Nov. 12, 2010
In our last ”Chin Music” column we published a letter written by MLB’s Commissioner, Bud Selig, which stated his belief that General Abner Doubleday is the “Father of Baseball.” The column set off quite an Internet firestorm, thanks to Deadspin picking up the story, and surprisingly, the game’s alleged roots in Cooperstown are once more in the news.
Some readers have questioned whether the story itself is one great big hoax; Keith Olbermann, on his MLB.com blog, has posted further inaccuracies about the ”Doubleday Ball” and questioned the authenticity of Bud Selig’s letter; and another writer even posted a satirical, “Yes Ronald, There is an Abner Doubleday” letter.
What’s more, Bud and Abner are the unlikeliest of allies, being that the General’s descendant, Nelson Doubleday, former owner of the New York Mets, once accused Selig of cooking MLB’s books and being in “cahoots with Fred Wilpon,” his former Met partner.
Now, Selig and Doubleday will forever be linked to one another. MLB, too. The Mills Commission lives on! Albert Spalding got the last laugh. Henry Chadwick is probably rolling over in his grave at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. Selig also has some history with Doubleday at a cemetery. In 2000, he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery and said, “It is a profound honor to be at this hallowed resting place to so many American heroes, including Baseball’s own Abner Doubleday.”
When Baseball Hall of Fame founder Stephen C. Clark and National League President Ford Frick first established the game’s shrine in the late 1930s it was part of a celebration to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Doubleday’s alleged ”Invention” of the National Pastime on a cow pasture in the tiny village of Cooperstown. The first item on display was a tattered ball purchased by Clark in the 1930s from someone who alleged the ball once belonged to the “Doubleday Myth’s” creator, Abner Graves. Clark, an heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune and the world’s most prolific collector of Van Goghs, Renoirs and Picassos decided, without any proof, to portray the ball as the one Doubleday used in Cooperstown in 1839.
Abner Doubleday was not one of the original honorees bestowed with a bronze plaque representing what has become one of the most prestigious honors in American sport: Enshrinement in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. He was represented in the original Museum exhibit in Cooperstown with the inclusion of an artifact identified as ”Abner Doubleday’s shoulder straps.” Two other baseball pioneers, however, were enshrined in 1938 and both have (for different reasons) been referred to as the “Father of Baseball.”
Henry Chadwick was honored for his contributions as the game’s first prolific sportswriter and as an innovator in record-keeping and statistics. Alexander J. Cartwright was honored for his contributions as a member of the pioneer New York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in the 1840’s. When Cartwright’s family protested the Doubleday story, alleging that Cartwright was the founder of the game, Clark & Co. got spooked and, in response, honored Cartwright with a plaque and his own “Cartwright Day” celebration. Dodging that bullet, Doubleday’s standing as the game’s “Father” stood.
As the Baseball Hall of Fame collected donations of items related to its honorees in its fledgling days, artifacts with ties to both Chadwick and Cartwright made their way to Cooperstown. Cincinnati Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr. donated letters written by Chadwick to Reds owner August Herrmann at the turn of the century and Cartwright’s grandson, Bruce, donated actual Knickerbocker Base Ball Club dinner receipts from the 1840s.
An on-going Haulsofshame.com investigation into the considerable thefts from the National Baseball Library has yielded numerous confirmations of rare documents and photographs stolen from Cooperstown. The investigation has also revealed that at least one letter from Chadwick is missing and both Knickerbocker receipts donated by Cartwright’s family are missing, as well.
The letter written by Henry Chadwick in 1907 was part of the Hall’s famous “August Herrmann Papers Collection,” perhaps the most valuable archive of baseball documents ever assembled under one roof. The existence of the Chadwick letter was documented by a Hall of Fame photocopy found in Chadwick’s general file. The photocopy includes a Hall of Fame employees handwritten note stating, “Original in Herrmann Letter File.”
The entire Herrmann collection was recently catalogued and conserved thanks to a grant from the Yawkey Foundation, however, scores of letters originating from the collection have been documented as being sold in public auctions like Sotheby’s, Robert Edward Auctions, MastroNet Auctions, Heritage Auctions, Richard Wolfers Auctions, Mike Gutierrez Auctions, Superior Auctions, Christies, Lelands and others. Hall of Fame officials were notified of the photocopy of the missing Chadwick letter several months ago and have been unable to locate the original document.
Before the official opening of the Hall of Fame in 1939, Alexander Cartwright’s grandson, Bruce Cartwright Jr., lobbied organized Baseball and Hall of Fame officials for his ancestor’s enshrinement as the game’s founding father, instead of Doubleday. In 1936 Cartwright received a letter from the Hall’s Secretary, Alexander Cleland, stating that National League President Ford Frick said, “Your grandfather will be among the first to be represented by a plaque.” By 1938, the Freeman’s Journal of Cooperstown reported, “Among the most interesting of the exhibits in the National Baseball Museum…is one presented by the Cartwright family of Hawaii.” The report also stated that, included in the exhibit were, “ receipts for payments made for dinners by losing teams in matches at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken, N.J., the home grounds of the Knickerbockers.”
The two receipts from Knick team functions in 1845 and 1847 were formally donated to the Hall of Fame in the late 1930s, however, the Haulsofshame.com investigation into the thefts at the Hall has determined that both of these rare documents are missing from the Museum’s collection. All that remains in the National Baseball Library’s files is a photocopy of the two receipts. The Cartwright family retained a photocopy of the receipts as well, and theirs bears a type-written note stating: “Bruce C. Jr. sent these receipts to the Museum in Cooperstown in 1938-none of these receipts sent can(not) be found anymore.”
Cartwright’s biographer, Monica Nucciarone, is familiar with the documents. In an interview, the author of Alexander Cartwright The Life Behind the Baseball Legend (Univ. of Nebraska Press) told us, “It is possible that the original receipts are misfiled somewhere inside the NBL. Yet, it is also possible that the original receipts ended up in a collectors hands.”When asked what the Cartwright descendants told her in the past, Nucciarone stated, “The family long ago believed that the Hall of Fame either lost the receipts or misplaced them, because the family has not had the originals as part of their collection since 1936.”
Historian John Thorn also worked with the Knick dinner receipts at the National Baseball Library in 1983. Said Thorn, “The photocopies of these two receipts I was permitted to make were from photostats, not originals. Library staff at that time stated that photostats were all they ever had.”
But Hall of Fame records reveal that Bruce Cartwright Jr. sent the documents to Cooperstown in May of 1936. On December 4, 1935 Cartwright wrote the Museum and said, “I write to you regarding items I would like to donate to the National Baseball Museum in memory of my grandfather…the “Father of Organized Base Ball.” Museum Secretary Alexander Cleland wrote Cartwright on May 29, 1936 and stated, “I want to thank you most heartily for the material you sent me for the Baseball Museum…The “Dinner Receipts” and the paper of 1902 are to be put in one case.” The same Knickerbocker receipts were next documented on display at the Museum in August of 1938 as reported by Cooperstown’s Freeman’s Journal.
Haulsofshame.com notified the Hall of Fame that these documents were missing on several different occasions. Brad Horn, the Hall of Fame’s spokesperson, responded to our inquiry stating, “If we have any information to provide, I will pass along to you.”
Chadwick and Cartwright are popular marks for thieves of historical baseball items. A significant letter from 1865 penned by Cartwright to one of his old Knick teammates, Charles DeBost, has been stolen from the State Archives of Hawaii, and personal items that were part of Chadwick’s estate have been pilfered from the New York Public Library’s famous A.G. Spalding Baseball Collection. (The Cartwright letter stolen from Hawaii’s Archive has been sold three times in excess of $20,000 by Lelands, Sotheby’s and Robert Edward Auctions). Also stolen from the NYPL were the original score sheets from a Knickerbocker match played on June 19, 1846. As we reported in our last column documents signed by Abner Doubleday have also disappeared from the New York State Archives.
While some may argue baseball’s paternal lineage, one thing is clear. The “Father’s of Baseball,” both real and mythical, are “hot” commodities in the baseball marketplace.
For More Coverage of the Doubleday-Selig Controversy (first reported here) check out: