"Their Hands Are All Out Playing:" Business and Amateur Baseball, 1845-1917

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1984


University of Illinois Press


At the actual spot in Cooperstown where Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball stands a statue of a farm boy with a baseball bat. This barefoot boy in overalls and a straw hat is as mythically symbolic as the Doubleday legend itself. The pastoral image represented by the statue grows logically out of the Doubleday myth, a myth that had the game invented in a cow pasture by the future Civil War general and his school chums.

James Fenimore Cooper himself could not have imagined a more appealing setting for the genesis of the national game than the town founded by his father. The bucolic little village on the shore of glittering Lake Ostego would have been the perfect backdrop for a field full of ball-playing country boys. Indeed, writing in 1938 (a year before Doubleday's alleged invention), Cooper fictionally described a ball game taking place on the lawn of his family's Cooperstown home. But these ball players were not farm boys. They were a group of shouting, swearing apprentices led by a "notorious street brawler" who, at first, refused requests to vacate the lawn. Eventually, however, the apprentices defiantly took their game to the village street after being told that the town trustess had banned street play, and that playing among the roses and dahlias was "aristocratic."