THE DOUBLEDAY LEGEND
By Dr. Charles T. Gregory (Guest Blogger)
Professor of Leisure History and Comparative Phrenology, Mountebank University
Nearly every modern history of baseball is at great pains to explain that General Abner Doubleday did NOT, as was earlier alleged, invent the national game. Historians have found that the Doubleday claim rested solely on the questionable testimony of one Abner Graves to the Mills Commission, a group of baseball graybeards assembled at the turn of the century to investigate baseball’s origin. Graves said that his boyhood friend, Abner Doubleday, had conceived baseball on an April day in 1839 at Cooperstown, New York.
Among other proofs used to debunk Graves’ assertion, it is usually stated that Doubleday could not have been in Cooperstown at that time because it would have meant he was absent-without- leave from West Point where he was then enrolled as a cadet. In that Doubleday rose to the rank of U.S. Army general, indeed was a hero of the Civil War, such a blot on his record as an early AWOL seems highly unlikely.
However, a newly discovered document casts further light on the subject. It explains some discrepencies in Graves’ story and suggests that contributions to American sport by the Doubleday family may have been far greater than is presently believed. The document in question is a letter written to the Mills Commission by Hamilton J. Cresap in August of 1904. It was found only this year in an old trunk stored in the attic of Mrs. Louise Cresap Haines, Hamilton Cresap’s great-grandaughter. Mrs. Haines resides in Credulous Hollow, New York, near Cooperstown. She happened on the trunk while looking for possible contributions she might make to the local old clothing drive conducted by the the Third Methodist Church.
The letter was addressed and sealed but never mailed. Mrs. Haines has investigated her ancestor’s history through notes in the family bible and news clippings from the Credulous Hollow Gazette. She believes the letter was unmailed because Cresap met an untimely demise beneath the wheels of a Coopers Brew beer truck before he could consign his story to the post office. Handwritten on lined paper, the contents of the letter are here published for the first time:
April 18, 1906
The last time I talked to my old friend A. Graves he told me he had communicated some information to you about our mutual acquaintance A. Doubleday and a certain day in 1839. Unfortunately, from his discription, Mr. Graves seems to have got some of his facts wrong.
I well remember that April morning for it happened to be my 16th birthday. My uncle George Cresap gave me a new bat for the occasion. I named it "Herschel" and put it in a cage in my room. As it turned out, Herschel was not a very good pet. He slept all day and caused quite a ruckus at night. I finally released him to the more congenial confines of the Third Methodist Church belfry.
Later on the morning in question, a number of us boys turned out with ballbat and ball at our local green, intent upon a rousing game of One-Old-Cat. We were met there by A. Doubleday. However, this was not Abner but instead his first cousin Anser.
I can understand why Mr. Graves mis-remembered. No doubt all of us who knew him would like to forget Anser. He was a perverse individual, who gained pleasure by forcing others to his will. For a time he was known as "Bully" Doubleday. This was later shortened to "Bull."
Doubleday told us we were not going to play our usual game of One-Old-Cat but instead a new game that he’d thought up in his spare moments at the Cooperstown Iron Foundry where he worked. He ordered us all home to procure the necessary equipment.
When we returned we discovered that Bull had set four stones on the lawn, placed so as to form the corners of a rectangle. These, he instructed, were the boundaries around which we were to race. Then we all put on our rollerskates and spent the morning playing Bull Doubleday’s new game which he called "Roller Derby."
The last I heard of Anser Doubleday was that he had disgraced his family by showing the yellow streak at the Battle of Manassas. In fact, his cowardice was so pronounced that the affair has since been widely known as "The Battle of Bull’s Run."
In hopes that this will clear up any unfortunate misunderstandings caused by my old friend Graves’ faulty memory, I remain