Credit for Abner Doubleday

Historiography has its cartoons. One of them is the story of the founding of baseball, history done so poorly as to pass over into slapstick.

By now, everyone understands that Union General Abner Doubleday did not invent the game, but the debunking stories keep coming, offered, perhaps to that one newspaper reader who has not yet gotten the word:

* "Just last year, officials in Pittsfield, Mass., uncovered records from the late 1700s that mention the game being played there."

* The letter testifying to Doubleday's baseball activities, the basis for the "inventor" claim, seems to have been referring to his cousin (named "Abner Doubleday").

* "[The] letter is full of holes ... it's a weak document at best."

* "Congress, citing the work of a New York City librarian, declared that Alexander Cartwright was baseball's true founder ... but his designation as baseball's founder is no more legitimate than Doubleday's."

And so it goes.

For me, Doubleday represents a different kind of pathbreaker. He was the first Union officer - a mere captain when he started the practice - to write directly to Lincoln to complain about the loyalty and competence of his boss and peers.

You can see it for yourself in David Detzer's Allegiance. He wrote Lincoln from Fort Sumter and Lincoln encouraged him, as he would so many other intriguers. By the end of the first year of the war, Lincoln would have a tattler in every major command.

The president was buying what Doubleday was selling, a commissar function within the politically "unreliable" U.S. officer corps.

Give credit where credit is due.

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