Pittsfield Broken Window Bylaw
For years, the myth was fact: Cooperstown was the birthplace of baseball. Most now know that Abner Doubleday did not create the game of base ball in 1839 in upstate New York. And, even if there were actual documentation showing that Doubleday started playing the game in Cooperstown at that time, there is documentation that pre-dates that mythological reference by over 40 years.
Last Friday, U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, introduced legislation that would make Pittsfield, Mass. the official birthplace of baseball. Pittsfield also would get the distinction of being the birthplace of colligate baseball. The first intercollegiate baseball match, by Massachusetts Game rules in 1859 was played in Pittsfield, according to The Biz of Baseball contributor John Thorn, an author and researcher who has done considerable work into baseball origins.
Thorn explains how he discovered Pittsfield’s historic documentation describing a bylaw outlawing baseball.
“While prowling the internet late at night in mid-2003, I came upon a mention of the now celebrated bylaw prohibiting baseball within 80 yards of a newly built meeting house in a book entitled The History of Pittsfield , ( Berkshire County) Massachusetts , From the Year 1734 to the Year 1800,” Thorn said. “Because the book was published in 1869 under the authority of the town, I had no doubts about the authenticity of the reference.”
The question becomes, is it possible that information pre-dating the Pittsfield documentation could be unearthed, thus rendering a new location as the earliest known reference to the word 'baseball' in the United States? Thorn’s not so sure.
“While it is always possible that some earlier reference to the game of baseball before that name may turn up, I believe that to be unlikely. The term most often used for men or boys (or girls) playing a game of bat and ball was simply ‘playing ball’ or ‘playing at ball.’ Specific references to the game of baseball in the U.S. prior to 1825 are scant indeed.”
If the legislation acknowledging Pittsfield as the earliest known reference of baseball becomes law, could the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown whither up and die? The answer is of course, no. Cooperstown’s baseball history – based on a myth, or not – is not what the museum and library has come to represent. It has its history that stands on its own.
“Baseball began in many places and in many forms, though my research indicates that the Housatonic Valley, embracing western Massachusetts, southeastern New York, and northwestern Connecticut, is probably where baseball began,” Thorn adds. “As to Cooperstown’s place in baseball legend being diminished by an interloping Pittsfield, forget it. The Baseball Hall of Fame may have located in Cooperstown based on a historical fib, but since 1939 it has amassed a historical presence all its own, beyond challenge.”