On Tuesday of this week, a movement of monumental proportions began in the United States. Sure we could be focused on political instability in the Ukraine, nuclear missile testing in North Korea, the ongoing saga of US healthcare reform, or even the hot mess that is Arizona politics, but wouldn’t we rather turn our attention to what really matters: baseball.
The opening of the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals world championship season is only about a month away and rumor has it there may even be some other teams playing, too. Obviously it’s time we start turning our national attention to how we plan to celebrate this wondrous event.
Thirteen gold glove winning Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith has an idea. He has teamed up with Budweiser (an originally American company now owned by the Belgian company InBev that is committed to demonstrating its all-American-ness) to start a petition that would require the Federal government to consider declaring baseball’s opening day a national holiday. The petition started circulating on Tuesday and the goal is to get the necessary 100,000 signatures within thirty days, giving Smith just enough time to deliver it to the White House before opening day.
And why not? I mean, obviously the federal government doesn’t have much else going on and I can’t think of any reason such a move wouldn’t garner bipartisan support. Because baseball is, after all, America’s Pastime.
But is it really all that American? The history of the sport is a little muddy. There’s evidence that there were bat and ball games played even in Ancient Egypt and the most likely direct ancestors of baseball come largely from England where games like Cricket and Rounders have developed and evolved over centuries.
But when in 1903 British sports writer Henry Chadwick penned an article claiming baseball was a derivative of rounders (which to be fair, is an incredibly similar game), Americans cried foul (or threw their helmets on the ground, kicked up some dirt, and ejected Chadwick from the game). A commission was formed to ascertain the truth.
What they found was a likely made-up story by a thoroughly unreliable witness who insisted that the first game of baseball played on a well-defined diamond was invented by Abner Doubleday in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York. So it was settled. Baseball was as American as apple pie and it still is.
Of course the “witness” was five at the time this game would have taken place and the only “evidence” he could provide was a sketch of Doubleday’s field that he himself reproduced more than sixty years later. It’s also proven unlikely that Doubleday was ever in Cooperstown in 1839, but now I’m probably just being picky.
Even the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown has admitted that the opening of its doors in 1939 honored “the mythical ‘first game’ that allegedly was played in Cooperstown on June 12, 1839.” Commissioner of baseball Bud Selig on the other hand “really believe[s] that Abner Doubleday is the ‘Father of Baseball,’” which just goes to show you that at least one noteworthy baseball expert (my husband) is right when he says that Bud Selig should probably be considered unreliable on most things baseball.
The first truly concrete evidence of American baseball is from a 1791 ordinance in Pittsfield, Massachusetts banning play of the sport near a community building, the fine for which was to garnish allowance until any broken windows had been paid for by the players. So it’s safe to conclude that at least a similar sport to that which we now know as baseball, was being played (carelessly) in America.
And that would be really something if there wasn’t just as reliably recorded evidence that baseball (referred to separately from both rounders and cricket) was being played in England by British royalty as early as 1749.
So, is baseball a quintessentially American sport deserving of its own national holiday? I’m not sure. It’s true that no one loves baseball quite like the US (except for maybe Cuba, South Korea, the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, and Japan, just to name a few). And there can be no doubt that the rules of the sport as it is played today developed primarily in the United States (where it was decided in 1845 that winging a baseball at someone’s head for an out might not constitute fair play).
According to Ozzie Smith 22 million Americans claim to have at least at one time played hooky to enjoy opening day so he reckons we ought to make it official. And though I don’t think I’ll sign the petition, I’m sure he’ll get his signatures. At the time of this posting, it stands at 36, 612 with 27 days remaining. And regardless of what happens, my family will celebrate the way we always do, with hot dogs and nachos, with ice cream in those little plastic batting helmets, and with unbridled enthusiasm.