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The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Cultural History of America

June 13, 2010

Baby Bear Loving Cooperstown & You! 🙂

This morning we were up at the crack of dawn for a trip to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame. This has been almost a year of lobbying for this day. Too often I have hear that this has nothing to do with history. Many people think that baseball is not history. But I have always said that history is all around us. A basic definition of history could be that it is a record or narrative description of past events. These events can be major like war, politics, or migration. They can also be lesser but just as important events such as technology, art, and economics. In fact, history is everything that happens around us. By tracing the history of baseball we can reveal and hopefully better understand the culture of America and influences that helped create that culture!

Babe Ruth

The question of who invented baseball and where it began has been the subject of debate and controversy for more than a century. Almost certainly, baseball was developed from old folk games. The roots of baseball are thought to be English. Americans played a version of the English game called rounders in the early 1800s which they called “Town Ball.” In fact, early forms of baseball had a number of names, including “Goal Ball,” “Round Ball,” “Fletch-catch,” and “Base.” In one version of the game, the teams pitched to themselves and runners went the opposite direction around the bases. Some versions even had rules that allowed players to be called out by being hit with the ball. Few details of how the modern games developed from earlier folk games are known.

Abner Doubleday

The myth that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in 1839 was once widely promoted and believed. But there is no evidence for this claim, except for the testimony of one man Named Abner Graves decades later. This idea of Doubleday’s invention was actually spurred on by baseball itself which, in order to settle this question appointed the Mills Commission in 1905. The Mills Commission concluded that baseball had been invented by Doubleday at Cooperstown, New York in 1839 and that Doubleday invented the name baseball, designed the diamond, indicated fielder positions, written down the rules and decided the field regulations. However, no written records from 1839 or the 1840s have ever been found to corroborate these claims. The Baseball Hall of Fame is on record as saying that “Baseball wasn’t really born anywhere,” meaning that the evolution of the game was long and continuous and has no clear, identifiable single origin.

Just as our nation has faced many issues, understanding the factors, conditions, and the background of these issues is important. There are many ways to understand what was happening in our country from the late 1800’s up to the present. One way is to look at the evolution of baseball and look for patterns. One huge and noticeable pattern was racial segregation of minorities, especially blacks up through the Civil Rights Movement. Baseball was like most other businesses and much of the country in this aspect. Jackie Robinson was the first African American Major League baseball player of the modern era. He broke the baseball “Color Line” in 1947 when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers. This overcoming the “Color Line” barrier was mirrored throughout the nation as America went through the Civil Rights Movement and demand foe equality for all.     

But Blacks had been playing baseball for years. Since they could not play in the Major Leagues they had their own league. Many players who were excellent players never got the chance because of the culture and society of America that treated these men as second class citizens. Thank God there were those who cared enough to fight for their rights. Women were also treated in a manner as second class citizens. They were not allowed to play baseball just as most women were expected to stay at home and raise a family. But things all changed with World War II. Just as Rosie the Riveter when to work so that millions of men could join the Armed Forces and save freedom throughout the world, so did many women join the “All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1943 to 1954. Pioneering women decided that they deserved a chance to play in the “all boys” game and fought for equal rights. This movement would mirror an feminist idealism taking place throughout America and eventually leveling the playing field to a more manageable degree. 

Today the fight for equality and justice continues in baseball and America. Players from other countries strive to make something out of themselves. Just as immigrants throughout our nation’s history have come over to America for opportunities, these players from Latin America, Cuba, Mexico, Japan, Korea, Central America, and South America have come looking to America as the land where hopes and dreams can be found!

History can be found everywhere. For those who don’t think that baseball is really history, open your eyes. Study the trends and events surrounding baseball and you will find a cultural mirror of the history of our nation we all love!

Teacher PD Time

Probably the best part of this time at the Baseball Hall of Fame was in the morning when we learned about all the lesson plans that the museum has dealing with everyday issues in American life! These lessons are easy to assess and they even have a distance learning program if the schols/districts pay for the equipemnt and fees. 

We did do more than just “Cooperstown.” After lunch we went to the Fenimore Art Museum where our guide for the day “No-Showed” us. So we were off to explore the vast holdings of the museum on our own. Never do that to teachers! Many of our group got “yelled” at, well maybe explained to that certain areas were off limits to pictures. Oh well, the guide should have been there!

Farmers Museum

 Next we went to the Farmers Museum across the street. This was much nicer with lots of buildings set in an early 1800’s setting. It reminded me of a Sturbridge Village “Want – to – be!” I enjoyed learning about how medicine was made and the leaches he pulled out were nasty. But the coolest thing was the 30+ teachers who all (except Howard) climbed up on the antique Carousal and role the colorful animals around in circles!  

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5 comments

  1. Nice post,Hutch. I agree with you that baseball is part of our history and is history according to your basic definition. I would also say that baseball is perhaps the most accurate recorded history as there is a satistic for nearly everything.


  2. Mark,
    Thanks, you are right about the stats! Everything can be proven right there in the numbers, everything except the impact od steriods which everyone knows impacted the game. But to what degree will be up to future baseball historians to decide.

    By the way, Pete Rose should be in the hall! Stats prove it!

    Hutch


  3. Hutch,

    Nice post. I really liked the first paragraph when you talk about history being all around us. That is so true. We can use so many vehicles to teach it, but we just need to get creative at times. Using baseball is a great approach. It covers time periods, along with the cultural, social, economic, and political climate of the country.
    The 30 teachers on the carousel was cool.


  4. Its always easy to tell who are good teachers: creative, energetic, intelligent, just to name a few. I can tell you are a great teacher just by our conversations. Its important that good history teachers will find history all around them!

    Keep up the good work!


  5. Babe I think we need to discuss where the definition of a “home run” came from… Lol 😉



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