’s simply a matter of finding the earliest use of the term “base ball” or “baseball” or “base”, then we have to start with the 1740’s. There are two cites from that time, just no idea what the game was they’re playing.
Probably the game of “rounders.”
But an interesting addition to the search for the American origins of the game we know as baseball today.