Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Ben K. on Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Baseball Born in Pittsfield, MA?

Dave's family and my family both have homes in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. In fact, Dave and I met in the Berkshires on the lawn at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. As our parents like to say, I had out my baseball cards at the ripe old age of 3, or so, and Dave wandered over interested in the collection. Seventeen years later, here we are with our blog and a long-lasting friendship.

Now, why am I writing about the Berkshires, you might ask? Well, an interesting story that has ramifications for the accepted history of baseball just came off the AP wire. Historians in Pittsfield, MA, the Berkshire county seat, announced today that they found a 213-year-old document that contains the earliest written reference to baseball. According to the story, the document is a bylaw from 1791 that prohibits anyone from playing baseball within 80 feet of what was then the new Pittsfield meeting house. The law was designed, obviously enough, to protect the windows of the meeting house. As anyone who has ever played baseball in an area with windows around, they will break, no matter how far away they are. There's really no doubt about that.

If historian John Thorn's discovery is in fact authentic, this document would predate the accepted Abner Doubleday story by about 48 years. The article reports that the Williamstown Art Conservation Center has indeed verified the date of the document. While Cooperstown has always been the home of the legend of the origins of baseball, it seems clear that some form of "base ball" existed in the United States before Doubleday reached the current site of the Hall of Fame. It's highly unlikely that anything more will come of this document. We'll probably never know what that game of "base ball" looked like in 1791, but it's fun to imagine a bunch of kids or adults in the early republic taking a stab at the game, albeit without hitting the windows of the new Pittsfield meeting house.

Update (Wednesday, May 12 at 6:00 p.m.): As this story continues to develop, here is a piece from today's Berkshire Eagle. It provides a nice hometown slant to the story with a more detailed history than the one in the AP story from ESPN.

### So what do you think? We want to know. | | E-mail us ###