Abstract

In 1907 baseball's promoters decreed that Civil War hero Abner Doubleday created the game in the village of Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. Baseball thus acquired a distinctly rural American origin and a romantic pastoral appeal. Skeptics have since presented irrefutable evidence that America's pastime was neither born in the United States nor was a product of rural life. But in their zeal to debunk the myth of baseball's rural beginnings, historians have fallen prey to what Annales School founder Marc Bloch famously called the “idol of origins,” and all but neglected the very real phenomenon of rural baseball itself. The claim that baseball has always been “a city game for city men” does not stand up to empirical scrutiny anymore than the Doubleday myth itself, as this address demonstrates with three case studies—Cooperstown in the 1830s, Davisville, California, in the 1880s, and Milroy, Minnesota, in the 1950s. Baseball may have been a source of rural nostalgia for city people, but it was the sport of choice for farmers and a powerful cultural agent.

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