Thorn: Searching for the father of baseball

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on August 21, 2017:

On the question of who might properly be termed the Father of Baseball if not Cooperstown’s favorite son, Abner Doubleday, Hugh MacDougall, Historian of that bucolic villge on Lake Otsego , wrote to SABR’s 19th-century listserv in 2004:

“Might I suggest a new candidate, as the thermometer here in Cooperstown drops. Tongue in cheek, might I propose James Fenimore Cooper — who may not have invented baseball (indeed, Cooperstown banned ball playing on its streets as early as 1816), but who may well have provided [in his 1838 novel Home as Found] the earliest literary description of a baseball game — and as it would turn out, located it precisely on what is now the site of the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame here in Cooperstown.”

Predictably, I took the bait:

Home as Found does provide, as far as I know, the first mention of ball play in an America novel (remember, the word “base ball” is not employed), a distinction of sorts, I suppose. My literary opinion of Cooper (yup, I was an English major back in the day, at Flintstone U.) is the same as Mark Twain’s: that the prose is dreadful and the stories contrived. Of our two early giants, Cooper and Irving, I’ll take Irving. Yet Cooper is important, and not only because he was once famous — so was Mrs. Southworth. Cooper was to prose what Thomas Cole was to painting: an American original despite his classical leanings, and a beacon for those who followed in the nativist tradition.”

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Originally published: August 21, 2017. Last Updated: August 21, 2017.