Cooperstown Crier - Your Source for Hometown News - Cooperstown, Baseball Hall of Fame

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June 12, 2014

Myth fades, but HOF legacy grew over time

It stands out on the historical calendar as an aberration, a Monday in June of 1939 that featured no regular-season baseball games.

But despite the radio silence from the American and National Leagues, the eyes and ears of the sport world were indeed focused on the national pastime on June 12, 1939. That day – 75 years ago today – marked the official opening of what was then known as the National Baseball Museum in Cooperstown.

The village itself was pure Americana, a one-stoplight town nestled between the Adirondacks and the Catskills in Central New York. It drew its name from the family of James Fenimore Cooper, whose father, William, founded the village, and whose works of literature have become American standards.

And yet Cooperstown has become a synonym for baseball thanks to a story about a Civil War general and the country’s love for a timeless game. By the last half of the 19th century baseball had become the national pastime. The United State was a little more than 100 years old, and baseball had evolved with the country. But there was no definitive answer as to the birth of the game.

Enter the Spalding Commission, a board created by sporting goods magnate and former player A.G. Spaulding to establish the genesis of baseball. And after a few years of searching, they found their answer.

Abner Graves, a mining engineer, proclaimed that Abner Doubleday – a decorated Union army officer who directed the first shot at Fort Sumter at the start of the Civil War and later served at the Battle of Gettysburg – invented baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown.

That was good enough for the Spaulding Commission, which came to its conclusion in 1907.

Three decades later, Cooperstown philanthropist Stephen C. Clark – seeking a way to celebrate and protect the national pastime as well as create an economic engine for Cooperstown – asked National League president Ford C. Frick if he would support the establishment of a baseball hall of fame in the town. The idea was welcomed, and in 1936 the inaugural Hall of Fame class of Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner was elected.

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