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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NOTES

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33
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New York
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Otsego (NY) Farmer
,
Apr.
12
,
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,
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; James A. Vlasich,
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Bowling Green University Popular Press
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:
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151
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8
,
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,
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):
52
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; Harry Paxton,
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Saturday Evening Post
,
Jan.
30
,
1960
,
18
19
,
62
,
64
; Harold Peterson,
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Sports Illustrated
30
(
Apr.
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):
57
76
; Victor Salvatore,
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34
(
June/July
1983
):
65
67
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:
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,
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),
170
81
; Block,
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,
xiii
xviii
,
1
21
.
3. Marc Bloch,
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(
New York
:
Alfred A. Knopf
,
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),
29
35
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8
(
Mar.
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98
(
Nov.
1989
):
14
22
.
4. Harold Peterson,
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(
New York
:
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,
148
91
; Block,
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,
80
93
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Journal of Social History
16
(Summer
1983
):
3
22
; Frederick Ivor-Campbell,
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Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game
1
(Fall
2007
):
55
66
. What little we do know about rural baseball comes largely from biographies—usually brief first chapters—of famous professional players who were born and raised on farms. See, for example, Reed Browning,
Cy Young: A Baseball Life
(
Amherst
:
University of Massachusetts Press
,
2000
); Henry W. Thomas,
Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train
(
Lincoln
:
University of Nebraska Press
,
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); John Sickels,
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(
Dulles, Va.
:
Potomac Books
,
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); Doug Feldmann,
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(
Jefferson
:
McFarland
,
2000
). Other notable, if scattered, contributions include Carl M. Becker,
“Crossing Bats: Baseball in the Villages of the Upper Miami Valley, 1865–1900,”
Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture
10
(Spring
2002
):
46
70
; William H. Mullins,
“The Impact of Rural Culture on a Baseball Career: Carl Hubbell of Meeker, Oklahoma,”
Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture
12
(
Sept.
2003
):
102
14
; Peter Morris,
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(
Ann Arbor
:
University of Michigan Press
,
2003
), esp. Chpt. 10; and Harold Seymour,
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(
New York
:
Oxford University Press
,
1990
), Chpts. 13 and 14.
5. Hal S. Barron,
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in
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, ed. Frederick V. Carstensen et al. (
Ames
:
Iowa State University Press
,
1993
),
49
; David B. Danbom,
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(
Baltimore
:
Johns Hopkins University Press
,
1995
),
95
96
,
165
66
,
193
94
; Steven Hahn and Jonathan Prude, eds.,
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(
Chapel Hill
:
University of North Carolina Press
,
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Baltimore
:
Johns Hopkins University Press
,
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Chapel Hill
:
University of North Carolina Press
,
1997
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(
Baltimore
:
Johns Hopkins University Press
,
2000
).
6. A more comprehensive, systematic study of baseball in rural America awaits the larger work behind this address, “Country Hardball: America's Rural Pastime since 1839” (book in progress), which will consist of seven case studies, including the three discussed here.
7. F. H. Gutwits to Editor,
Harper's Weekly
3
(
Nov.
1859
):
707
.
8. Otsego (NY) Herald, June 13, 1816, clipping in “Origins of Baseball” file, A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York (hereafter GRC); Tom Heitz,
“In Our Past,”
Cooperstown (NY) Crier
,
Oct.
28
,
1999
; Alan Taylor,
William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic
(
New York
:
Vintage Books
,
1995
),
383
84
.
9. James Fenimore Cooper,
Home as Found
(
Philadelphia
:
Lea & Blanchard
,
1838
), Chpt. 11; Heitz,
“In Our Past,”
Cooperstown Crier
,
Nov.
4
,
1999
; Birdsall,
Story of Cooperstown
,
253
60
; Taylor,
William Cooper's Town
,
383
84
,
415
; Hugh C. MacDougall,
Cooper's Otsego County: A Bicentennial Guide of Sites in Otsego County Associated with the Life and Fiction of James Fenimore Cooper, 1789–1851
(
Cooperstown
:
New York State Historical Association
,
1989
),
14
15
,
71
85
.
10.
“A Famous Game of Base Ball,”
Freeman's (Cooperstown, NY) Journal
,
Aug.
16
,
1877
;
“A Lively Game,”
Cooperstown (NY) Republican and Democrat
,
Aug.
15
,
1877
; Heitz,
“In Our Past,”
Cooperstown Crier
,
Nov.
11
and
Dec.
2
,
1999
; Priscilla Astifan and Larry McCray,
“‘Old Fashioned Base Ball’ in Western New York, 1825–1860,”
Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game
2
(Fall
2008
):
26
34
; Thomas L. Altherr,
“Chucking the Old Apple: Recent Discoveries of Pre-1840 North American Ball Games,”
Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game
2
(Spring
2008
):
29
43
.
11. Irwin,
“Baseball: Before the Professionals Came,”
12
; John Allen Krout,
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(
New Haven
:
Yale University Press
,
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),
115
16
; Jules Tygiel,
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(
Oxford
:
Oxford University Press
,
2000
),
5
; Peter Morris,
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(
Chicago
:
Ivan R. Dee
,
2008
),
11
25
.
12. Krout,
Annals
,
137
40
; Tygiel,
Past Time
,
11
12
; Harold Seymour,
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(
Oxford
:
Oxford University Press
,
1960
),
61
65
; John P. Rossi,
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(
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:
Ivan R. Dee
,
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),
17
18
,
33
; Morris,
But Didn't We Have Fun?
39
57
.
13. Abner Graves to Editor,
Beacon (Akron, Ohio) Journal
,
Apr.
3
,
1905
; Graves to Albert G. Spalding, Nov. 17, 1905, John Doyle Papers, GRC; Paxton,
“The Myths of Cooperstown,”
64
; Salvatore,
“The Man Who Didn't Invent Baseball,”
66
67
; Ruth Marian Robbins Monteith,
Portrait and Biographical Record of Kalamazoo, Allegan, and Van Buren Counties, Michigan
(
Chicago
:
Chapman Brothers
,
1892
),
858
59
; Morris,
Baseball Fever
,
363
64
; Block,
Baseball
,
50
66
.
14. Harold Seymour,
“How Baseball Began,”
New York Historical Society Quarterly
40
(
Oct.
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):
376
.
15. George W. Kirsch,
Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime During the Civil War
(
Princeton
:
Princeton University Press
,
2003
); William J. Ryczek,
When Johnny Came Sliding Home: The Post–Civil War Baseball Boom, 1865–1870
(
Jefferson
:
McFarland
,
1998
); Joel Zoss and John Bowman,
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(
Lincoln
:
University of Nebraska Press
,
2004
),
77
87
; Larry Bowman,
“Soldiers at Play: Baseball on the American Frontier,”
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9
(Fall
2000
):
35
49
.
16.
Dixon (Calif.) Tribune
,
Oct.
24
,
1885
. All citations from the Dixon Tribune, Yolo Weekly Mail, and Woodland Daily Democrat come from the “Davisville” column on the “local news” page of each paper. Davisville did not have its own newspaper until 1898. Kevin Nelson,
The Golden Game: The Story of California Baseball
(
San Francisco
:
California Historical Society Press
,
2004
),
2
7
; David Vaught,
“‘Our Players are Mostly Farmers’: Baseball in Rural California, 1850–1890,”
in
Baseball in America and America in Baseball
, ed. Donald G. Kyle and Robert B. Fairbanks (
College Station
:
Texas A&M University Press
,
2008
),
8
31
.
17. Morton Rothstein,
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(
Davis
:
University of California–Davis
,
1987
),
2
; Rothstein,
“Frank Norris and Popular Perceptions of the Market,”
Agricultural History
56
(
Jan.
1982
):
53
; David Vaught,
“Transformations in Late Nineteenth-Century Rural California,”
in
A Companion to California History
, ed. William Deverell and David Igler (
Malden, Mass.
:
Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
,
2008
),
215
29
.
18. David Vaught,
After the Gold Rush: Tarnished Dreams in the Sacramento Valley
(
Baltimore
:
Johns Hopkins University Press
,
2007
),
6
8
, Chpts. 1–6.
19. -Ibid., Chpt. 11; Paul Rhode,
“Learning, Capital Accumulation, and the Transformation of California Agriculture,”
Journal of Economic History
55
(
Dec.
1995
):
773
800
.
20. Vaught,
“Our Players,”
12
13
,
18
19
; Barth,
City People
,
154
56
.
21. Vaught,
“Our Players,”
19
; Ronald Story,
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in
Baseball History From Outside the Lines: A Reader
, ed. John E. Dreifort (
Lincoln
:
University of Nebraska Press
,
2001
),
19
33
.
22.
Dixon Tribune
,
Oct.
26
,
1878
; May 27, 1880; June 6, July 4, Nov. 14, Dec. 19, 1885; Apr. 10, 1886; Feb. 5, Aug. 6, 1887; Feb. 11, Feb. 18, 1888; Apr. 6, 1889; Mar. 15, May 17, 1895;
Yolo (Woodland, Calif.) Weekly Mail
,
Feb.
8
,
1877
; May 8, 1879; May 6, 1880; Clare L. Childers, trans.,
“Presbyterian Church of Davisville, California: Minutes of the Session and Register of Communicants, 13 November 1873–14 April 1918,”
1997
, pp.
3
40
,
Yolo County Archives
,
Woodland, Calif.
; Warren Goldstein,
Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball
(
Ithaca
:
Cornell University Press
,
1989
),
43
63
; Michael S. Kimmel,
“Baseball and the Reconstitution of American Masculinity, 1880–1920,”
in
Baseball History From Outside the Lines
,
47
61
.
23.
Dixon Tribune
,
Mar.
21
,
Apr.
11
,
Sept.
12
,
1885
;
S. H. Cowell v. Lydia T. Armstrong
(
1930
), California State Supreme Court, no. 4341 (SAC),
“Transcript on Appeal,”
292
367
,
California State Archives
,
Sacramento
; Joann Leach Larkey,
Davisville ‘68: The History and Heritage of the City of Davis, Yolo County, California
(
Davis, Calif.
:
Davis Historical and Landmarks Commission
,
1969
),
198
99
,
219
21
; Wood Young,
Vaca-Peña Los Putos Rancho and the Peña Adobe
(
Vallejo, Calif.
:
Wheeler Printing and Publishing
,
1971
),
11
29
, Appendix N.
24.
Dixon Tribune
,
Dec.
12
,
1874
; Feb. 6, 1875; Oct. 27, Nov. 24, 1877; May 9, July 4, Nov. 14, 1885; Feb. 12, Apr. 2, 1887; Mar. 9, 1889; Apr. 12, July 26, 1890;
Yolo (Woodland, Calif.) Daily Democrat
,
Mar.
5
,
1875
;
Woodland (Calif.) Daily Democrat
,
Nov.
15
,
1892
;
Sam N. Chantry v. William W. Montgomery
(
1885
), Yolo County, Superior Court Case Files, no. 463,
Yolo County Archives
,
Woodland, Calif.
; Barth,
City People
,
156
57
; Nelson,
Golden Game
,
18
.
25.
Dixon Tribune
,
Mar.
21
,
Apr.
18
,
May
16
,
May
23
,
June
20
,
1885
; Apr. 3, 1886; July 6, 1889; Apr. 19, June 7, June 28, 1895; Seymour,
Baseball: People's Game
,
206
207
; Seymour,
Baseball: The Early Years
,
51
53
; Nelson,
Golden Game
,
18
19
; Larkey,
Davisville ‘68
,
121
22
.
26. Jackson Lears,
Something for Nothing: Luck in America
(
New York
:
Viking
,
2003
),
1
24
,
147
86
.
27. Seymour,
Baseball: The People's Game
, Chpt. 13; Thomas Harvey,
“Small-Town Minnesota,”
in
Minnesota in a Century of Change: The State and Its People Since 1900
, ed. Clifford E. Clark (
St. Paul
:
Minnesota Historical Society Press
,
1989
),
109
13
; Richard O. Davies et al., eds.,
A Place Called Home: Writings on the Midwestern Small Town
(
St. Paul
:
Minnesota Historical Society Press
,
2003
),
16
.
28. Danbom,
Born in the Country
, Chpt. 11; Joseph Amato and John W. Meyer,
The Decline of Rural Minnesota
(
Marshall, Minn.
:
Crossings Press
,
1993
).
29. Hamlin Garland,
Main-Travelled Roads
(
New York
:
Harper & Brothers
,
1891
); Sinclair Lewis,
Main Street
(
New York
:
Harcourt Brace
,
1920
); Jane Smiley,
A Thousand Acres
(
New York
:
Alfred A. Knopf
,
1991
); Laura Ingalls Wilder,
Little House on the Prairie
(
New York
:
Harper & Brothers
,
1935
); Garrison Keillor,
Lake Wobegon Days
(
New York
:
Viking
,
1985
); Harvey,
“Small-Town Minnesota,”
100
104
; Richard Hofstadter,
The Age of Reform: From Bryan to FDR
(
New York
:
Vintage Books
,
1955
); Wendell Berry,
The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
(
San Francisco
:
Sierra Club Books
,
1977
).
30. Dennis A. Gimmestad and James K. Nestingen,
“Five Redwood County Towns: An Architectural Survey of Lucan, Milroy, Sanborn, Wabasso, and Walnut Grove,”
1977, ms., pp.
11
12
,
Minnesota Historical Society
,
St. Paul, Minn
. (hereafter MHS); Edith Ousky et al., cos.,
100 Years of Milroy Memories and 75 Years of Baseball
(
Milroy
:
Milroy Centennial History Book Committee
,
2002
),
5
, Southwest Minnesota Baseball Collection, Southwest Minnesota Regional Research Center, Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall, Minn. (hereafter SMBC); Amato and Meyer,
Decline
,
19
24
.
31.
Vesta (Minn.) Vision
,
Aug.
26
,
1954
, (no title or page available);
“Milroy Wins B Title,”
Sept.
22
,
1954
;
“Milroy Tips Benson 4-3,”
Sept.
27
,
1954
, both in
St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press
;
“Milroy Wins State B Title, 11-2, Over St. Joseph,”
Marshall (Minn.) Messenger,
Sept.
23
,
1954
; “31st Annual Tournament, Minnesota Amateur Baseball Association, September 10–19, 1954, St. Cloud, Minnesota,” Folder 1, Minnesota Amateur Baseball Association Records, MHS; Joseph M. Kemp,
“Baseball and Milroy: A Fifty Year Love Affair,”
undergraduate paper for History 487,
Southwest State University
,
Feb.
26
,
1996
, pp.
2
3
,
12
13
, SMBC.
32.
Vesta Vision
,
Oct.
14
,
1954
, (no title or page available); John Dolan interview, in Joe Paddock and Nancy Paddock,
Milroy Memories
(
Marshall, Minn.
:
Poetry Alive
,
1977
),
3
5
, MHS; Louie Dolan, interview by Joseph M. Kemp,
Jan.
15
,
1996
, cassette tape, Box 1, SMBC; Kemp,
“Baseball and Milroy,”
13
14
; Armand Peterson and Tom Tomashek,
Town Ball: The Glory Days of Minnesota Amateur Baseball
(
Minneapolis
:
University of Minnesota Press
,
2006
),
302
303
.
33. Richard Kramer, interview by author, Apr. 12, 2007, Lucan, Minn., transcript in author's possession; Mark “Spike” Dolan, interview by author, Apr. 12, 2007, Milroy, Minn., transcript in author's possession; Ousky,
100 Years
,
39
46
; Joseph A. Amato,
“It's Root, Root, Root for the Home Team,”
ms., in author's possession.
34. Joseph A. Amato and John W. Meyer,
“If the Home Team Doesn't Win,”
in
A Place Called Home
,
340
41
; Amato and Meyer,
Decline
,
22
,
53
54
; Peterson and Tomashek,
Town Ball
,
37
,
43
44
,
159
60
; Robert Zwach interview, “Milroy Memories,” 24; Reed Lovsness, interview by Joseph M. Kemp, Jan. 8, 1996, cassette tape, Box 1, SMBC; Lovsness, interview by author, Apr. 12, 2007, Marshall, Minn., transcript in author's possession; John Radzilowski,
Prairie Town: A History of Marshall, Minnesota, 1872–1997
(
Marshall
:
Lyon County Historical Society
,
1997
),
33
.
35. Bob Zwach, interview by Joseph M. Kemp, Jan. 8, 1996, cassette tape, Box 1, SMBC; Lovsness, interview by author; “Milroy Wins B Title”; “Milroy Wins State B Title, 11-2, Over St. Joseph”; Amato,
“It's Root, Root, Root.”
36. “Clerk's Register of Receipts and Disbursements,” Folder 1, Milroy, Minn., Records, 1895–1979, MHS; Louie Dolan interview; Spike Dolan interview; Gimmestad and Nestingen,
“Five Redwood County Towns,”
77
78
.
37. “32nd Annual Tournament, Minnesota Amateur Baseball Association, September 8–18, 1955, Chaska, Minnesota,” Folder 1, Minnesota Amateur Baseball Association Records, MHS; Lovsness, interview by author; Peterson and Tomashek,
Town Ball
,
89
,
96
97
.
38. Richard O. Davies,
Main Street Blues: The Decline of Small-Town America
(
Columbus
:
Ohio State University Press
,
1998
),
137
62
; Davies et al.,
A Place Called Home
,
213
16
; Amato and Meyer,
Decline
; Peterson and Tomashek,
Town Ball
,
127
32
.