Friday, October 2, 2015

1841. And Latin. And Baseball.

Baseball was around by 1841, and, as many of you undoubtedly already know, Abner Doubleday didn't invent it. You may not be aware, however, that Doubleday never claimed to have invented it. I was not aware that he had never made any such claim, and I was getting set to denounce him as a lying self-promoter, but when doing research for this post I discovered that Abner Doubleday, who lived from 1819 to 1893 and was a US Army man from the time he entered West Point in 1838 until he retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1873, never mentioned baseball once in his letters, diaries or his two books, Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie, published in 1876, and Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, published in 1882. The only time Doubleday can be shown to have mentioned baseball at all was in 1871 when he filed a request for baseball equipment for the men under his command.

It seems that no claim that Doubleday invented baseball can be found until the 20th century, years after his death. There are some signs that Doubleday was a cantankerous braggart at times, but absolutely no proof that he bragged about inventing baseball. Whoever made that up, it seems very unlikely that it was he.

James Naismith (a Canadian btw) invented basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891, but no one invented baseball. It evolved over the course of centuries. Baseball and softball have many undeniable similarities to rounders. The earliest reliable report of a baseball game being played comes (like Naismith) from Canada in 1838. Overzealous American patriotism and a feeling that baseball was "America's game" probably account for why some felt the need to make up the story of Doubleday inventing the game in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. I don't think baseball was invented in Canada in 1838, I think it was played in the US and Canada before 1838, and quite possibly in other countries as well.

I know: some of you are saying, "Hey, Steve, this is all really fascinating and so forth, but were there any poems written in Latin about baseball in or before 1841?"

I don't know. I thought for sure I'd be able to find a slew -- a veritable slew -- of translations of "Casey at the Bat" into Latin, but that poem wasn't even written in English until 1888, and to my great surprise, the only translations of it I've been able to find are one into French, "Casey au bâton" by Paul Laurendeau (anOTHer Canadian!) and 2 into Hebrew: "Hator Shel Casey Lachbot" by Menachem Less and "Casey BaMachbayt" by Jason H Elbaum. I have yet to find anything written about baseball in Latin, original or translated from another language, verse or prose. Total failure on that front.

I've also found nothing at all about baseball being played in the Ottoman Empire. Surely that's just personal failure on my part, not a lack of anything to be found.

As far as baseball somewhere near the Khyber Pass: surely it will come as no surprise that an Afghani national baseball team has been formed since the arrival of US military personnel in that country in 2002. In 2013 they lost a game to their neighbor across the Pass, Pakistan, by a score of 34-0, which shouldn't come as a total surprise when you consider that the skills required in baseball and in cricket are similar in many ways, and that Pakistan won the Cricket World Cup in 1992 and was a close runner-up to Australia in 1999, while Afghanistan has had had only 1 appearance each in a World Cup and a World Twenty20. In fact, although cricket has been played in Afghanistan since the 19th century, Afghanistan's national cricket team is only a few years older than its national baseball team.

As far as baseball and railroads are concerned, connections are many and should be fairly obvious. Union Pacific claims that "By 1876, game times were being scheduled to coincide with train schedules," and the claim doesn't seem farfetched. Finding a connection between baseball and railroads as early as 1841 is proving more difficult.

As to whether baseball came to Mexico as early as the Mexican American War of 1846 to 1848, let alone 1841, that is controversial, although a confluence of baseball and railroads in Mexico as early as that war can be ruled out. Plans for Mexican rail lines began in 1837; however, the first line, between Mexico City and Veracruz, did not open until 1873.


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