Why Is the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York?

The day has finally arrived for former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. Earlier this year, “Big Papi” was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. He enjoyed a little ceremony at Fenway Park with fellow inductees Rich Gedman and Dan Duquette. Others inducted were the late Bill Dinneen and Manny Ramirez, who had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t attend.

On Sunday, Ortiz hits the big stage as he’s officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Ortiz and his friends and family spent the weekend in Cooperstown, New York, the home of the Hall of Fame. Why is Cooperstown home to baseball’s Hall?

Cooperstown has been the home of the Hall of Fame since 1939

Hall of Fame Class of 2022 Inductee David Ortiz greets fans during a parade at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, on July 23, 2023. | Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images.

The reason baseball’s Hall sits in Cooperstown may actually be a mistake.

It’s there because of the thought Abner Doubleday founded the game there in 1839. After some extensive research, however, it’s believed that’s not the case. According to Baseball Reference, Doubleday never claimed he invented the sport, and the legend was based on one man’s story.

Baseball Reference stated Al Spalding, a former player and sporting goods manufacturer, formed a committee, concluding Doubleday founded the sport.

Spalding organized a panel in 1907, the Mills Commission. The panel consisted of Spalding, two United States Senators, two other former National League presidents, and two other former stars turned sporting goods entrepreneurs.

The final report entailed three sections: a summary written by Spalding of the panel’s findings, a letter by John M. Ward supporting the panel, and a dissenting opinion by Henry Chadwick. The research methods were, at best, dubious.

Spalding’s summary concluded that baseball had been invented by Doubleday in Cooperstown in 1839; that Doubleday had invented the word baseball, designed the diamond, indicated fielder positions, wrote down the rules and the field regulations. However, no written records from 1839 or the 1840s have ever been found to corroborate these claims, nor could Doubleday be questioned because he died in 1893.

Should the Hall be moved from Cooperstown?

Back in 2016, Nathaniel Rakich of The Hardball Times wrote an interesting piece, suggesting the Hall move to New York City.

He cited no legitimate ties to Cooperstown, and then he added some practical reasons. He mentioned how the Hall struggled to attract visitors, suggesting location as the main reason. Rakich said in 2013, it brought in 260,000 visitors. He compared that to the Brooklyn Museum, which took in more than 500,000.

“The Hall of Fame does a disservice to fans — and to itself — by housing the most important artifacts of our national sport in a place where so few people can go to see them,” he wrote. “Instead, the museum ought to make its home in the capital of baseball, if not the capital of the world. The Hall of Fame needs to relocate to New York City.”

He said the Doubleday story is a “fabrication,” and baseball was born in the big cities.

“Baseball is a composite sketch of several 1800s bat-and-ball games, devised and honed in cities like Boston and Philadelphia,” he wrote. “But the version of the game that won out came from New York City. The first proper baseball team was the New York Knickerbockers, which defined many of the first rules for the sport.”

Rakich has a point, but Cooperstown has been the home of the Hall for 83 years. At least for this weekend, Ortiz and the other inductees are spending their time in Cooperstown.

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