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Pittsfield Pt II
2004-05-13 00:08
by Mike Carminati

Here's a follow-up from John Thorn re. my comments on the Pittsfield document:

Your points are well raised, and in fact were discussed in the press conference at Pittsfield yesterday. First, the 1791 ordinance was offered as, most specifically, the first recorded mention of baseball by that name on the North American continent; English mentions can be dated to 1798 (Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, published in 1818); Mary Lepell's letter of 1748; and John Newbery's A Little Pretty Pocket-book (1744). In fact, in the packet that members of the press received yesterday was the Chronology of Early Bat and Ball Games that Tom Heitz and I originally prepared in 1994 and which I have updated since. It's attached for your possible interest.

I think it would be a mistake (and has been so for some time) to emphasize so strongly the time-honored "establishment" dates for the New York Game (1845) and the Massachusetts game (1858). The codification of rules reflects long-standing conditions and evolved patterns rather than a starting point for anything particularly novel. This is equally true for the NY and Mass Games, as I might convince you if we had ample time and good will. Of course, some of this will worm its way into my long-in-progress book.

I did indeed look at your "rant" and I have many, many points of contest--matters of fact as well as interpretation. But for now, I'll just say that Pittsfield is not looking to become the definitive locus for baseball's emergence ... it is surely one of many such sites, and everyone at the press conference, from the mayor to the lowly historian, was happy to share credit with other burgs, whether they find earlier documents or not.

However, a document from 1791 is indubitably earlier than one from 1845 or 1823. And the "Pittsfield Prohibition" does not close the door to further research or superior claims. In short, while the document may not be everything we need to know about early baseball, it is not nothing.

Perhaps my dismissal of the document was a bit facile. It does have significance in context. I still have an issue with the comments from the Pittsfield mayor as to the town's being baseball's "Eden". However, there's no harm done though Newburgh may feel slighted, and I see little chance of Pittsfield supplanting Cooperstown as the mythical home of baseball in any case. As for me, that home is still Hoboken as much as any one place can lay claim to the title.

[By the way, the Chronology of Early Bat and Ball Games is too long to reprint here, but if you are interested, send me an email and I will send you a copy.]

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